easy is a myth

December 31, 2012

Much has happened in the months between posts on my blog.  For starters [let’s put the most exciting news first], you are now reading the words of a married man!  That’s right!  On November 3rd, my life was wonderfully blessed by the most genuinely inspiring and beautiful woman that I have ever met as we exchanged vows, rings and kisses.  We were surrounded by our closest friends and family, who each wore huge smiles of their excitement for us and shared so many words of encouragement and joy for our relationship.  For those of you who haven’t heard the story of our relationship, it is one of God’s intervention and bringing two people together with purpose.  It’s hilarious in parts, a little embarrassing [as, I think, these stories often are], a little scary at times, and completely special.  I wish there was space for the whole story here, and I think one day I will share it in its entirety, but today’s post is reserved for another thought.  Anyway, I have begun to ramble [a bad habit of mine].  Our wedding day was gorgeous and perfect, wholly in celebration of the love we have for each other and the gratitude we have for our Father in Heaven who so evidently demonstrated His own love for us in each other. 
 
I mentioned a moment ago that our relationship, as Katie and I both feel, is one of purpose.  Not only purpose for each other, but for something larger, too.  Neither of us can tell you what that may be or will ultimately look like, but the call, we believe, is evident and real.  The thing about purpose, though, is that it is often met with challenge.  Such is the case of our story.  Even from its earliest moments, we’ve been faced with challenges more resembling a 10-year relationship than a newly-started: the reality of a post-divorce relationship, inheriting two young children in a step-family situation, navigating personal battles in spirituality and calling, all while learning what life looks like in building a team.  Having won in those early challenges [and that only through the grace and assistance of a most kind God], others have quickly followed.  And it is there that my thoughts are resting in this entry.
 
The words that make up this post are in the midst of months of fighting [not with each other, let me be clear!].  Fighting: punches thrown, punches taken, knocked to the dirt, getting back up, broken pride, smirking at well-landed blow, clinched fists, blood, tears, stitches.  Fighting is not for the weak.  Fighting is not pretty.  Fighting is brutal.  Fighting is “hard” in its rawest form.  In the weeks and months that have followed our wedding day, Katie and I have been dealt what has seems like a veritable onslaught of life’s less desired hands.  We’ve been met with the reality that the job market remains a gauntlet of disappointment and frustration.  We’ve received news that my boys will be moving 4 hours away to Tennessee in the first week of January.  Add to that months of personal struggle with severe fatigue, hurt, bitter frustration, and anxiety in my job.  Budget shortfalls.  The pain of strained friendships.   Any one of these present significant difficulty; all together, they present weariness and strain.  The analogy that keeps coming to mind is that it feels as though we are lost in a sea and have been forced to tread water just to keep from drowning.  And like fighting, treading water is hard.
 
Please do not misinterpret my mentioning of our challenges as whining or seeking sympathy.  I simply state these things as a little insight to where this post is coming from.  Some might read this and say, “Oh yeah?  Well, I’m dealing with [insert something ten times worse than all that is listed above]!”, and be carrying a much heavier burden than we are.  My heart is heavy for you; I understand how you feel. 
 
We all are forced to do “hard.”  It is probably one of life’s biggest constants.  I believe that none of us want to have to meet that truth, look it in the face, and acknowledge its rueful existence.  “Hard” is hard.  Hard requires much of us – more than we ever really want to give.  Simply put, hard hurts.  And who wants any of that?  Who wants pain?  Who wants stress and weighty concerns?  Give me easy, right?  Umm, yes please.  Who cares that every meaningful success story we read is one where someone overcomes ridiculous obstacles, risks much, and almost fails before realizing his greatest life purpose?  Give me easy. 
 
I would be lying if I said I haven’t, on more than one occasion, said that I wish this season were easier.  Lying still if I said I hadn’t banged my head against the wall in near-defeat on multiple occasions, asking “why me?” or “why us?”  Give me easy.  So quickly have I tossed my hands in the air, cried out in frustration and anger, only to clinch those hands into fists and shake them in the face of God.  How could He show so much favor and blessing as was experienced on our wedding day only to have it met with pain, struggle and disappointment in the days following?  Such have been my cries.  Do you see my weakness?
 
I don’t do well with weakness and failure.  I never have.  Much of my spiritual journey and growth over the last three years has dealt with these areas: weakness and failure.  These areas are those that should be managed and controlled.  Not being able to will a job for Katie.  Not being able to force a job change for myself.  Not being able to be nearer to my boys.  Not being able to extend financial means.  Not being able to … I have allowed this to equal personal failure.  “Work hard to not fail.  Do not fail so as not to be seen as weak.”  This was counsel I gave myself.  Inward thoughts of control, laced with pride and arrogance.  Always self-preserving; always self-serving. 
 
Once the thought of failure sets in, my struggle has always become a battle with contempt and resentment, and the questions quickly become “why?”  Is my weakness clearer to you now?  It is the arrogance of assuming that this is somehow all about me, or all about my personal and relational happiness.  That is to say, give me easy.  Those thoughts serve but one purpose: to block out the truth that purpose is always preceded and accompanied by challenge. 
 
We want easy.  Or is it really that we want to settle for easy?  In appearance, easy is safe.  Easy is comfortable.  Easy is doesn’t require a band-aid afterwards.  Maybe more than a myth, the accurate statement is that easy is a lie. Or the lie we tell ourselves.  Easy isn’t what preserves us and keeps us safe, it chains us and keeps us complacent.  Easy will never grow.  Easy will never conquer or achieve.  Easy promises much, but delivers little.  Easy is lazy.  Easy is weak.
 
