The Gift of Simple Pleasures

As I look back on the last month of social distancing and “Stay-at-home”, I realize this COVID-19 pandemic hits in waves—not only the “curve” we’re rightly obsessed with “flattening”—but powerful, unpredictable emotional waves.

The first few weeks the waves were coming so fast, there was hardly time to get back on my feet. Directives changed daily. “Functional” meant I still had the ability to react to new information, follow new rules and get through each day in survival mode (vs total paralysis).  Shock, disbelief, and numbness are a mercy and got us through those early days. Now we’re a few more weeks into this and the reality continues to set in. You and I and our world is not going back to “normal.” “Normal” as we knew it has ended, but we certainly aren’t on the other side of this yet.

How long until we’re living in the new normal? We don’t know. We’re suspended in a liminal space. The good news is, having already navigated several weeks, we’re a little more steady amidst the waves, and we have a little more margin to respond vs simply react: we’ve recovered a little space to ponder our choices, and a little will and energy to execute. We have choices about how we’re going to navigate this space.

I like to cook, and especially to bake. Even more specifically, bake yeast breads. Early in this pandemic I thought to myself, I’ll just make sure I have a good supply of flour and I’ll be set with a highly rewarding way to “kill time.” I very quickly discovered, that next to toilet paper and hand sanitizer, flour was about the most difficult thing to find.  Anywhere. Including online. One day in desperation I googled two words: flour + Washington. Up popped a flour mill about an hour north of Seattle and miraculously, they had one kind of whole wheat flour still available. I was able to order this flour (25# minimum!) and got a message I would be contacted when it is “ready for pick up.” What does that mean?…wasn’t the flour sitting somewhere in a bag if it’s available to order? To make a long story short, a couple days after my online order—and a short road-trip—I had 50# of 100% whole wheat flour that had been fresh ground just for me!

I was so psyched to bake with this flour—and it did not disappoint! This little adventure got me thinking about several things about navigating life in this unprecedented global liminal space:

It’s good to take a break from the intensity.

It’s good to get a change of scenery.

It’s good to enjoy a hobby and simple pleasures.

At the same time, I begin to ask myself if making and eating “comfort food” in this season is a healthy, self-soothing activity…or is it a medication for the grief and anxiety the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving in its path? Honestly, it’s a little of both for me.  And that’s fine.  I’m not beating myself up about it.  Though I am noting if my daily step count and weekly workout routine are roughly keeping pace with my baking. J

The important thing is to recognize the gift in the COVID-19 pandemic – that is the gift of the opportunity to grow. Grow in the direction of health: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. Grow in resilience. Grow in character. Grow in hope. I need the comfort of small mercies and simple pleasures AND I need to lean in, toward choices and activities that will result in growth. Growth is the opportunity and gift of every liminal space.

On Rest, Work and Burnout

Do you ever have those weeks—or series of weeks—in which one by one, things pile up: frustrations, to-do lists, exhausting work days, injuries, cancelled plans, etc., and then you’re just walking along in this fog of fatigue and realize you’ve hit your limit. If you’re lucky, you recognize this is happening and take steps to combat it before you reach burnout. But oftentimes, I’ve found, I have to get pretty tripped up before I’m willing to address that slow and steady progression toward burnout.

This time, it seems, my intuition was ahead of the curve; or rather, my intuition is often ahead of the curve—it’s my mind that seems to (over)confidently ignore the wisdom of my body. And so I get to enjoy a day off today, planned a month ago, simply for the purpose of rest. And, here I am wondering as I often do what it is that would feel restful on a day like today. I thought it would look like getting out of the city to ski on a day when most have to show up to the workplace. It’s beautifully sunny out and couldn’t be a more fitting bluebird day out on the mountain. And anyone who knows me knows that rest (to me) is NOT doing nothing. But after two failed attempts at plans to ski with friends, it seems the invitation to a different sort of rest is being offered.

