Christmas music, hope, resilience, & 2020

I’ll be returning to the series I’m doing on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality soon, but I just HAD to write about this today.


If you’d have asked me this morning how I was doing, I probably would have answered “Doing ok, all things considered.” And I am/was/might be. The reason I’m waffling a bit on my answer now, 3 hours later, is that I heard some instrumental Christmas music just now.

NOTE: For years, I’ve contended that there “shall be no Christmas music played in/around the Locke household whilst I am around to hear it until the day after Thanksgiving.” 

I don’t fancy myself to be a Grinch, but (usually,) hearing Christmas music in October/early November bothers me because it feels like People are trying to rush me past where I currently am in the calendar & in life. I LIKE Christmas music, but I want to wait til Christmas time to listen to it. In the meantime, I want to listen to (just about) anything BUT Christmas music.

Until today.


As usual for Mondays, I was working on some preliminary notes for next week’s message, as well as taking care of the administrative details that I take care of in advance of the bookkeeper working her magic. Had my door shut to keep the sounds of the Kindergarten students & their classroom happenings right outside my door, outside :).

And then I heard a familiar melody. And my heart leaped in my chest & I felt a rush of emotion. Didn’t recognize it right off the bat, so I listened closer & more intently. And then I knew.

It was a piano/instrumental version of “O Holy Night.” But instead of being bothered or frustrated at the intrusion of Christmas music(!) into my world before I was ready for it, I wept. For a moment, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.

I don’t know for sure WHY hearing this song moved me so much, but I have an inkling… the theme of HOPE that entered the world > 2000 years ago is reawakened in me today.

Found myself singing along quietly, sobbing a bit through tears…

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night
O night divine
Placide Cappeau/translated by John Sullivan Dwight


After months of pandemic madness, quarantine, Stay at home orders, missing out on connecting with so many friends & family & dear ones, a complete & worldwide disruption to normal… this song gave me exactly this:
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new & glorious morn…
I felt hope. I FEEL hope. It’s small, & I’m definitely not overflowing at this point, but it is THERE. And the thing is, I didn’t even know that I was running 3 quarts low in my HOPE tank… but Jesus did. And today, O Holy Night stirred me up, & has me looking to our glorious hope for THIS tumultuous & difficult time… a hope that does NOT & will NOT disappoint. The Living Hope that is Jesus Christ, the One who will never leave US or forsake US.
Sustain my heart. Build resilience into my soul.
Bring on the Christmas music. #2020

What happens when you ignore anger, sadness, & fear? aka Emotionally Healthy Spirituality #2

In THIS blog I wrote last week, I talked a bit about my introduction about 15 years ago to the idea of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. As I mentioned, one of the things that most intrigued me (still does to this day) was the list of “10 Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality.” When I read these symptoms the first time, I couldn’t help but notice that I most likely would have gotten a “Perfect Score…” meaning, I could see ALL 10 of the symptoms in some way/shape/form evident in my daily life.

  1. USING God to RUN FROM God.
  2. IGNORING anger, sadness, & fear.
  3. Dying to the WRONG things.
  4. DENYING the impact of the PAST on the PRESENT.
  5. Dividing life into SECULAR & SACRED compartments.
  6. Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God.
  7. SPIRITUALIZING away conflict.
  8. COVERING OVER brokenness, weakness, & failure.
  9. Living WITHOUT limits.
  10. JUDGING other people’s spiritual journey.

Today, I’m tackling #2, “Ignoring Anger, Sadness, & Fear.”


Many of the lessons we learn in church about God, about following Him, & about how we treat other people aren’t the ones we’re supposed to learn. They’re (usually) not overtly taught; they’re more “caught” through observation, interpersonal interactions, & sometimes even the pain that comes from being rejected, marginalized, ostracized, &/or avoided. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus tells us to love one another – in our words & in our actions.

Sometimes, as I experienced “love” from other Christians, I also experienced a (not-so) subtle judgment when I shared with another person about struggles I had with anger. With sadness. With fear. With a lot of things. Sometimes I’d get the “I’ll pray for you” which was usually code for, “I can’t believe you’re admitting that & it makes me uncomfortable to be around you now.”

Sometimes I received the MORE encouragement: Read the Bible MORE. Pray MORE. Worship MORE. (One buddy told me the best thing I could do was to get a punching bag so I could hit it.)

I also got “Bible-versed” (yes, that is a verb) quite a bit: “You’re feeling angry? Well Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry & don’t sin!” So don’t let it get out of control.”

“You’re feeling sad? Don’t you know that “Nehemiah 8;10 says, “the joy of the Lord is our strength? Be filled with joy brother.”

“You’re afraid? What do we have to be afraid of? The Bible is full of instructions telling us not to be afraid. Plus 1John 4:18 tells us that Jesus’ “perfect love casts out all fear!’ So don’t be afraid.”


Looking back, I had plenty of reasons I was feeling each of those emotions – & I didn’t know what to DO with them. Turns out, many/most of the people I talked to didn’t either.

And so I stuffed them into a little tiny space somewhere in my heart & decided that any time I even began to feel even the first hint of one of these terrible, negative, unchristian feelings, I’d stuff those. Deny what I was feeling. Keep going. And I never cried.l

Ask me how that worked out for me.

Poorly. It worked out poorly.

