World, Keep Running

Two days ago, I emailed my mom.

“Hi Mom, I have to do a marathon run in the morning on Saturday. Can I sleep over on Friday?”

Two minutes later, she replied: “Do you know what happen in Boston?”

——

As I’m writing this, the Boston terrorist manhunt has ended. The first suspect died late last night in a battle with police, and the second suspect has just been detained. Now they’re busy sorting out the details of the past few days, trying to figure out the why’s behind such a senseless act and the other who’s involved. Boston, and the rest of us for that matter, can rest a little easier tonight.

As for me, I can’t shake this so quickly. I’m running in an event tomorrow morning, and thoughts of terror quickly surface. What if they plant bombs on the road? What if I get shot by a sniper? Could my last day be tomorrow? This is what acts of terrorism do to you. They look to make you afraid. They try to rob you of your freedom. Soon, I am no longer living for today but arrested by the fear of no tomorrow.

The most sobering thing to me, in this whole tragedy, is my realization that terrorism is an immediate reality for some people living on the other side of the world. Random car bombings at the market. Girls targeted for attending school, trying to get an education. It seems like more people are resorting to violence, expressing their anger or ignorance in extreme ways. This is the new reality.

But in the midst of it all, this terribly mad world, I find a weird sense of calm. It’s like these events scream tragedy and injustice but somehow whisper simple truths. I could die tomorrow. Hell, I could die tonight. It could be from a terrorist attack or heart attack or car accident or simple slip in the shower. What are the odds? Apart from some divine authority you could say it’s a dice roll. In a world full of variables there is very little we truly control.

What I can control is what I’ve been given. Namely, my ability to live in the seconds and minutes–acknowledging that every breath is nothing short of miraculous–to be fully there and not elsewhere. To embrace my friends and family and strangers (and sometimes even enemies when I’m not so hung up with minor grievances) and continue to work, eat, drink, write, sleep, pray and worship. This is what I can do, and to do less than this because of the wicked minority is to allow fear into a place it does not belong. To live at all is to risk. To succumb to fear is to die small deaths long before your final breath.

Boston has taught us many things. One, it’s an unbelievably tough and resilient city. Two, you keep wicked calm and carry the hell on. I will run tomorrow. I will appreciate the ability to move my legs and, Lord willing, I will get through the race. And I will remember all those who suffered this past week. Terror has its moment but it will ultimately, and always, come in second place.

——

Later that day, I responded to my mom: “It’s not a marathon…sorry. I meant ‘mud run.’ It’s a shorter run and I think they’ll have tighter security. Don’t worry mom. God is in control.”

Mom: “ok, I’ll make the bed.”

Germany, Gospel and Last Samurai

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There are some trips you take that help you to recharge, perhaps to break away from normal routine if nothing more. Then there are others that exist to merely entertain and indulge your senses. Still there are a few that seem to mark your life in a significant way, trips from which you take away lessons or impressions that will stay with you long and true for the next leg of your journey.

When I initially flew out to Germany, I didn’t think it would be that kind of trip. After all, the primary reason for the visit was business, and I was spending only a week in town. I figured, if anything, I’d book an extra weekend so that I might actually explore Germany beyond the view from my office window. To be quite frank(furt), I wasn’t expecting much other than to say I did my 40 hours and stuffed myself with brats and bier. But sometimes these things hit you when you least expect it.

I guess it starts with the country terrain. The land alone is beautiful. Lots of trees, mountains, rivers. (I say this knowing fully that I only explored one region [and a half, I suppose, if you count my day in Heidelberg] and that there is so much more to see.) But as Friedrich would show you, the Germans are inseparable from mother nature. Germany is a biker and hiker’s dream. In addition, there is a lot of history contained in the country, as evidenced by several castles, cathedrals, and government buildings. Not to mention, the people are friendly–most of them speak decent English–and the food was wonderful. If the trip consisted only of this, I’d have been plenty satisfied.

