Flying Blind

But flying all the same

OICA Method for Paige

Dear Paige,

I did not mean to take this long to get back to you.  I was a day or two away from leaving on a deployment when you sent your question to Jessica.  I was deeply encouraged by your question.  I remember talking about Bible study methods when we all lived in Washington.  I sometimes feel as though, because I talk so much, that my words are less valuable than the words of others and so they will not be well remembered.  Thanks for remembering that we talked about this several years ago.  That you remembered means a lot to me.

So here goes…

OICA

Observation

Interpretation

Correlation

Application

That’s it!!   Have fun!!!

LOL… I’m just kidding.

When sitting down to study your Bible, have a few tools at the ready.  A dictionary, concordance, a couple commentaries, a notebook, a Bible you are comfortable writing in (or several in different translations), and something to drink.  I like to have a couple pens and a set of colored pencils too.  I don’t like using hi-lighters because they bleed through the pages.  Colored pencils do the job, are pretty cheap, and are readily available in my house.  (The kids make comments sometimes about me coloring in my Bible)

The first step is to read whatever passage you wish to study.  I used to advise people to push through a chapter at a time, but I don’t do that anymore.  I like to stick to no more than a “thought” at a time.  Sometimes that is a chapter, sometimes a little less or a little more.  When I am reading and it seems like the story or the main theme has changed, I stop and try to find roughly where the change occurred.  That is where I choose to place the end point for the passage I am studying.  Depending on the amount of time that I have, I may work this process several times on sequential “thoughts/passages” or on other passages that I think of while studying the one currently before me.  That is one of the things to put in your notebook… other passages that you think of and have one of those thoughts like, “Huh… I remember reading… and I wonder what exactly…  I’d love to look into…”. Each time you sit down to study, you have no shortage of things to look into.  Continue where you left off or pick up one of the passages that was a tangent for you from a previous study.

After you have read the passage a couple times, start writing down your observations.  Not your feelings, or your interpretations, your “this means…” statements, just simple observable facts.  Think, “What do I see” not so much “What does it mean” or “What can I find that is significant.”  The meaning and the significance will be looked at later.  Observations are things like, “There is a book on the chair” or “A gorilla walked through the basketball game”.   There are a couple ways to go about making observations.  Look at the passage as a whole and write down what you observe.  This is the easiest and least invasive.  Look at the passage as a whole and pick an arbitrary number for how many observations you want.  The smaller the number, the easier, the larger… well… challenge accepted!  Pick an arbitrary number and look for that many observations per verse.  I often ask some of the guys I spend time with to find 5 observations per verse from Romans chapter 6.  This is a great exercise in placing value on what is written on the page before placing value on how to feel about what is written on the page.

I was having a conversation with a guy about John chapter 8 this morning.  Lets use that as an example.  The passage will be John 8:2-11.

Here are my observations:

Jesus went to the temple at dawn.

People were going to see Jesus.

There were people at the temple at dawn.

There does not appear to be a coffee shop at the temple.

A woman was caught having sex with a man to whom she was not married.

The woman was brought to Jesus.

The woman was brought into the crowd.

The woman was publicly charged with adultery.

The scribes and pharisees want Jesus to condemn the woman to death.

Jesus stoops and draws/writes on the ground instead of answering.

Jesus stands, answers, and returns to writing/drawing on the ground.

There appears to be no mention of what Jesus wrote/drew.

The accusers abandon their plot and leave.

Jesus acknowledges the woman.

Jesus does not condemn the woman.

Jesus sends the woman on her way.
There ya go.  Those are my quick observations.  No interpretation, no answering the question, “What does it mean” or even “Why…”.  Just simple observations.

It is now time to move to the next step… oIca… Interpretation.

What does it mean?

Be careful here.  It is hard sometimes to keep this question in this simple form.  For some reason we like to add “to me” to the end of the question and I often here that same little addition added to the beginning of statements being made by Christians when discussing Bible things.  I do my absolute best to never put those words anywhere in my head, much less my heart, when working through this part of a study.  I don’t want my ideas or perspectives flavoring the life giving soup of the Spirit.  I want the soup… what does it mean… not what I want to be in the soup… what does it mean to me.  Try to keep in mind things like historical context, local economy, the culture of the day, they way the characters in the passage would respond.  This part gets easier the more we read and study.  Do not do this step without regard to the observations you already made.  Here is what I interpret from this passage:

Jesus values spending time with His people and teaching them.

The scribes and pharisees have little regard for the dignity of the woman who was caught in adultery.

The scribes and pharisees are not simply motivated to see the quick execution of justice or else the man would also have been brought before Jesus.