Simply stuffing, denying, &/or spiritualizing away those inconvenient feelings didn’t make them actually go away; they just went under the surface like a sewage spill, affecting & infecting every area of life, albeit without being acknowledged.


I was able to Keep It Together (KIT) pretty well around most people, but it was EXHAUSTING. I’d get home from work/from being around people & drop my guard pretty quickly. TheBean got most of the brunt of the overflow of junk… on a scale of 1 to Volcano, I was running at a constant 7-8, & it didn’t take much to push me over the edge into “eruption” mode.

One day, when I came home from work & I was approaching the front door, I heard one of my kids yell, “Dad’s home!” & then I heard the joyous sound of 3 sets of feet running. Running AWAY from the front door. To hide in their rooms. They were running FROM me. Scared of me & whatever the evening might hold. And it freaked me out.

Had a very pointed conversation with theBean – & when I asked her what was going on, she bravely & directly stated it like it was, without regard for any response or outburst I might have. “It’s you. You’re out of control. The littlest thing sets you off. You snap. We’re walking on eggshells when you’re around, & we’re scared.” My oldest son, ThePastyOne, who must have been about 9 at the time, agreed, & yelled from  the relative safety of his room, “It’s true, dad!”

Therapy helped. I learned a lot about emotions & about my inability to identify let alone process the strong negative ones that I was having. When I talked to Chuck, I didn’t have to pretend that I had it all together. I didn’t have to deny there was a problem (it was obvious there was one. Can’t deny what is out in the open.) I could be vulnerable & speak from my heart… & as I did, it felt like the floodgates opened up. It felt a little out  of control but it also felt wonderful to no longer have to attempt to Keep It Together (KIT). I could just FEEL, & I could just BE.

Through EHS, Chuck introduced me to the idea of “Praying the Psalms.” In a nutshell, praying the Psalms involves using Scripture, (the words penned & originally expressed by the Psalmist for worship & interacting with God,) & making them your own. I found that the Psalmist used words & expressed feelings that I was uncomfortable expressing. He told God how angry he was. How disappointed he was that God wasn’t responding to him & his situation. He shouted at God, asked God to break his enemies necks & bash their teeth in. I could picture David on a hill somewhere in Israel, screaming at the top of his lungs.

And the funny thing? God could handle David’s rawest emotions & strongest words. Didn’t phase Him one bit. So I tried it – & found that while I started with reading the Psalms out loud, I grew to praying my own prayers from the depths of my heart. I expressed ugly stuff, the kind of stuff I’d repressed, avoided, & dodged my whole Christian life. And God handled it. It was like every time I finished with my prayers, with expressing all the junk, I felt a nudge from God saying, “Ok. Are you done? You feel better? Now, ask Me what I have to say about that.”

And I did.

It wasn’t that long (6 months?) until theBean noticed something was up – “You’re not as angry as you were. You’re not agitated, you’re able to sit & just BE with me & the kids. What’s going on?”

I told her something along the lines of “I’ve been praying the Psalms. Actually, I’ve been yelling at God then listening to what He has to say in response.”

That was really the beginning of the healing that God wanted to do IN me – that I’d be able to feel, identify, & process my emotions, no matter how inconvenient. And it wasn’t unchristian to do so… it was actually INHUMAN not to.


I discovered all the places in the Bible where God shows emotion. That God is the One who actually gave all of us the emotions we have, & that they serve as indicators of something going on in/through/around our lives, something that needs to be paid attention to. In & of themselves, the emotions aren’t bad or wrong – I’ve found over time that they’re usually pointing at something that God wants to address, to challenge, to change, to bring growth.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality has helped me to leave behind a life of denial, out of control emotions/behavior, & relationships that were on the rocks. And it’s been a great tool for me (& many others) to grow deep in God & with those around us.

I’ll be tackling #3 “Dying to the Wrong Things” next.

In the mean time:

  • What has been helpful for you in feeling & processing your emotions in a healthy, life-giving manner?
  • What are some of the obstacles that can get in the way of acknowledging the “negative” emotions of anger, sadness, & fear?

So, what DO you have?

I was reading in the Gospels the other day & came across the account often referred to as “Jesus feeds the 5000.”  Here’s a sum up:

Jesus & His disciples are dead tired. They’ve been working & interacting with large crowds of people seeking out Jesus for who knows how long. Jesus invites the disciples to “come away” to a secluded place to rest… but on the way, a few people spot Jesus, & they tell a few friends, who tell a few friends, who tell a few friends… you get the picture. Eventually, when Jesus & the disciples get to their “come away” spot, they find that there’s a crowd of more than 5000 waiting for them. Jesus has compassion on them & teaches them… for a long time. At the end of the day, some of the disciples come to Jesus & say, “Hey! It’s been a long day. We were tired when we started, but NOW we’re toast. Would you please send the people away so they can GO HOME & get some FOOD to eat?”

Jesus’ response? “You feed them.”

Immediately, the disciples responded with all of the reasons they COULDN’T feed the crowds; chief among the reasons (excuses?) was that they DID NOT have enough.

Not enough money to buy food.

Not enough food among them for the crowds to share.

Big problem – no solution (that they could see.)


Jesus, however, asks them a question, “So, what DO you have? Fish? Loaves of bread? What DO you have?”