Do these words scare you?  Do you find them daunting and heavy?
 
I was reading through the Bible earlier this week and came across a few passages in 2 Corinthians that marked me.  Paul knew what it was to struggle.  His whole story is one of some new struggle immediately following his last.  Add to that the burden of having a “thorn” in his side, a constant reminder that he is powerless in himself.   In verse 12:9, we see that Paul was not left alone, that his pains were not without purpose:
 
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  – 2 Corin. 12:9
 
In purpose, we struggle.  As stated earlier, that is life’s constant truth.  However, what we must also accept, and this is where I find myself having much to learn, is that it is not only for our purpose.  In our weakness, God is shown more holy.  It is when we cannot , that He can.  And when we succeed and overcome, it is from His strength, His provision.  It is not just about me.  It is not just about us.
 
It is also for purpose that we struggle.  As I was jotting down some of my raw thoughts before sitting down to write this post, I was also lead to the book of James.   There is so much practical wisdom for faith in this book, much of which I fail to remember.  In the very first verses of this book, God has written some incredible thoughts to address the truth that purpose is accompanied by “hard.”  It is this “hard” that prepares us for the purpose that He has created us for:
 
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1: 2-4
 
What I find in those verses is that I have been crying out with the wrong question; the question is not “why?”.  His answer to “why” is clearly laid out.  Rather, our cry needs to be “Father, help me to endure.”   Struggle in purpose is not without purpose.  Once we can accept that truth, we can yield our selfish cries for easy to requests for supernatural strength to persevere.  And that, I am now finding, is a much more encouraging standpoint.
 

As I am working through these thoughts [and yes, I am working through them, have not mastered them, and have much room for growth], a new truth has begun to set into my heart: easy is a myth.  It cannot coexist with purpose.  I am grateful to know that God created me, and has blessed [challenged] my life and my marriage with such a purpose that today’s struggles are required to achieve.

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a new season.

April 13, 2012

It’s been a while since I was right here.  I’ve missed writing, something that has been as much of a shock as anything.  I started this blog and didn’t really know what to think of it at the time.  No writing experience to speak of, and, truth be told, a pretty significant fear of putting anything out in the open for others to view.  I did not have a lot of confidence at the beginning (and still don’t have a ton) in my ability to transfer thoughts to words to paper.

I’ve begun to ramble a little bit.  My apologies.

So here I am.  Sitting at my computer after, hmm…nearly four months since my last post.  I’ve missed sorting through the things pressed on my heart and mind and trying to form them into words in a way that might be worth reading.  I’ve missed reliving through diction the events, conversations and realizations that have come out of doing this thing called life with my closest friends, family and Heavenly Father.

This blog was designed to be a place where I can write about experiences, events and thoughts that have been meaningful and God-pressed on me to share with anyone who happens upon this site as encouragement and evidence of the love of our Savior.  To this point, these posts have been mostly of the success variety – writings on some thought or event God had used in my life to demonstrate His perfect love and choice to deal with me in grace and restoration, my choice to accept them and life change that followed.  I don’t think this post will be quite like that.

I am of the belief that life comes at us in seasons – some good and some not as much.  From reading my earlier posts, you will know that I have recently come out of what was the darkest and most painful season of my life.  I have since come to look at it as the most valuable and wonderful, as well.  I am not the same person as a result of it – much to the glory of God.  I learned much more in 18 months of who my Savior is and who I am in Him than I had in the 29 years previous.  The season has now changed and I find myself looking at new arena of life.  The truth is, right now, I find myself in a place that I’m not familiar with, and in absolute honesty, am not doing a good job in dealing with.

It has been several months since I feel like God turned the clock (or calendar may be more appropriate, since “seasons” is the metaphor), leaving behind a time of loss and de-cluttering of life.  I stand now in the middle of a season where God seems to have handed me His cup of blessing rather than a cup of suffering (I am wholly of the belief that in putting off the old man and putting on Christ requires us to drink from the same cups He did).  For the first few months, the transition between the two seemed simple; I was wearing the armor of God proudly and could not fathom my life taking on a shape of independence and self-reliance as it had existed before.  Wasn’t that what the last season was about?  Learning how to lay my life aside, with its pride, arrogance and idols?  Never again was I going to choose to do life out of my own strength, in my own desire for control through manipulation.  I would not again think that the blessings in my life were somehow the result of my own efforts.

God has seen fit (for reasons I struggle to understand) to pour blessing upon blessing on me.  He has seen me through a large acquisition of the bank I worked for that placed me with the new organization in position to be promoted and on a path to additional opportunities.  He has blessed me with a godly woman to share in life and relationship with – one who has accepted me in love despite my failures and poor choices in previous relationships.  He has brought new friends into my life that have offered kindness and authenticity I didn’t believe existed before.  I can go on, but will hold off for now.  I am blessed and Jesus Christ is the reason for that.  I will not live the same as I always did.

Yet, here I am.  As the months have passed, that dependence, learned in the lowest points of life, on the Father who walked with me through it all despite my sin and failures, has grown a little stale.  The reliance on faith and trusting the promises of His Word doesn’t seem as abundant.  I don’t claim authorship of the season of life I find myself (a former version of myself most definitely would have – not out loud, but definitely in the core of his thoughts); however, I find myself struggling to know what dependence looks like in a season of abundance.  I find my prayers are difficult to construct for what only feels like guilt for not knowing  how to be close to my Provider.  I’ve found that guilt gives way to withdrawal and withdrawal, I believe, can only lead to isolation.