I’ve been in the midst of a season of discernment and impending transition for the past several months. The months have been full: full of good, hard work and exploration, full of challenge, full of promise, and most definitely, full of frustration at the length of time it is taking to make change. Within the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a series of brief conversations that have in mere moments offered light in this darkness of waiting and uncertainty. A patient, a roommate’s friend, and a dear friend of mine have all offered validation of the difficulty that discernment and waiting hold. And by waiting I do not mean sitting idly by as I am already adept at doing; I mean active participation in the process of change. I mean listening—and deeply—to the life that is stirring within and without. I mean choosing to take those steps I’ve resisted for a hundred and one reasons. I mean choosing, also, to wait until that life in me has had the time and nourishment it needs before becoming visible in the world. Waiting is hard.

Rest, also, is hard. When that to-do list continues to grow. When you are nowhere near where you thought you would be at this moment in time. When your mind or body or both just don’t seem to know how to slow down that ever-present need to just keep moving… or else.

After hitting a wall this past week, I’m pondering a different way forward. A way that involves letting go of this need to be “working” or “on” at all times in order to speed up this process and get on with my life, to have an actual answer to that question that my patient and I so deeply loathe: “So have you figured out what you’re going to do yet?”

My transition coach/counselor adamantly believes that there is much to learn in the midst of seasons of transition. And, the answer to that one question that brought me to him, I am so slowly learning, is not the one and only question worthy of the investment of my time and money. Rather, learning how to navigate the changing of seasons, learning when and how to rest, learning what play looks like, learning how to be with others (and myself) in ways that honor desire and need—these are some of the elements that contribute to a life that is rich with meaning and joy.

And so I am able to hit pause today and venture outdoors to practice a different way of being in the world. I’ll hop on a ferry and travel across the Sound to one of the many marvelous islands in Seattle’s backyard. Alone with my bike, I’ll wander the forested roads thankful for the chance to slow down and take in the abundant goodness that surrounds us, a goodness not dependent upon any sense of worthiness whatsoever, but rather on a sheer willingness to turn, notice, and give thanks for simply being here.

For 2018, Dig Deep and Keep Promises, Not Resolutions

So many friends and colleagues I’ve spoken with have a common sentiment as they look back on 2017 – “I’m so tired.” It appears for many, this past year took a toll. When I look back on my year, by all accounts I should be cheering. But I, too, feel a weariness. Some of the exhaustion is like the thrill of crossing a finish line after a marathon. But some is because my soul is fatigued from the heartaches of “real life,” and the continued glimpse of humanity at its worst that 2017 offered.

By any standard, I should (and do) feel immense gratitude and pride for what 2017 wrought. Professionally, I completed my 75th article for Forbes and Harvard Business Review. I did two TEDx talks, one Authors at Google Talk, and one HBR live. I was a guest on more than 60 podcasts. I worked with some amazing clients who inspired me as we watched their organizations transform.  And I spent my days working alongside some of the finest consultants on the planet. Personally, I got to take an amazing long vacation with my wife and two dear friends. I got to volunteer extensively with an organization I am passionate about. I helped a dear friend complete ground breaking research on a pernicious affliction. And I lost 30 pounds.

And still, I’m very tired. Because in between all of that, the rest of life happened. I lost several friends too early in life to cancer. My older brother passed away unexpectedly. Both of my kids got very ill, and they live thousands of miles from me where they are in college. As a world, we faced unprecedented natural disasters that have left countless without homes, livelihoods, and care. Almost as if routine news, we saw headlines of leaders commit horrific abuses of power to exploit and harm others. And we continued to watch our nation further divide across political, social, and economic lines.

A few weeks “in between years” is hardly enough time to rejuvenate one’s mind, body, and soul. But it’s a start, and we all try and do it. For 2018, I’ve decided that rather than making “resolutions,” I want to make promises. To myself, and to others.  I don’t want to be another statistic among the near 80% who make and break “resolutions” weeks after the New Year begins. Resolutions are something we intellectually decide on our own. Promises feel more sacred. And most importantly, they involve others. As kids, “pinky swears” were the most inviolate of commitments. You’d never think of breaking one once made. That’s the kind of promise I’m talking about. If I learned anything in 2017, it’s that having others on the journey may well be the most important thing we need to learn in life. To participate in the journey of others’, and to invite them to participate in ours. With a pinky swear.

Maybe like me, you feel like you went all out in 2017 but instead of momentum, you feel weary going into 2018. If so, see if some of these promises might help you shift perspectives, and think differently about digging deep to gear up for the year ahead.

