The Hard Choice

Graduation season 2022 is over. Lots of celebration for accomplishments years in the making.

In his remarks a few week ago to our recent intern graduates, our executive director acknowledged that they had earned the reward for making the hard choice. The choice to do more. The choice to shift direction. The choice to make a difference. The choice to endure.

As I listened to his remarks, it crossed my mind that it’s easy to celebrate crossing the finish line of a hard choice journey. Typically there are friends and family eager to join the party and drink in the joy. Lots of excitement. Lots of cheer. But those moments do not reflect the majority of the journey after making the choice until lifting the glass.

Probably none of those people were awake at 2AM while you finished that paper. Probably no one brought you coffee and patted you on the back and whispered, “Hang in there.” Only you know the full emotional, physical, mental scope of your entire journey.

Many of life’s journeys tell a similar story. The 45-year marriage. The 52-year career. The all-life parenting.

How many times in that decade-long career did you have to make a hard choice that few, if any, people acknowledged? Which year in your marriage did you make the most important choice that strengthened your relationship? Who knew about it? And I imagine the majority of parenting feels like daily hard choices. Accurate?

In those moments where there’s no one cheering you on, you’re faced with possible doubts. It’s normal to wonder, “Is this worth it? Why does each step get tougher? Does anyone see what I’m putting myself through?” Try not to overreact to these thoughts. They are linked to many things-fatigue, loneliness, uncertainty, fear, growth, to name a few.

Maybe you’re having that doubting moment today. It’s July, the summer after your freshman university year. Anyone cheering you on while you work that summer job? Probably not. Do you give up and say it’s just too hard? Before you answer that, here are two suggestions.

Tell someone that you need some cheering on. Whoever just came to mind that is capable of doing that without hesitation, send them a text or give them a call. Ask and most likely you’ll receive.

After that, find someone that you can cheer on. Seriously, don’t wait for them to ask. Think, look, observe. Whose path did you cross today that looks like they are doubting their hard choice? Send them a text. Give them a call. Whisper a “Hang in There.”

I believe hard choices can be celebrated multiple times, not just after crossing the finish line. If for no other reasons, to make sure the dream is fed, the choice is affirmed, and the joy is realized.

Hang in There!

Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

Race Day is Coming…Ready?

Yesterday my run was a 6-mile route I created last Summer. It mostly runs east and west, as you can see here:

At the mile 1 turnaround, I noticed something. I had been running with the wind to my back, which meant for the next three miles it was now in my face. Made me stop (I didn’t actually stop running) and think…and this is where my mind went the next three miles.

Some windy days are worse than others. On those worse days, like this past Sunday when gusts were 20+MPH, I run as much as possible in the crosswind. Of course, you always have the choice to say, “No thanks. I’m not even lacing up.”

Ultimately, you need to run into the wind. Why? Because Race Day is Coming!

All the training weeks before race day you can do whatever you want in choosing to deal with the elements. But come race day, it’s out of your hands. There’s no opting out. The course is already laid out, and the elements are not in any human’s hands. Race Day is here. You have to deal with it.

Runner or not, we all have race days.

  • Newly engaged…race day is coming
  • Newly pregnant…race day is coming
  • Final child about to graduate…race day is coming
  • Mid-life career change approaching…race day is coming
  • Anticipating retirement…race day is coming

These race days, if you’re living life well, you see coming and can do your best to make the right training choices. There are some race days you don’t see coming. Like 100MPH wind race days. If you are a “This Is Us” fan, this week you saw Beth and Randall have to deal with a major Race Day with their 17-year-old. All race days, known and unknown, come, and you don’t have a choice but to deal with the elements.

So what do we do? Sure, most training days and race days are mild. Enjoy them to the fullest. On those “unmild” days, recognize you have choices. If you want to be ready for race day, you’ve got to be willing to run into the wind occasionally. When that’s not your best option, it’s okay to slow the pace or claim it as rest day.

Be wise. Race day is coming.