Relationships require work and time to develop substance and closeness, and ours with God is no different.  Stagnation and complacency, whether born out of guilt from lack of understanding (a form of pride) or delusion in thinking one is the creator of his own blessings (another form of pride), creates a gap between ourselves and our Father, and is one of the most useful weapons in the enemy’s arsenal in disarming us as Christians.  I place myself as evidence of the fact.

I had the joy, earlier this week, of sitting down with a very close friend of mine for dinner; someone I hadn’t seen in almost 3 years.  He had contacted me a week ago, informing me that he had been laid off from his job.  He had forwarded me a copy of his resume and asked if I might be able to help him get in touch with someone looking to hire.  Emails went back and forth and it was decided that it had been too long between visits and we arranged to meet.  He shared with me feelings of confusion, a little bit of anger, guilt , and underlying it all, shame.  Through our conversations, I was able to share with him the story of my last two years and how I went through the darkest, most painful period of my entire life.  While the events are completely different, and I do not liken them at all, I offered them solely to provide some encouragement that God does not abandon us in any of life’s most difficult circumstances.

In the aftermath of discussing life’s infallible way of offering us situations we seem to never expect and would certainly never choose, I confessed to him that I find myself in a completely different struggle, not in how to wholly lean on Christ when life is the hardest, but how to remain as reliant on Him when life is the easiest.  His response was only a question, “What is it about us (people) that makes us so quick to step back from God – regardless of the reason?”  I’ll add to that: especially when there is so much evidence of His love and grace in a not-so-distant past?

Neither of us could really answer the question.  I guess the answer is pretty simple: it is sin.  Sin in the form of pride.  Sin in the form of arrogance.  Sin in the form of self-reliance.

I spoke with someone last night who has been a mentor for me over the last two years.  His counsel, both in form of encouragement and admonishment, through the toughest season of life, was God-sent.  In similar God-fashion, this person called me quite out of nowhere just to “check on me”, that God had placed me on his heart.  I told him about the place I feel like I am right now, struggling with how to live closely with my Father in a season that is not as easy to remain reliant and dependent.  He pointed me to the Old Testament and told me to take a look at the life of Solomon – a man marked as blessed from birth by God.  The Solomon who doubled the size of his father’s kingdom.  The Solomon who God offered that any of his wishes would be granted (God blessed him in excessive for choosing wisdom).  The Solomon destined to build the Lord’s temple.

Yet, despite all of the clearly God-marked blessings of his life, Solomon found himself in a similar place that I am today.  How does one remain faithful and fully reliant on his Heavenly Father in seasons of favor?  As is detailed in 1 Kings, Solomon ultimately fell the way of isolation and self-reliance (choosing to love women more than he did God; intermarrying in direct opposition to God’s commandment).  As I was thinking through Solomon’s life today, I realized where my disconnect centers from.  One word: choice.  Solomon had a choice.  I have a choice.  Ashamedly, I confess here that I have been making the wrong one.

So what now?  I stand now at the crossroads between withdrawal (leading to isolation and, ultimately, self-reliance – creating the same form of man that had existed before) and complete dependence.  If I am honest, I must say my leaning is more in the direction of withdrawal at this moment.  But I do not have to lean that way.  The cool thing about God is that he does give us that thing called choice.  He promises His fulfilled life (not easy life) and favor if we choose to be obedient and stay faithful, but we don’t have to choose it.  I don’t have to choose the path of isolation.  I also don’t have to choose to lay myself aside and follow after Him.

I’ll close with a thought that struck me somewhere in the middle of the last two paragraphs, as I believe it sums up the greatest truth I’ve ever known:  Jesus Christ has done far too much for me and blessed me far beyond what I could ever deserve to be able to look Him in the face to say “thanks, but I can do better than you.  I’ll take it from here.”

mountains.

October 23, 2011

This week, Georgia finally let go of its grip on hot temperatures and extended summer, opening the door to the crisp, cool air of fall.  T-shirts have given way to sweatshirts in the evenings.  Shorts to blue jeans.  Each year, when fall finally sets in, my heart goes to the same place: the mountains.  This year has been no different.  On Thursday, I walked out of the house to get in my car to go to work and found myself wishing it wasn’t the office I was heading to.  It was chilly that morning, cold enough to make me consider a light jacket for the day.  It had been cold the previous day, too, but now the sun was back after a two-day stint behind rain clouds.  Thursday was a perfect fall morning. In my mind, the best way a morning (which, as events play out, turns into a day) like that could be spent is under the canopy of mountains and autumn-painted trees.  I found myself wishing for the entire drive into the city that I could take the day off and spend my day hiking and gazing rather than interpreting financial statements and building Excel spreadsheets.  Sadly, I didn’t make it to the mountains on Thursday.  The closest I could get was shifting my iPod at work to the soundtrack for “Last of the Mohicans” –  one of my favorite movies for the historical aspect, perfect cinematography in capturing the Appalachian mountains beautifully, and for its compelling story.  The soundtrack helped as I was able to picture parts from the movie (the opening titles with the beautiful landscapes of the Eastern US mountain range and can we say waterfall scene, people?) and begin to see myself standing at the feet of those mountains, but it still fell short; my heart needed to be outdoors.

