Stay Close… a theme for 2022

A couple weeks back I had a conversation with my friend Jake (he’s a trained & licensed therapist/counselor) about ‘feelings.’ One of the things I’ve learned from Jake (& there’s a bunch) is how to better identify & work through my feelings/emotions. As such, something I’ve wrestled with, especially lately, is when I hear someone say something along the lines of “I don’t feel safe…” with whatever reason they have for not feeling safe. Except “safe” isn’t a feeling; it’s not one of the 10 core emotions that all humans have… yep – everybody – regardless of background, culture of origin, etc… (If you’d like to see/hear Jake identify & talk about our 10 core emotions, check out THIS LINK– I’ve found the information & application to be SUPER helpful. Back to the conversation…)

Jake clarified, “Safe” isn’t a feeling – its more of a belief or interpretation, an impression, thought, idea, evaluation of a situation or circumstance.” (Thanks Jake.) Now I GET what is probably meant by “I don’t feel safe” – my guess is that its usually fear that is registering for that person at that moment, based upon what they’re experiencing & how that could affect them.


With that said, & with a bit of a disclaimer: I’ve been a pastor for 30+ years, & until recently, I’ve never felt like I had some sort of overarching ‘theme’ for the year for our church… I said “until recently,” because the last 3 years have been different (Boy haven’t they.) Its not like I sit & think for hours until I “get” the theme for the year… it has just ’emerged’ while I’m going about my preparations for a message, or in my thinking times, or through conversations (like the one with Jake W I mentioned above.) 

While I was pondering ‘safe’ (& feelings, & emotions, & fears, & pandemics, & hysteria, & people, & stuff) what came to mind were a series of stories/accounts from the Bible book of Joshua. Joshua is an account of the Israelite people entering into & taking possession of the Land, including their daunting encounters with the Nephilim: Giant, 1/2 demon, 1/2 human spawn occupying the Land & making up large numbers of the “-ites” the Bible talks about.  

God promised Joshua (the new leader of Israel after Moses’ death) & the Israelites He would be WITH them, He would GO BEFORE them, He would NEVER LEAVE or FORSAKE them, & He would GIVE them the Land. Their job? To believe Him, to meditate on His ways (commands, precepts, teachings, path… think of it as “God’s road for life) & to not be afraid.


I definitely don’t want to get caught up trying to make a step by step, blow by blow comparison of Israel entering the Land & our lives in 2022… but I would like to share a couple of things: 

One of the main ways that we experience attack from the dark one comes through FEAR: he wants us to be intimidated, to be focused solely on our resources (or the lack thereof); to be consumed by our inadequacies & weaknesses. The goal is to keep us bound up, settling for less than God’s promises, mired in inactivity & paralyzed by our very real fears. 

God invites us to live differently. Instead of attempting to overcome insurmountable & seemingly invincible enemies with our own resources & strengths & abilities, He encourages us to STAY CLOSE to Him, to live (walk) as He intends, & to allow our day-to-day to be orchestrated & ordered by Him. And as we do that, we will see Him overcome/conquer/destroy/wipe out the adversaries in front of us.

With all that said, for 2022, our theme at Hillside is STAY CLOSE – what that means can mostly be summed up in these 5 things that help define what this STAY CLOSE looks like, lived out:

  • Stay close to Jesus
  • Be flexible/open to God change
  • Be prepared/get ready
  • Be strong & very courageous – don’t be afraid
  • Be careful to obey everything you know to obey

The days we live in are challenging… & I don’t believe that our adversaries, our ‘Giants,” should merely be explained away as people with wrong thought processes, ideologies, self-destructive practices, control issues, &/or political/religious/national affiliations. Instead, I believe we’re dealing with spiritual forces of darkness that aim to enslave, to steal/kill/destroy, to keep us from becoming who & what the God says we are… 

Therefore, I aim to STAY CLOSE & to do my very best to walk in His footsteps in 2022 & beyond. 

BONUS: check out Psalm 91 – one of the best (my favorite) Psalms on staying close to God.

Learning patience, or “Is there a lesson or purpose in everything?” & other musings…

I like to know WHY… maybe its the bent I have towards teaching, or perhaps its because it makes difficult/frustrating situations more bearable if there is a discernible WHY.

Know what I mean? Where you can go, “Ahhhh. I get it now. THAT’s why that happened.”

At the same time, I’ve learned through experience, circumstances, & Scripture that sometimes “rain falls on the just & on the unjust.” That there is no easy correlation between something happening & the readily apparent REASON for that thing happening. Yes, it would be great if “everything happens for a reason,” or that the sources of frustration, pain, etc could be immediately & directly identified (& therefore, have the resulting pain mitigated, even if just a leeetle.)

But it doesn’t always. At least I think it doesn’t.

On the subject of patience & being content with trying circumstances… you may have heard me tell or write about the time we were on the way to Do Something in the City (back in the olden days, the 80s,) & my mom was driving our trusty manual transmission VW bus from our home in Golden Valley towards Civilization (it’s been a minute…. there was NOTHING in Golden Valley back in those days… just houses. If you wanted Things, you had to travel.) We were at the 4 way stop-light that was 395N, (now its a real life dedicated to Golden Valley off-ramp!) waiting for the light to change so we could hurry on our way (as fast as a 70’s VW bus could hurry.) The light changed & …. nothing. Clutch is popped. We’re not moving. This is Not Good.

This kind of thing didn’t happen much when my parents were driving, as both of them could navigate a VW shifter with the best of them. Just not this time. So, my mom went to start the car, & it took a bit for it to catch (not unusual for a VW bus – if you know, you know….) Finally the engine squirreled to life & we started to move, just in time to see & feel the WHOOSH of an 18-wheeler as it ran the red light at the intersection.