Groaning (Part 3)

In Parts 1 & 2, I shared that we are all born groaning and how that viewpoint can encourage grace giving to ourselves and to one another.

That grace choice isn’t always natural. In fact, it goes against our groaning nature. Left to our instincts, we reach for anything to ease our groaning without considering the impacts of that reaching. Grace isn’t natural.

So back to those four verses that started this series, when you finish reading the rest of that chapter, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post, you see how hope and grace are made possible. They are both made possible by a supernatural grace choice-a choice only explained by love.

God saw his creation groaning. He was there for the first groan. And in that moment, he offered grace. He made a plan. He made a choice-the only choice available to stop the groaning. He chose to enter the groaning, to embrace it in order to crush it.

Chilling. There isn’t a human groan God didn’t feel and now doesn’t remember. He saw them and chose to experience them in order to redeem them…forever.

As you read the rest of this chapter, pause after each verse. Consider a prayer of thanks between each verse. Voice a prayer of adoration, of worship, of awe, of victory because you do not groan alone.

Romans 8:26-39

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Photo by Pinakeen Bhatt on Unsplash

God of My 20’s: 2 Things I Would Tell Myself

(Post #10 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Eric Vorhies

The things that the 35-year-old Eric would tell the 20-something Eric would need a TLDR (too long didn’t read) section. Don’t go to college unless you have to, travel before having kids, don’t eat too many gummies (they will lead to cavities), learn more about leadership, manage your time better with routine and discipline, stop eating dessert after every meal, etc. There are specific reasons for each of these, and for the ones that I did not share. BUT the problem is that the 20-something Eric wouldn’t have really heard these nuggets of wisdom. He was too sure of himself. So, I have narrowed it down to two things that I wish I could tell myself when I was 10, 15, 18, 21, 25, 27, even yesterday: choose your treasure wisely and stop seeing the world in a binary way.

The Treasure We Choose

Jesus tells a parable in Mt 13: 44-46 about people finding something valuable and doing whatever it takes to obtain it. Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be. Look…the Bible has a lot to say about treasure. So much so, I think I got lost in the things that I treasured. Now, I didn’t treasure ridiculous things. I like movies, playing frisbee, hanging out with friends, and sleeping in…you know, the normal stuff. Those things are important to me; but when I consider the value that my treasure had, it feels empty.

Before you think I am crazy, let me explain. Friendships are good. Relaxing is good. Exercise is good. What I did wrong is nuanced. I regret making those things the goal in and of themselves. When relaxing or friendship becomes the goal, I subtly shifted from serving God to serving myself. Subsequently, those things are then viewed from a self-serving perspective.

Something needed to shift. That’s when I realized just because we treasure something doesn’t mean it has value. To find treasures of value, we have to pursue God to discover what He values and treasure those things. When we do, everything else becomes a by-product of that pursuit. For instance, the more I pursue God, the more I understand His grace and His love for people. Therefore, I serve at my church, I lead a small group, I foster kids, I push myself to become a better parent and husband. And all the while, I have found more peace and patience, deeper friendships, stronger relationships, and a faith that comes from God because I have reached the end of my rope so many times that I have nothing else to do except trust in Him.

So, I would tell myself to treasure things that have real value, relentlessly pursue them, and learn how to merge what you are naturally passionate about with that pursuit.

There Are Two Kinds Of People In This World

Yes/no. Black/white. Right/wrong. True/false. Iphone/android. Are there really only two options for everything? I used to think that in very mathematical terms. If I put in the right information into a solid equation, then I can predict the outcome. If it failed, then I had a bad equation or didn’t have the right information. A better understanding of the variables and their relationships was the solution to the world’s problems. The thing is…the world is messy. It’s messy in such a way that it shouldn’t always be seen as a problem to be solved, but rather a tension to be managed.