There is a part of me that needs to be outdoors.  Not just outdoors, but out in the open parts of the world, the free parts – away from the busy-ness and the stress of the city and suburbs.  Away from the cell towers and express lanes.  Away from spreadsheets and dress shirts.  What is it about mountains that invoke an emotional and yes, perhaps an even spiritual, response?  Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but for me there is something heart-gripping about coming over a crest in the highway and having my view filled with the majesty of an open plain giving way to an expanse of mountains on the horizon.  I love the mountains at any point in the year, but paint them in the red, gold, brown and purple of autumn and a heart-grip becomes a heart-explosion.  I love everything there is about the mountains: their majestic height against a backdrop of sky, their invitation to experience some of the parts of the world that haven’t been developed yet, their challenge in climbing them, their staggering beauty, and on and on.

Yesterday, I finally got my first chance of the fall to visit the landscape that had been calling out to my spirit incessantly for three days.  My boys and I have decided it is to become a tradition that we make an annual trip to the north Georgia mountains to select our Halloween pumpkin.  Yesterday was our second trip in what I look forward to as an opportunity to build a lasting connection with my two little men.  There are so many different places along the way to the north Georgia mountain region to select a perfect pumpkin, but to make a full day of it and get our fill of more than a Halloween decoration can offer, we drove past several of the farms and patches along the way to our final destination.  While the day was definitely a little about celebrating fall and Halloween, it was much larger than that.  It was about mountains.  I felt it from the moment I woke up.  The mountains were calling me.  What’s more, I think the mountains were what had my oldest son, who is four years old, the most excited, too. Questions like “daddy, when will see the mountains?” and “daddy, will we be able to drive on the mountains?” and “daddy, can you take us to climb on the mountains after we get our pumpkin?” were the subjects of our conversation during the drive.  Nothing made me smile bigger during our whole trip more than when we came over a hill on one of the highways and the view was the first full look at the mountain range we’d seen and he exclaimed “Daddy! Slow down! I want to look at the mountains some more!”  He gets it; it’s a part of him, too.

While we were at the pumpkin farm, we had the opportunity to go on a hayride.  This was not your average, pay $5 and go around the immediate area so you can say you rode a tractor hayride.  Nope, this was the most epic hayride I’d ever been on.  For starters, the ride is two miles long.  Two miles across a river and through open mountain country, through a cornfield and finally up a small mountain and back down to the other side of the farm.  For my two-year old, it was so awesome because he was sitting in a pile of hay in a wagon being pulled by a big tractor and saw all kinds of pumpkins and scarecrows.  For my four-year old, it was an epic journey over mountains and through woods.  Both sets of little eyes were wide with wonder and excitement.  Both boys were full of a kind of joy that they hadn’t shown all weekend prior to our trip.

So, what is it?  Is it a boy thing?  I think maybe partially. Boys have a unique area of their heart that cries out for adventure.  Mountains certainly offer that, and that part of it speaks in a language that boys uniquely understand.  But as I thought about it last night and relived some of the pictures in my mind and others caught on my phone’s camera, thinking through the emotions and thoughts I had at different parts of the day, I have decided it is larger than just that.  It’s a God thing.  While my boys may not be old enough yet to really grasp the call to their hearts being in the mountains has, I am.  I see it in them because I feel it in me.  I see the mountains and know what that call is: freedom – freedom of being away from busy-ness and anxiety.  Mountains are the physical representation for my heart of the freedom we experience in our Heavenly Father, because in Him is where we experience true freedom.  I think God has placed the special place in my heart for the beauty and majesty of the mountains to remind me that He is ever larger and more glorious than even a sunlit range in their fall beauty.  As I was staring up at the peaks from a hay-filled wagon behind a John Deere tractor, my heart was touched by a subtle reminder of the Holy Spirit that God created those mountains and in that same strength, He created me.    More than that, He created me to be free.  My response was a little surprising, though it really shouldn’t have been.  Without thinking about it, I found myself lost in singing praises (“Great I Am”, actually) while gazing at the gold and red painted heights.

Last night as I dwelled on some of these things, God spoke to my heart, sharing that that freedom I felt in the mountains, that sense of adventure and awe, He put those in me.  He designed me with that desire, with that longing to be in the open places.  He gently reminded me of who He was and how He was the true open place, the true mountain.  He is that freedom that my heart longs for.  Freedom from fear.  Freedom from shame and guilt.  Freedom from anxiety.  Instead, in Him I find mountains.  Mountains of love.  Mountains of joy and peace.  Mountains of rest and glory.  Let’s go climb!

recharge & refocus

October 15, 2011

I have an iPhone. Big deal, right? I know it’s not a big deal, but let me play with this for a second. The iPhone is pretty incredible. For those of you that have one, regardless of which version, you know how much fun they are; how near-addicting they are. So much capability in such a tiny device: social media sites at your fingertips, text messaging, phone, email, iPod music player, GPS navigation, games (shout out for ‘Angry Birds’!) and on and on. I’m getting to my point in a second, I promise. Bear with me. The iPhone has taken the place of so much extra “stuff” that I used to have to carry in addition to a phone. No longer do I need a separate calendar, a separate notebook, or, for most things, a separate laptop; my iPhone offers all of those. I’ve closed deals for work from my phone. In a conversation with a friend a few months ago, I made the comment that I would be lost if something were to happen to my phone – so much of my life is now stored on it. Ok, moving on to the point. The iPhone is wonderful for all of the reasons listed above. What I don’t particularly like about it is how quickly the battery power drains. Sending out multiple messages throughout the day, with emails, with phone calls, plus the obligatory attacking of green pigs, add to that using the GPS directions at 3 or 4 times a week, drains the power of the device pretty quickly; even more quickly trying to do any of the above at the same time. The battery becomes so overworked in my typical day that I had to take an extra charger to work to give it a mid-day boost so I don’t spend my second-half of the day disconnected.

