Prayer is communion with Jesus. At its best, it’s simply loving him and being with him and letting him be with you. It’s knowing him and being known by him. It’s letting him really love you. It’s letting him connect you back to your true heart – your truest, deepest self. The one that feels no need to prove itself to anyone. The one that’s usually buried.

And here’s where music can help.

I’ve been leading worship at my church for a good 14 years now, and most of my life, I’ve loved the worship time at church best. It’s where I met with Jesus and he met with me, and it’s where I felt most myself. I think the Vineyard church I spent my teen years in was really smart to combine worship time with active prayer ministry time. It’s not that music was really the central piece of the puzzle. It was a means for Jesus to speak to a heart without words.

So I think at its best, prayer can’t really be expressed in words. Words are limited. Words are….

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As cool as I try to be sometimes, especially when it comes to my musical taste, I have to admit, I really tend to be behind the curve. This is best demonstrated by the fact that I just now got into Mumford & Sons. Not that I hadn’t heard them before – in fact my kettlebell trainer used to play them during our sessions sometimes. It’s only this past month or so that I’ve come around and decided to give their first album, “Sigh No More” a listen.

I suppose it’s a timing thing, and it all has to do withe general level of melancholy.

So here’s a public admission – I am currently seeing a counselor, pursuing EMDR therapy. The past couple years have been exceptionally rough, between career upheaval / failure / beginning fatherhood, I’ve had to admit I’m currently a mess. Beyond that, I have to admit most of my adult life has felt this way. I’m always feeling like I fall short, mainly of my own expectations. Over the years, I’ve developed some unhealthy patterns in dealing with hard things, and that’s built up to the point I can’t handle it anymore, hence the therapy.

So here’s where the title comes in – it turns out that admitting how sad you are and how messed up you really are is really very therapeutic. It also turns out that some good, bittersweet music, like the whole “Sigh No More” album, can help you get in touch with that – at least that’s how it works for me. It turns out the type of sadness that can break your heart usually holds the hand of the deep joy that does the same thing.

So here’s a short list of things I’ve learned so far while getting in touch with my own sadness

  • Life is full of emotional trauma of one sort or another – no one escapes this
  • Struggling with finding my place in life, especially when I was just entering adulthood, is not a sign of failure, it’s actually quite normal
  • I’m not doomed to always being sad and overwhelmed

So my hearty recommendation is to pick up something like “Sigh No More” or the soundtrack to “Once” and go ahead and have a good cry.

I’ll be adding more about my experience with EMDR as appropriate, and as I process through it. So far, I can say it’s worth the time and money.

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As I write for the blog tonight, for the first time in about 9 months, my wife is in the other room, watching her Gilmore Girls DVDs for the ump-teenth time – finishing up Season 4, to be exact. I’m sure Anna will be thrilled to know that I found an episode that speaks to my heart – enough, in fact, to get me writing again. Season 4, Episode 20, “Luke Can See Her Face”

To quote the summary from Wikipedia:

The least-likely person to buy self-help tapes buys self-help tapes. And what do you know? They help. Thanks to the voice from the boom box, Luke finally realizes who will make him happy… Lorelai Gilmore. Feeling better, Luke completes his journey by handing over the tapes to a flummoxed Jess, who still loves Rory.

If you’re a man in your late-20s to mid-30s, either married or otherwise romantically attached to a woman between 2000 and 2007, you know Luke. In fact you probably identify with Luke. Luke is you. Luke is me. Luke hates the fact that he lives in Stars Hollow, doesn’t always express himself well (expect when he’s angry), but deep down, he knows what he wants. He wants Lorelai Gilmore. In this episode he also admits he needs help – self-help, in fact. And as the summary says, it actually helps. Most of what the voice on the tape says is cheesy and ridiculous, except for one very valuable exercise for the single male listener – picture the face of that one woman in your mind who you never mind being there. Who would you want there to tell about a new promotion or a successful refinancing, the voice asks. And it helps. Luke knows what he wants.

And that’s where you and I come in. I learned a little while back, mainly with the help of David Stark, my pastor and friend of 14 years, that it often pays to take the advice of people who are doing things you would like to do better yourself, especially when their advice seems contrary and unnatural to you.