The sin of the woman and the sin of the scribes and the pharisees have led them to Jesus where they await his Judgement. (This might be considered an observation… don’t over think it)

Jesus addresses the heart of these 2 groups, the woman and the scribes/pharisees, at the same time.  As Jesus stoops to write on the ground, a woman feeling guilty and exposed in the middle of a crowd of men, is no longer the center of attention as the men surely look to see what Jesus is writing.  Jesus immediately starts to address her shame and guilt, immediately addressing the effects of sin in her life.

Sin’s result in somebodies life is not condemnation but is shame and guilt.  The attitude of the person with sin in the presence of Jesus determines their outcome after encountering Him.

These are just some very quick interpretations.  Something to realize is that interpretations may very well be wrong.  Interpretations are not convictions,  though the way scripture is interpreted directly effects our convictions.  When you have made your interpretations and written them down, test them.  Make it a point to go over them with somebody else.  Doesn’t have to be during a Bible study.  While getting coffee or shopping with somebody, just fire one off.  “So I was thinking about this the other day… what do you think?”  Read some commentaries and see if what you are thinking is congruent what the commentary says.  What you think does not need to match exactly, but if it is contradictory, then spend some more time looking into it.

C is for Correlation.  Co-Relate.  Does this passage, this theme, this verse, this idea have a cousin, a relative, living in another part of the Bible?  Pretty simple.  Spend some time running your fingers through your bible to passages you are reminded of from your current study.  If while you are doing this, you come across a passage that is really significant to you, or seems to really drive something home in you, then write that reference in your Bible in the same area of the passage that you are studying.  If it is a REALLY significant thing, or something that your head and heart have been circling for a while, or it is a topic that you find yourself talking about often, jot the reference on one of the first few pages of your Bible with a tag.  “Woman in Adultery NOT stoned!!  John 8”  Those pretty pages, mostly blank, with the publisher emblem or some other scholarly but otherwise useless information are just begging for you to fill that space with these kinds of tags.  You will essentially be building your own concordance in the first few (and last few) pages of your Bible, and you will be strengthening your grip on the themes of scripture.  As you see important and powerful representations of Christ, the Holy Spirit, God the Father, the Kingdom, or any one of the many other themes of scripture, you will be able to fit them together in an appropriate tapestry of theology and life.

Application is last.  This is the one that I think I had the hardest time with.  Because I (and most of us I believe) come from a “do” society, that tends to be the immediate filter that “application” comes through.  “What is the application for your life in John 8?”  “Teacher, the application is to not get caught in the act of adultery!”  Well… yes… but… no.

Application is not just something to do.  If we boil all of our study down to a list of actions, then we run the risk of missing the relational aspect of Christ, the resting/recovering/healing nature of the Kingdom, or we may slide into developing a legalistic bend to our thoughts as they apply to the Christian life.  There are lots of places where the application will be “Do… more”  and “Do… less”  or “Do NOT do… anymore”  and “Start doing…”.    But things like, “I am a valued and chosen, precious person to Christ.” is not so much of a “do” statement as a “be” statement.  Applying that truth wouldn’t come so much from doing anything tangible so much as spending a little extra time that day (or the next day, or over the next week) simply meditating on the grace and goodness of God and how He has chosen to give you value, or beauty, or strength, or influence.  The question for application is, “How does this apply to my life?”  Be careful about asking “How do I apply this to my life?”   Trying to find something in a study to do, or to make applicable to your life ushers you into a “do” attitude, which in turn can (doesn’t necessarily, but can) lead into a belief system based on, “If I only pray more and work harder and live more selflessly, then life will be better and Jesus will love me more.”  Which, without realizing it, is a way that I lived for a long LONG long time.

In short… OICA.

Observe

Interpret

Correlation

Application

What does it say and what do I see?

What does it mean?

Have I seen this in Scripture before and where?

How does this apply to my life?

 

This is by no means the end all be all method of studying the Bible.  This is, however, a very simple, straightforward method and one that I have utilized more than any other over the course of my short life.

And one last note… Try to stay away from Study Bibles while studying (or when doing any kind of Bible reading for that matter).  It is easy to jump into the footnotes and commentary of the person that wrote the notes while looking for observations and interpretation, which is then letting somebody else think for you instead of you thinking (and therefore connecting) to Scripture and Christ for yourself.  I do have study bibles, and I use them while studying, but I don’t open them until after I have finished O I C, and then I turn to them to see if what I thought lines up with what these other folks think.  Then I move forward with application.  I use study bibles more like commentary reference material, a dedicated study tool, and less like my Bible.  I want to be intimately familiar with my Bible, my sword, instead of only be proficient with it when I am reading the notes and directions from somebody else.  I wouldn’t do that in the heat of battle, so I don’t do that in the calm of training.  And that is what Bible Study is, Paige, it’s the calm of training so that you will be ready, out of season and in season, to engage on behalf of your King, your Husband, Kid(s), family, and friends as needed.