I promise to take honest stock. The first principle of being reflective is being self-honest. 2017 was great and it was painful. In some cases, it was painful because it was great. I don’t naturally like to hold two paradoxical truths. I tend to focus on one or the other – either how great things are, or how challenging things are. But if I can learn to hold both truths at the same time, I will be more honest about what 2017 was and wasn’t, and I can honestly grieve what cost me, and celebrate what delighted me.

I promise not to confuse “not yet” with “not enough.” One of my worst habits is that I dismiss progress when it’s just that, and not more. I confuse milestones and goals, and disregard one for not being the other. So when all of the above professional accomplishments didn’t add up to the ultimate goal for which I began them, I felt discouraged. Inadequate. Resentful of others further down their path than I. I refused to allow them to be enough. And while I know this to be extraordinarily unhealthy, it’s always been my weakness. But I am learning to distinguish “not yet” from “not enough.” I know life, professionally and personally, is a marathon. The mile markers along the way give us our bearings and indicate progress. They are to be celebrated, not dismissed. I am realizing that an inability to celebrate the “in between” now and not yet not only makes me bitter, but constrains me from being able to celebrate the in between of others too. So in 2018, I will honor each milestone with joy and gratitude. I will learn to anticipate with wonder, the next milestones, and even the ultimate goals that they indicate I am that much closer to.

I promise to keep my love affair with help going. I hired a coach two years ago, and we’re beginning our third year of work together. When I look back at all I have learned, I feel giddy. At the end of many of the podcasts I was on, when asked what piece of advice I would offer, I answered with, “Get help.” Honestly, help from others is one of life’s greatest gifts. Why on earth would we EVER want to undertake difficult things alone? Yet, we all do. We fear being a burden. We don’t want to feel weak or unqualified. We don’t like feeling vulnerable or looking incompetent. We don’t want to admit we need others. (Oddly, we’re perfectly ok being helpers to others, expecting them to admit they need us). Whatever remnants of that faulty thinking I had are almost gone! Help is my love language. I can’t get enough of it now, and in 2018, I intend to find ways to get more! If you have one ounce of resistance to others joining you in places you need help, PLEASE get past it. I promise you won’t regret it. You can’t truly appreciate the honor of being needed by others until you embrace your need for others as well.

I promise to be formed by the crucibles. My first TEDx talk was in early November. It was “the talk I was born to give” according to dear friends. It was on a topic near and dear to my heart – power. My thoughts were formed by my book built upon ten years of research data. And the event was in my home town of Seattle. The day before, I flew in from Connecticut from my brother’s funeral. The dissonance was unbearable. Saying goodbye to my big brother, and the next day, walking into the coveted red circle to tell the world my ideas. As I walked on stage, I looked up, fighting back tears, and thought of my brother. And on the way to the red circle, all I could think of was the faces of so many friends and family who’d carried me that week, many of whom were in the audience. Inside, I knew digging deep to “show up” for this was forming me. Refining me like fire does dross. Though I still have no idea how. I was keenly aware that suffering does yield strength, empathy, wisdom, and resilience, and reveals supplies of strength we didn’t know we had (especially when we allow others to help). We can’t prevent life’s cruel parts from invading. But we can let them form us into better human beings, which in turn allows us to care for those suffering even more than us.

I promise to reach back and give to others earlier on their journey. When I look at the many people who reached back from further up ahead to offer me practical advice and support, encouragement and kindness, I’m astounded. So when I look back and see others earlier on their journeys, at places I was not that long ago, it makes me eager to offer them what was so generously offered to me. Thought leaders who lent me their voices. Friends who gave me time and compassionate ears. Family who cheered me on. Wise guides who gave me sage ideas. One of the best ways to truly savor the milestones of “in between” (#2 above) is to look back and offer the same to those coming behind me. If we all do the same in 2018, we truly will make the world stronger, together.

I promise to rest and play. I rediscovered the beauty of sleep this year. (As an aside, whoever said we need less sleep as we get older was an idiot). I took my physical and emotional health more seriously this year. I promise to keep playing (to keep these 30 pounds off – which we all know is harder than losing them in the first place!). I promise to play racquetball with my friend more. I promise to take longer weekends away with my wife. I promise to keep making better choices about food. And I promise to keep exercising regularly and not get complacent. (I’ve already gotten clothes a size smaller, so I have no choice). It’s so cliché, but we only get one body and if we don’t take care of it, it has ways of “giving us feedback” later in life. I’m praying “50 is the new 30” is really true. I’m going to act like it is until I learn otherwise.