Any frustration we’d felt (ok, that I’d felt as an 11-year old backseat driver) melted away in awe… even I knew that if we’d pulled out when the light turned green, we’d have been a schmear of cream & tan German auto parts. Thank you Jesus – THIS was easy to see; we’d been spared from becoming schmear by a popped clutch.

But what about…?


 

Most Thursday mornings, we (me & some guys) meet for prayer & talks in the Loft at our church at the Crack O Doom/Dawn… 6 a.m. As a creature of habit & routine, I like to Be Ready & Prepped (whatever that means) so when its time to pray, I feel like its not the first thing I’m doing during the morning… (FWIW, this Ready & Prepped list involves coffee, reading & finishing my morning Bible time, & making sure our meeting space in the Loft is Ready-To-Go.

This Thursday started like they usually do: I rolled out of bed at 4:34 & hit the shower; quickly dressed & headed downstairs with My Stuff to make my coffee (& to prep theBean’s coffee cup so all she has to do is hit the “GO” button on the KCoffee machine.) Now, an aside – after talking with my friend Antonio before our last Snow Sunday at Hillside (where we only did online church because, SNOW,) I discovered that we both are what the kids might call “Bougie“/Boujee (aka “Extra Fancy) when it come to our coffee & how we like it/make it. I don’t know that I’d agree, but say I do – if Antonio is bougie, then I will be bougie with him. Good company, that man. Anyway, I digress.

In our pre-church discussions, we talked about how we USED to drink coffee (black as the night, strong as the universe,) & how we drink coffee NOW (you can ask Antonio how he takes his coffee & decide for yourself just how things have changed for him.) As for me – I like to PUT THINGS into my coffee:

That is it. And trust me. It is tasty & it is > black coffee.

I do this EVERY DAY, with little to no trouble, no mess, no wasted motion… except today, I dropped the plastic dish holding the chocolate salt. Which means I spilled the WHOLE dish on the counter & floor. This very fine, very powdery chocolate salt, all over. At 4:50 a.m. I gotta be on the road in 2, people.

Might have gotten a little huffy-puffy. I wasn’t leaving the mess for theBean, so cleaning it up NOW was a must. And so with broom (& vacuum) in hand, I made the best of the mess & cleaned it up. Even rescued some salt off the counter (hey! There’s a win for me.) But…

Turns out I overfilled the to-go mug I was using that day. My usual mug was in Eugene (my 2001 Land Rover beast machine, where it doesn’t belong,) so I used the backup to a backup. And I miscalculated the size of the cup. Which overflowed with coffee & MCT oil & creamer & chocolate salt. BAHHHH! (Or something like that) came out of my mouth – no big deal. I can do this. I’ve already conquered one dragon this morning – I’ll just take it sloooow & dump a little coffee out of the to-go cup into the sink & be on my way.. Except…

MCT oil is oily. Slippery even. So slippery on plastic that when I attempted to pick up my cup, I dropped it. And the liquid flowed as only liquid & oils & creams can flow. All over. Everywhere. On the counter. Into the cabinets. Into the drawers. Onto the floor. Here. There. Everywhere.

I saw red (& other angry things.) And then I KNEW I was going to be late for my routine. Late for prayer maybe. And this mess wasn’t going to clean itself.

And the second thought that came to my mind (the first one wasn’t helpful or constructive,) was this: “Ahhh. I remember the VW bus incident, & several others like it where I was spared something terrible by an unfortunate & frustration circumstances that bothered me tremendously in the moment, but turned out to be a Blessing in Disguise.. Maybe THIS is THAT…”

Almost as soon as the thought crossed my mind, I ‘heard/felt’ God speak, “What if this is just one of those things that happens? What if there’s no visible, easily traceable lesson to discover? What if THIS is just a THING that happened, & you get to CHOOSE how you will act/respond/move forward?”

Those thoughts stopped me in my oily, creamy, chocolate tracks… I didn’t like that idea. That was DUMB. Its better if there’s a REASON. Something I’m being spared from… But what if if IS just an opportunity to be patient, to slow down, to clean up, to laugh at myself? What if THAT is all THIS was?

It has to be enough, today. And so it was.


Got to the church at the same time as Matt – not late, but not on my schedule. Thought quite a bit about all the things I’d experienced that morning… All the frustrations. The messes. The (surprising) NEED for all of it to be more than just a life obstacle to navigate… one of those things that every single one of us faces all the time. Told the guys about it. Laughed together. 

Been thinking about it for 2 days now. I aim to choose patience whenever it comes to mind that it IS a choice how I respond. To not have to see or know the WHY about my (petty) inconveniences… or even the not-so-petty ones. I’m asking Jesus for transformation in my heart, mind, & character. To reflect Him. To laugh quicker. To slow down. Even if I can’t see the WHY or the lesson in it. 

2 things… (or some words to live by from my dad)

When I was a kid, my dad often reminded me 2 things that really helped at the time w/my interactions with my brothers. Both of these things stuck with me & I find I’m using them just about every day… so that I don’t antagonize or further exacerbate contentious situations, & so that I don’t get offended or weighed down by life & the messes it can bring. FWIW:

  • “Don’t throw wood on the fire.” This one is based on Proverbs 26:20/21 which states, “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.” Don’t intentionally stoke the fires of conflict.”

The main context for this one used to be my interactions with my 3 younger brothers… they LOVED to antagonize me (so it seemed) just to get a reaction (attention?) out of me. And yes, they did get plenty of reactions… After one such “reaction,” my dad pulled me aside & challenged me (admonished? rebuked? corrected? instructed? All of the above?) to NOT add to the antagonism with my own special brand of fire accelerant… He, for some reason, thought that I could control myself & not cause situations to escalate by taking those situations up a notch… hence the “don’t throw wood on the fire.”