After taking stock of potential resources, they return with the answer, “2 fish & 5 loaves of bread. THAT”S not going to go very far when it comes to feeding THIS crowd.”

It was as though Jesus hadn’t even heard them… after they told Him what they DID have, He simply instructed the disciples to tell the crowds to sit down in manageable groups, & that they’d start the food distribution in a minute.

I wonder what was running through the disciples minds as they were herding tired & hungry (& hangry?) individuals into groups of 50 & 100. “We’re supposed to be telling these people to sit down & wait for FOOD? When we don’t have enough for 2 hungry dudes, let alone 5000. What are we gonna do?”


Jesus took the bread, blessed it & gave thanks, then gave it to the disciples to pass out. “This won’t take long,” they had to be thinking. And then Jesus took the fish, blessed it & gave thanks, & passed it on to the disciples for distribution.

And distribute they did.

Where is the food coming from?” they wondered. “We started with 5 loaves & 2 fish, & now we’re working on our 10th group of 100, & there is still  MORE food to pass out. What’s going on?” 

All the while person after person, big group after big group were fed to the point of fullness… & there was still more food. Jesus sent the disciples out to gather up the leftovers (Waste not, want not), & by the time they were finished & the last of the crowds were waddling on their way home, they’d collected 12(!) small baskets full of leftover bread & fish. What they had at the END of their feast was MUCH more than what they’d started with.


It’s funny to me how different Jesus’ perspective is from His disciples – they both can see the challenges in front of them:

  • We’re all tired & hungry
  • The crowds here are HUGE
  • We don’t have enough money to buy food
  • We don’t have enough food to share with everyone

However, instead of focusing on the (very real) issues of not having enough of multiple resources to accomplish the task, Jesus challenges (invites?) the disciples to THINK DIFFERENTLY. Instead of focusing on what they DON’T have, how about exploring what they DO have.

It’s a subtle, but significant shift. Jesus is inviting His disciples to evaluate & weigh the challenges in front of them seeing their contribution of loaves & fish as a PART, (not the whole) solution to the food dilemma. Basically, He’s asking, “What do we have to work with, to bring to Father God? What can we offer up to Him?”

Jesus’ actions of giving thanks & blessing the food wasn’t about “protecting the food.” No – it is about acknowledging that God has provided enough, for the task at hand, & that, coupled with faith-in-action of obedience (it took guts to start the food distribution for sure!) was enough for God to make a way & do FAR MORE with seemingly meager & insignificant amounts of food than they would’ve been able to do with lots of money & adequate time to plan. It’s like Jesus was inviting them to believe that God can (& will) do great things (in scope & in number) even if all we have to offer is a real small token (or a mustard seed portion of faith.)


Makes me wonder about the challenges I/we face… where the 1st thing that I usually do when examining the challenge is to review whether or not I have the resources to pull off working through/past the challenge… & sometimes I don’t even consider or remember to ask God what He has to say. I just pull a “we don’t have enough money/resources, etc… There’s no way…”

What if Jesus is wanting to issue the same sort of invitation to us that He did to His disciples 2000 years ago – the invitation to look at what we DO have vs. what we DON’T. Maybe He is inviting us to submit ourselves & our resources to Him & to THANK Him for His provision & to BLESS what He’s given us & then to look to take steps of obedience, wherever He’s directing us.

It’s a definite shift in perspective & requires a bit of stepping back from practicality, feasibility, & sometimes even logic. Jesus’ perspective seems to be, “I can do MORE with the little you have to offer than you can at your best, fully resourced & ready to go. TRUST Me, put your FAITH in Me, & don’t merely look at what you DON”T have to take on the task at hand; consider what you DO have…”


What situations are you currently facing that Jesus might be asking you to evaluate, “What DO you have?”

If Jesus was to ask you, “What DO you have?” what would your response be?

More than enough?

When I read through the Gospels, I like to imagine myself in the disciples’ shoes (sandals?) as each story unfolds… it helps me with understanding & also keeps me from distancing (or at least attempting to distance) myself from their often less than stellar responses to Jesus’ teaching, His questions, & what He’s asked them to do. Here’s what I mean.


Today during the Zoom Bible study I’m a part of, someone brought up the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, in the context of what specifically Jesus asked His disciples to do. (For a refresher, check out Mark 6:30-44.)

The disciples are tired. Bone tired. All they want to do is go somewhere quiet to rest. WITHOUT crowds. WITHOUT interruptions. WITHOUT anything to DO. And yet… somehow, the crowds find them, & like He usually did, Jesus had compassion on the masses & taught them. At some point, a couple of the disciples, (don’t know who) saw that it was late. They had been tired before, but NOW… now they were exhausted. Some brave soul among them encouraged Jesus to send the crowds home so they could get something to eat (& perhaps so the disciples could EAT & get some well-earned REST.

And then Jesus threw them a curveball: “YOU feed them. You guys – feed THEM.” I can only imagine the side-conversations between the disciples as they tried to figure out what Jesus really meant when He told them to feed the crowds…

“He said to feed them? No way. No how. HOW would we be able to do that? We are TOAST & we have NO supplies.This is impossible.” We don’t know if anyone tried to reason with Jesus at the unreasonableness of His directive, or if any disciple attempted to explain that feeding people (esp. so many people!) required either a) a whole bunch of money &/or b) a whole bunch of food, both of which the disciples DID NOT have.