I promise to remain grateful for the privilege. Down the hall from my office is a conference room and kitchen where I get my morning coffee. I have a collection of coffee mugs from all of the world, and from numerous special moments with people I love and regard. Each morning, when I pick which mug to use, I hold it in remembrance of the person it represents to me, remembering joyfully the moment it symbolizes, grateful for who they are to me and the parts of life we’ve shared. It’s my (some might say corny) way of reminding myself of everything above – that others in my life have shaped my journey, and that I need to remain grateful for the privilege (including the really hard parts) of being on the journey. Beginning my day with a reminder that my story is part of a much bigger, grander story keeps me grounded, and in 2018, will surely help me keep my promises.

However your story has unfolded in 2017, my hope is that you can make a few promises to yourself, and those that matter most; that the chapters about to be revealed can be full of all of life – the not yet, the milestones, the crucibles, and the wonder of others loving and cheering you on, helping you keep your pinky swear.

Surprised by Student Debt

My time as a college student ended about three weeks before I walked at graduation. It happened at the ‘managing your student debt’ seminar my school put on for all of its graduating seniors. I had signed the loan agreements about four years prior, not really understanding what I was committing to. The people running the seminar put up a graph reflecting how much you borrowed alongside how long it would likely take to pay off. I remember wanting to ask if they had a graph that might help someone who owed four times what their maximum amount was. I called my parents and processed the shock. The reality of my newly-discovered debt obligations weighed heavily on me as I graduated and for the ensuing months and years.

This is my “next”???

Going to college was just the next life step for me after high school. Entering the work force and starting a career was supposed to follow immediately after. I assumed that college was going to leave me with a clear sense of calling and vocation, I ended up feeling extremely frustrated that I didn’t have anything I felt passionate about diving into. I felt further frustrated that I didn’t seem to be making any progress towards starting a career, particularly one that would meet my debt obligations.

“I can’t believe how this is going!”

I spent my first couple years out of college being frustrated that it didn’t look anything like what I had anticipated. I realize now that these first couple years were possibly more formative and facilitated more growth than any of my time actually in college had. I was so disillusioned with what my first experiences in the “real world” looked like that it took a long time to appreciate the great opportunities that have been presented to me. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to not hold too tightly onto your expectation for what your story is supposed to look like, and to not feel too constrained by the pressures you feel for your story to pan out a certain way. I spent way too much time concerned with how I was going to pay my debt, and how what I was doing didn’t line up with mine and other’s expectations.

It’s a journey.  Be patient as the story is written.

I would encourage you to be as open-minded in thinking about this new life chapter as you were when you entered college. You’ll never stop being educated, and you’ll never stop honing and discovering your passions, gifts, and callings. Be open to what you learn about yourself, and don’t become discouraged if you aren’t immediately immersed in your life-long vocation. It’s a story, and it’s still being written.

*Justin graduated from Seattle Pacific University a few years ago.  Justin now serves as a firefighter for the city of Seattle.  working at Two Beers Brewing Company as a brewer for several years.

Becoming Found

Dante famously begins his Commedia with these lines:
In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in the dark wood
Where the true way was wholly lost….

These words provide a strikingly accurate description of my life over the past few years. I recently wrote in some detail about the experience of getting lost in life, and now I find myself reflecting on what has happened since I awoke in that dark wood and engaged in the process of finding my true way…of becoming found.

There’s something comforting about having a clearly defined life story with beginning, middle, and end. Life doesn’t really come to me like that, however. Instead, I find that I’m always in the middle of things, in medias res as literary theorists would put it. I think the stories we tell about our lives should reflect this important aspect of being unfinished, perhaps most especially stories of getting lost and becoming found. As existentialist philosophers are quick to point out, we first find ourselves existing in the world and only later define or understand ourselves. My story is not complete or resolved, but here is a brief account of my current journey in the middle of things.

