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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

Why I Have Obnoxious Stickers on My Car

Shortly after I got my back from my road trip this past summer, my car, Old Red, underwent some cosmetic changes. First of all, I washed off the small nation of bugs I had accumulated from the front of the car.

Secondly, I added a butt-load of stickers to the rear window:

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I know, I know. It looks pretty obnoxious. Ugly, even. My friend Jen has already expressed her hatred for the asymmetry that's going on. I would agree, and I apologize for assaulting your eyes and your fung shui.

I never thought I'd be a car sticker kind of guy. Here's why I have them displayed so obnoxiously on my car:

It's not for you. It's for me.

I have a goal to get to every national park in the United States. It's a goal that lodged itself in my gut a few years ago, and I've become pretty serious about making it happen.

Those stickers are a visible (even if unattractive) reminder every single morning when I walk out to my car that I have a goal that I'm working toward. When I look in my rearview mirror, those reminders are there. When I get out of my car, those reminders are there. I even see them when I check my rear view mirror. The asymmetry only adds fuel to the fire to start putting more stickers on to even it out. And the stickers don't just remind me that I have a goal; they remind me that I'm making progress. I need that.

Three months ago, I had eight stickers on my car. Now? I have eighteen. That feels pretty good.

I also know that I still have forty parks to go. Every day, because of that window, I'm thinking about how to get my next sticker.

Yeah, Paul, I still think that's pretty stupid.

Okay. That's fine. I understand. But sometimes you have to get weird or obnoxious or a little crazy to make your goals happen.

Your goal is probably not the same as mine. Your strategy to accomplish your goal doesn't need to involve an annoyingly asymmetrical arrangement of stickers on your car window.

But you might need to get weird about it if you really want to see it happen.

Do whatever it takes. Write messages to yourself on the wall. Have friends call/text/email you reminders at certain times of the week. Eat a bowl of ice cream every time you take a step closer. (That one I will not apologize for.)

In any case, I know I can't fit forty-eight stickers on my window. It's physically impossible, I probably (hopefully) will have ditched Old Red by then, I think it would be illegal, and it will definitely be unsafe. At some point, I'll have to find a new way to motivate myself to check the rest of the parks off my list.

You can bet it will be a bit crazy and a bit weird. You've been warned.

How a Heart Comes Back Together

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For some of us, heartbreak comes like a summer thunderstorm. It pounces on us, hammers down heavy drops for a furious few minutes, and passes, leaving us stunned.

For some of us, heartbreak comes like heavy snow on a winter night. It coats everything in white and convinces us for a short while that all is beautiful and tranquil until the weight becomes too heavy for the limbs and lines, and there is breaking and collapsing and crashing.

For some of us, heartbreak comes like drought. We soak in the sun, and...

slowly...

slowly...

slowly...

...our lakes and rivers recede, our throats feel like sand, and we shrivel, and shrink, and crawl to a stop.

For me?

For me, heartbreak was like hurricane season. I came to expect it, anticipate it, brace for it. I lived in constant fear of it. Before I had even finished the repairing and remodeling from the previous season, the winds were upon me (again). The roof was ripped off (again), the basement took on water (again), and I began the work of recovery (again).

Year, after year, after year, after year.

After one too many storms, my home, my heart, lay strewn about in pieces amongst a haphazard scattering of cracked mementos, splintered trust, collapsed vows, and water-logged years.

If you've experienced heartbreak, you've experienced it in your own way, I'm sure. How long we stay in it, how we cope with it, how we recover from it all varies. Mine honestly feels like ages ago. Another life, almost. Somehow, my heart came back together. Here's how it happened, for me:

It was a lot of angry questions and, "God, why have you forsaken me?"

It was a white-knuckle grip on any strands of hope I could find.

It was listening to people who didn't know me well say, "You haven't done enough. Fight harder." It was listening to those who know me best say, "You have done enough."

It was knowing my friends were shedding tears when I had sworn to stop shedding them.

It was drowning in a flood of emails and text messages that said, "I will wade with you," "We believe in you," "We will hurt and heal with you," and "We love you dearly."

It was the extra few foot-pounds of pressure in the hugs people gave me.

It was putting my head down and throwing myself into work and grad school.

It was reaching out for help when I became paralyzed with indecision about work and grad school.

It was choosing to celebrate my friends as they got married and adopting their joy when I felt like I had none of my own.

It was a thousand other little celebrations, mine and others'.

It was sitting in a counselor's office and hearing him say, "Looks like the dreamer in you hasn't died after all these years."