If this is me in this situation, I am frustrated. Not because I’ve been asked to do something when I’m super tired (ok, maybe that is part of it) but really, mostly it would be because I was asked to do something that was IMPOSSIBLE to do. On my best day, with a veritable Costco/superstore amount of food at my disposal, I would be hard-pressed to do THIS. The impossibility of the task highlights one of my (our?) great struggles: I am inadequate. I do not have the resources to do  what needs to be done. I am (I feel like) a failure. I am not enough. And now I am exposed.

And  yet…

Jesus isn’t messing with His guys – He asks, “What DO you have? I know what you DON’T have, but what DO you have?” A quick survey discovers that there are exactly  2 fish & 5 loaves of bread that were offered up by someone to share with the 5000. (We also don’t know if other people had brought food with them & hadn’t wanted to SHARE with others when the disciples were asking around for any donations… I can totally see people in the crowd hiding their own resources to make sure that they’d have food for themselves, & if other people wanted to eat, well, “…they should have been responsible & brought their own.” But I digress…) 

A disciple brings Jesus the meager offering & He blesses the fish. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it & hands it to the disciples nearest Him.

“Go ahead. Pass it out. These people are hungry! Get to it boys!”


I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist or an overachiever, though I would say I like to get things right & I want to (need to?) follow through with an assignment I’ve been given. To not be able to finish something, to not have the ability to accomplish what I’ve been tasked with… that is one of the worst feelings in the world. The 1st-born (perfectionist overachiever?) part of me takes pride in my hard work, my ability to DO what needs to be done, to Step Up & be responsible & perform well. And if I can’t? Not usually an option…

When I think of Jesus asking me to feed the 5000 with an inadequate supply of food, my stomach turns. I think of the awkward conversations. Hungry people looking to me for dinner only to find that I’m not able to give them. Excuses. Worries. Fears. Insecurities. I am not enough & now I am exposed.

But Jesus didn’t ask if I had enough – He asked WHAT I had. HE gave thanks. HE blessed it. HE gave it to me &  HE told me to start passing it out. He didn’t give any qualifiers. He didn’t ask my opinion on how I thought it would go or if I thought it was fair, right, or good of Him to ask me to pass out the fish & bread.

He just asked me to take what HE gave me & share it with others. Not to keep track of it. Not to measure how much each person got. Just to give to others as I’ve received. To OBEY, not evaluate.


The disciples passed out the loaves & the fish… & kept passing it out. And kept passing it out. And pretty soon, everyone had enough. More than enough. People were leaning back on the grass with contented bellies, big smiles on their faces, & the beginnings of a food coma creeping up on them. As they began to head for their homes, Jesus had the disciples pick up the leftovers(!) from the feast… & there were 12 small baskets FULL. (I’m not a math whiz, but 12 small baskets FULL of fish & bread seems to be > 2 fish & 5 loaves of bread.)

There’s no indication that anyone besides Jesus, the disciples, & maybe the dude who shared his food had any idea of the miracle that Jesus accomplished that day. And really, it wasn’t about food. It was about His disciples. It was about trust & faith. It was about believing that if Jesus SAID to do something, you did it. You didn’t look at your inadequacy, your lack of ability to perform, your potential for failure… you just obeyed & believed that the responsibility for providing the feast fell on Jesus.


Ever since the lunch Bible study/discussion, I’ve been thinking on how often I evaluate situations I am facing based upon my ability to accomplish the tasks in front of me instead of looking to the One who’s asked me to simply do what He said, to share what He’s given to me. Without looking at my resources, abilities, energy (or lack thereof…) And I’m reminded that the Jesus in the Bible is the same Jesus that is working so patiently with me to transform me, to work through me, to make me a blessing & a help to people who need some sort of sustenance, physical or otherwise.

And in that situation, I am enough, because Jesus is MORE than enough & I can share what He’s given (& continues to give) to me, with others.

…but here I am, living my new life & other musings…

I have a namesake: Moses Louis Heifner. I’d like to say that  one of the requirements I gave to Mo-Lou’s parents, Chris & Natalie, for me hiring Chris as our Worship/Creative Arts guy was that they had to agree to use MY name for one of their children, but that wouldn’t be accurate or right, esp. seeing that Mo-Lou was born BEFORE I hired Chris. But that would have been a good story.

As confusing, chaotic, difficult, & stretching as 2020 has been for me & mine, I can only imagine how the  ‘utes’ (youths/young people) are navigating it, esp. with the school year starting (albeit in a typical-for-2020 herky-jerky manner.) The utes & their teachers have been on my prayer list for reals.

Today, Natalie shared something from Mo-Lou’s school day that I thought was encouraging, inspiring, & even a little bit of a tear-jerker.

…but here I am living my new life.

I can identify with that statement. Lately, I don’t feel ready for many things. And a lot of the time I find myself wishing I could fall back on one of those tried & true “do-overs” from when I was 8. You know, when you didn’t know if the ball was fair or foul, or who touched it last, or something was in question… you just declared, “Do-over” & you got to reset, to start new, to “do-it-over.” But in the meantime, I think that Mo-Lou’s answer is a perfect one that we can learn from: “I feel like I am not ready, BUT here I am living my new life.” Here’s to living our (new) lives to the best of our abilities, even when (especially when?) we don’t feel ready. May God give us the grace & faith to go forward into the unknown with the encouragement that He won’t leave or abandon us.