 

Again, I am deeply encouraged that you asked me about this.  I hope you and Matt are doing well.  I have not forgotten about y’all and I am still trying to come up with some sort of good way to help y’all with praying.

 

Take care,

 

Mike

My Kids Are More Mature Than Me

I am in a position right now between the Navy and my family which is pretty rough.  I am handling it pretty well, but it is awfully hard.  As I have told my story to a couple friends, I have heard the response,

 

“You are a better man than me”

 

I usually dismiss that phrase because I know it just isn’t true.  These guys are men of character, men who would respond very similarly to how I am responding were they in my shoes.

My kids, on the other hand, really are “better” than me.  I hope they stay that way.

 

Because I did not make it through the school I was in, I fall at the bottom of the Navy’s priority scale for selecting orders.  As it turns out, the only set of orders that I am allowed to have right now are to a foreign country.  I’m not upset about that.  Jessica and I have wanted to take the family overseas for years.  Herein lies the problem.  Because the family is so large, we may have to be separated for 2 years.  The orders I am taking will allow me to bring my family with me, but there are other restrictions which can cause my family to be left behind and, at this moment, there is a very real chance that they will not join me.

Can you understand the sadness, fear, turmoil, and agony which I am swirling in?  It is hard stuff to say the least.

I knew I needed to tell my kids.  It isn’t fair to them to have them going to the appointments and screenings and for them to feel the tension in Jessica and I and to have no idea what is going on.  We have always spoken to our kids as though they are capable of understanding the life which swirls around them, and this is no exception.

I sat with my older 2 and explained to them that I may be going overseas and they will probably have to stay here.  Neither of them cried.  They got quiet, but didn’t even seem to get sad.  I explained it again… That I AM going overseas for 2 years and they ARE NOT going with me… for 2 years… separated… without me.  Again, no great emotion came out of them.  I asked them,

 

“Are you sad at all that your dad will be gone for 2 years?”

Answer:

Daughter – We are sad…

Son –  Yeah… but we don’t know for sure if we will be apart or not

Daughter – … but we can trust God

 

Whose kids are these?

Surely not mine!  Surely not the offspring of a man who walks with such uncertainty and fear upon his shoulders.  Surely not the son and daughter of a man who agonizes every detail of a plan in order to ensure the best possible outcome.  Surely not the kids of a man who can talk about God, Christianity, Faith, and Trust but falls hopelessly short when his back is up against a wall.

My kids are more mature than I am.

This little conversation we had, coupled with a Vacation Bible School song that they love (You Can Trust God) and play on their stereo over and over again, as well as other conversations I have had in the midst of this decision has me really pondering the goodness of God.

The congregation my wife came from regularly participates in a call and response during their Sunday morning worship.  The pastor says, “God is good” and the people say “All the time”.  Then the Pastor says “All the time” and the folks say “God is good”.  I believe this to be true.  God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.

But I am not a blind Christian, I don’t just check off the boxes without thinking (or feeling) about the stuff I am agreeing with and forming as a part of who I am.  This is one of those moments.

I can continue to walk around under this painful cloud feeling like I am under a storm and over a barrel because I don’t know whether or not I will be separated from my family for 2 years.  This is what I am doing right now.  It essentially says that I do NOT believe God is good… or rather, I do NOT believe God is good ALL the time.  Most of the time maybe.. A lot of the time for sure…  But all the time?  Do I really believe that?  My thoughts and feelings right now say no.

Now y’all hold on a minute before you send me encouraging and correctional emails and messages.  I know what the right answer is… and that is the point.  I could swallow what I am feeling and hide it from the world (which I did for SOOO LONG) and I can give the right answer and nobody in the world would know that a Man of God has a hard time grasping the full implications of the God he follows.

Here are the hard questions in my heart.   If I am separated from my family for a period of 2 years, where is God’s goodness in that?  Where is God’s goodness when it comes to my kids growing and struggling with identity/purpose/value troubles and my wife is left alone to encourage them?  Where is His goodness in this?  For that matter, where was His goodness when Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Jim Elliot, Ed McCauley, and Pete Fleming were killed on Palm Beach leaving their wives and kids behind?  Does God’s goodness address my desire for comfort or the feelings of security at all?