I sure knew how fire worked – loved building & stoking campfires or our every-morning-fire in the Franklin stove so that I’d be warmed while I folded newspapers & prepped to head out on my route. If I didn’t put wood on the campfire, if I didn’t adequately stoke the stove, the fire would eventually burn out. And in these situations, THAT was the goal – to let the fires that I was invited (provoked? teased? prodded?) into stoking, just die out.

It initially seemed impossible; like I’d be losing something if I didn’t give a prompt & powerful response (in the form of a cord or 2 of proverbial wood,) but over time I saw (& experienced) the wisdom in those words. And I learned to avoid meaningless & even potentially dangerous situations by not adding to the heated emotions, loud/angry words, & the like.

  • Let stuff go – let the stuff that COULD bug you or get under your skin be LIKE WATER OFF A DUCK’S BACK.. just let it roll off. This one comes from Proverbs 25:28, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into without walls.” Self-control is a virtue; & exercising it means I have a choice about how I respond to & with others.

I like words. I mean, I REALLY like words. Reading good ones. Receiving spoken, life giving encouragements. Sharing the same with others, with interest. They can convey one’s feelings, thoughts, & affections; they can help to purge your soul, like a good power wash to a filthy sidewalk.

They can also be a snare, a corrosive agent eating its way deep into your being. The words (& actions) of others, when laid a hold of & pondered, internalized, & analyzed ad nauseam can completely sidetrack, derail, & paralyze a person.

That’s how it was for me… if people could get under my skin, antagonize & provoke me enough, I HAD to respond… often in even greater measure. Young Me couldn’t understand HOW a person (let alone me) could be on the receiving end of such vitriol, & NOT say or do (or SAY & DO) something.

You can probably see the problem: I was in bondage to the words, actions, & hostilities of others. And when others know they can get a rise out of you every time, they’ll use it Indiscriminately. And it sucks.

It might have been at Virginia Lake, on Lakeside in old west Reno. The ‘lake’ has ducks & geese aplenty, & we would often go play at the park, walk around the lake, & yes, feed the ducks & geese our old crusty bread. (This was back in the Days, before we were told that we are not Supposed to feed ducks & geese bread. Those were simpler times, & any stomach distress or empty calories that Young Me may have caused or contributed to the ducks & geese was 100% unintentional.)

As we were feeding ducks, I believe that my dad & I were verbally processing through the conundrum: “How does one NOT respond in kind when provoked? When They push all the right (wrong?) buttons & it feels like there is No Choice but to respond/retaliate?” The response I got (as best as I recall,) went something like this:

“See the ducks? They glide through the water. They swim in & through it, & it doesn’t weigh them down, it doesn’t slow them down. It just rolls right off of them, & then they keep going. They can go under the fountain & get sprayed with jets of water… & the water just rolls right off their little backs. THAT is what you can do when it seems people are pushing your buttons. When they’re antagonizing you, attempting to get you to lash out, to respond in your frustration. You can be like a duck – just let ALL of that roll off your back. Quack.”

And for some reason, it stuck. I knew i could be like a duck. I didn’t have to respond to provocation. I could have self-control & not give others the power to direct me & my life.

Maybe its over-simplified. Sure there are other mental processes that have to be engaged to work through how, why, & when a response is necessary/not necessary. But the “water off a duck’s back” sure gave Young Me a great picture to use to DO those other processes. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

Looking ahead to 2022, & a letter asking HOW to re-start going to church….

I love to write, & I love to share my thoughts (musings?) with others. And yet… for most of 2021 I didn’t blog. Instead, I put together at least 1 video post/week, along with my staff, on our church’s YouTube page (you can check it out HERE if you’re interested.)

In the last few weeks of each year, I like to take stock of my life & purpose to make changes to better fit my goals, values, etc… Not “New Year’s Resolutions” per se; rather, intentional, on-purpose life adjustments. Things to stop. Things to start. One thing I am aiming to do in 2022 is to write, to blog again. So here I go.


This week, a friend texted me a question & the answer would have been way to long for this guy to text back…. so I wrote him a letter (an email, really) with an answer that I hope will be helpful. I know he’s not the only one asking this question (I’ve heard it from many, many people over my 22 years pastoring. This isn’t the ONLY answer – every situation is a little different… & the answers I’m offering are  100% my opinion, though I hope they are rooted in not only my experience but also in scriptural principles.

First, the question:

“Do you have thoughts on helping people handle changing seasons & church relationships? I have three different friend groups that all started in (campus/college ministry group) that have all recently ran into hiccups or issues after COVID & all of them appear to be at “restart” phases of finding church or belonging.. They find it hard to be motivated to go to church because they don’t have any connected relationships. Any thoughts or ideas?”

The answer:

Dear friend:
Thanks for reaching out – I feel really strongly about this topic, partially because I’ve got so many old students & old friends who have lived this out… & many of them have still never reconnected with a church & haven’t been a  part of a community since their Campus ministry days.


One of the bummer things about campus groups is they are (largely) homogenous… people the same age, going through the same general things… & there are (usually) many significant, powerful happenings in their lives with Christ. (Think ‘mountaintop experiences.’)

Most churches will be different than that – especially if there is a mix of ages/life experiences (heterogeneous)…. real community, real fellowship takes work & commitment because you’re largely going to be connecting & building relationships based on a commitment to Jesus & being obedient to Him (vs. based on age, things in common, previous friendships, etc.) And sometimes it requires that YOU be the person that helps others to connect; that YOU be the one who reaches out, who helps, who encourages others.