Fires. Man! All over the place. Wreaking havoc, instilling panic, threatening to destroy entire lives, homes, & livelihoods. And the smoke from the fires (so many fires) has filled our valley for the last couple of weeks, & made it really difficult to breathe, do anything physical outside, &/or even SEE across the city like we’re accustomed to. So imagine  my surprise (& joy!) this morning to wake up to a clear(er) sky with many thanks to early morning rains.

I’d gotten used to the smokiness. The status quo. And it only took 2 weeks. And now…

I see the sun & it looks normal. I can see the other side of the  valley. I’m reminded of the beauty I’m surrounded by that I so often take for granted.

TheBean & I went out back & sat in the fresh, rain-scented air to read, drink our morning water & coffee (2 separate drinks, not watered down coffee. That would be gross & that would be wrong. But I digress.)

So thankful for the rain that cleans, purifies, & makes new (if even for a short-time. Skies are smoky again.) I’m praying for more rain (the regular stuff that falls from the sky) & also for a God-given rain that will fall on & around me & mine… to clean, purify, & make me new.


Little Lites just opened our “Kinder Lites” Kindergarten class today. They meet in the classroom right outside my office & I have to say I was thoroughly entertained by their songs, excited voices, & goofy playfulness as they began their own school journey in a really great place.

Reminded me of how many things I can remember from my own early life, the Kindergarten years. So many memories, some good, others not so much. Stuff that I still think about at times, stuff that helped shape my thinking (again, in some good ways, & others not so good.)

In Mrs. Morris’ class, (my Kindergarten teacher at Jessie Beck Elementary back in the olden days) I learned:

  • I talked funny (couldn’t say my “L’s”  or my “R’s”) until about 3rd grade
  • If I asked the wrong person for help, I would get made fun of
  • Recess was (& remains) the best
  • No matter how big a problem is/seems, rest/a little nap helps a lot
  • Clean up time, while not being fun, was/is one of the most important life lessons
  • School District toilet paper is THE WORST (2″ x 2″ 1-ply squares? Seriously.)
  • Reading opens up all sorts of worlds & provides a phenomenal respite from the ‘real’
  • Girls are interesting & VERY different from boys

For the stuff I’ve had to unlearn: I’m thankful for my parents & for the people who  took the time to show me another way. For those who God worked through to re-shape that which was intended to mar, to warp, & to damage me, into just memories & reminders that things don’t always go our way, & God’s  word on ME & who I am & will be is THE final say.

Embrace the mystery…

One of the more challenging aspects of navigating through this pandemic & the resulting quarantine, isolation, disruption of any kind of normal, is the fact that there is no end date in sight. Over the last 5 months, we’ve seen just about every agency under the sun offer up a date on the calendar… a time when we could expect (hope?) that Things Would Be Back To Normal & we could expect the craziness to Be Over.

The  dates have moved. The stated target goals have shifted. It’s almost like we’re in  a holding pattern, waiting for someone, somewhere to offer up the “ALL CLEAR” so we can all take off our masks, let out a collective HEAVY SIGH of relief, & resume life.

It’s definitely taken a toll on mental, emotional, relational health & well-being. People are more stressed, more anxious, & more depressed.

I know I have experienced this 1st hand. I sought out (& got, & continue to get) help to process the mental/emotional/relational challenges. Some of the things that I’m doing as a part of my  life & health routine are:

  • Exercising at least 5 times a week;
  • Checking in regularly with my spiritual director;
  • intentionally reading my Bible a little more than usual, daily;
  • daily worship times (sometimes w/my guitar, sometimes just listening to Spotify & singing along);
  • spending more time reading for fun;
  • sitting with theBean for at least an hour a night; no TV, just us, some good music & Nevada scenery
  • making sure to check-in, in person as much as possible, when/where possible, with loved ones

Today I had lunch with a dear friend, Jake. In addition to being a top-notch homebrewer, baseball aficionado, husband, father, & friend, Jake is a mental health professional.  So, over an incredible “Stetson Burger” (bacon & bleu cheese, w/the BEST onion rings I’ve ever had) from Beefy’s, I  asked Jake for a suggestion (or ten) to help me (& others) with our mental & emotional health through this prolonged period of This Is Not Normal.

Jake’s encouragements were simple & straightforward:

This kind of mystery isn’t something we can call in Columbo or Sherlock Holmes or Monk (or pick your favorite detective) to solve. It is the reality that many times in life, there are things  we can’t know, & as much as we’d like to be able to control & schedule & plan & dial-in our lives, in reality we can’t (anymore than we can control the wind or the tides.)

I  was greatly  comforted by Jake’s words – & I spend time on the way back to the office breathing in & out  – prayers, asking God to continue to give me His peace & be peace to me that I can pass His peace on to others. I prayed for contentment – to be content with  the  mystery of Not Knowing, in the middle of the  Not Normal. I thanked God that even while I am wrestling with my own struggles through this, HE is  still in control, He is STILL on the throne, & He has been, is, & will continue to be preparing me for such a time as this. No matter how I feel.

Thanks Jake.  Mystery, here I  come to hug you.