It was lines from songs, like "Nothing is wasted..." and "A better life is waiting..." and "You've held your head up / you've fought the fight / you bear the scars / you've done your time..."

It was distracting myself with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Feedly, and everything else bright and blinking.

It was turning everything off and listening to the sound of my heart coming back together.

It was giving up the security of relationship. It was agreeing to the possibility of being single forever, deciding to not settle out of fear of being alone, committing to live the fullest life possible.

It was experiencing God's goodness in it, through it, and because of it.

All that to say, it was some combination of incredibly hard work and overwhelming grace. Gritty determination and utter helplessness. Intentional steps and blind wandering. Daydreams and harsh reality. Company and solitude. Joy and grief.

It all worked together, we all worked together, to rebuild my heart.

We built it bigger this time. More square footage. On higher ground. Instead of reinforcing it with more concrete, instead of erecting walls and barbed-wire fences, we put in floor-to-ceiling windows. We built it to be open.

It took a community. It took everything, all I had, and it took all of you.

Thanks for that, friends.

From deep within my reconstructed heart, thank you.

***

Feature photo ©2012 Nicolas Raymond

When We Don't Have the Words

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"I wish I knew what to tell you." I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say this, or something like this, to me. It's usually happened during times I was with a friend and carrying a heavy burden.

These friends would sit across the table from me, or next to me on the couch or in the car, or over the phone. They'd say different versions of the same sentiment:

"I don't have any great advice for you."

"I'm sorry I don't have anything better to say to you."

"I don't have any answers for you."

"I don't think there's anything I can tell you to make this better."

Every time, I'd look at them, smile, and say, "I know. And I didn't expect you to."

When I look back on those times, it's not some sage advice, some powerful maxim, some quotable proverb that I remember or appreciate.

It was simply that friend's presence.

It was that they were there with me, they had taken the time to hear me and see my pain. That made all the difference in the world. I didn't need anything more from them. I didn't need them to bear the responsibility of shining a bright light with the perfect words. Simply sitting with me kept the darkness at bay.

So don't feel bad when you're sitting there with a friend who's going through stuff and you don't have all the right words to say.

The fact that you're sitting there is already enough.

 

Flickr photo ©2010 ...storrao...

The Man, the Myth, the Jerk

The following is a variation of a conversation that happens more often than I'd like to admit: Person: "I always thought you were kind of a jerk until I actually had a conversation with you and got to know you." Me: "...Thank you?"

It's a confusing spot to find myself in. I guess it's a good thing--I'm apparently not actually a jerk, and people feel comfortable enough to share that with me.

I'm aware of the fact that, especially when I'm focused on a task, I can hone in on whatever it is I'm doing while ignoring everything and everyone else around. It can come off at best preoccupied and at worst cold or standoffish.

I think, though, that what these conversations prove more than anything else is that I can't control what people think of me. And that drives me crazy. I'm not much of a Type A personality, not much of a perfectionist or control freak...until it comes to my image and people's perception of me. I hate that I could work hard to be a certain kind of person or to live my life with certain values and there will still be people who think, "That guy's kind of a jerk." Or "That guy doesn't care." Or, worse yet, "That guy can't possibly eat that whole pizza" (because I CAN). Or "That guy is a quitter" (this is for another post, another day entirely).

How could someone think that? What am I doing wrong? What do I need to change?

The answer, for me, is nothing.

My closest friends--those who rub shoulders with me and do life with me--they know who I am. They know what I'm about. They know all of my strengths, all of my positive qualities, and they're also the only ones who really know my weaknesses. When it comes time for me to face a shortcoming that demands a change, those people will be the ones to facilitate that.

Not the people who see me walking through the lobby at church.

Not the people who pass me in the hallway at work.

Not the people who think they know who I am because they see me post some random thought on Facebook.

Not the people who haven't seen the man behind the curtain: the hopes, the dreams, the fears, the struggles, the failures, the rallies, the loud moments, the quiet moments, the moments I jump up and down laughing, the times I can't sit down because I'm so angry.

For the people who know that guy, I'm laid bare, and they see me for who I am. Good and bad.

I can't waste my time trying to live my life in such a way that pleases every single person in my sphere of influence or interaction. It's impossible, and I will wear myself out chasing the wind.

So if you're someone who's thought of me as a jerk, I'm sorry, but this probably won't help: I can't worry about that anymore, so I won't. But anytime you'd like to sit down and have a conversation and share life together, I'm game.