So – what I’ve said (& I’d say to others asking the question) is something like this:
Think back to when you first started going to your campus ministry group – you had to risk, you had to extend yourself, you had to try (probably multiple times.) This is a similar process that you will need to embrace in order to motivate yourself to GO to church, to CONTINUE going to church, & to be APART of a local community for the long -term.
Being a participating member of a church community is really important & significant – here are some ideas for you to get started & get connected:
  • Ask a trusted Christian, church-going friend who is in a local church community – can I come to church with you for a bit to get my bearings? Go there & give it a month or two, minimum..
  • Do you have any connections at a local church? People you know already, friends attending somewhere?Go there & give it a month or two, minimum..
  • If not, are there any churches near you that are familiar (denomination, worship style, philosophy, values, etc) to you? Go there & give it a month or two, minimum..
  • If not, ask God for bravery, boldness, & direction & FIND a church in your city (near or far doesn’t matter, but nearer, aka less than 30 minutes away, is probably best. Then commit yourself to go & participate in the life of the church – attending church but also trying a small group; staying for fellowship opportunities; looking for others with their ‘connectors’ out.

No church is perfect; it is often messy & requires people to really commit to the process of church, having thick skins & perseverance, to be willing to repent & to extend grace to others. It will require giving of yourself, extending yourself, stepping into potentially lonely situations (at least initially). & then not quitting.

And if the church you try doesn’t end up being one you can connect with/in, try another… but keep going. Keep trying. Keep extending yourself. It is worth it.

I know many people who’ve made the ‘leap’ into church community & they love it; & I know many who have never made the jump out of campus ministry to church, & they are still living off the ‘great things God did when I was in college,’ even if it is 20 years later. And that makes me sad, because God isn’t done with you when you leave school

Hope there’s something in here that helps…

Blessings to you
Louie

Stuff #7 – “Don’t put wood on the fire…”

Continuing today in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one stems from a (series of?) conversations with my dad when I was just a lad… & it had everything to do with my response to my younger brothers’ antagonism.


STUFF #7 – “Don’t put wood on the fire…” 

For all of us wanna-be pyros, this seems like it would be BAD advice; of course fires need more wood. That’s how they burn! But this truth is precisely why the instruction to NOT put wood on the fire stuck with me…


I am the oldest of 4 boys – all of us born (approx.) 4 years apart. There were some lonely days between the ages of 0 to about 6. First, I was waiting for siblings; second I was waiting for them to get bigger so we could actually PLAY together. I thought that once Johnny & Joel (& later Ben) were growed up, then:

  • life would be better & more fun
  • we would live out all of our days in rapturous joy;

Not quite how that worked out.

While I loved (& still love) my brothers, our early years were often characterized by all out brawls: verbal & physical… 2 (& later 3) against 1. Them against me. And while the physical onslaught was (mostly) easy to endure, it was the psychological warfare which all of my brothers engaged in that really got me. It’s like they were born with the innate knowledge of “How to antagonize your brother…”  I didn’t get that they would provoke me to get attention out of me, & bad/negative attention was better than no attention.


My brother Johnny could push my buttons. He knew just what to say, just what to do, to get a rise out of me. When my parents weren’t looking, he’d pinch, punch, shove, or elbow; he’d lean in & call me silly names, challenge me to contests of physical (& emotional) strength, & generally dominate me & my head space. He lived there rent-free :)

I’d respond in anger. Frustration. My own antagonism. I’d get loud, go after his buttons (I could play that game too) & generally take it up a notch (or 10) until the house was overflowing with our shouted conflicts, disagreements, & antagonisms.

One day, I remember my dad pulling me aside & taking me into his study (which, to me, signaled that things were about to get REAL.) He pulled out his bible & read these verses to me:

Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers & as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. Proverbs 26:20,21 – NIV

I could see it – my dad was explaining to me that the problem, the REAL problem, was that my brothers kept putting fuel on the fires, which resulted in me HAVING to respond to them to make sure justice was served, every challenge was met, & every threat, rebuffed. Felt a little proud of myself at connecting those dots. Except…

That wasn’t the point. This wasn’t about learning to shut down conflicts by controlling the behaviors of OTHERS. This was about learning to shut down conflicts by controlling the behaviors (& responses) of LOUIE. Me. The lesson wasn’t in how to fix others… it was in how to control & discipline the only person I really could: me.


Not what I wanted to hear. I think I argued with my dad a bit, about the injustice of what he was (God was?) asking me to do – “If I don’t respond, they’ll think they WIN. And that is not RIGHT!”

Nope – that is not the thing – the thing is, the only person Louie can control, can truly take full responsibility for shaping is… Louie. And in this scenario, the Bible, Solomon – the wisest of them all – inspired by the Lord God Almighty, was pointing to a different way.

IF you don’t put wood on a fire, it WILL go out.

My responses (justified & legitimate though they may seem to me) were putting wood (kindling, gasoline, & all other flammable materials) onto a fire that would never tire of burning out.

And sometimes the only way to put the fire out, was to STOP putting wood/fuel on it. And that is what I was tasked to do.


It wasn’t perfect, but I did it. I can distinctly remember a time where Johnny went into antagonist mode; he wanted, no, needed me to respond to him, so he gradually dug into his tool bag of “fire it up” skillz, & launched them at me. One at a time. Every. Single. One.

And this time, this once, I ignored his taunts. I ignored & didn’t respond to his teasing. I thought about starving a fire of fuel, & determined in my heart & in my head (& with my mouth) that I would not, under any circumstances, add any WOOD to this FIRE. And i didn’t.

And eventually, young Johnny (who had to be all of 4 years old or so,) ran out of steam. It was no fun to stir things up without a partner/opponent. But I was determined. No. Wood.

The feeling of satisfaction I experienced at that moment stays with me today. I DID it. Because I DIDN’T do it. And, just like my dad (& Solomon & the proverb in my Jesus book) said, the fire of antagonism went out. Walked away. Went to raid the pantry. No conflict.