I am reminded of a verse in Romans that says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Where is God’s goodness in the death of His Son?  In the temporal perspective… I’m not seeing the goodness.  With an eternal perspective, the goodness of God is realized in the redemption of mankind.  In the temporal perspective, there wasn’t much good about the previously mentioned 5 men dying on a beach, but within a generation or 2 the rampant murdering and revenge killing of an entire tribe of people came to an end.

On the one hand I want to reject the idea of God’s enduring, timeless goodness in exchange for my own temporal comfort and pleasure.  But I know the way that seems right in my heart will lead me to my death.  I know the other hand leads down a painful road which, for some, has held certain death, but it ends with redemptive healing in the lives of others for generations to come.

I should be more careful with what I hope for… what I pray for.  Though I have asked many times that God would grant me influence in the lives of men so that His kingdom will advance through my labor to many cultures for generations to come, I do not want to take the road necessary for Him to use me to that end.

I want my family to go with me.  I have tears in my eyes as I finish up this post because of the pain which I feel when thinking of being separated from them.

I fear that my family will not be able to join me.

And I am resolved to bear my true character in the face of adversity with hope, trusting that the temporal pain to be experienced by my family will surely result in the realization of a theme of Scripture and Christianity…

 

God is good

                    All the time

All the time

                  God is Good

I Found My Max Capacity

I was frustrated.

I was angry.

I was moving away from Washington State.  I had developed some really intimate relationships with some of the men I met up there and had started meeting with them at least once a week.  I was spending close to 8 hours per man each week praying for them, studying with them, counseling them, challenging them… shepherding them.

I had prayed for a long time that God would send a replacement for me or that He would develop one of them to step in and start shepherding that little flock in my place after I left.

It didn’t happen.

A couple weeks before we left Washington, I heard that another fella who is a part of the same ministry team that I am a part of was moving into the area.  I was excited to say the least.  I then found out that he had no plans of connecting with our little posse… he had no plans to lead it, to shepherd it, or to even meet with it.

In my frustration, I called the head guy for our team and expressed to him my frustration.  The team leader’s response was pretty simple…

This man will be working a very specific and demanding job while

in Washington and simply does not have the capacity right now to

be involved.  I’m sorry.

I was dumbfounded.

He doesn’t have the capacity?

What a poor excuse!

The team leader tried to explain to me that not everybody is capable of the same amount of stress, or relational tenacity, or multitasking agility.  It was so hard for me to understand.  I kept thinking that if I could do it, while being a husband, a father of 4, and a Sailor, surely this fella could do it.

Fast forward a year and a half.  A long, painful, cold, and dark year and a half.

I have been in school for a long time.  I was dropped from my original class and placed in the class behind me… akin to repeating the 3rd grade.  While going to school, I had a handful of “distractors” stack up in my personal life.  To name a few, and just a few, my grandpa passed away last Thanksgiving, my brother had a tumor removed, was diagnosed with cancer, and started chemo, we went through an eviction proceeding following a long period of no income on our rental home in NC, and have been the recipients of a lawsuit threat from an employee of a real estate company.

It all finally stacked up against me.  Between the rough relationships in my extended family and me feeling like I have a responsibility to mend them, the loss my family has suffered, the strained (but healing) relationships between my wife and I (and my kids and I), and the lack of local friends (because I was too busy with school, there are good people here who care about me)… I cracked.

I would sit before my open books, read the same line a hundred times, and be consumed with thoughts that I was neglecting my family.  I would close my books and go see my family but my heart wasn’t there.  I would hear in the back of my mind that I was wasting the taxpayers dollar, that my family is doing just fine and that I need to do what I have been chosen to do… study and do well in school so that I can go forward and do great things on behalf of the US Navy.  This cycle continued until I started to feel simply paralyzed.

I would sit in front of my books and just stare at them.

I would stand in my yard with my kids playing around me and just stare at them.

I went in to take a test a couple weeks ago and failed it.  I needed a 75 and I earned a 74.  A weak 74 at that… tons of guessing!

This test fail triggered an academic investigation.  I told the investigating board all of what was going on in my home life.

The end result?

I have been dismissed from training.

Not for a lack of trying.  Not for a lack of intellectual ability.  Not for a lack of time management or failure to prioritize.  But for a lack of capacity.

I had in my head that being capable of succeeding was directly related to my ability to perform when the time came.  I now understand that life isn’t just about performing when the time comes.  There is a lot of life that happens behind the scenes, when the curtain is down and the seats are empty.