My life, I have decided, is much like my iPhone. No, I’m not saying that I’m incredible or anything like that. But like the iPhone, my life is busy and has many moving parts (apps, if you will). From the moment that I wake up, I am going in one capacity or another. I work in downtown Atlanta, a 40-mile-each-way commute. If you’ve ever made that commute on a weekday morning, you know the challenge it can be. From there, my job keeps me completely occupied – between visiting with clients, being in meetings with various people around my company, analyzing new deal opportunities, reviewing with attorneys and writing it all up in a succinct approval package, it can be demanding. After that, there’s usually something going on most nights. People to meet with, relationships to cultivate, softball to be played, two amazing little boys to spend time with, running, stay involved in my church where I can. These are not words of complaint. Far from it – I love what I do and have been blessed in my opportunities. But just like my iPhone, the day’s events can take their toll on me – demanding of my time, energy, mental and physical capacity. A recharge is needed on a daily basis. That recharge comes in the time I spend with my Father in prayer. Nothing else even comes close. I have to intentionally carve that time out to connect myself with that source of joy, peace and rest that only He can give to me. Joy, peace and rest that penetrate beyond just the physical and mental need to the spiritual and emotional, as well.

This past week was very challenging for me work wise. The week was shortened by a day, but the list of things that needed to be done didn’t take that day off. In fact, on top of the normal amount of work, my shortened week got met with a last-minute request on a deal that had more
than its fair share of challenges. That day off had to be made up, which usually means working from home in the evenings. Not something I have to do all the time, but when I do it’s usually intense and very time sensitive. Needless to say, on those nights, I am required to shift around my evening schedule a little bit to be able to meet the demands of both work and my personal life. What usually suffers is my sleep, which I’ve grown accustomed to. Where this week was different, I not only sacrificed sleep, I also allowed myself to not intentionally carve out that time in my evenings where I shut everything down and plug in with my Father. I let myself use being too tired, too busy, feeling a little overwhelmed, and my efforts in doing “good things” be an excuse to skip out on that time. By Thursday evening, a night I had to bring work home, I was exhausted, both mentally and physically. I really didn’t know how I was going to give another few hours of myself to work. Beyond that though, I was restless and felt empty. When I finally sat down to begin to unwind from the day a bit, I felt my heart being tugged. It was subtle, but very real. About the same time, I saw my prayer journal sitting next to the couch and felt God speaking to me, “what about me, Brandon? I’m right here.” In that second, there was an instant flood of thoughts and emotions: sadness, feeling of missing someone, feeling of being
missed, and realization. My heart needed a serious recharge. I missed my Father, and He had missed me. Before I even unpacked the laptop and pulled out the file from my bag, I grabbed my prayer journal and plugged in. I went into a separate room from my desk and shut the door between the two. This needed to be intentional and it needed to be focused. God deserves my same intensity and focus that I give to every other aspect of my life. What I found there was the love, forgiveness and patience of a kind and gracious God, full of grace and mercy to lift me over what was a pretty serious roadblock in energy and focus. What’s been so amazing to me about God, as I’ve grown closer to Him, is finding how He meets me where I am at the moment with such an intensity of love that there is no way to walk way other than feeling new again. Fully charged.

The first part of my week, when I was not diligent in seeking my Father, came with its additional effects, as well. Where an iPhone simply shuts down and can’t function when it isn’t charged, the heart disconnects in a much more dangerous way. It doesn’t cease to function all together, but loses its usefulness. Without that daily time in plugging into my Savior, my heart loses its ability to keep life in the proper perspective – its focus. My focus is Jesus; His love, His guidance, His perfection. I need to be reminded of and covered in those things daily. Without them, I am at risk of giving into my selfishness and fears. To do that is to lose my usefulness to the Father. Of course, the enemy is always waiting for these days when I am on “low battery,” and knows exactly how to center an attack on my heart. This week was no different.

I’m afraid that the earlier description of my week may have painted the wrong picture. It was not a bad week at all. Intense, busy and slightly overwhelming in parts, definitely; but not bad on the whole. In fact, there were several things that happened this week that were especially lovely and even answers to some earlier prayers. But here’s where my disconnected and unfocused heart cause an awesome story to become ugly. I was able to see these things as the blessings they were, but rather than my focus being on the Provider of those blessings – thanking Him for His kindness, my heart saw the blessings in and of themselves and focused there, allowing myself to assign my happiness to those things. A subtle enough difference, but one, if allowed to play itself out to entirety, would ultimately put me on a path to arrogance and self-reliance – thinking I was somehow responsible for those things. Thinking that I’ve created my blessings, rather than the One who gives all good and perfect gifts (James 1:17). I know this because so much of my life was spent on that path. I had lived that life, of arrogance and pride – born in fear of insignificance, before surrendering over my whole heart to Christ. I felt the familiarity, but couldn’t place its source. How’s that for a sneak attack from the enemy? Allow me to see the blessings for what they were, but see only the blessings and not the Blessor. It had started to be effective.