This principle has remained at/near the forefront of my thoughts/interactions, even today, esp. when a situation arises where it appears interpersonal interactions are going to get HOT… & instead of responding to real/perceived injustice, antagonism, character assassination, etc… I have learned (& attempted to practice) self-control. I laid down (& continue to practice laying down) the need to be RIGHT, the need to have the LAST WORDS, the need to be JUSTIFIED in my own eyes/the eyes of others.

Years later, I was reading in the book of Nehemiah (the rebuilder of the wall around Jerusalem) – what stood out to me was his self-control & his refusal to respond in kind to the attempts made to divert him from God’s purpose & plan for his life… attempts made by 3 guys (& their minions) to distract, antagonize, & turn him FROM self-control/obedience to God, TOWARDS answering their challenges & embracing the need for self-justification.

I can do that.

I don’t HAVE TO respond to antagonism in kind.

I am not COMPELLED to put wood on the proverbial fire.

I don’t have to attempt to JUSTIFY myself in the eyes of others… esp. if I can be content & secure in the knowledge of my own (to the best of my abilities) right standing before God.

This one, “Don’t put wood on the fire,” is PURE GOLD. Grab on to this for yourself.

Stuff #6 – “Speak life… (or don’t speak.”)

Rolling on in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one comes from an interaction I had at 16, & a late night conversation with God.


STUFF #6 – Speak life… or don’t speak.

Maybe you could call this “STUFF” the Thumper rule… You know, Thumper as in the lovable rabbit from the Disney movie, Bambi. The “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” rule. This is one of the most painful lessons I’ve picked up in my life, because it came about after causing someone tremendous pain with something I said…


Like many people (just about everyone?), I was very insecure as a teen – esp. in my mid-teen years. Over time & through a lot of practice I learned how to mask this insecurity by running my mouth, deflecting words spoken to/at me by using the old ‘the best defense is a good offense‘ routine.

In the summer of 1986, a group from my church (made up of a bunch of my peers & few adult chaperones,) was preparing to go to Mexico City during the World Cup to help a local church. Part of the preparation involved weekly meetings after church on Sundays where we learned things like a philosophy of missions, interacting with people in a different culture, how to navigate the biggest city in the world, & some rudimentary Spanish & Spanish-language stories, songs, & other fun stuff that would be a part of our trip. Looking back, I think the biggest thing we were trying to do was build chemistry with the people that we’d be spending 2 weeks with in a variety of pressure-filled situations. (Also funny – to me – is the fact that the room we met in for all those weeks of preparation now serves as my main office at the church. But I digress.)

My cousin (also going on the trip) & I decided, separately, that this trip to Mexico would be a good excuse to get a new haircut… a tall flat top ala Val Kilmer in “Top Gun.” Anyway, I showed up at our weekly Mexico prep meeting about 5 minutes late… only to walk in & see that my cousin had also got the same (similar?) haircut that I had & most definitely was pulling it off better than I was. To make matters worse, because he got there first, he was the one who ‘owned’ the haircut, & I was most evidently just copying him (which wasn’t true – but in the world I lived in at the time, that didn’t matter one bit… And I digress again…) Showing up & seeing his (better version of the) haircut took my anxiety & insecurity up a few notches to “just about ready to explode…” I took a chair by the door & tried (unsuccessfully) to disappear into the greenish silver wallpaper lining the majority of the wall space.


There were some giggles (to be expected, as there were several other teens in the room. Esp. funny with 2 of us having a similar, attempting to be trendy haircut.  It was going to happen…) but I thought that I’d avoided any really negative comments or comparisons when we dove immediately into our Mexico team preparations. Alas, I was wrong.

There was a young lady on the team that had a crush on my cousin – & at a quiet moment when we were all reading in our Mexico notebooks, she made a comment about my haircut & stated her opinion: “Louie is just a so & so (insert my cousin’s name)  wannabe.” 

Her comment got a bunch of laughs & I was embarrassed & ashamed, & felt like the (negative) center of attention – my mind began to race a million miles an hour & I can remember looking over at this young lady & mentally shuffling through a catalogue of potential responses that might divert attention from ME to HER.

As the laughter died down a bit, I decided to go for broke & said something I knew would put the attention 100% on her: “Oh yeah? Well, you are just a killer whale wanna-be.”  The guys in the room exploded with laughter & finger pointing. Ha! “I win,” I thought. And then I looked around & saw the majority of the ladies (& all the adults) had looks of surprise & disgust on their faces… they knew I’d crossed a line & had gone for the throat at this young lady’s expense.

The moment was too much for her, & she got up & ran out of the room. And didn’t come back.


I wish I could say I had a moment of clarity & repentance & that I immediately went to the young lady & apologized for my crass & crude & obnoxious comment (that was meant to damage her & make sure she never made the mistake of trying to make me the butt of a joke again.) But I didn’t. I tried to keep going like nothing wrong or bad had happened & that the girl’s response was just an overreaction, all the while knowing what I had said was destructive & wrong.


Later that night, I was trying to sleep but all I could do was replay that afternoon in my head. I finally decided that I would try to ‘pray’ about the situation & ask God to help me sleep. All I kept thinking about were the times that others had ‘fat-shamed’ me &/or called me by unflattering nicknames that I can still recall to this day.

Finally, I broke – I remember weeping in my bed, crying out to God & feeling horrible at the trauma I’d inflicted on this young lady. There came a point where I was finally (mostly) at peace, & as I was laying there, I ‘heard’ God speak to me (not an audible voice but still as clear as if it had been.) The gist of what was said was:

“I’ve given you a gift – a gift meant to build people up & encourage them. A gift that allows your words to be impactful & to make a difference in the lives of those you speak to. You can choose to use it for GOOD, or you can choose to use it for EVIL. It’s up to you to SPEAK LIFE (or DON’T SPEAK.) 