Can’t find the perfect person to date? The perfect church? Your dream job? Well, that’s because they don’t exist. That’s a problem you can’t solve. So you manage the tension. I have learned this is the most deeply personal and profound way that I could. Here’s the truncated version: We fostered a teenager. It was amazing for 1.5 yrs. After getting guardianship, she developed mental disorders. I became a parent of a child I never thought I would have. In a nutshell, I have quit judging other parents…and people in general.

That’s what having kids does to a person. See a frazzled woman with a stain on her shirt — yeah, she could be just some unhinged woman, but she’s likely just a mom. Some guy sleeping in church…of course he could be bored out of his mind, or maybe he didn’t get any sleep because his 5-year-old climbed in his bed and was repeatedly kicking him throughout the entire night.

The world is messy. People are suffering and hurting. Some of them do not have the tools or capacity to know how to respond. So, rather than turning from the mess and complexity, the 20-something Eric needs to embrace it. But not as a problem to solve, but as a tension to manage. A tension that will never go away. But it can get better. And when it gets worse, that’s okay too, because I can always get better also.

TLDR

I get it. 20-something Eric would not have listened well through this either. So, the bullet points:

  • Treasure the things that God says have value
  • The world’s messiness isn’t something to be solved but a tension to be managed

Hopefully, the words of 40-something Eric will be more like, “always have ice cream with your pie,” or “it’s ok that you bought that tool for that thing that you never actually fixed because your neighbor got a lot of use out of it.” I just pray to God that these two are burned into my character at this point. Otherwise, I will make some easily avoidable mistakes.

Covid-19 Update: I wrote this before the pandemic. I have learned some new things, but I will spare you…except for this one last one: Wisdom is a depreciating asset. I am glad to have re-read this today because it reminded me to look at the season I am in now with a fresh perspective. So, be open to re-learning something that you already knew.

The “Bad Ear”

Listening isn’t always something we want to do. I’ve become fascinated by our capacity for hearing in recent years. Now in my 60s, I am losing capacity to hear in one ear. It comes in handy when I’m being told something I really don’t want to hear. It’s convenient when I need a good excuse to miss a deadline or just prefer not to have definite instructions for something I might not want to do. It doesn’t mean I can’t hear at all in the “bad ear,” I just sometimes can’t tell you what the words are. I might hear sounds, muffled words and intonations. To hear the words, I must turn my face and my good ear to the speaking voice. That makes it, for me, a metaphor for spirituality – we turn our face so we can hear again. We turn our face in a new direction so the words have meaning and are not merely sounds.

This is a quote from a book I just started reading entitled A Spirituality of Listening.

I appreciate the metaphor. If I’m going to hear what God is saying to me, it’s vital that my face and my ears are turned in his direction. What might keep my face and ears turned away?

  • Inconvenience
  • Resistance
  • Stubbornness
  • Pride
  • Comfort
  • All sorts of fears and lies that the enemy would rather I choose to listen to

So in order to listen, I have to turn my face and ears by choosing humility, surrendering control, trusting truth, embracing discomfort, and recalling God’s ways are indeed best.

Here’s to better and deeper listening!

Suffering: A Story To Share, Accept, and Embrace

Came across this tweet yesterday from a soon-to-be-released book by author K.J. Ramsey:

I wonder how much less anguish we would experience in suffering if the church treated suffering like a story to tell rather than a secret to keep until it passes.

Then this morning our pastor, while focusing on Jesus’ coming to experience human life, categorized suffering into three types:

  1. Suffering we can avoid
  2. Suffering we cannot avoid
  3. Suffering we must not avoid

Both of these thoughts need sharing and dialoguing.

There is power is sharing how our choices led us to suffering we could have avoided. Our focus can be directed to the truth of scripture and the forgiving, unconditional love Jesus came to bring.

There is healing in accepting how circumstances out of our control don’t go unnoticed by God. Our focus can be directed to his sovereignty and the relatability Jesus has to offer.

There is strength in embracing how running from something we don’t want may keep us from what we need. Our focus can be directed on God’s promises and the model of endurance and commitment Jesus completed through his resurrection.