I do not live in a vacuum and I cannot continue to ask my family to wait for me.  As life has gotten a little thicker, a little more tricky, I have come to understand that I do not have the capacity to do what I wanted.

I am okay with this.

I am becoming very happy with this.

I was frustrated and angry before because I had no concept of somebody knowing where the edges of their envelope existed and choosing to stay within those boundaries.  I am sorry for the way that I reacted to that situation (and I will get in touch with the parties involved in order to communicate that).

I now know what it feels like to be stretched beyond my capacity and I see the damage that that causes to me and my family.  I also now recognize what it feels like to approach the limit of my capabilities.

I had a friend in Washington, a man I met with from time to time who coached me as a husband, a father, and a young shepherd.  He would tell me often that I needed to learn to say no.  He would tell me that he was afraid that I did not know where my boundaries were and that I was on a crash course for taking on more than I should and potentially causing great harm to myself and my family.

Rob, if you are reading this, you were right!  I was on that train.  I was not over committed in Washington, but I quickly ran out of space out here.  By the grace of GodI did not cause great harm to me or my family.

I have learned what my limits are and , more importantnly what ifeels like to reach them.

I found my max capacity and I managed to get off that train before it wrecked my life.

Thank you to all the friends and family who have supported us, encouraged us, and prayed for us as we walked through this part of our journey.

I Am An Easter Egg! (And So Are You)

My family does not participate in Halloween, Thanksgiving is my personal favorite holiday of the year, I wrestle each Christmas with whether or not we should have a Christmas Tree and I would opt out of pretty much all of our pop Christmas celebrations if I thought I could get away with it.  I get told around holidays that I take things too seriously, that I am “curmudgeonly”,  that I should lighten up and live a little.

I decide for my family what and how we will celebrate.  It is hard for me to juggle the appropriate worship of Christ, genuine pursuit of holiness, modeling the pursuit of holiness to my kids, and making sacrifices of time and money to celebrate cultural holidays.

How do I tell my kids that Easter is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, and then demonstrate this celebration by giving my time and money to boiling, dying, hiding, and then finding some eggs.  It feels as though Easter Eggs, though fun, are a complete diversion from what Easter is all about.  Maybe it is personality, maybe it is me taking conviction and faith too seriously, but I have a hard (HARD) time engaging in anything that is not in line with what I believe to be my purpose, my life’s objective.  Hiding Easter Eggs…   eh…  well…

I believe we are created in the image of God.  More specifically, I believe that every person intrinsically has some aspect or attribute of God’s character in them.  The Bible makes it pretty clear that God is a creator and an artist.  These attributes are found in everybody I know, albeit some more than others.  Everybody I have ever met has been proud of something they have made.  Everybody I have ever met has had some form of art that they seem to connect with (though some would argue about whether it should or should not be called art).  I encourage my kids to express this connection to the Character of God by participating in the “creation” of artistic things… coloring books, clay, pencil and marker drawings…  and Eggs on Easter.

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I go a bit further than that on Easter though…

I believe that Mankind is the pinnacle of creation.  I have heard artists say that there is nothing more beautiful than the “human form.”  I stand amazed at the complexity of our biologic systems and functions, I am humbled and awestruck when I ponder the human psyche or the way in which relationships are formed, the way cultures function, the sociology of humanity.  EPIC.

At the same time, I am amazed at just how fragile we are.  A short sentence full of painfully sharp words so often ends in the death of a relationship.  For as resilient as the human body is, we are not that hard to kill.

We are beautiful, we are “fragile”, we are precious.  I easily use Easter Eggs to represent the attributes of humanity to my kids.  They take time to create them, just like God took time to create us.  They express themselves and their artistic creativity on a very fragile, temporary medium just like God did and cotinues to do with us.  They value their Easter Eggs just like God values us.  These Easter Eggs are precious to my kids, just like we are precious to Jesus.

But that is not where the analogy ends.

We do not live our lives, or have our relationships, or even think our private thoughts in a soft, gentle, comfy environment like Eggs being cradled in plastic grass filled Easter baskets.  We live our physical lives in a real world governed by natural laws with legitimate and sometimes immediate consequences.  If you are outside when it starts raining, you get wet.  It doesn’t matter why you were out there.  We have our relationships with other people who are constantly in a state of flux.  Emotions, hormones, and insecurity can result in us acting or reacting in a manner that is harsh or harmful to the other person… whether or not they “deserved” it.  Our own insecurities, life experiences, expectations, desires, and beliefs create a cauldron that, at times, results in confusion, anxiety, or fear.  Though we are precious, every aspect of our lives is surrounded by things that are potentially harmful, most often distracting, usually benign, and sometimes downright malicious.