That night started something in me – a process of transformation in the words I spoke – it wasn’t an overnight change, & there were still quite of bit of repenting on behalf of words I spoke, yet there was growth… & I can say that I didn’t speak to intentionally wound &/or cause damage anymore.

But I never went back & apologized to the young lady for what I’d said. And it weighed on me.


And then about 15 years ago, Joey broke his finger playing baseball. What does that have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked…

He & I spent the next couple of weeks going to doctor appointments & making sure everything would heal up ok… which meant a lot of time sitting in waiting rooms… & a lot of time for thinking. One morning on the way to the Reno Ortho Clinic, I had a memory of the “killer whale wanna-be” comment that I’d made so many years before… felt overwhelmed with what I can only call godly sorrow & remorse. I wept a bit, & thanked God for changing my heart (from where the words flow) & I thought I heard God say, “If you saw ________ (girl’s name) again, would you ask her for forgiveness?”

At that moment, there was nothing in the world further from my head as a possibility. HOW would I see her? I hadn’t seen her in 20 years or so, & didn’t even know where she lived, let alone how to get in touch with her.

We’d been sitting at Reno Ortho Clinic for about 30 minutes & I’d gotten bored with the retread magazines in the waiting room & I decided to engage in some clandestine people watching.

As I scanned the room for interesting sights, I saw a semi-familiar face. A face from the distant past. It was her. And her mom. Sitting in the SAME waiting room as I was. And she didn’t see me (or if she had, she was totally nonchalant-ing it – for some reason.) And I heard God’s voice again, asking gently, “If you saw ________ (girl’s name) again, would you ask her for forgiveness?” 

I’d thought I would do it IF I ever saw her again. Didn’t really ever think I would. But there she was… & I froze. I felt ashamed. I was overwhelmed with a fear & insecurity I hadn’t felt in years as I wrestled in my head, trying to decide what to do.

In the in-between time, she & her mom were taken back to their exam rooms; Joey & I were taken to ours a few minutes later. I’d missed it. I’d blown a divine appointment, a chance given FROM God, BY God to repent, to tell her I was sorry, to OWN the wrong’s I had said. Self-flagellation ensued.

Later that afternoon, I was praying, bargaining with God – “Please give me another chance. If you give me another chance, I promise I’ll talk to her. I’ll make it right…” It felt like I was talking to the ceiling & that my prayers didn’t go beyond the room. I’d missed it.


About a month went by, & I’d completely given up hope that I’d ever see this woman again… after all, it had been > 20 years since our previous interaction, so why should I run into her again?

But I did. The funny thing is, I can’t even remember WHERE it was that I ran into her. There are so many things about this situation I can recall with such painful clarity… but not WHERE I saw her again. What I do know is that I walked up to her & said “Hello.” I re-introduced myself to her & saw that she had some recall of me. And before she could really say anything else, I asked her forgiveness. I told her about how terrible I felt at making her the focus of an insult obviously meant to wound & scar her. I told her the story about seeing her at the doctor’s office & how I’d asked for another opportunity to run into her. And now here it was.

She was gracious. She offered me forgiveness. I think we hugged. And I floated back to my car, thanking God for His goodness to give me yet another opportunity to make things right. And His words resonated in my head, “Speak LIFE…” 

And they still do.

Stuff #5 – “Could you be wrong?”

Rolling on in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one comes from a car ride with my dad when I was about 5 years old.


STUFF #5 – Could you be wrong?

Back in the day when I was about 5 (probably one of my earliest ‘learning memories’ that I can pinpoint from the wayback machine,) my dad & I were driving towards home. At the time we lived on Upson Lane& I distinctly remember we were cruising around Dartmouth Dr. (there is still a beautiful pond there,) & we had the front windows down for some 1970’s era 2-30 air conditioning. (You know, roll down the 2 windows & drive 30 mph to cool down ?)

Anyway, as we approached the curves on Dartmouth, (right at the ponds), a piece of paper (don’t remember exactly what it was, only that it was a full size, 8 1/2″ x 11″) was flapping on the dashboard in the little crevice between the dash & the windshield.

Though the paper was flapping pretty good, in my expert & very professional opinion, it wasn’t in any danger of flying out of the car. We weren’t going fast. The paper was secure. And yet…

My dad said, ‘Would you take the paper off the dashboard, please? I don’t want it to fly out the window & get lost.”

I looked at the paper again, looked back at him, & replied, “Nah, it’s ok. It’s not going anywhere.”

To which my dad asked, “Louie, could you be wrong?”

I distinctly remember the thoughts running through my head at that precise moment. Could I be wrong? No! No way I could be wrong. The paper was barely flapping & was tucked securely between the dash & windshield. I was absolutely, positively, certain that it wasn’t going ANYWHERE. So I said, with all the conviction I could muster: “No. No I couldn’t be wrong.”

The words were scarcely out of my mouth when all of the sudden a gust of wind blew through the car & the piece of paper in question blew right out my window, to settle in an unknown & forever lost place.


I couldn’t believe it. There was NO WAY that this paper could have blown away, no way I could have been wrong about it. And yet I was.

What I remember the most about those ensuing moments follows:

  • My dad’s belly laugh – I’d just learned a lesson that would stick with me for life, & it didn’t even come with a spanking.
  • Even though I had been 100%, absolutely sure that there was NO WAY that paper was going anywhere, it did. And I was most definitely wrong.
  • I was quiet the rest of the way home ( a whopping 2 blocks).

40+ years later, I still think about THAT precise moment when the thing I was SURE couldn’t, wouldn’t, wasn’t able to happen, did, in fact happen. And I was profoundly impacted by that experience – & I know I learned, from that moment on, no matter how SURE I felt about something, anything… there was always the possibility that I could, somehow, someway, be wrong. And it weighed on me – with a positive, encouraging, & humbling kind of weight.