The fact is, that most of us, like Luke, need help to point us to things we already know in our hearts. As Jon Acuff put it in his book “Quitter”, finding out what we’re made or is more an act of recovery than discovery. I think most of us have a suspicion of what we’re made for deep down, but we all need reminding, and usually constant reminding. The things that help the most often come in the most unlikely packages.

It pays to always be open and teachable. For instance, I personally have a hard time with Zig Ziglar’s mode of communication, but I’ve learned quite a bit about the deep importance of hope and deep optimism from his materials.

So how about you? Who or what have you learned from that you wouldn’t have expected?

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Levi & Me at the zoo

Levi & Me at the zoo

Relationships matter, as I’ve said before. And here’s a confession: I suck at relationships.

I’ve been shy as long as I can remember. That, by itself, isn’t enough to make me suck at relationships. In fact I’m not even sure it’s a major contributing factor. Maybe it is to the degree that I hold back.

Here’s the other part of me that’s really true though: I care about people and I care about changing the world for the better. It so often doesn’t come out though. I think people assume I don’t care, or even worse, that I actually dislike them – neither of which are true.

Here’s what’s generally been my problem: I’m deeply afraid of rejection. I think maybe most people are. I live in that fear and let it define me. I don’t speak when I should, and when I do, it’s too often a negative thing. In the end, I think I need to offer encouragement and affirmation. It’s always what I’m wanting for myself but never seem to get, so here’s where I’m going to set a tangible goal for 2012.

If I do nothing else, set and meet no other goals, I’ll be happy if I do the following: I will write one note of detailed affirmation and encouragement to someone close to me per month.

From there, the results are in God’s hands, but I honestly think this goal comes from Him, so I’m going with it.

How about you?

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Madeleine L'engle

This post was inspired by a couple of people who have had a large influence in my life in the last couple years. First, on the positive side of this post is Madeleine L’Engle – specifically her book “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art”, which, ironically, is one of her few works of non-fiction. On the negative side, is Dave Ramsey, who I consider a positive influence in my life as well, but who I think is dead wrong in his views on fiction and non-fiction, at least to the degree I’ve heard him talk about it.

I’m not saying non-fiction has no place. In fact, it has a very important place. But it’s all I hear emphasized in many circles. I’ve also heard Dave Ramsey call fiction “junk food for the brain” more times than I can count. I agree a lot of fiction is a waste of time, but no more proportionally than non-fiction. If good non-ficion is a good, wholesome, lean steak, bad non-fiction is like that jelly inside a can of Spam. It’s technically protein, but it’s completely worthless filler. In the same way, the right kind of fiction is nutritious and sweet and immensely pleasurable, like a fresh piece of pineapple.

Good fiction gets in through your emotions in a way non-fiction can’t. I can tell you that reading “The Hobbit” makes me want to be a better man every time I read the story. It gives me hope that pudgy, suburban kid with no sense of his own courage and abilities can find himself out in the wild, and can figure out he’s part of a bigger story. Kind of like I believe God intends us to be.

Reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” helps me remember that adventure and magic can be found everywhere.

I’ll even extend the analogy to everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Television. Watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (yes, I’m serious) or its spin-off “Angel” helps me remember how much we really really need other people.


All that to say, focusing too much on non-fiction will make for a very empty and unbalanced life. You need a good imagination just as much as you need a good intellect. You need your right brain as much as your left.

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The Schulte family

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Kevin Miller for his post on Convictions, as long ago as it was.

I actually had a pretty strong reaction to one of the convictions posted, and although I was initially just ticked off by what I felt were some particularly insensitive comments by one particular participant. I realize in hindsight that he was speaking freely, as he was asked to, and I probably overreacted. This is also probably because of the people targeted by the conviction – people who are overweight and don’t change their behavior to overcome it. I am definitely overweight and know how hard it can be to change, and some of my closest friends are overweight as well, and I know much deeper the issues go than simply not being willing to get off the couch. However, I realize that this interaction helped me realize a conviction I hold VERY deeply: More than anything else, relationships matter.