Yet what stood out most was the people. The Germans are a very direct people. They will be upfront with you when pressed with something, and when they say something they mean it. My roommate Matt told me not to greet Germans with “How are you?” because over there it is not a trite greeting. “If you ask, expect an answer that is anything but good.” Because they will tell you how they are doing, really. It was refreshing because I didn’t have to second guess their intentions or what they were really trying to say. Their words are measured carefully. (Which reflects heavily upon me as a man. Do I measure my words carefully? Do I mean what I say, do I follow through on my commitments, is my word my bond?)

So, the few people I met there who considered themselves “Christians” really meant it. They lived out their faith. Their words and actions validated their claims. It was none of this going-to-Sunday-church-but-living-godless-Monday-to-Saturday business. When they say they are committed to being a disciple of Christ, they show what it means to have a definitive break from the world. It means they will say yes to doing some hard things, no to some others, and that persecution from family and friends is expected. They understand they will look weird to the world. They have counted the costs and determined that he is worth it.

Throughout my week, outside of work, I felt like I was on a missions trip, with the main difference being that the mission was me. I felt a bit like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, where I was coming into contact with a new culture and people that reflected a way of living I had not known before. I experienced sincere kindness from people who consistently sacrificed time and energy to share their lives with me. On a pizza & movie night, I witnessed how a man devoted himself to loving his wife and four kids. I thought to myself, He’s got it right. I want to be like that one day. The German believers made me reconsider how I was living and approaching life, and the beauty in their lives inevitably led me to rediscover the beauty in mine.

What’s more, I think it made me reconsider my bearings on the gospel. Do I truly believe in what Christ has done for me? Do I believe in his power to change my life? How am I reorienting my life–how does it look different–if I claim to be a disciple? I say I believe in God’s all-sufficient grace, but I’m afraid I still live most days with an identity wrapped around what I achieve and what others think of me.

There is still much to process, but I’m thankful for trips like this. God not only gave me what I wanted, but what I needed. It’s like a kid who expected action figures for Christmas and got a shiny bike instead. He went the extra mile to surprise me. Thanks, God.

Only time will tell where this bike will take me.

A Tale of Two Romances

THE DIFFERENCES couldn’t have been more pronounced. The night before, I had watched Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo + Juliet (you know, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes). It started off kinda weird, what with its fusion of modern day culture and original Shakespearean dialogue, but I grew to enjoy this dichotomy as it progressed. Sometimes you forget how beautiful the language is until you hear it recited to you; before I knew it I was quietly rehearsing those very lines as though I were the star-crossed lover. I went to bed thinking how crazy it is to love someone with such intensity that it would cause you to scheme a plot to fake death–and when that fails, to go as far as to induce death–all in the name of love. Mind you, this is one of the most celebrated (albeit tragic) love stories of all time.

The morning after, I came across another piece about love. It was a short video entitled The Story of Ian & Larissa. For nine minutes, I watched and listened as a lovely young lady told her story about tragedy and triumph. Her boyfriend at the time had suffered a traumatic injury that left him incapacitated. But she committed to him, and they eventually got married. “I think what helped us in making this commitment to each other, at least for me, is knowing that Ian wouldn’t have left me if the roles were reversed,” said Larissa. “And that we love each other and we know God will be faithful to our marriage.” It was one of the most beautiful testimonies I’ve ever heard.

Romeo + Juliet. Ian & Larissa. Both of them were bold declarations of love. Yet each one said something entirely different about what it looks like and what it truly means. One speaks of a romance ignited by coquettish gesturing and physical attraction, the other of a selfless commitment to give, serve and choose to love for “better or worse.” We often dream of our own Juliets–or ladies, your Romeos–but what I think we really want deep down inside is an Ian & Larissa story. I’m sure they have their share of hardships and struggles–those common to all relationships as well as those unique to their own–and there might even be days of doubt. But theirs is a romance built on certain truths that will help them weather the storms when they come, in and out of seasons, whether they are feeling the butterflies or not.

I am a neophyte when it comes to this kind of love. I live in a society that tells me it’s about finding someone that fulfills my greatest desires and needs. It tells me that beauty only lies skin deep, that I need to take as much as I can get and only give to her as much as she is willing to give to me. An exchange of goods, bartering type of system, if you will. This is a love no deeper than mere economics.