Over the years, I’ve found that any pressure I feel about being ALWAYS right & NEVER wrong is rooted in a bad & dark place – in pride, in ego, in arrogance. To be able to embrace, with humility, that in spite of all the positive feelings & beliefs I might have about a particular thing being RIGHT, there was always the possibility that I could be wrong.

It is a freeing thing to know that you know that you know that even when one feels 99 44/100% sure about something, it is a wise person that leaves the possibility open that somehow, someway, that person could also be wrong about that very thing.

Stuff #4 – “Feed the hungry bird…”

Rolling on in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one also came from Ron Pinkston, by way of a few dozen conversations with people on the topic of “making disciples of Christ.”


STUFF #4 – When it comes to making disciples, influencing others towards good, encouraging people: FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD.

When I started volunteering with Jr & Sr High students, I knew that one of my responsibilities was to make disciples (aka ‘fully devoted followers of Christ.’) However, I didn’t have any idea just HOW I was supposed to do that. So, pre-the Google machine’s invention, I asked around. Called friends (on a touch tone land-line phone, even,) for recommendations. Some suggested a curriculum, studied in a classroom type setting, for a set number of weeks; others offered up a ‘y’all come’ approach, where any & everyone who showed up to class &/or youth group would be discipled (though I wasn’t exactly sure how that was supposed to happen. Still.)

I fumbled & stumbled through it, feeling overwhelmed, ill-equipped, & frustrated. Felt like I was failing at what I was trying to do. And then…

“If you want to make disciples & don’t know where to start, just FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD. Look for the student that wants to learn, wants to grow, & wants to spend time doing it. And then spend time with them.”

Don’t exactly remember the context for when/where I heard this saying, but I know when I did, a light bulb went on in my head. I could do that! And so I decided to experiment: one night at youth group, I told the handful of students, “Anyone who wants to grow in their relationship with Jesus & hang out with me before school, & drink coffee/eat a muffin at the City Cafe bakery, we’re meeting on Tuesdays @ 6 a.m. I’ll get you a ride to school as well.”


The next Tuesday, I showed up at the City Cafe as the doors were opening to the public… it was me & a few morning stragglers grabbing their coffee & a quick bite on their way to work. No one was sitting in the Cafe, so I got my cup (free refills For The Win #FTW) & parked at a table in the middle aisle of the restaurant. (It was a converted, barely remodeled Swensen’s Ice-Cream parlor. If you’ve been in one, you get the picture.) I was alone.

Every time one of the doors opened, I’d peek around to see if any brave souls were joining me in at the Crack O’Doom. For coffee & Jesus. For the longest time, (at least 10 minutes,) no students came… just early risers on their way to work. And then…

I’d heard the door, but had gotten tired of turning around to the disappointment of Yet Another not-student walking in the door. I focused on drinking my bottomless cup of joe, nibbling on a cobblestone muffin, & reading my Psalms.

Next thing I knew, I sensed someone’s presence nearby. It was Vic, a 7th grader from our youth group, standing there looking as awkward as I felt, & but as welcome as any Christmas morning I’d ever experienced. Somebody came! And now what to do.

Vic figured out the transactional part of the morning (coffee & a muffin for here in the cool green basket,) & came over & sat across from me. Drinking his coffee, slowly. Taking large bites of his muffin.

What to do next? He was here now, invited to come “grow in his relationship with Jesus.”


So we talked. Laughed. I listened to him, & prayed that I’d have something to say. His questions didn’t start on Jesus, the Bible or other spiritual topics, but somehow, they seemed to end up there.

Before I knew it, an hour had passed & it was time to take him to school – when I dropped him off, I can remember him saying, “So, we gonna do this again next week?”

I hadn’t thought of next week. But I said, “Yes. Of course. Same time, same place.” And he got a big smile on his face & said something like, “Cool. it was fun.” And he bailed.


Over that school year (& for the next several years that I lived in Carson City,) Tuesdays at the City Cafe became a ‘thing,’ at one point taking over most of the tables & booths in the restaurant. All Jr & Sr High students. All ordering coffee. All eating a muffin. All talking at their tables with friends, Youth sponsors (people there to help me with supervision & discipleship) & having a blast.

Being discipled. Encouraged towards Jesus. It was beautiful, & is still one of my favorite memories from my time in Carson.


Over the years, FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD came to mean – share time, space, & experiences with the people who WANT to gather, WANT to hang out, WANT to learn. Though it could sound trite, it really was true: the Holy Spirit set the agenda for what got addressed, & we never really needed a curriculum as He & life’s circumstances & challenges provided more materials than I could ever have wanted to have.

There’s no substitute for time together. For good conversation. For making time to listen. For saying, “I don’t know,” when you don’t know, & for heading to prayer for answers, comfort, & encouragement in those times.

It gives me great joy to know that many, many of those students are still walking with Jesus, now with spouses & their own kids (& some even have grandkids) more than 30 years later.

And it all started with Vic, the brave soul who took me up on my invite to grow in his relationship with Jesus. Over coffee. With a muffin. Before Jr High.

Stuff #3… “Nobody owes me anything.”

This is #3 in a blog mini-series about “Stuff I’ve picked up along the way.” You can find the other 2 parts of this HERE

STUFF #3 – NOBODY OWES ME ANYTHING. (This one came up a couple of times; first, in a series of conversations with a former pastoral overseer/supervisor of mine, Ron Pinkston, & then later with Jerry Cook.)

Think about that phrase for a second.

It’s not “I don’t owe anyone anything,” (which I know might sound suuuuuper attractive to you. I recognize that it could be a very enticing potential life motto, especially when one is feeling stretched super-thin {like too little butter spread over too much toast} &/or is feeling extra “done” from pouring out. Nope.)

This one is not THAT. It, very specifically & intentionally, is “Nobody owes me anything.”