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And this is where I hide my eggs.  I take these precious, artistic creations and I place them in grass… distracting, on tree branches… precarious and hard, in the mud…  deceptive and hiding their beauty (so similar to how I cover up my insecurity).  I scatter these precious Easter Eggs to the far reaches of my yard and I try to hide the very preciousness of these Eggs in order to keep my kids from finding them.

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This is where the analogy for my family hits the high notes!

The Bible has a theme that runs through several different stories.  A theme of searching for what was lost, recovering and redeeming that which is precious but misplaced.

There is a man who finds a really expensive, precious Jewel in a field.  He makes a pretty big sacrifice, sells all he has, and buys the field so that he can recover that precious Jewel.

A shepherd has a bunch of sheep, precious to him, and one of them goes astray.  The shepherd embarks upon a search for this sheep in order to restore his lost, precious sheep to the rest of the flock.

We are told that if we separate the precious from the worthless, we will be God’s ambassadors indeed.

And the pinnacle is that we, being precious in the eyes of God, being covered by dirt in our lives, distracted and lost in the grass, deliberately hiding in the mud, or burying ourselves, cold and alone, or vulnerable and exposed like an egg precariously balanced on a tree branch, can be recovered, redeemed, restored, healed…

Easter Eggs, for my family, are not in any way an analogy of Jesus being in the grave and then resurrected.  Jesus was not hidden, there were guards at his tomb in order to keep people away… they knew where His body was.  He was not beuatiful when he went into the tomb, he was broken, beat, bloody, and arguably unrecognizable when he went in, not at all like our Easter Eggs when we hide them.  When Jesus rose from the grave, he did so never to die again, but the Easter Eggs are recovered… and then peeled and eaten!  A lot like mankind, precious, beautiful, hopefully recovered by the creator prior to undergoing that which is also common to all mankind, death and decomposition.

I do not send my kids out to find Easter Eggs in a participation of Resurrecting Jesus from the grave, I send my kids out to separate the precious from the worthless and to bring those beautiful, fragile, little Eggs back into a place of safety…

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If you are a Christian who has struggled with the idea of Easter Eggs and Jesus, please consider my thoughts and take a look Matthew 13:45-56, Luke 15:1-7,  and Jeremiah 15:19-21.

 

Call It What It Is… Fail

Fail

I don’t know if ever I have come across a word as painful, demoralizing, or heavy to me as this one.

Fail

It doesn’t hurt when it is being used in the typical pop culture manner of the word, but when bestowed upon me as a reward for my actions not meeting the requisite standard…  Sigh…

And fail I did.

I have had many people who care about me try to soften the blow.  I have had some very encouraging people attempt to encourage me by saying things like, “If you did your best, its not a fail,” and “Your wife and kids still love you, you didn’t fail.”  There were a good number of these kinds of statements being sent to me.  On the one hand, I really appreciated them.  They made me feel good for a moment.

On the other hand, they were frustrating to a deep level.

I felt as though the encouragement that was being given to me was a dismissal of what had happened, a denial of the facts, an enticement to live contrary to reality.

And so I write this now…  I’m calling it what it is.

It is a fail.

I failed to meet the minimum requirements to move forward with my training.  I failed to accumulate the required minimum number of points on a battery of patient scenarios.  I failed to perform my job in a manner commensurate with the predetermined standard which was required of me.  This is the simple reality and truth of the matter.  There was a standard.   I did not attain it.  Fail.

I understand what these encouragers were communicating to me.  I am not a failure.  I felt like one.  The weekend after I got the news, I walked around in a strange fog of disbelief.

It is humiliating.  It is painful for me.  I am heavy hitter, a hot runner.  I have been ” they guy that gets things done” for a long time.  For me to engage in something this difficult and not succeed is a foreign concept.

I spent a lot of time thinking about failure and how it is handled by the folks around me.  I think we need to adjust fire.

I had some folks tell me they were sorry that I failed, that they had faith in my ability to pass, and that they hoped I would get back to the plate and start swinging again.  This is the healthy approach.

We cannot redefine a word when we don’t like how it makes us feel.  We do not have the ability to redefine the standards placed upon us after we have committed to the task.  We do not have the luxury of walking through life sans consequences.  We had better not communicate to those around us that we believe we can do these things.