My subtle belief in this approach towards relationships requires correction. It’s something that invites God’s rebuke in my life, quiet but firm. So God gives me stories like these to awaken a greater part of me. It is a challenge to rise above the dregs of our soul-numbing consumerist mentality. It is a call to await the strokes of grace that will paint this next phase of my life, whenever that will be.

In the mean time, I am to make the most of my singleness. To love, serve, give, sacrifice and put others above myself. Funny how those terms are applied in marriage as well. If I want to be a good husband, guess I better start now.

Big Sur: Thanks for the Memories

“The saddest thing about life is you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth. I have this friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down. The last time I talked to Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories. He’s the only guy I know who remembers his life. He said he captures memories, because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen; it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember.” – Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to be living life in the active sense of the word. Not just alive, but living. I’ve been traveling to new places, seeing different sights, meeting new friends, and learning from various wonderful men and women. Not a day goes by in which I am not aware of this wondrous privilege, and I am thankful for the Maker who has generously allowed for this rich period of my life. Lord willing, I intend to make more of these experiences in my days ahead.

Yet in the midst of it all I realize there must be a necessary time to pause and reflect. How tragic and disheartening it would be to simply take an experience as sensory and not allow it to marinate deeper within us. To record our memories, then, is to acknowledge their power not only to speak in the moment but to nurse and minister to our souls in ways that we can appreciate only with the passing of time.

Big Sur will live as one of those memories. It speaks to me now, and I entrust it will speak to me again (perhaps in new ways) as I return to take from this jar in the future. Some trips are made because of the people, others because of the place. Yet the few that become sacred are the trips forged by both. I have not experienced another trip in recent memory that made me appreciate the beauty found in nature and friendship as much as I did walking through those majestic hills and sharing laughs around the campfire.

One of my biggest fears is that one day I’ll forget it all. In the event that I am ever stricken with amnesia or dementia or what have you, I pray that I will be led to this page and recall a part of me that experienced something I would dare call divine.

There is something about moving through a mountain enveloped in fog that will not allow you to settle. What I mean is, fog creates this sort of tension that has potential to lead to either a subtle disappointment or wonderful crescendo. You are walking through a seeming mystery, the sight of rocks and ocean veiled by an atmospheric curtain, and there is no promise it will be lifted. Yet the day assumes the sun (as does the weather forecast), and so you walk on through the Wordsworth-like scene and take in the sublime awe of dirt, grass and trees in the fog with the ever slightest sliver of hope that the mighty sun will awaken.

At some point along our trail we come across this plot of forest, and though slightly off the beaten path, we enter. With all the imagination our minds could muster we dream our own Narnia, pretend we are our very own adventurers and queens. Meg transforms into a french hostess of the woods and we, her delighted guests. We assume an impromptu game of hide n’ seek and Murray darts through the thin redwoods with vulpine aplomb. In this moment, I–I am transported back to my innocent days as a young and wide-eyed explorer–and my mind is filled with wonder.

Through thin and tortuous trails, we make our way through the leafy maze. Rays of sunlight begin to shoot through the uncovered forest; tension builds. We are eager to make our way out of the forest, to see what might greet us on the other side. So I stepped over the ivy, ducked my head under the low-hanging branches, and kept trekking (though I stopped to chuckle at Shelley when her shoe caught in a branch’s knot). Though the track was steep, we eventually find our way out.

What greeted me at trail’s end was a masterpiece presentable only by God Almighty. Our group of seven was struck breathless in the sight of radiant glory–there were no words. Quietly, easily, we laid our bags on the ground and took our time in silence to share this uniquely communal-yet-personal experience with our Maker. The moment had transcended into the sacred.

Around the campfire later that night, we sat around on full stomachs looking to entertain one another with old tales of horror. What we got instead was a “popcorn-style”, group ad-libbed story initiated by Brittany that was unraveled and expanded on for the next half hour. It all began as a “Once upon a time in land far away, a land like Ireland…” but included Stevo-sponsored “Meanwhiles…” and led to crazy twists and turns involving dogs with injured legs, magical leprechauns, a love-sick spinster, and a tough New York priest named Brooklyn Dave (along with his friend Crocodile Marty in Australia).