“True love will find you in the end,” sang the late Daniel Johnston, “don’t be sad I know you will…don’t give up until true love finds you in the end.” Having spent a good amount of time getting lost, I have a great deal of interest in the promise of being found by so many different aspects of life: love, work, purpose, etc. I’ve learned the hard way (as if there is any other way) that becoming found is not quite as straightforward as I had originally hoped.

Depending on the circumstances, more often than not rescue experts suggest that when you are lost in the woods you should not attempt to move at all, but rather stay put and make yourself visible for those who are looking for you. This strategy, of course, assumes that someone is coming for you. I had hoped that my own becoming found would happen along those lines. I had wished that I could just sit very still and my life purpose would come find me, followed by true love, and financial abundance. It seems to me now that this is an important characteristic of being lost—the absolute immobility that comes from being completely disorientated. That immobility is, of course, completely understandable although it took me a while to give myself the space to just be unmovable. A significant shift happened when I could finally relax into the disorientation, as being disorientated provides a fresh perspective on the world where everything is new, even if a little blurry.

“This is a promise with a catch,” the song continues, “only if you’re looking will it find you. ‘Cause true love is searching too. But how can it recognize you unless you step out into the light”? This last line has been on my mind for several years without ever really noticing the profound insight. It was only in the process of getting lost that it dawned on me that central to my becoming found is the continual intention to step out into the light—to be seen. It’s not merely a hunkering down and self-protecting, although there is that too. Rather, becoming found is mainly a paying attention to how I show up in the world with and for others, and showing up is an exercise in becoming visible in more authentic (and frightening) ways.

There is a strange tension in the process of becoming found. It involves holding the realization that no one is coming to find me in the way I had hoped, along with the understanding that everyone is searching for me in a very different way. As the poet David Whyte puts it, “creation is waiting breathlessly for each of us to take our place…to begin the one journey only you can take…to occupy that one complexion of creation that no other element in creation can occupy.” Becoming found, then, is the ultimate opportunity to be seen in my most authentic place; in the most vulnerable way…as if my life depended on it because of course MY life does depend on it. Interestingly, we function as search and rescue teams for one another. We are on the lookout for the true selves of everyone we meet—constantly hoping to greet the lost ones, the hidden ones, and the marginalized selves as they step into the light.

There’s a sense in which getting lost and becoming found are the very same stance in the world. For me both began as experiments in being seen, even if some of those experiments happen to be visible only to myself at the moment. Finding my true way is a kind of evidencing, manifesting, and illuminating even when I find myself in the middle of the dark wood. Being lost had exposed the ways in which important aspects of myself had been covered over and kept in darkness. In a surprising way I had to be found by myself before being found by others. As the song indicates, there’s a kind of faith involved in this process, a belief however small that what I am seeking is seeking me. A belief that as I step into the light I will become found because I will at last be recognized for who I am…and true love, work, purpose, and who knows what else will find me in the end.

I never saw it coming.

how_to_change_your_lifeFor the past three years of my life I have transitioned into something new each September. In 2013 I packed up my bags at the age of 18 and I moved to Ethiopia. In 2014 I started school as a freshman at Northwest University, a school 10 minutes away from my house. And this year, I moved to LA to start school at Biola.

That’s a lot of starting over. And the first time was by far the most exciting and crazy. And progressively it has become a little more normal. I know this past fall was the last transition for another three years…I say that now and can’t imagine what God is thinking. Nonetheless, this is my plan for now.

I like new places. Transitions are not hard for me. I don’t naturally miss people. Trust me, it is not lost on me that this isn’t normal. I have to believe that this unusual trait of mine will be used for some good in this lifetime. What is hard for me is not knowing what is in my future…and that’s where I’m at.

With my latest move to LA, I’ve been trying to figure a lot out. I have my feet…and hands and eyes and heart in many places right now: Washington, Albania, Ethiopia, and now California. How do I not spread myself thin? How do I adjust healthily while respecting the fact that I love many people in many different locations? How do I know my boundaries and my limits within relationships that are not in LA? I am trying to figure out if I truly have feelings for a guy in my life. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my major. I’m trying to figure out how to stay connected with my family. I’m trying to figure out how to make LA my home.