This is how I know that God loves me: He doesn’t abandon me in those times. I think again to the moment I sat on the couch on Thursday night, to His subtle tugging on my heart – speaking to me, calling me to plug in. He knew I needed to recharge. He also knew I needed to refocus. All that was required of me was a step of faithfulness. An intentional act of obedience to carve out that time of my day that is His alone. To repeat myself from earlier, what I found there was nothing but the love, forgiveness, and kindness of a gracious God with an intensity so fierce my heart had no choice but to refocus on its true source for peace, love and joy.

iHeart

October 12, 2011

I’m not sure that much speaks to my heart more deeply than music.  Even as I sit here writing this, my iPod is playing in the background.  Such
is the case for most of the time I spend awake.  It’s not uncommon to find me attached to my iPod at my desk at work as I pour over credit agreements or sift through company financial statements.  In fact, I have developed the reputation in my office of having white chords as semi-permanent attachments to my ears.  The truth is my iPod is a very close friend of mine.  Much of what makes me who I am is stored inside it.  Inside its memory are a couple thousand songs that, at some point, have touched me in some respect, each shaping a part of my life.  There are songs on my iPod that hold historic meaning from different eras of my life; songs that take me back to specific days and times and to specific people.  There are others that reach me on deeper, more personal levels – stirring emotions on all ends of the spectrum.  There are still others that I have for no other reason than to dance to.  I must clarify that I have NO gift in dancing, but there are some songs that just invoke no less of a response and I must oblige (or at least try)!

Music has always had a way of penetrating the different corners of my heart and finding the right places to set in and cover me like a blanket.  There are songs that I go to when life isn’t a fun or easy place to be at the moment and I need to be encouraged, comforted or, sometimes, to commiserate.  There are songs that I go to to underscore some excitement I’m currently feeling.  There are songs that I go to just to remind me that I have a heart and it is functional.

The beauty of music is that it is so untamed and limitless.  Sounds like a description that I would also ascribe to God.  I have decided that sometimes the only way to express our feelings to an untamed and limitless God is to offer up an untamed and limitless song to Him.  I’m not the first to make that connection.  I’m in the middle of reading the Bible through a one-year chronological plan.  At this point in the year, much of my time has been spent in the Old Testament, only in the last two weeks having moved into the New Testament.   One of the most impactful places of the Old Testament for me personally this year has been the life of David.  David’s life has spoken to me on so many different levels that I can’t really get into all of them here in this post.  What I do want to focus on is that David was a man of so many gifts, music being high among them.  Much of his devotion and love for His Savior, as well as his fears and his successes, were displayed in song through his psalms.  In many of his psalms (Psalm 144:9; Psalm 40:3; Psalm 96:1; Psalm 149:1, just to highlight a few) he cries out his love for God through declaration of his life being a new song to bring Him glory.  I think David fully understood the power of music and the weight it carried in displaying passion and groaning of spirit in a way like nothing else could.  So often I feel that very same thing.

The provoking words and riffs of “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse are currently filling my room – such a wonderful song about letting
go of all else but Jesus and the glorious freedom in love of holding onto and chasing after Him.  I love that idea – letting go of everything that hinders us and hanging on solely to the One that gives us freedom.  So appropriate that that message is displayed through song (one of my absolute favorite songs, I might add) as I sit here writing out this post.  Much as music provides freedom through allowing me to get swept up in a melody or harmony, a guitar riff or base line, a symphony or synthesizer, giving voice to a part my heart like nothing else can, Jesus provides freedom to experience love and peace in the way my heart was designed for.

I heard a song a few months ago, and many times since, that completely resonated with my heart – touching me on the exact same string from
which I type out this post.  The song is called “Your Love Is a Song” by Switchfoot.  The chorus of this song is as follows:

Your Love is a symphony, all around me, running through me

Your love is a melody, underneath me, running to me

Oh, Your love is a song

God’s love is a symphony, all the individual parts coming together to form a beautiful piece of music.  All of his individual attributes (goodness, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and on and on) forming a perfect love, designed to penetrate every corner of our hearts and cover like a warm blanket.  God designed me with a passion for music and to describe His incredible love for me as the most beautiful song ever composed is about the closest I can get to putting into words of how amazing it is.  My prayer is that my life would be a song worthy of Him – one that echos
the chorus He wrote on my heart.

Questions.

October 11, 2011

One thing that I’ve learned in the last year and a half is that we are never going to fully understand God.  It’s been something that I’ve had to work through over some time.  I’ve always been a go-getter, a problem solver, a perfectionist and do not accept failure easily.  I love being able to figure out a problem; to understand the problem, find a solution and know that it has been solved or fixed.  I’m not one to easily accept that something cannot be fully understood or mastered.  Clearly there is a lot of stubbornness and arrogance in that mindset; something that took some breaking.

There are events in life that just plain suck.  There really isn’t any other way to describe them.  In this life are so many things that happen that the only results we see are pain, loss, destruction, fear, shame and guilt.  Last time I checked, no one was lining up to get their hands on a helping of any of the above.  Of course not.  In fact, we do everything we can to avoid any of those as an outcome in the things we try and undertake.  Yet, all of us have experienced more of the above than we ever really wanted; sometimes as a result of the decisions we make ourselves, others as a result of decisions made by people around us that end up causing these things in our lives, and sometimes just for no other reason than by just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The question that I’ve often asked myself in times like this, both in my own circumstances and in those of people I know, (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this) is “where is God in this?”  I will admit that I’ve struggled with my fair amount of guilt in asking that question.  I’ve been and called myself a Believer for a long time.  That’s supposed to come with a super-natural amount of faith and acceptance, right?  I’m supposed to just trust that God is in the tough times just as easily as I do that He is in the good times, aren’t I?  How can I say I have faith yet struggle with seeing how God can ever be in the ugly, painful events of life.