We all laughed heartily at the accents (and at the people who attempted them) and the intricate yet nonsensical machinations of the story, while appreciating the inner-workings of the people who delivered them. I sat there marveling at someone like Feibes who possesses such a God-given ability to entertain others with his humor and charm. I was equally amused by Murray whose attention to details (not to mention, his failed attempts to keep a nonsensical story straight) exposed his practical, engineer-like hardwiring. It is a great joy when you are able to see a glimpse of God through His people.

The story abruptly ended. As each person filtered out to clean up and tie up loose ends, I stood there alone before the fire, full of life and cheer. The adventure was ending, the trip rounding near to its close. Yet it was not lost unto me the subtle narrative that was being told by the Grand Storyteller. “I am glad you get to enjoy Me and enjoy My people. This is the better part of life, and I give this privilege of life to you.”

In a world of cruise-controls and autopilots, it is easy to default into our work days and family lives without much thought. But listen with your heart, learn to look for the subtle graces you’ve been granted, and never lose that divine wonder. May we stake our life at seeking and sharing the greater story.

Weighing In on Tebowmania

THREE MINUTES LEFT on the clock. Bears 10, Broncos 0. It’s been a rough three-and-a-half quarters for Denver, but Tebow has just completed his last five passes or something like that. Too little, too late? Fifty-two seconds later, the Broncos find the end-zone on a Tebow pass. No, this can’t be happening again…can it? The Broncos attempt a valiant on-side kick, but the Bears recovered. With no timeouts left, the Broncos are powerless to stop the Bears from simply running out the clock. Sigh, miracle averted…

Wait, did Barber just run out-of-bounds?!

Clock stopped. Another short run and the Bears punt it on fourth down. Broncos receive the ball with a minute left. Cue the bat signal–Tebow’s coming out with his cape. A few quick plays, a few long completions. First, he hits Decker, then it’s Thomas–like all of a sudden these gloves are dipped in super glue. Fourth down with about eight seconds remaining. Enter Matt Prater, the Broncos kicker, to attempt a 59-yarder to tie the game. (Um, that’s one yard short of sixty. That’s really, really long.) And the kick is…good (by about five yards)! You’ve got to be kidding me…are we really heading into overtime?

In extra time, the Bears win the coin-toss and elect to retrieve the ball. The Bears respond resiliently with several clutch plays including an amazing catch by Barber. Bears charge down the field and are in field-goal range. All they need is another down and the kicker has a very makeable three points. (Alas, I guess it’s too good to be true…) Hanie takes one last snap, hands off to Barber. He looks like he’s about to break away–wait, fumble! Scramble on the field, ball recovered by Broncos. UNBELIEVABLE. Now, Denver offense gets a chance to march down the field. And…

I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story. You know how it ends. Even Hollywood couldn’t come up with a script like this. Isn’t this stuff made of legends, things you might find in fairy tales or discover in movies? No, it’s real. I know it because I don’t own Madden 12 and I can’t mistake my TV images for a video game. I know it because I am staying up late on a work night to write an article about it. And I know it because, quite frankly, all of America is talking about it.

Indeed, I am just one of the latest and many to be swept away by Tebowmania.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! What is going on here?”

For those of you who haven’t been following this, you might be sounding a bit like Mr. Belding. Even if you haven’t been participating in Tebowmania directly (watching his games), you have probably been involved indirectly (engaged in conversations, news articles, or blogs). Chances are, if you are living in America and have any sort of access to the Internet and media, you have heard something having to do with a guy whose name rhymes with Lim Lebow.

So, what’s the big deal? Here’s the skinny: he’s a second-year QB out of Florida–a program that he helped lead to two national championships–with supposedly bad mechanics and lack of skill who is leading his team to a 7-1 resurgence after a dismal 1-4 start. And he’s doing it in dramatic fashion, with three wins in overtime and another three victories by a touchdown or less.

Oh, and by the way, he sure loves his Jesus. You might have heard it here or seen it there. All of which has sparked several debates on sports radio and TV stations across the country about sports, society, religion, and well, the intermingling of all three.

Whoa, blow the whistle–beeeeeeep! Timeout. All that sounds pretty heavy. I think we’ll need to break down the X’s and O’s and tackle each topic one by one.