It’s a lot, these questions and these things I’m trying to understand…

So I asked the Lord to give me patience. To allow me to see the sweetness of the unknown and to enjoy the mystery of this new season. I’m still struggling. So today I asked my professor to pray for my mind. I asked him to pray that I wouldn’t overthink my life.

I’ve been pondering a lot about how previously in my life the unknown became the known. So that maybe I could recognize some sort of pattern and figure out when my current state of uncertainty would suddenly become certain to me. And this is the pattern I found…in the past I never saw it coming. A trivial example is my senior prom. Never in a million years did I think that the guy who asked me would ask me! I cried once prom was announced because I thought it would be just like every other year where I went unasked. And in a second everything changed, as I sat in my social justice class drinking bad drip coffee I heard his voice on the inter-com and what was once unknown became known. The same goes for how I got to Biola. One day in February, as I was walking the aisles of Safeway, Biola popped into my head. I didn’t know at the time why I began thinking about a school 2 states away but 7 months later I am here. The mystery of the next season of life is just that until it is not. This truth doesn’t offer much condolence, but it does lend a taste of excitement that the known just can’t offer.

A line from my favorite poem comes to my mind when I battle this idea of the unknown, and living in the now, and the awfully hard balance of planning and being free…

“Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”

I know I have time…but soon that time will pass. And then I will look back, like I look back at prom and how I made it to California, and I will see the moment where all the unclear stuff in this season suddenly became clear. And while I look forward to that moment very much, Lord help me to enjoy this season. Help me to find and taste that excitement that is hidden deep in the unknown. I am young. I have a body that works. I have sweet friends and a bed and I am at a really great school. Help me to see the good things. Help me to see the now. For all that it is. And not what it could be, or what I want or who I want. Give me the patience and the courage to accept the now, right now.

Stranded: Liminal Space and Grounding Opportunity

shutterstock_6188494I spend a good deal of my life on planes, in airports, running to catch things and hoping they are there when I get to them. Some days work out better than others. Some days you spend nights on airport floors or in sleazy hotels eating microwave food. The experience of being stranded – abandoned by the people you trusted – and paid – to get you home – is an off balancing and emotionally depleting experience. (especially when it feels like a way of life). And the potentially threatened destinations aren’t casual – a daughter’s championship tournament, a wedding, a pivotal and possibly transformative client meeting, a death bed. These are the places on the way to which I have found myself thwarted by any number of barriers – thunderstorms, equipment failure, incompetence. Doesn’t really matter though. When there are thousands of miles between where you are and where you want to be, and no way within your own influence to get there, the feeling of discouragement, powerlessness, rage, and exhaustion are all consuming.

Sitting in the airport awaiting the decisions of people over which I have no control about whether I will get home, and when, I have endless choices on who I will be in response to every successive piece of disappointing news. Of course, the temptation to make someone pay for my inconvenience and disruption is alluring, but I know it’s not who I want to be. Being saccharinely joyful about my predicament as though to say, “everything happens for a reason” with a sick smile on, well, let’s just say we all know that’s not me. So I make the best choices I can with the emotional and spiritual resources I have left.

So from this hotel room late at night, where I might get a few hours sleep before trying my way west again tomorrow, eating a microwave quesadilla, I am reflecting on the last 48 hours of my life – dodging weather bullets and near-misses to get to where I arrived. And the amazing experiences I’ve had since trying to leave a few hours ago. Literally, once-in-a-lifetime conversations that could have never been replaced or rescheduled. Opportunities to be in the presence of leaders and their futures – to stand in the liminal spaces between their now and next. I am perplexed by the paradox of feeling both deeply grateful and gratified, and hopelessly discouraged by what I will miss by not making it home.

And so it goes in stranded places that become liminal spaces.

Where has life abandoned you against your will? Who have you trusted to “get you home” that has let you down, leaving you someplace you didn’t plan on being? Where has an unforeseen pause been inserted between where you are and where you believed you were going?

And at the mercy of this stranded place, who will you choose to be?

Victim? Naïve optimist? Spiritual powerhouse? Raging belligerent? Defeated? All of the above?

It’s not at all cliché to say that the interruptions that strand us in between can be divine intermissions inviting us to something we’d otherwise never discover. And yes, it requires choice to see them that way. (I’ll let you know in the morning on the way back to the airport what I chose 🙂 ).