Tonight, I met with a good friend of mine who is in the early stages of a divorce.  It is absolutely heart-wrenching; watching a man who, just a few months ago, was full of confidence, blessed in his career and family, feeling like he was living the dream, now torn up in agony, fear, anxiety, sadness and regret.  Things that I understand all too well.  The request for the divorce from his wife was not expected and had not been brought up in conversation by either of them prior.  He has been a Christian for longer than I have, has a solid foundation in faith and the Word, and is one of the most intellectually gifted people that I know – both in terms of theology and in general life.  The same can be said of his wife.  There is hurt and fault on both sides, but neither need be discussed here.  We met for several hours dealing with the details, sharing, confessing
and praying.  And asking questions that neither of us really had the answers to.

During my own time of questioning God in my divorce (I was able to share this with my friend tonight), I was led to the verse, Isaiah 55:9, “as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  I had to ponder over that verse for some time before I could really grasp it.  I think to really accept this verse, one needs to also hold onto the promise in Romans
8:28, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  So, here we are:  God is sovereign and He works all things for good.  The word “all” being the kicker – it doesn’t leave room to argue that He isn’t in the bad circumstances.  Together, those verses lead me to this: God is sovereign and His plan is perfect, but there are parts of it that I am not going to understand – maybe just in the moment or maybe ever.  He is good and everything He does is good.  Everything He allows us to experience is in some way connected to His perfect will for us – the good and the bad.  These are things that I’ve had to wrestle down and have spent many hours of prayer, searching His word, and conversation around.

What I’ve had to ultimately come to through this is that, to ever really see God in these events and experience the peace that He offers us
in times of trouble, we must surrender over our desire for answers and place our trust that He is good and works all things to the good of those who love Him.  That requires an incredible amount of faith, at least it did for me.  For a man who struggles with a need to control his surroundings and to have understanding, it was difficult to let go and trust that God had a plan for these events and that He was very much in the details.  What if His plan looks different than the plan that I want?  What if I don’t get things the way I want them?  Again with these questions.  Again with the selfish interest.

The other thing that I’ve come to understand is that He invites our questions of Him in those times.   I found that to question God ultimately led me to seeking Him more and being able to yield my will over to His.  I knew my fears were that His will would look different than mine and He would not give me what it was that I thought I needed.  There was an awful lot of anxiety around that for me.  In response, God led me to Philippians 4:6-7 “be anxious for nothing, but through prayer and petition let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  To me that said, “Brandon, lay it on me,” and I took Him up on it.  I shared with Him my fears, my desires, my confessions and my questions – many of which focused on me.  Over the course of months, He began to address my concerns and fears – through conversations with people, through specific verses in the Word, through reading of people’s blogs, and from direct response from Himself.  He removed the guilt I felt in questioning Him because He had invited me to do so.  Just another example of His incredible compassion in love: He knows that we can’t always understand His methods in fulfilling His will in our lives, but His desire is for us is to grow closer to Him in the process.  Communication with Him is a crucial component of that relationship and questions are very much a part of communication.  They are how we learn more about Him.

 

Light bulb.

October 10, 2011

People have often likened that moment, when something is revealed or retained, learned or figured out, to a light bulb coming on.  Think of how many times we’ve seen that image on cartoons and described in books.  I love that imagery of learning and new experience as a light coming on in a dark place.  Light is inviting and warm – both things darkness is not.  Understanding, to me, has always felt similar.  I love that feeling of learning something new that had been previously unknown.  In my personal journey in my relationship with God and where He has brought from, there really might not be a better analogy than in that of a light bulb coming on, though maybe not as it is often portrayed as an instantaneous event.  It wasn’t instantaneous nor immediate; He didn’t just appear one day and fulfill me.  No, because the reality was and is that He is always there.  I’ll explain.

A light coming on is not an immediate reaction to flipping a switch, though it certainly appears so.  In actuality, a lot happens behind the walls and in the ceiling between the switch being flipped and the bulb igniting to takeover darkness that we do not see nor really have enough time to consider.  A light bulb requires electricity to heat the filaments that begin to glow and cause the light effect.  Electricity is the catalyst for the light that we see.  Electricity runs through a series of cable networks or circuits that provide a pathway to the object which requires that power to operate.  For that power to reach the objects, the circuits must be in a continuous and unbroken pathway.  Even further, that pathway must create a loop.  Electricity must be allowed to move from the source, to the object, and back to the source in constant flow in order for it to provide any usefulness or functionality.  The switch, when in the “off” position, is actually hindering the light bulb’s ability to glow.  What we see as a switch on the wall is actually a place in the circuit that has been broken – the pathway of the electricity to the light bulb having been completely severed.  The switch itself, therefore, serves a bridge for the electricity to move across this gap in the circuit.  In the “off” position, the “bridge” is raised and there is no connection.  Flipping that switch up to the “on” position, however, lowers this bridge and completes the circuit, allowing the electricity to have capacity to resume its frantic journey from source to light bulb and back again in continuous motion, producing light in the bulb.  While this process is incredibly fast, so quick that it appears instantaneous even, there is, in actuality, a period of time and a process that takes place between the switch being flipped and light appearing.