Tebow the PLAYER

For starters, let’s talk about what we know about Tebow as a football player. He is a consummate winner. He’s done it all throughout his life–before all the national fanfare, before his Heisman award and two college championships, before his current string of wins in Denver. He did it when he was younger and he is doing it now. And he’s always been doing it in spite of criticism, when players and coaches would consistently deride him for playing out of position or not having the required skill sets to excel at the next level. It can be argued that Tebow’s ability to win is extra impressive because he is doing so in the constant face of adversity.

Tebow is a naturally fiery competitor. You don’t have to tell him to work hard, to put his body on the line for every play, to make decisions that would best lead his team to a W. He holds himself accountable for every completion, every miss, every play. He is a leader, not just by words but by actions. When his Florida Gators team faced a shocking loss to Ole Miss in 2008, he said: “You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season.” Tebow would go on propel his team to another national championship later that year.

The talking heads all say that he hasn’t developed the tools to do the job right. By their accounts he shouldn’t be as successful as he has been. Tebow would be the first to tell you that he still has a lot to learn. I am by no means a football expert, but I do know enough basic math to differentiate between the winning and losing teams on a scoreboard. However you want to slice it, you can always count on Tebow to give nothing less than his one-hundred and figure out some sort of plan to eek out victories–even if they aren’t the prettiest.

Tebow the TEAMMATE

One of the things that could easily be lost in this whole “Mile High Messiah” talk is how much credit his entire team deserves. It would be easy to dismiss their contributions and efforts, if not for Tebow himself, who is always the first to deflect praise heaped on him and redirect it toward his fellow coaches and teammates. He’d say things like “My teammates and the coaching staff make me look better than I actually am.” It’s one thing to say it, but I think he truly believes that.

Let’s face it: when you are playing in a team sport, you cannot win a game single-handed. This is especially true in football, where every position is interconnected and affects the performance of the other. If receivers can’t catch, QBs don’t get the completion. If the O-line doesn’t block, the QB won’t have time to throw and the RBs won’t have holes to break through. Yet there exist many players who apparently didn’t get the memo. The NFL is filled with many prima donna stars who brag and boast of their contributions when they win and blame others when they lose.

You would never hear that from Tebow. By his leadership through words and action, he inspires his team to play harder and better–the Broncos love playing with Tebow. His athletic ability, along with his intangibles (personality and leadership), has changed the culture in the locker room. The Broncos might not field the most talent (see Packers, Patriots), but they believe they can and will win every game. And the entire team, from the head coach down to the waterboy, has bought into it. It is simply infectious.

Tebow the MAN and “Witness”

This is where the conversation really gets interesting. Religion has long been a divisive topic in America. Having a high-profile public figure who is very outward and expressive about his faith only propels the issue to the forefront. However, Tebow’s openness about his Christian faith and concurrent success have opened up the floodgates for dialogue between believers and non-believers alike.

For far too long, religion has been used as a tool by wayward politicians and crooked men to push their agendas. But with Tebow I never feel like he is trying to sell me anything or that he is anything other than what he’s expressing. He doesn’t come off as the super-perfect and “holier-than-thou” type. His humility and candor with which he addresses the public makes him rather likeable. He has been nothing short of gracious, even with his naysayers. If nothing else, I’d be willing to listen to his message simply because of his approach, even if I didn’t agree with it.

Look, I don’t know Tebow personally. I’ve never met him or spent a day with him. I do know that he does a lot of charity work, including overseeing his own foundation and building hospitals out in the Philippines. By many accounts, the man you see in the press conferences is the same man off the field and away from the spotlight. I don’t know what he is like behind closed doors, but I really hope this is true. (Read part of his amazing life story here.)

But you can’t tell me that Tebow doesn’t love God. And you cannot not respect him for his faith, even if you disagree with it. He is just someone who is sickly in love with Jesus. To watch someone love something that much…it’s inspiring. It’s like watching him reminds me how to love something or somebody the right way. Have I ever loved God in that way?

We always knock people for being hypocrites, for preaching moralism when their lips couldn’t be further from their lives. Why are we knocking the one guy who seems to be living what he preaches?