I have started to wonder… how many times have I redefined something in my life, or in the lives of those around me, because the truth was too bitter to swallow.  Have I looked at a friend and told him that what he was doing is healthy, appropriate, just, wise, or even “not that bad”, when in fact it is unhealthy, inappropriate, unjust, unwise, or quite frankly “bad”?  Has this quickness to redefine what is offensive so that I don’t have to really deal with the source of offense stretched into my beliefs?  Or rather, have my beliefs failed to stretch into my daily interactions with others to such an extent that I believe that I am the authority who decides what is a fail, a pass, wise, just, unjust, good, bad, etc., without really understanding that that is what I am doing?

I am not the one to determine a fail.  I simply perform.

Those who wrote the course, set the objectives, presented the material, and evaluated my performance are the appropriate judges.  It is on their shoulders to define the fail.

Likewise, it is not me who determines what is right or wrong, just or unjust, fair or unfair.  I simply discern what I see.

The Author of all life is the one who wrote the course of my life, set the objectives, determined my purpose, presented me with the resources required, and is the only appropriate Judge who determines what is right or wrong, just or unjust, righteous and unrighteous, pure and holy, or sin and…  well… fail.

Another thing I got to think about was my struggle with “failure.”  I fought, off and on, with feeling like a failure for years.  I had such a ridiculous, strict, narrow view of success that practically everything I did failed to measure up.  I would recall all the things I “failed” at and would feel as though nothing I did was good enough.  I really felt as though I was a failure.  Interestingly enough it took a legitimate fail for me to see that I have not legitimately failed at much of anything in my past.  I know it is ironic, but a couple weeks after my first fail and I am realizing how awesome I have been in this game of life!   (feel free to roll your eyes)

In summary, I failed and I  want to call it a fail.  Calling it a fail is not the same as calling me a failure.  Saying I did not fail is redefining reality and calling “bad” “good”.  I am simply the one who failed.  After getting the bad news, the Navy went through the required procedure and, in the end, decided to send me back to the beginning of the course with another class.  I hear repeating the 8th grade isn’t so bad…

 

Grace for Those Who Believe

I was talking with a good friend of mine recently about grace.   As we discussed our marriages, or kids, our jobs, and other mysteries of our lives, it seemed the topic of grace became a major undertone.  I directed the conversation towards grace and asked some questions…

What is Grace?  What does Grace look like in the our lives as fathers and husbands?  How do we interact with Grace in our lives?

My friend let me know pretty quick that these were NOT easy questions for him to answer.  We went on to talk about other things for the rest of our time together.  I asked him to think about grace and these questions and send me an email with his answers.

Maybe I am getting lazy… just posting other people’s emails in this blog… but I loved his response!  He has agreed to let me post his thoughts and his heart below.  Enjoy!