I don’t think my journey is too unlike the events that allow a light bulb to illuminate the room.  The constant in every event in my life is Him.  Since I first accepted Him as my Savior, He has always been there.  He is the electricity source.  (For this analogy to work, I will assume that electricity is constant in the home – laying aside the reality that there is a huge process for that to even take place).  His love and Spirit are the electricity; constantly flowing out from Him, seeking to power our lives and our hearts.  TO bring us true fulfillment, love, joy and peace.  My problem has always been the “switches” along the way.  There are areas in my life that I have often allowed to sever the pathway of His love and guidance to my life and, in so doing, disabled me from becoming the man that He created me to be: a man shaped and lead by Him, a man of peace and joy.  Those “switches” were fears that I allowed to become the foundation of lies of the enemy that I bought into and focused on rather than on the One who could overcome any fear and doubt.  Fears of being insignificant, lack of acceptance, fear of failure.  Those switches that existed in my life stayed permanently in the “off” position and broke the circuit of God’s love and spirit to my heart.

Believing that there were things that I could fill those fears with, success with people, relationships, success in my career, I could provide myself with the peace and joy that my heart longed for.  I had grown up in church and had heard that only God could ever truly provide what my heart needed, but I didn’t know how to accept that nor did I really believe that I needed it from Him.  I had done a pretty good job of filling in those gaps of fear myself.  I had learned how to present myself in a way that appeared as if I had it all together.  I could control my world and was reaping the benefits of it – creating a pride and arrogance in my ability to create what looked, seemed and felt like a fulfilled life.

The problem was that those switches remained in the “off” position and I was playing in the dark.  I think everyone can remember playing in a dark room late at night as kid.  It was exciting, but kind of scary at the same time.  There was always that fear that we wouldn’t remember exactly where the furniture was and we would stub our toe on the foot of the bed or table or worse, bump into something hard enough that it would break.  In my pride, I failed to (or refused is maybe more accurate) see that the switches were “off” and I was playing in the dark.  Deep down in my heart and soul, I knew things were not ok in my heart.  Because I had accepted Christ as my Savior previously, He was present in my life though I had learned to force Him down in favor of myself.  He was kind to show me glimpses of Himself along the way, but as always, I so quickly forgot or dismissed those moments.  I was living in the dark and could not in my own strength create the light I so desperately needed and longed for.  As a result, a lot of things got broken and I hurt myself and others in the process.  Not the life I had envisioned and not the end I wanted.

Through the hurting and breaking I came to understand what should have been obvious: I was in the dark and could not do anything to change that.  The switches in my life were very real and anything I tried to fill them in with was insufficient.  I didn’t really know what to do so I just prayed.  I told God that my life was missing the fulfillment and joy and peace that I had been longing for; that my heart was broken.  I had to admit to Him that I was trying to do what I knew only He could do for me, and in so doing became hard-hearted and indifferent to sin so long as I was benefitting.  The wonderful part of this was I knew that He could and would take that from me.  I was no stranger to God, but for the first time of my life I knew and I wanted what had always existed for me had I just let go of my grip on life and accepted it.  In that moment I felt free.  Over the following weeks and months, God began to reveal the areas of my life where switches existed and through the grace and mercy afforded to me through His Son, Jesus, began to flip those switches to the “on” position.  That was the difference.  Jesus could lower those “bridges” and complete the circuit to allow God’s incredible Spirit and love to ignite my heart and life in true joy, love and peace.  For the first time in my life I felt that and it changed me. 

In that process God opened my heart to who He really is: a kind and merciful God, full of love.  He does not change and does not cease his continuous stream of His love and grace.  It would be nice to say that once flipped “on”, those switches would just stay, but reality is that have a tendency to try to shut back off.  I’m so thankful that Jesus remains beside me to flip them back on if I would just ask Him to.  It continues to be a process for me, but God has been so gracious and kind to allow me to continue to experience this love and peace despite my best efforts to get away from Him for so much of my life.  My desire today is to grow only closer to Him.  How can I not?  When we experience true love, true joy and peace, do we not want to be as close as possible to that source?  I thank my Father daily for that circuit He runs through in my life; that constant flow of His love.  I thank Jesus for loving me enough in grace to flip those switches and make my life open to receive that love.  I pray that my life shines with that light ignited by God’s love.

So it begins…

October 10, 2011

For a few months I’ve been thinking about starting a blog. I’ve never been one to really be able to transfer thoughts, feelings and such to writing, but over the last year or so, have experienced some sort of call toward learning how. That might seem weird, it might not. Truth is I don’t really know or care that much. I’m following a prompt that is new and kind of exciting. No doubt that this will be very much a work in process.

I write everyday as part of my job. It is a very different sort of writing, though. Credit approval requests, emails to clients, emails to peers and managers, letters to attorneys, etc. That sort of writing is very structured and organized: Convey a message succinctly, quickly, all facts and a recommendation. To most it would be boring and stuffy. Truth is it is, but it is business and I love it. I am a commercial banker. That kind of writing gives me an avenue to demonstrate the gifts in business and analytics that God has blessed me with.

This is different. This isn’t tame and it isn’t structured. It goes against the structured and linear manner in which my mind works. Truth be told, I would have discarded the thought to venture into this sort of writing just a year ago for fear that I wouldn’t know how to go about it; too much free space; too much letting go and seeing where words take you. I like having a direction, a destination, a decision to be made. This type of writing offers neither.

So why start? The simple answer is because God has changed me. The longer answer requires some explanation of that change, in which God takes a man very much with a need for control and structure, thinking he has both, and, through major events in that man’s life, removes those things and teaches him what dependency, hope and trust look like. That, my friends, is a post for another day.

For today, I start on a new road in writing. I step off the line that I have walked on for all of my life. I want to experience the freedom of open space. I want to see “where the words take me.” I am a little nervous because to “step off” is always a little scary, no matter what it is we are stepping from. I have discovered that God walks with me no matter where I go. I expect to find nothing less here. So, it begins…