The Impact of Tebow on American Christianity

With all this being said, there are still many misconceptions that could arise. Here’s one that comes to the forefront of my mind.

Planking? That's so pre-Tebow 2011

In my 11 or so years of practicing the faith, I have only discovered how deep is the rabbit hole that leads to my own brokenness. The more I understand the Bible and fellowship with Jesus, the more I realize how I don’t think, talk, feel or act like Jesus. One would think that I’d have more answers by now, that my life would be more prosperous or successful or charming. If anything, it’s been more trials and difficulties. The more I read things like “he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” and “whoever wants to save his life will lose it” the more I come to see that the Bible has a lot of hard sayings. Jesus didn’t mince words. He cuts to the core and exposes my pride and inner rebellion against God. It is easy to believe that this “Tebow-inspired” brand of Christianity means that once you convert you will become a winner (or that you are only qualified to be a Christian if you are a winner). After all, Tebow sure looks like he’s invincible, doesn’t he? The opposite could not be more true.

The fact of the matter is, Christianity is for losers. Some people say it’s a crutch, and it’s true. But the difference between the atheist and the believer is that the believer understands the reality and his need for a crutch, whereas the atheist denies it. Jesus is for people who are willing to admit that they don’t have it all together. As Don Miller says, “A beggar’s kingdom is better than a proud man’s delusion.”

Consider this my warning (and sermon). Jesus came to heal and love the lame, the prostitutes, the tax-collectors and sinners. And he ultimately died to pay the consequence of our mistakes, rising again on the third day to prove that he has power over death and sin. But he is not a genie. And he is NOT who the media has made him out to be: white, middle-class, Republican Jesus. Jesus is who he claims to be, even if his followers aren’t.

If you decide to follow him, life might just get a bit tougher. But everyone who ever became a Christian eventually had to ask themselves, is Jesus worth it?

The Test of Tim(e)

“It is unbelievably believable.” These words delivered from Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III could be just as fitting for Tim Tebow at this moment. Are we witnessing a modern-day David vs. Goliath story? He’s not supposed to be doing this, he’s not supposed to be winning, and yet it somehow miraculously happens week after week.

But there will come a time when the Tim Tebow magic runs out. When he fails, when he stops winning games. Certainly, I only wish him the best, but in some ways I am curious as to when that day arrives. Why?

A true test of character is not in how someone deals with victory, but in how he handles defeat. Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I often like to extrapolate the principle underlying this quote. Everybody celebrates in a similar fashion when they are victorious, but how do they cope with the sting of loss? Do they handle it with dignity and grace? Or do they reveal themselves to be a fool? Each person reacts differently.

From what I’ve seen so far of Tim Tebow, I have a feeling that the score at the end of the game won’t change him. After all, the most amazing thing about this story is not how he keeps winning, but rather how he’s stayed so cool about it through it all.

Here’s to you, Tim Tebow. GB^2

Navigating the Story

I’ve always known that life is messy. It’s a concept that’s addressed through countless books and film and reinforced through personal experience. It’s a known fact. Yet, what I’m starting to wonder is how much of this inkblot is due to my own making. Let me explain.

As a writer and student of literature, I have always been taught to look for subtext. “Not everything is as it seems.” It is always more than meets the eye, deeper meanings hidden behind people and places and stories. Connotations. It’s the subtle nuances behind words and the contexts in which they are placed that allow us to arrive at the same destination and come to different conclusions. When I apply this sort of thinking beyond books and into the realm of life, I tend to look at my life as a story. The idea itself isn’t much of a stretch–after all, our lives are punctuated by the very conflicts, climaxes and resolutions from which our art is derived. Nor is it a wrong to think in this manner–in fact, more of us need to be aware of our place in the bigger picture.

Rather, what I am mainly addressing here is the problem that arises when one is not only aware his life is a story but begins to force elements into the story that do not belong. In other words, you begin to imagine the progression of your life and determine proudly to construct a conclusion by which it is the only way your story can end. For instance, if I believe I am supposed to find love like it is found in fairy tales, then I will sit at the coffee shop and wait for the “love at first sight” moment. In this case, I will not allow love to happen, perhaps more practically and less “romantically”, through online dating, set-ups, or the like–though it could very well be that is where you were meant to find it.