Be LESS & Do LESS…

January 19th of this year, theBean & I celebrated 20 years pastoring at Hillside. It was a beautiful day with great friends, incredible BBQ (thank you Peter & Pete’s Meat). There were many encouraging things spoken, prayers prayed, & good words from our guest speaker, my dear friend & spiritual director David P. We came away from the weekend incredibly thankful & full of anticipation about what our future at Hillside & in Reno might hold for us.

We had NO IDEA what  was coming.

About a month into Nevada’s stay-at-home order (aka the beginning of the quarantine,) the depth & breadth of the impact of what humanity, worldwide, might be facing was beginning to emerge. I can remember feeling overwhelmed, & somehow, more tired than I’d been in who knows how long. Even though we weren’t meeting in person for church, I found my workload had greatly increased, & in addition to the mental/emotional/relational toll ALL THE THINGS were taking, I was constantly drained & often felt like I was running on fumes.

It’s not like I stopped self-care (exercise, Sabbath/rest, eating well, etc…) but I definitely underestimated the impact of our circumstances on me & my sense of well-being.


One of the resources my boss made available to me (& to the other men & women that wear the same hats that I do,) was our District’s “Director of Leadership Development,”  Jessie Cruikshank – she’s  a wonderful, caring, & brilliant! woman  who’s been a real Godsend to me & mine (& to many  others, directly & indirectly.) Among her specialities are the mind, brain, & education,  leading in a prolonged crisis, & spiritual transformation. (Greatly encourage you to check out a couple of those links. Some really good resources are available.) Anyway, on one of the Zoom calls that she lead our District team through, Jessie made a comment that went something like this:

“One of the keys to navigating a crisis like the one our nation is in is to intentionally be LESS productive & do LESS than you would normally do. Try to give away no more than 60-70% of your schedule, your time, your energy. Because you are facing things right now & in the next weeks & months that will put demands on you that  you can’t even begin to imagine.”

Be LESS productive? Do LESS? WHAT?

That really stuck with me – partially because it is counter-intuitive… the bigger the crisis/challenge, the harder you work, right? (Its what was in my head at least.) And yet… I could tell ‘the normal self-care routine” wasn’t cutting it, & I love learning new things & how to navigate through them/incorporate the  relevant & effective & healthy, & good into my everyday life.

And so, theBean & I changed our schedules – it helps being somewhat self-employed (we, thankfully, have a pretty good ability to adjust our work schedules). We started taking extra time (an hour or so) in the morning to sit in the quiet, read our Bibles, have coffee, & JUST BE. (Check out that link for a great song from Kim Walker-Smith.)

Sometimes we’d sit downstairs on our couch. Other times we’d be in our room under the big window, or on the little balcony (where we can see the sun rise.) But we did it, & have continued to do it.

In the last month, we’ve expanded our “do LESS/be LESS” times to the evening as well… at the end of our evenings, we find our good sitting places, listen to music, talk, & relax.

While it doesn’t take away or ‘handle’ all of the challenges associated with this long-term mess, it has helped. Is helping. Will continue to help.

So – maybe you needed to hear that – be LESS productive. Do  LESS. Just BE.


TheBean is turning into Elmer Fudd. And it’s all because of the Wabbits.

Last August while we were off celebrating our 30th anniversary, I surprised her with a new front yard, complete with new, healthy, lush, & beautifully green grass (or at least as good as it  gets in Nevada). One of her favorite things in the world is to sit on the little balcony in the evening, enjoy the view, the quiet, & look at the beauty…

Lately, however, we’ve noticed the grass has gotten… well, patchy. Our lawn guy told us it was because the local rabbit population found our lawn to be Oh So Choice & had obviously chosen to make it their preferred dinner location ad infinitum.

And so theBean bought (water) guns. And we now sit each evening on the little balcony enjoying ourselves, relaxing in the quiet, WHILE waiting with our (water) guns locked & loaded, just waiting for any Wascally Wabbit to show up onto OUR grass. And then the bunny gets it with both barrels.

I’m sure there will be updates on this later…

Walk with the Wise… #1

Walk with the wise & become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20 NIV

My parents repeated some version of that from  Proverbs to me just about every day of my early life, usually right before I went to school or was headed out on an outing. I didn’t give it much thought or really (mostly? fully?) connect the dots on what that really meant for me until I was in my teen years; before that, the people I hung out with were mostly people who didn’t choose what I like to call The Way of Pain,” as their main learning method.

It was simple really: the kids who were constantly pushing the boundaries, ignoring instruction from teachers, not paying attention in class, acting out, & disrespecting/mistreating others were usually  the ones that were in the most trouble. And so “The Way of Pain” meant “if you won’t learn from what you’re told, taught, or what you observe, then you will have to learn through consequences, punishment, loss of privileges, & stricter discipline. Nobody had to tell me, “Don’t hang out with Jason,” because I could see with my own 8-year old eyes that he was a magnet for trouble & that he seemed to revel in the fact that his “thing” was getting constant (negative, punitive, & corrective) attention from the teacher, the dean, the principal.

I didn’t really  know what it meant to be “wise” or what “wisdom” was, though I was pretty familiar with what the  terms “fool,” & “foolish” meant, & I could’ve given a pretty good explanation of “foolish fools” using graphic examples from lives I’d observed in my 8 short years.