Time is funny, in that I can’t remember all the specifics that were going on in my life at the time, nor exactly what prompted me to seek out the conversation w/Ron. (Granted – this may have been 25 years ago.)  I do remember that I was frustrated, I felt wronged, & I really, truly thought that when I talked to my supervisor, he would fully understand, he would reassure me in my feeling of ‘wrongness’ & perhaps even commiserate with me a bit about the VERY obvious series of wrongs that I was experiencing. I was right about one thing; he DID understand. Except…

He understood what I was saying to him better than I understood it myself. In my mind, I was relaying to him one of the great hurts that happen to People Like Me in this life; people who are givers who then, in their own point of need, are not considered, taken for granted, & perhaps even… forgotten. But what he understood was that what I was expressing to him was disappointment & frustration at being let down by a couple of people who Should Have Known Better & Done Better in their interactions with me. And what I was sharing with him was born out of entitlement, selfishness, & self-pity.

I’m thankful he didn’t drop the proverbial hammer on me… nope. He merely interrupted my eloquent complaints & said something like, “I get it. I GET it. I know what the problem is… You’re living, functioning, & interacting with these people (& probably more) with a belief that because of who you are & what you do, that somehow they OWE you in some way. And you just can’t believe that they’re NOT responding towards you in the way you want.”

Ever have one of those moments when a trusted friend shares some tough words with you & as you hear them, you also hear & feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit reinforcing what they’re saying? This was THAT. I knew he was right. And I knew enough to shut up & listen instead of attempting to justify myself & explain away the insights he’s just exposed. I’m thankful for his input & correction – it didn’t come from a place “on high” & unrelatable; no, it came from his own experiences. And he shared those with me – how he had been EXACTLY where I was, thinking on the same thing, wondering how & why he deserved to be so wronged…

One thing he said really stood out – “If you live your life, doing what you do, in such a way that you’re believing what you’re doing entitles you to some sort of acknowledgment or reciprocation from these people, you’re going to be in increasingly BIGGER trouble as time goes by. It’s a subtle trap of the enemy of our souls – where he invites us to look at the way we live as a part of a cosmic quid pro quo… it robs us of the joy of serving others, caring for & laying down our lives for others, & it runs the risk of poisoning our hearts & minds with bitterness & resentment. It’s ugly & it’s proud, & it will consume you if you let it. Remember, nobody OWES you anything, Louie.”

As I remember, we took a minute to pray about it & I repented – asked God’s forgiveness for the entitlement, selfishness, &  pride that motivated it. And coming out the other side of the conversation, I felt 100x lighter. And free-er.


Over the years, I’ve felt the familiar feeling/temptation to go down the road of selfish entitlement more than a few times… but I can say in good conscience that I’ve avoided it like the plague. And to me, “nobody owes me anything,” has become an invitation to acknowledge my own brokenness, while at the same time intentionally choosing to be kind, compassionate, & intentional about giving of myself to & for others.

And I’m thankful for that.

“You’ve already got it.” Stuff I’ve picked up along the way… #2

I started a blog ‘mini-series’ addressing wise sayings, cool nuggets, & good stuff that I’ve picked up along the way. (You know. Like from paying attention while living.:) Wrote a bit about this last week HERE. Check it out if you’re interested.) FWIW, this one is also a “Jerry Cook” special.

STUFF #2 – YOU DON’T NEED TO ASK GOD FOR SOMETHING HE’S ALREADY GIVEN TO YOU; INSTEAD, JUST THANK HIM FOR IT.

In 2010, I was selected to serve on one of our denomination’s governing bodies; one of the main responsibilities was to help choose the candidates for our denomination’s president. There were lots of unknowns & I was nervous – & so I decided to ask a couple people to pray for me during my time on the committee. To make it easier, I even put together a ‘bullet point’ list of prayer requests & things I was sure that I needed. WISDOM. I especially asked for wisdom for each & every new situation I’d be tackling.  Sent it out to a handful of people & got a few responses encouraging me & letting me know that they would, indeed, be praying for me.

And then I heard from Jerry.

(Let me just preface his reply by saying how much I loved how he would say/write things in a way that were full of humor, insight, & truth… even the things that were teaching or correcting moments. Even (especially?) when it was a pointed correction, you felt good getting it from him because you just KNEW the spirit in which it was offered up.)

Jerry wrote: “Nope. I’m not going to be praying for you for wisdom. And here’s why: you ALREADY HAVE IT. According to God’s Word & the promises He gives us, you already have wisdom. You’ve got so much wisdom, you’re FULL of it. So, instead of asking God to give you what He’s already given to you, THANK Him for it. And then go forward in your meetings, into every situation knowing that you have God’s wisdom & the mind of Christ.”


My initial reaction was, “He said NO? He wouldn’t pray for me?” Then after reading & rereading the note, my disbelief turned to laughter… & I got what he was saying. Later on when we had some time to talk in person, I asked him about the situation & he elaborated a bit more. He kindly shared his own “take” & “approach” to dealing with the responsibilities in front of him… & the vast majority of the time, he said he just “filled his mouth with praise & thanksgiving for the every spiritual blessing given to him by God in Christ…” And then he “acted like he HAD it already. Because God said he did.” 


That interaction continues to shape me & my life in so many ways… just about every week there’s at least one instance where I catch myself starting to pray, to ask God about something… & it turns to a “Thank you for giving me this, in Christ Jesus.” I don’t see it as wishful thinking or a ‘fake it til you make it’ type of situation. Instead, I see it as repentant thinking or as intentionally aligning my own thoughts & ways with God’s… & trusting that He’ll direct my steps, my thoughts, my words, my choices. And if I still don’t know what to do or say, after all that, I reflect on STUFF #1 – IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO OR SAY, LIMIT YOUR ACTIONS &/OR YOUR WORDS.