“Stayer” or “Walker”

This is one of those books that you could read many times and grow each time. This being my first read, I’m already seeing growth.

Here’s a quote that stuck out to me today:

If you stay free from offense, you will stay in the will of God.

Offense is easy to create and to receive. Bevere declares it’s a trap, the bait of Satan. When we take the bait, we are in for some rough going. Been there, done that.

This quote makes something clear-where we stay has much to do with our freedom and peace, our relationship with God and others. Where we stay is entirely up to us. If we choose to stay close to God, we will choose to stay free from offense. If we choose to stay offended, we choose to not stay, to distance ourself, to walk away from God and what he’s working in and for us.

Simply put, here’s a new mantra based on this quote: I’d rather be a “stayer” with God than a “walker” from God. In allowing God to search my heart, it’s clear I have an offense that requires a better choice. Time to give up the bait.

You taken the bait? Ready to give it up?

The Wise’s Time

A couple of posts ago I mentioned Ben Sasse’s book Them. I’ll finish it before the sun goes down, but I’m taking a break to ask a question.

The question comes after reading chapter seven entitled “Buy a Cemetary Plot” (you should get your own copy to find out what that title’s about). That chapter contains thoughtful words from a 2017 commencement address by Josh Gibbs, a teacher and author in Richmond, Virginia. Address paraphrase: life is full of seasons in which we are tempted to look forward to the next season in order to find contentment. Sasse includes this quote by Gibbs:

Contentment is a condition of the soul, and it does not come with getting what you want, but in giving thanks to God for what you have been given.

Both writers lead their reader to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes where Solomon describes how everything has its time:

Birth, death; love, hate; gain, lose; weeping, laughing; breaking down, building up; silence, speaking; war, peace; gathering, discarding; mourning, dancing; planting, gleaning; embracing, distancing; tearing, sewing.

Then Sasse wrote this:

The wise man learns how to grow where he is planted. He chooses joy. He embraces the time and season.

And that’s what forms my question: What time is it?

  • What time is it in your season of life?
  • What time is it in your family?
  • What time is it in your community?
  • What time is it in your church?
  • What time is it in your country?

Solomon said every time has a purpose. To wring every ounce of purpose out of their time, the wise make these choices:

  • Choose to embrace this time and season
  • Choose joy
  • Choose to learn and grow
  • Choose to thank God for what He’s already given 

There Will Be Pain

I came home two nights ago facing a choice. The choice was how to check off the 10-mile run on the training schedule. To make the choice, I chose to lay down on the bed to ponder (a hindsight look at the choice I ended up making).

As I saw it, I had three choices:

  1. Don’t
  2. Do it now while it’s 80 degrees
  3. Wait until morning, which meant the alarm would go off in time for me to hit the pavement by 4:30

Choice #1 quickly went away to avoid regret somewhere along the race route a week from Sunday. That left choosing between heat and sleep. Choosing heat meant getting it done but with much more strain. Choosing sleep meant getting less and running unfully rested. As usual, my mind ran away from heat strain choosing the dreaded early alarm. Neither sounded fun; both had pain levels more bearable than regret.

Achieving a goal, developing a discipline, and pursuing growth require sacrifice; and with sacrifice there will be pain. Committing to the pain may be half the battle of achieving, developing, and pursuing. Your commitment raises your chances of avoiding regret, knowing your sensible strain level, and rising to the challenge when doubts invade your mind.

When facing choices, maybe these questions can help:

  • How important is avoiding regret?
  • How much is too much?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice?

Make It Count

Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
John 12:3

Mary’s family had much to thank Jesus for. He had made it clear that he was the giver of life. She decided to do something extraordinary to show her love and worship.

  • Her choice was to anoint him.
  • Her choice was to give up something she’d being saving for herself.
  • Her choice was extravagant.
  • Her choice was a declaration.
  • Her choice was sacrificial.
  • Her choice was to have a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
  • Her choice was to make it count.

What do you have to thank Jesus for?
What choice would make it count?