Life is a lot more complicated than the elementary years. Wisdom & foolishness don’t always readily (& immediately) present themselves as such; often the outcomes (aka ‘the fruit) of a particular way of life, pattern of choices, etc are what it takes to reveal(?) wisdom & foolishness for what they are.

So is there a way that we can know before we see the outcome?

The Psalmist points us to & celebrates the Law of God as a way (path) towards wisdom; rather than depending on our own experiences or trying to sort through myriad examples of how others have chosen to live. In doing this, he challenges us to engage with the idea that God gave us His law not to restrict, bind up, limit, &/or minimize the things of life that are enjoyable, life-giving, & fun. His Law isn’t merely a laundry list of things NOT to do; it’s an invitation to walk a path that has been laid out in such a way so that we can be blessed by God – by  taking His word for what is wise & what is foolish, beforehand, so that we don’t have to see the consequences/results show up in our lives & then, at that point, determine if we’ve been following a good course of action or a bad one.

There’s a lot of trust & faith involved – not “blind trust” or “blind faith,” but the kind of trust & faith that comes from careful observation of a long list of people, just like us, who either made their own choices to do it “My Way,” or who made the choice, over & over, to follow the trustworthy guide of God’s law. Learning from those examples in the Bible is one of the reasons we have an Old Testament – to see how people lived, what they chose, & how their obedience to God’s law (or rebellion & abandonment of it,) worked out in their lives.


And  so. Here I am at 50. I (still) start my day with  Psalms & Proverbs, with an invitation to God to lead me on His paths, that I can walk with Him & grow to be wise. The longer I live & the more I experience the consequences/results of those choices to walk on God’s path, the more thankful I am that my parents showed me that way, back in the day, when I was just a kid.

For such a time as this…

Yesterday while a friend & I were waiting for the rest of the (virtual) attendees of our lunchtime Zoom Bible study to arrive, we got to talking about the challenges of navigating the current circumstances w/COVID, quarantine, etc. We commiserated a bit about loneliness, isolation, & the challenges of church, small groups, outreach, & other ministry (service) opportunities during this time where physical proximity (esp. if it is < 6 feet) seems to cause many the heebie-jeebies & all sorts of worry.

And then she made a comment that has been resounding in my ears for the last 24 hours:

“I was all caught up in worry & asking God, ‘Why?’ I don’t really know what it looks like to be in Christian fellowship in the middle of quarantine, or even how to carry on in any sort of ‘normal’ way through this process. But instead of getting worked up or fearful about the times I’m living in, I was thinking about Esther in the Bible & the threats of genocide & extermination she (& her people) were facing. And I remembered what was said to her. It was something like ‘maybe you’re here in the middle of this mess, intentionally, because God knew you were His person FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.'”


Her statement really resonated with me. It reminded me that OF COURSE God has not been taken by surprise by the events of 2020, nor have His plans for salvation, transformation, renewal, rescue, healing, & the like been derailed due to COVID, quarantine, 6′ bubbles, & all the fear & speculation that runs rampant.

He knew, & He knows. He is STILL in charge, STILL on His throne.

And God’s people, the Church, are STILL called to be Jesus’ healing presence in the world where we live, to BE & to DO what Jesus would be BEING & DOING if He were walking in our shoes. And for SOME reason, He believes that we are exactly the RIGHT the people to be living as that healing presence in SUCH A TIME AS THIS. Personalizing this:

It’s easier for me to cheer for Esther to take on the challenges of her day, (“C’mon sister! You got this! God has your back, & He’ll give you what you need DAILY to obey Him & put into practice what He’s calling you to do, no matter how scary it might be!”) than it is for ME to BELIEVE, to HAVE FAITH for the SAME input into my own life, for my own challenges that I am facing TODAY, in THIS time.

And then I remind myself that God knew. And He knows. He knows what is needed today & He knows what He’s got to work with by working IN & THROUGH me & my actions. And I get to thank Jesus that His ways & thoughts are FAR above & beyond mine, & that as Lord, He is able to pour out my life where He sees fit. He’s promised to equip me with what I need for each day, & has also promised that He will never leave me alone or abandon me. God created me to live & be where I am for these days we live in. THESE DAYS.

I’m in the process of experiencing something new – a new way of seeing the current world, a new way of seeing myself, w/a new skill set & tool belt to move forward with in serving others in the BEING & DOING... & I’m praying that I will be able  to see things around me with His eyes. I’m asking for teammates to walk this out with, people who recognize & respond to their own call from Jesus, that we wouldn’t shrink back & (continue to) live in fear, but to look how we can respond to Jesus, by grace through faith, for such a time as this.


Reminds me of this exchange between Gandalf & Frodo about the One Ring in Fellowship of the Ring – & how Frodo wishes the ring had NEVER come to him.

The  quote:

Frodo: ‘I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.’
Gandalf: ‘So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”


All we have to decide is WHAT to do with the time that is GIVEN to us. And I’m believing we’re here for such a time as this.

Reeds & wicks…

I threw his binder.

We were between classes in Jr High, 7th grade if my memory serves me correctly. I was on the 2nd level of our outdoor campus, heading toward the stairs & there was a commotion… wasn’t sure initially what it was, but as I drew closer, I could tell it was a game of keep-away. I was always up for a good game of keep-away, because they are SO much fun for all involved (except for the person who is having their stuff kept-away from them.) At first, I couldn’t even tell WHO’s book bag was being tossed around, nor who was chasing it. Until I got closer.