To put it another way, people matter. Anything that de-personalizes a person on any level is wrong. You can’t really have a healthy relationship with someone you think of as less of a person than yourself. This includes God. I think the number one way Christians go wrong is by either de-personalizing God or de-personalizing other human beings.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus said? The entire Bible rests on these two commands:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart 2. Love your neighbor as yourself

So this is my challenge to anyone reading, as well as to myself. Next time you pray, act like you’re talking to someone who actually hears you. Treat it like a conversation. Be honest and treat God like you’d treat anyone else you care about deeply. And next time you have the opportunity to take a chance and build real relationship with another person, even if it’s on a very low level, take it, and treat them like you’d like to be treated. In neither case can you really go wrong.

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I got an interesting phone call yesterday from a friend who read my partial review of “Quitter”. Her take was that some of what I said might not be so attractive to potential employers Googling my name. After thinking about it an re-reading the post, I’ve decided she has a point. At this point, I don’t think I should remove the post, but I will add a more complete review now to clarify some of what I said in the last post.Quitter by Jon Acuff (afiliate link)

Quitter by Jon Acuff (afiliate link)

Let me give the first disclaimer and note that I did say I’ve worked almost 12 years in a field I don’t particularly like. I will clarify in saying that MIS was not ever my first career choice. There are many extended periods of time I’ve liked – even really liked – the work. Usually what makes the difference for me is whether I made a difference for a person or not with my work. That would include a time when I was able to help gain a new customer for my employer. I was able to help give the client what they wanted and give my employer new business. I do really like that. I also for that same employer had times I hated that same job so much I wanted to scream. In my mind it came down to never being able to please the boss or the clients. It got to the point where every project was late before we started, with no end in sight.

I will fully admit my experience with that particular employer has helped discolor my whole career. I will also admit that I’ve really enjoyed the process of programming since leaving that job, when my skills and desires have been more aligned with my employer’s.

Having said all that, when I chose MIS as a major and as a career path, it was always a backup plan in my mind. I wanted to be a pastor at the time. Now, I can see how that can be fulfilled in many non-professional ways, and I have other dreams as well.

So now I come back to the parts of “Quitter” I found most valuable.

1. “Fall in Like with your current job” – I can do this, even if it means I always have to work as a programmer to pay bills. With the right fit, I can like a job very much, especially when I remember that people are the most important part.

2. “Wait on the main stage” – One of my potential dream jobs is full-time writer / blogger. Big surprise, I know. Having the luxury of being unknown while I get better at writing is actually a good thing. I figure I’m writing my worst stuff now. The best is yet to come.

3. “There Will Be Hustle” – I’ve figured out that sitting at a desk with work to do is better for my ability to get things done than sitting out here by myself, not having enough work. I can get things done on my own, but not quite as well when it’s a “like” vs. a “love”.

4. Learning to live one, consistent life is good for me. Work like and home life aren’t ever really separable. I can’t care for people I’m supposedly writing for while ignoring the people I work with everyday.

So in the end, wherever God takes me in this process, I’m going to be content and work hard. Thanks, Jon Acuff, for helping me get to this point.

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Quitter by Jon Acuff

Quitter by Jon Acuff

Disclaimer: I’m offering a very initial review here of “Quitter” by Jon Acuff. I’ve only finished the first three chapters. The link above is also an affiliate link.

Just over one year ago, I was let go from a job I didn’t particularly like. I had made that decision at least one year previous, and had I not been in the middle of an adoption, I would’ve quit the job, or more likely, started my own business.

I will admit in hindsight how much that experience turned me off from making a decision I should’ve made at the time – look for another “day job”.

All this make me wish I’d had “Quitter” to read last year. I probably wouldn’t have made decisions that led to the end of my job, and assuming I had lost it anyway, I wouldn’t have waited so long to pursue another one.

