Life

The Only Real Obligation in Life

The Only Real Obligation in Life

"I'm thinking about letting them know I can't do it anymore," he told me. "But I feel bad. They really need me." He let out a sigh through his nose. It crackled in the speaker of my phone. I could feel the father-son relational scale tip to my side.

"Dad," I said. "You shouldn't feel bad about it. Especially at this point in your life. You don't have to be a slave to obligation."

Death and Resurrection (of a Dream)

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This is a week about death and life.

It’s about the grave and resurrection.

It’s about re-animating what we had believed to be cold corpses.

This idea of resurrection has particular meaning for me this year.

A few years ago, I died.

I don’t mean that my heart stopped pumping blood through my arteries and veins or that the pathways in my brain shut down.

No, I died a different kind of death, a death out of the public eye. No one was there to mourn. No services. No flowers. The closest thing to an obituary was something I wrote down in my journal one night as I reflected on what my life had come to:

I don’t want to feel anymore. I don’t want to be disappointed anymore. I don’t want to want or to yearn anymore. I want to be dead inside.

People who haven known me for a while know how significant those words are. How so far removed they are from who I am and have been since I was little. My whole life, I had dreamed of a great love. My heart has always been geared to burst out of my chest and spill over into everything I did, everyone I knew. I dreamed about it, thought about it, wrote about it, talked about it, sought after it and fought for it. I wanted passion and adventure in every aspect of my life.

But we’re led down strange roads sometimes. Rather than walking a path that led up the mountain toward the blue sky and clouds and breathless heights, I found myself wading through the lowland swamps of what would become the deepest, darkest valley I would ever encounter.

I was suddenly years into a relationship that turned everything I believed about love and life upside down.

Lower your expectations is what I heard over and over and over again. And so I did.

I lowered my aim from having a great love to having a good love.

But that wasn’t happening, either. Those expectations were still too high.

So I lowered it again from a good love to an okay love.

Still too high.

Over and over, my expectations dropped down the rungs until they were rock-bottom: I will survive this love. Even if this person doesn’t want to work on it, even if this person doesn’t want me, even if this person rejects me over and over and over again…I can survive it.

I went from fiercely declaring that I wanted a great love, a revolutionary love, to not wanting anything anymore. To put to death all of my desires. How far I had fallen. How shattered my dreams had become.

The only way I felt I could survive was to lay that dreamer in the grave and pour earth and rock over him until his cold body was completely covered.

That part of me died, and I left that dream for a great love and a great life to rot with me. I patted down the earth, I dusted off my hands, and I walked away feeling cold, like iron or ice.

Days passed. Months. Years.

The sun has passed over it hundreds of times. The moon has peeked at it with its pale gaze. Rain has come down and seeped past it. Snow has fallen and rested on top of it. Long grass has grown over it.

This week, though, something began to stir in the earth.

It was such a minute movement at first—a twitch, a tremble of the dirt.

But soon, the earth opened up, the grass parted, and light and air and hope rushed into the space only darkness had occupied.

God is resurrecting dreams for me this week.

It's been such a long night. It’s been such a deep grave. But I believe in a Jesus who destroys death.

I believe in a Jesus who reaches his hand into the earth, rips me from the mouth of darkness, and breathes air into my lungs.

I believe in a Jesus who resurrects dreams.

I believe he died and rose again.

I believe it because I’ve seen him do it with me once again.

***

Feature photo ©2013 Richard Browne | Flickr

On Quitting Small and Safe

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In the book Love Does, Bob Goff talks about how he quits something every Thursday. The idea revolves around this: we pick up so much unnecessary stuff along the way—we can always benefit from cutting off some dead weight.

If you’ve picked up a bad habit of eating unhealthy food, you could quit that. If you realize you criticize others or yourself too much, you could quit that. If you watch too much Netflix, you could quit that. (Only after you finish the latest House of Cards season, of course.)