I imagine if you’ve found your way to this website, you too, may have joined me in a stranded place. If that is the case, I will simply say, “I’m so sorry.” And “Welcome to your new next.” I pray your time here (both on this website, and in your stranded place) surprises you with discoveries and rejuvenation, raised altitude and wider vistas, that lead you into a future from which you’ve felt restrained . The irony of liminal spaces is that they often are filled with paradox. What feel like new forms of painful constraint often end up being liberating pathways to freedom, if we let them. I will hope that for you.

In the meantime, rest in the miracle that you, by virtue of the fact that you are here wandering around this site, are at least curious about what choices you will make between now and next. I will personally tell you that you couldn’t ask for a richer and more reliable set of perspectives and support than you will find here at Liminal Space.

Here’s to our mutual stranded places, fellow sojourner. I will hope for your good movement forward, and I will ask that you hope for my safe return home. And along the way, may we both become something more of who we have always wanted to be.

The Significance of Saturday

(Reflections during Holy Week, 2016)

This is Holy IMG_7185Week, and today is Holy Saturday.

Some traditions call this day Great Sabbath or Black Saturday. Black seems accurate. Far more, I think, than ‘Good’ used to describe Friday.

When it comes to the details in the gospel story of Saturday, we get nothing. It’s as if the screen has gone dark.

As we reflect on Holy Week, my question is: What happened on Saturday? Why is it we have such detailed accounts of the events of Friday and Sunday, but know nothing about Saturday?

I wonder what that day must have been like for Jesus. Are we to assume that nothing meaningful happened? Is it by design that this day was ignored in the Gospels?

Yet if you take away Saturday, all you have is a cheap magic trick; and my friends, there was nothing cheap about what happened that weekend. That particular Saturday was a costly day, I argue far more so than Friday.

Before we explore the significance of Saturday, let’s recap our knowledge of Friday and Sunday.

We know a lot about Friday.

We know about the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. We know about Jesus’ last meal with his friends and how he washed their feet. We know about Jesus’ secretive arrest and unjust trial. We know Peter, during the arrest, made an attempt at stopping it and cut off the ear of Malchus. We know Jesus put that ear back on. We know that all the disciples scattered and one, Peter, betrayed even knowing Jesus. We’ve read about the excruciating crucifixion and when it was finished. We even learn about the burial his friends were able to give him. We know about the massive stone in front of the tomb, supposedly sealing Jesus in his death.

With detail after gruesome detail, we know a lot about Friday.

We know about Sunday, too.

On Sunday, we know Mary Magdalene was the first to discover Jesus’ empty tomb. We see that John and Peter have to see it for themselves and then they go to tell the others. We hear the angels and Jesus himself ask Mary why she’s crying.

The Gospels share quite a few details about Sunday.

But what happened on Saturday?

Unfortunately, we’re left to speculation about that in-between day. I imagine each disciple was in shock and disbelief, scared and confused, replaying the scenes over and over in the quiet torment of Saturday. There had to have been shame for abandoning Jesus. And there had to have been some finger pointing, too.

They were stuck in Saturday, living the horrors of Friday. Saturday must have been excruciating. From their perspective, every plan they had for their future was shattered. I would think one of the authors would have mentioned something about it. Even a sentence would be nice: “All Sabbath long the disciples talked about the last week and wept.”

But we get nothing.

Not a single detail.

It seems there’s a chapter missing. But when you think about it, there is deep significance in that Saturday.

I believe it’s because Jesus’ greatest suffering for us wasn’t Friday or Sunday, but Saturday. Whatever happened on that day for Jesus was far worse than anything we could ever imagine. And maybe the disciples’ silence on that day is evidence of their own torment.

Maybe Jesus leaving heaven to come to earth meant he had to live with the ache of ‘the already’ and ‘the not yet’ himself. Maybe that’s what Saturday was all about.

Maybe it’s all part of Jesus’ commitment to love us, too. Even if he knew where the story was ultimately going, he knew he needed to be in the space of transition if we were going to be asked to be in that space, too.

I think there’s something deep in me, and all of creation for that matter, that already has intimate knowledge of Saturday. We just don’t know what to do with the groan that comes from that transitional space.

