Lil’ Wins

I don’t yell at my kids anymore.

I used to a lot.
I’m not talking about the warning kind of yelling as they wander into the street. That makes sense. I’m talking about the habitual way I would get them to do what I wanted. Mostly during the morning when I’m making breakfast, getting coats on, and trying to get them out the door to school in time. I used to yell at them a lot and I could never imagine Jesus yelling at me.

I was really embarrassed about it and started asking for help. First, I asked my boys to let me know when I yelled at them. That was really humiliating and hard to ask. I’d have to apologize all the time to them. I also grabbed lunch with a dear friend who has two boys just like us. His boys are grown up and love Jesus and really love their Dad. He did a whole lot right with them and I was hoping some of that would rub off on me.

Now, I’m far from a perfect parent. I’m far from a good Christian too. In fact, most of my life doesn’t look anything like Jesus. I make mistakes every day and usually this whole effort of following Jesus feels rather defeating.

But, I don’t yell at my kids anymore.
And that’s a lil’ win.

Chutes And Ladders

chutes-and-ladders-blogSee, I used to view my spirituality like a ladder. I’d rank myself a certain number from 1-10 depending on how much I prayed or didn’t swear or didn’t look at porn. The trouble with the ladder view is it’s mostly made up of things I didn’t do. This flies in the face of the majority of Jesus’ messages which focused on what we do. Things like generosity, caring for the poor, or forgiving.

The other problem with my ladder view was the moment I’d mess up, I would put myself at the bottom of the ladder again. In my head, I’d be a zero. And nobody likes to continually see themselves as a zero continually working themselves up a ladder only to fall to the bottom again. It was a sick game of chutes and ladders where there was little hope and little progress. A game built on guilt and shame.

The King’s Castle

Inveraray_Castle,_Argyll_and_Bute,_Scotland-31May2010Rick Mckinley taught me a different way of looking at my spirituality. The kind where you can celebrate lil’ wins. Instead of a ladder, my spirituality is a castle. The kind of castle where the King lives in the middle. The castle is lighted and warmed by a single fire at the center of the castle where the King lives. The closer to the King you are, the warmer and brighter your life will be.

In this approach, I got to thinking what areas of my life are close to the King and what areas are in the cold and dark. I noticed some areas of my life were closer to the King than others. For instance, the patience I have for my kids is getting warmer and brighter everyday. However, I still use most of our money on entertainment and that looks nothing like my King who was homeless and cared for the needs of others.

In this view, I start counting what I do as well as what I don’t do. I’m able to celebrate the lil’ wins while recognizing areas that need growth. The ladder approach is rather static and fixed while the castle is dynamic and complex. The ladder forced me to define myself by one habit where the castle sees me as a vast collection of characteristics, mistakes, wins, and growth.

The ladder felt isolating where the castle feels communal. See, there are other people living in the castle with elements of their life which are closer to the King than mine. I can learn from them and maybe they can learn from me. I’ve discovered healthy people are not void of problems. Healthy people ask for help (a lot). We’re all in this together. Lastly, I’m not a number anymore. I’m one of the King’s people and my home is always in the castle.

The most important part of the castle view is it’s sustainable. I have friends who have grown so tired of the ladder they just walk away from Jesus entirely. Some have self-destructed their marriages with an affair. In one way or another, they’ve called it quits because who likes to feel hopeless, and defeated, and a zero all the time. I’m not excusing what they did. However, I’ve sat across a lonely table in the back of a pub a few different times with a few different men and that’s exactly why. They just couldn’t live that way anymore so they chose to walk away completely.

The castle brings hope. It’s sustainable. I could see myself growing in my spirituality this way for the rest of my life. The castle recognizes the small steps forward and the lil’ wins in order to keep me encouraged God is not done with me yet. He will finish what he started. The King wants nothing more than for me to be in his presence where it is truly warm and well lit. I am a member of the kingdom.

Are you on the ladder?
Please stop. It doesn’t end well.
Notice your lil’ wins and see your life as more than a number. You are a complex, dynamic, brilliant masterpiece of the King. He invites you in where it’s warm and well lit.

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” (John 14:1-4 MSG)

From Quilt Trips To Invitations

3034180-poster-p-1-how-circa-ceo-matt-galligan-trained-himself-to-wake-up-at-630-am-without-an-alarm-clLast week, I was downtown for a bunch of meetings. We spent half the day talking about new ways we are caring for the most vulnerable of our city. Once the meetings were over, I shot out to find my car because I only had a few minutes left for parking.

While I walked quickly to my car, I caught eyes with a homeless man. He was an older black man with a grey beard and kind eyes. He spoke gently to me, “Could you please help me? I will not use the money for crack. I’m just hungry. I know you think I’m garbage, but I could just really use your help.”

I paused for a moment and then said quickly, “I don’t think you’re garbage, but I’m sorry, I don’t have any money.”

Then I walked by.

I found my car in time and avoided the $10 late fee. However, I couldn’t help but feel poor inside. Like I died a little. Like my soul was heavier and the colors in the world were less vivid. Like I was just watching myself live from a safe distance. I felt less human.

Now, please understand me. I’m not talking about some guilt trip here. It wasn’t that. it was a tangibly feeling my faith died just a little in that moment. It was this sense, God had arranged something profound for me,

and I just walked by.

Isn’t it interesting the times we feel the most busy and anxious are also the times we are the least alive? We become more machines than humans. We simply fight traffic or rush to the next meeting or type another email and slowly something fades inside. If we do not give life away to another, it gradually grows faint and disappears.

The book of James in the Bible talks a lot about the connection between our actions and our faith. How these two ideas are inseparable and woven together. He even goes on to write:

 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

I don’t know about you, but those words cut me deep today. It further convinces me what I was feeling in the car driving away from that man was very real. Faith was withering away.

But, I also see hope in this passage.
See, if faith without action is dead, maybe, just maybe, a faith with action will make us come alive? What if this faith could become more vivid, meaningful, and rich if I sieze moments like those and not walk by? What if Jesus even plops situations like those into our lives, not as some cosmic guilt trip, but a gentle invitation to wake up and live?

See, I can still see his gentle eyes. I can hear his humble question. I have no idea where the conversation would have gone if I would have stopped. Maybe we would have gotten lunch or coffee or just chatted for a few minutes. I do know he wasn’t really interested in my money. He was hoping for dignity. I’m certain, it was a moment we could have both became more alive. It was not a guilt trip. I was an invitation to live.

May you come alive today.
May you grab God’s invitation, no matter how surprising the form it takes.
May the colors become more vivid and something inside start to resurrect.

Trust me, it’ll be worth the $10 parking fee.

Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:26 MSG)