The chief issue is this–you want to be in control of your own story. You demand the pen. You want to write it. You want to shape your own plot, be the captain of your own ship. Thoreau novelized it with his beat of my own drummer ideology. Granted, who does not desire this sort of freedom? I do. In fact, I live most of my days as though this is true.

The problem is we are not capable of the task. You and I are no more capable of writing our own stories than a puppet is in creating his own speech. There are many things that fall out of my jurisdiction. I cannot control the stock market, my health, or even the people with whom I’m living. There are so many factors that are connected to life, why things do and do not happen. (How much of my life is reactionary as opposed to initialized?) It is nice to think that I have some semblance of freedom, of self-determinism, but in the end, as Shakespeare so tenderly puts it, “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players.”

If so, then maybe the goal in life isn’t so much about trying to break rank as it is about discovering what our roles are in this grand play. Am I Horatio trying to play the part of Hamlet? Or have I been cast merely in the background? Our confusion and failures lie in the possibility that we have denied who we were meant to be, what we were meant to do, with the talents and passions uniquely gifted to us, and rather tried to indulge in fantasies shaped by comfort and safety. The issue is not that we are too ambitious but that we are not truly aware of our role and our purpose.

I once thought that being the captain was divine until I realized that I had no clue as to where I was going or how I’d get there. I was shipwrecked, before being found by a greater Captain, one who knows the way to True North and brought me on board to join his grand adventure.

Yes, I’m merely a sailor. It sounds less exciting than captain, more dutiful than daring. But I rather be a sailor on a ship towards paradise than command my own boat to wreckage. In the end, I trust that the beauty which I will have experienced in the journey and destination will prove my rightful surrender.

Like Horse & Carriage

I made a trip up to Central and Northern California this past weekend to observe two marriages. One actually becoming official “before God and these witnesses” at a small chapel in Fresno; the other fresh and exciting after a couple weeks spent honeymooning in Europe. Both reminded me of the beauty found in marriage.

Ricky and Jessie came together in a simple yet meaningful ceremony. Pastor Jon officiated the wedding and delivered a memorable sermon. Nothing too long or heavy, but it was full of honest and practical wisdom. I remember one quote in particular in which he said (paraphrased): “In marriage, one half plus one half does not equal one. In this equation, rarely does each person ever give their full share of the fifty. Sometimes you might feel you are giving more, sometimes less. But if you are putting the other person’s cares above your own and you are running toward the other person to meet their needs, then rest assured you two are bound to meet each other somewhere in the middle.” It reminded me of the whole concept of giving, not taking, in marriage. Knowing the kind of man that Ricky is, I have full confidence that he will cherish, protect and provide for her with every ounce of God-enabled strength.

After the reception, Jeremy and I headed on the road to Oakland. The next day, we met up with my dear friend Deborah. We were introduced to her husband Jerry. We spent the entire afternoon and early evening together, going from church service to brunch to J-town to the piers over at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a lot of activity, running into fobs at J-town and dodging fat birds, but through it all I got to see how Jerry served and loved his wife. They had that sort of chemistry that spoke of deep trust and understanding. I recount how at one Japanese novelty store, Jerry asked the cashier if they had a Domo ear-set to complete her full-body Domo costume. They didn’t have it, but Jerry was obviously looking out for her best interests. (Sarcasm intended.) I became a big fan of Jerry and I am glad that she is well taken care of. (It also doesn’t hurt that his hair reminds me of a cross between Beatles Paul McCartney and Super Saiyan 3 Goku.)

As I reflect on these two stories, I begin to see how they tie together. I think about the Bible and all its talk about marriage being a symbol of Christ and His church. How Christ in all his glory came not to be served, but to serve and make lovely His bride. How even when we fail or falter, Jesus is pursuing us with a passionate and furious love. He is fully committed. And He will not rest until He has us, wholly and completely devoted to Him.

This is what makes marriage special. This is what makes it divine. The world looks in to see what we have. It discovers, as a matter of fact, that it is a love triangle. Indeed, Christians are the most scandalous lovers of all.