Maybe underneath the seismic disruption of Saturday lies meaningful treasures you can’t yet imagine or appreciate. Transitions compromise our vision for the future, and just because you can’t see something meaningful doesn’t mean it’s not there.

But you are here.

It’s Saturday; whatever yours may be.

Maybe you are leaning into it.

Or maybe you feel like you’re not.

You feel more like you’re on your heels, pinned down or stuck.

Or maybe you’re working real hard to skip over Saturday – with all its murky confusion – to get to Sunday.

But you are still here.

And somewhere deep in your soul you want to believe that there’s something significant to live for. May that unsettling discontent set you in pursuit of it.

As we reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday and celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday, take time today, this Black Saturday, to digest what Jesus may have gone through on that day. Also take time to look at your own ‘Saturdays’.

Saturday’s hold an invitation to accept and it’s about your own transformation. Because deep inside, you are longing to dig up the buried treasure of your deepest desires and transpose them into “now what.”

Welcome to your Saturday.

What a holy day, indeed.

Surprised by, “Now What?”

I’d say many of us don’t like surprises. Sure we may like the odd ‘happy’ surprise – a surprise party, a surprise package on the doorstep, or maybe, depending on your situation, a surprise pregnancy. But, all in all, there are a lot of surprises we encounter that aren’t ideal.

“Surprise! You’re day is ruined because you lost your keys,” Or,

“Surprise! I’m divorcing you.” Or even,

“Surprise! You’re being promoted and you’re not ready.”

Wanted or not, when these things happen, we often ask ‘why?’ or perhaps ‘why me?’ But what if instead, we asked ‘now what?’ That seemingly simple question holds a lot of weight and it can lead to a place of hidden treasures.

Before I explain, I want to share a story of when, not all that long ago, I found myself asking that very question – now what?

need future with frame

My Surprise

I’ve walked on hundreds of roofs, but only fallen off one. And landing on my feet, breaking my ankle, and losing consciousness for a few seconds wasn’t something I had planned for that day. In other words, I hadn’t set out that morning prepared for my life to be drastically changed.

This paint job was the last of the summer, and urgency was the message of the morning. The rain from the night before had turned the decades-old cedar shake roof into a moldy slip ‘n slide. Rather than immediately tell my crew to get off the roof for their safety, I said, ‘hey, why don’t you let me try?’ My deluded confidence was blind to the signs of reality.

As soon as I stepped on the roof and my foot slipped a bit, I said, ‘We’re going to wait till this dries out.’ But as I made to get off, a single shingle gave way under the strain of my weight. My legs kicked out, my rear slammed onto the roof and I began to slide. My body curled over the edge and dropped 10 feet onto concrete. I landed on my feet, but then I rolled and came to a standing position.

I took my first step with my right foot, but there was nothing to hold me up. I fell to the ground instantly and things went dark and quiet. When I came to, I knew my ankle was broken.

I was seized by a searing new reality that my story was changing drastically.

Choosing the ‘Now What?’

I didn’t see it coming. Who does, right? That’s what surprises are. They sneak up on you. They say, “I’ve got you and I’m taking you for a ride!”

It’s “We need to let you go” when you’ve been a loyal employee.

It’s “I want a divorce” coming from the person you’ve raised kids with for the last decade.

It’s “You have a tumor” when you eat healthy and exercise 6x a week.

It’s “I’m turning 48 and just waking up to the fact I hate my career and the life I’ve built,” but you have no idea what to do about it.

Before you could see a future, but now, the future is filled with uncertainty. Your vision is blurred by confusion, worry and fears. Life is not going to go as we thought it would.

What we’re really trying to understand is not the why, but the what. What does this mean for my life now?

… Now what?

I believe that by God’s design, surprises of every kind hold treasures, if we go find them. I’m convinced they can be found. When you ask, ‘Now what?’ you’re daring to look past the immediacy of the surprise and look beyond to what your future might hold in light of your circumstances.

I will expand on ‘now what?’, changes, and transitions in future posts, but for now, I want to ask you:

  • Are you on a glorious and grueling journey to your own “now what?”
  • How has the ‘why?’ kept you from facing the fear and potential of “now what?”
  • Have you been able to catch a glimpse of the treasures that may be awaiting you?
  • Do you know where to look?