Jon Acuff has, in several places described experiences similar to mine. I’ve spent about 12 years now pursuing a career I don’t particularly like but which paid my bills. I also found “The Total Money Makeover” which has brought more positive change to my life than almost anything else I’ve ever read. I also dream of being a writer, though I will admit I’m far better at guitar than he is. I’d rather write fiction or music or both. I also wouldn’t say I’m quite as concerned about my clothes dropping on the bathroom floor…

My wife wonders how I can be as gross as I am sometimes and yet hate getting dirty, but I certainly differentiate between getting mud on my clothes and smelling my own farts out of genuine curiosity, but I digress…

The point is, I’ve come to the very solid decision, after a year of attempting to be a “freelancer” and scraping to pay the bills, I know I need a “day job” for now. I guess I’ve known that for a while now, but Jon Acuff has certainly helped cement that decision, for which my wife and I are extremely grateful.

Thanks, Jon!

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The ultimate beginner

It was almost exactly one month ago I wrote about always being a beginner. And it’s funny how that turned out. This is another ramble, I guess, but I think important. The job I had just started at the time of the last post ended abruptly just over one week ago – no explanation given, just a phone call at about 7:00pm to the consulting company that placed me there, telling them that was my last day, no reason given. There wasn’t even anything I could point to from my 5 weeks there to give me a clue. No one had talked to me or to the consulting firm to share concerns about my performance. Nothing. So here I am again, not sure where to go or what to do. My wife and our friends, Mike and Kara Hylton were all discussing this last week, the day after it happened and Anna mentioned she was having a hard time, feeling like she was trying to figure out why God let this happen. And Mike mentioned he didn’t think God worked that way, like he’s not there like the harsh schoolmaster making us do the lesson over again.

I’ve been thinking about this and I think the answer lies somewhere in between.

No, I don’t think God orchestrated this whole situation just to teach Anna and me to trust Him better.

Then again, I don’t think this was out of His control either, that this was just people being their sinful, jerky selves either, although that was certainly part of it.

Here’s my main support:

I Peter 1:6-7 (ESV): 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

I personally think God uses pain for our benefit – not like the schoolmaster just making us do it over and over again, but like the Father who knows exactly how much it hurts but knows we need it anyway.

All this to say, I can honestly say I’m going through this trusting God more than I ever have. And that’s a good thing.

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Sorry if today’s post is kind of stream-of-consciousness. I just had a lot to get out today.

Today, I admittedly logged into my own blog this morning for the first time in about 6 weeks. And it struck me how much I fall short of my own goals sometimes. I’ve had it drilled into me that I MUST BLOG CONSISENTLY if I intend to be a successful blogger.

And I do.

But then it hit me again. I’m only human, and I figure on some level, I’d rather read something honest and heartfelt, even if it’s not published as consistently as I’d like. I’ve noticed that’s really how I operate across the board. For instance, The Violet Burning, possibly my favorite band in the world, hadn’t put out an album of fully new material since early 2006 (excluding a live recording and an album reworking some of their early songs), and for a good year or more I eagerly awaited their new album. And you know what? It was completely worth it. To quote Toy Story 2, “You can’t rush art.” That’s what I intend this blog to be. Art worth reading and passing on.

So this post is about being myself, admitting, when it comes down to it, I’m always really a beginner at something, especially when it comes to worthwhile things. And I know more deeply, as life goes on, it’s important to keep that posture throughout life. I think between reading “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard, and now reading “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning, I think I’m finally figuring out that God really does love me right where I am, and on that basis I can practice becoming a “Little Christ”, as the word “Christian” means.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be a more mature and disciplined person as I grow older, but I’m finally realizing how much that means admitting I’m just a beginner.

For instance I wrote a couple months back about making the choice to turn down a “safe” job to stay self employed. In that, I have to admit, I didn’t really see the whole picture. I’m now at a full-time + job, but it’s at a company I truly like, and I’m getting to work on some things I have some real interest in. And it’s paying the bills, which admittedly, being a self-employed programmer wasn’t. So I admit, I’m a beginner when it comes to working in my passions. I have to admit, if I have to be a programmer, I really don’t want to be fully self-employed doing it. I’d rather save the type of energy required for self employment for something I care about much more. I guess the point is, God really knew what I needed and by admitting I’m a beginner and don’t know it all, I was able to make the choice and take this job.

Back to consistency – all this came about around the time of my last blog post, so I’ve been in the midst of major transition for the last month. I’m back to consistency now, God willing, but I’m still a beginner at that part.

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Time to Start