I know it’s not Thursday, but today, I’m going to quit something.

I want to quit caging my hope.

I want to quit putting chains on what’s possible in this life.

I want to quit extinguishing my dreams.

This is a simplified summary of the inner workings of my mind and heart: I have a dream, an idea, a thought of what some aspect of life could or should be. I envision that a relationship could be a certain way, or that a group of people could come together and create a certain kind of community, or that I could accomplish some task or purpose with a skill I have. Hope sparks inside me. As my heart beats faster, it fans that flame until it grows into a fire.

But it doesn’t stay that way for long. I have this funny habit of shutting down my hope. It’s like I go to the store and pick out a shiny, sexy dream I love. I bring it home, set it down on the living room floor, and just stare at it. Before I ever even take it out of the packaging, I convince myself it’s not for me. The next day, I’m in the customer service line ready to return it.

I keep thinking…why do I do this?

Our past experiences have a way of shaping our current perspective.

For a long time, I let a single relationship douse my dreams. I allowed it to cut off the oxygen from what I hoped for and wanted out of life. For such a long time and with such consistency, my hopes were put out like a cigarette butt ground into the pavement by an unforgiving heel. Soon enough, hoping and dreaming could barely move past the ignition phase. It was like trying to start a campfire in the rain with water-logged wood.

I started to believe the ways I dreamed life could be, the hope I had, the kind of relationships I wanted, the places I could travel, the accomplishments I could achieve, the depth of love into which I could dive…were impossible. Foolish.

They were either fairy tales, or they were for somebody else, not me. This is what was for me: small dreams. Safe dreams. Anything that could fit inside the thimble-sized cage that was my reality for so long.

I can’t accept that anymore.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve tasted just enough, I’ve glimpsed just enough of what’s possible for us in this life. It’s like I lived underground for years, stopped believing in things like the sun and daylight, and suddenly rays of light began to force their way through some cracks above (Kimmy Schmidt, anyone?).

So today, I’m untethering my hope. I’m expanding my vision for what I’m capable of and what is within my reach.

I’m quitting fear. I’m quitting doubt. I’m quitting safe and small dreams. I’ve limited myself for too much time, for too many dark and claustrophobic years.

I’m going to let the fire grow.

I’m going to step off the ledge.

I’m going to dive deep.

It’s time.

***

Feature photo ©2013 James Wheeler | Flickr

Quick Story: Friends Who Can Rally

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This is a Quick Story. Yesterday, my friend, Will, and I drove almost two hours north to Camelback Mountain to snowboard.

We had grand plans. I was going to break in my brand new snowboard. We were going to test the GoPro gifted to me the day before by some amazing friends. We were going to squeeze every drop from what's left of winter.

And then Fate tried to wreck our plans. We were already running much later than we would have liked--a St. Patty's Day parade in the city held us up for at least thirty minutes. By the time we arrived to Camelback, it was almost 5:30. Okay--we can rally. We could still put in a good four hours of boarding despite the late start.

Fate dealt us one more blow. After the lady at the ticket counter handed me my lift ticket, she said, "Oh, by the way--you know we close at 7:00, right?"

WHAT.

Cue the clip of a nuclear detonation and the ensuing mushroom cloud.

Our drive up to the mountain would be longer than our time on the mountain. What do you do with that? And here's why I love Will so much:

He didn't flip out. He didn't complain. While I'm sure some people would have given the ticket ladies grief, he made them laugh instead. On our way out of the door, we both looked at each other, laughed, and he said, "We gotta make the most of it then!"

And we did. It was brief, but we had a blast in the time we were given. We were able to stop and sit down for dinner which we wouldn't have done if the mountain had been open later.

No time or space for negativity.

Plans get wrecked so often. Life throws some crazy haymakers out of nowhere. We get knocked down, but we don't have to stay there.

I'm thankful for friends who can roll with the punches and rally. Life is better with friends like that.