It was Zach. He wasn’t a friend or a person I hung out with… we had a couple classes together, but we’d never really talked, & had never hung out. HOW he was chosen to be the one who’s stuff was being tossed around over our heads & up/down the stairs was a mystery. It was just happening. 

At some point, someone popped open the book bag & started tossing the individual books (as if this particular ‘game’ wasn’t already challenging enough for Zach.) He was running around, frantic & desperate (like ANYONE else would be if your lifeline (that’s what book bags were) was being treated so cavalierly 20 feet up from the ground level.

Someone tossed me the binder, just as the warning bell rang. (It seemed like between every class there was a “warning bell” & then a “tardy bell.” You were technically supposed to be IN class when the “warning bell” went off, but you HAD BETTER be in class by the “tardy bell” or there would be detention. But I digress.)

I frisbeed the binder toward a fleeing classmate, over Zach’s head. It came open & ALL the papers, dividers, etc… EVERYTHING that was in it, came out.

The courtyard cleared as all the participants (except Zach & me) ran to their respective classes. The contents of the binder fluttered in the air for an eternity, floating like leaves falling in the fall toward the ground below. It was a mess. Worse, I had caused it.


If the book bag was a Jr Higher’s lifeline, the binder was the heart of the student. It contained all the assignments. All the information & syllabi for all the classes. Extra paper, pens, pencils…  you name it, it was probably in the binder. But not anymore. The contents of Zach’s binder were all over the stairs, some on the 2nd floor, most on the 1st floor & courtyard.  Everyone was gone. Except Zach. And me.

I wanted to run away. This wasn’t any fun. The idea of participating in keep-away sounded great, but its not like 12 year old me thought through the consequences, THESE consequences before I decided to join in the ‘game.’ I didn’t think about the possible mess, the possible damage to books/supplies, the possible destruction of the book bag & binder… I didn’t think about any of it. But now I was looking at the  mess, the mess I helped to make. The chaos of his binder, potentially lost assignments, trouble he could get in from teachers/parents, etc… all rushed into my  head at once. I DID THIS. And Zach just stood there,  looking back & forth between me & the mess. I wanted to ignore him, ignore what I’d done, maybe laugh it off, & hurry to my own class. I wanted to run away.

But I didn’t.


I didn’t run away because I had a nudge. Actually, it sounded like a booming voice in my head – “HEY! Help him clean it up!” So I went over to Zach & said, “Let’s clean it up.”

I don’t think he was expecting this response from one of his tormentors. (It would be wonderful to remove any personal blame for the afternoon book bag fiasco, but that would just be wishful thinking. I was in the thick of it, & I had been the one who’d done the most damage. Without even giving a 2nd thought to it, I had jumped into a mess & made Zach’s life a little bit more unbearable than it already was that day.)


As we were cleaning up the mess, I didn’t know what to say to Zach. He had his head down & was on his knees. He kept clearing his throat, which in retrospect makes me think he was trying his best to maintain a shred of dignity by not crying. Oh man.

I felt the nudge again: “Apologize.” So I did. I said something like, “Zach, I am really sorry that I threw your binder. I had no idea it would explode like that. I didn’t think about the mess it would cause or the problems that having your binder trashed would cause for you.” I  know that I rambled on & on, hoping & praying that he would somehow speak up, interrupt me, do SOMETHING to alleviate my own embarrassment & shame at my actions. He mumbled, “That’s ok,” & kept picking up papers.

“No, it’s not ok,” I heard myself saying. “It’s not ok. It was wrong, it was mean, it was not something I (or any of us) should have been doing, because NONE of us would have wanted to be in your shoes, to have this happen to us. Please forgive me.” He looked up at me & I saw him for the 1st time – hurt, broken, weary, so sad, alone. This wasn’t his 1st time being bullied (that’s what it was) & familiarity hadn’t made it any easier for him to get used to. And then he spoke, “Ok. I forgive you.” He gave me a weak smile, & followed that with, “But you stayed to help me clean it up. Thank you.”

I shook his hand, apologized again, & ran, head down, to my next class. He said he forgave me, even after what I’d done. I didn’t deserve it – but he gave it to me anyway.


When I think back on that incident, I am pained by my actions, my insensitivity, my lack of perspective. I am embarrassed & ashamed that I did something so thoughtless to a vulnerable, obviously in pain individual. Even as a 12 year old, I knew that what I had done was not the Jesus-Way. It seemed that if I hadn’t paid attention to the initial nudge & prompting, I might have gone even further down the road of “having fun” at the expense of others, without regard for them, their value & worth.

Something that ran through my head that day & that has continued to play a significant role in how I engage with people is the scripture that  talks about Jesus & His heart/attitude towards people. It’s the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 42:1-3. Its says:

A bruised reed He will not break, & a smoldering wick He will not snuff out, till He has brought justice through to victory. In His Name, the nations will put their hope. Matthew 12:19-21.

THIS is Jesus to me – He won’t break me when I’m bruised & damaged; He won’t snuff me out when my flame, my light isn’t catching fire, but just smoking & smoldering. He nurtures, He comes alongside, He helps, He restores.

And that is what  I want to do to. And every time I remember Zach, I recommit myself to be a part of the Jesus-Way.