What do I know of grace?  This was a question I knew for sure, for quite some time until  heard some talk about it.  This topic came up, probably bi-weekly, for around 9-10 months from various people.  I knew God was trying to tell me to do a study on grace, but I kept putting it off. I kept meaning to get around to it, after I finished this book, or that book, or meeting with this guy.  I finally sat down one day and looked into the matter.  What is grace? According to a website definition, grace is special favor, or the unmerited favor of God.   What is merit?  According to another definition, it is the quality of being particularly good or worthy.  What does this mean?  It means there is nothing we can do to be particularly good or worthy of the favor of God.  In the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, he states it is only by grace that we are saved through faith.  This does not have a bearing on anything we can do or achieve of ourselves.  It is purely a gift given to us by God.  This is so nobody can go around boasting and say, “look how much better I am than you are at getting saved.”  This, I knew.  I had no problems with this.  My deeds are like nasty dirty nasty nasty dirty, nasty, rags.  So, I become a Christian based on the work that Christ has accomplished and not on the work that I have accomplished.
Aaaaaaand then it stops.
I learned that I wasn’t good enough to please people, so I tried harder. When I would try really hard, I would find the favor of people.  I learned to associate this approval with good deeds in my day to day life. Grace was something that we needed to come to a saving faith of Jesus while justice was what we needed to keep people in line with their “lack of living the Christian life like their supposed to.”  I began to link the effects of my good deeds in my day to day life to how I view my Heavenly Creator.
So what did this create?  It created a false view of the abundant love of God, post conversion.  Talk about destructive in a marriage relationship, whew, you have no idea.  I could love my wife when she was trying hard enough, and I could love her when she wasn’t trying hard enough, but I had to show her justice in the times she didn’t try so hard.  This was so she could be worthy of MY love.  Well, that didn’t work out very well and I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.  I showed my kids I loved them MORE when they brought home good grades, and they got punished for bringing home bad grades.  I was teaching them that to receive MY love they had to prove themselves worthy.  This is not grace.Grace does not stop when someone professes Christ with their lips  and believes in their heart.  Today, I am in no less need of God’s grace than the person shooting up drugs in the crack house.  I can do nothing on my own merit now, or before I came to a saving faith in Christ.  It doesn’t matter how much I try to prove myself to God for Him to love me.  He just loves me. It also doesn’t matter how little I try, He STILL loves me.  I don’t do spiritual disciplines, like read the bible, to get Gods love.  I can’t.  So why do I have spiritual disciplines if nothing I can do will allow God to love me more or less?  I do them BECAUSE God loves me, not FOR Gods love. Its like if someone were to give me a new car.  I would bring them cookies to show them how much I love them, not to get another car.  This is the same as God’s grace for us. Do  want my kids to do their best in school?  Sure I do.  But now I tell them it doesn’t matter how many F’s or A’s they bring home, I just love them, then we work on extra homework.  We do the homework not to receive my love, but to do with all their might whatever their hands find to do. There’s a story similar to this in regards to Gods grace.  In a college classroom there were the slackers who would come in 15 min after   class started, sit in the back, sleep, and rush out after class.  They would turn in half their assignments and applied themselves to parties and not papers. Then there were the students that would show up 15 min early, sit in the front, and stay after to ask the professor to expound on his lecture.  These students sacrificed their social lives to make the grade.  When the end of the semester came, the students crowded around the cork board to see what they got for their final grade.  To the studious students amazement they noticed they received an A, but they also noticed the bad students received an A as well.  They became irate and nearly rioted outside the professors office.  How on earth were the bad kids able to make an A when they put in half the amount of work?  The professor replied, Isn’t it my grade to give as I see fit?  The “bad” students aren’t worthy of an A.  But neither are the “good” students.  They both receive a reward, not based on their merit, but based on being in the class.Now, with grace and love, grace and works, there’s also grace and freedom.  Legalism – law, liberty, love – license.  Let me explain.  We have grace. We have grace with love, liberty and the law.  Because of Grace, we have love in law, and love in liberty.  Because of Grace we have liberty in love, and liberty in law, and law in love and law in liberty.  This is all in balance and all because of grace.  When grace is skewed we go to an extreme. On the right there is “license.”  We say, because of grace I have the license to do whatever I want (so that grace may abound even more.) And on the other side we have Legalism.  You have to wear a suit and tie on Sundays or you are required to read the bible every day, if not then you’re sinning and Jesus won’t love you.  When grace is in balance we have what is called, freedom. Because of grace, I can be free to disagree with people.  Because of grace, I can be free to not have sexual addictions.  Because of grace, I can be free to be there for my children if they go down a wrong path.  I don’t condemn these people because of grace.  I can’t learn to love, and I mean actually love, until I learn grace.  To sum up what Jerry Bridges says, it wasn’t Christ died so that we could have grace, rather, because of grace Christ died.So what is grace to me now?  Well, in a nutshell, grace is something I need on a daily basis.  I am not worthy on my own.  Nothing I could ever do could ever come close enough to have God love me more or less than what He does. I work to show myself worthy of the calling with which He has called me.  I work, BECAUSE of the love He loved me with, not for it.  I love my wife because of the love that God has for her, not what she is doing or how she is doing it. And I love my children, not because of what they can do, but because I have freedom,with grace, to demonstrate this love of God to them.Honestly, I don’t know if I could ever explain the full concept of grace. But this I know, grace has changed my post conversion life in a way that I would never have expected. 

 It’s not about winning and losing.
It’s just grace.

My Wife’s Encouraging Letter to Friends in the Midst of Porn

 

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My wife and I have endured much together.  I love her deeply.  (You hear that babe, I said I love you, and I said it in “public”)  All kidding aside…

We have been very fortunate to have friends who have loved us and helped us along the way.  I have really been cancerous to my marriage in the past.  Now that we are moving on through the stages of life, we have friends who are walking some of the same roads with the same pot-holes we walked before.  Some of these friends turn to Jessica and I for advice.  Talk about scary!!  You want marriage advice from us??!!!  Have we met?!!!

Porn was a pretty major part of my life and, in a lot of ways, is still a major part of my life.  Though I have separated myself from the poison, we are still dealing with the effects of it in my life, as well as some of the more subtle things that drove my passion for it.

A young wife, who had just had a baby, sent us a letter last summer.  Her husband has been taking steps to separate himself from this destructive habit.  He asked her to check his phone, knowing that she would discover that he had been watching Porn.  She lost it.  She absolutely blew up.  A few days later she sent a letter to Jessica and I and we sent emails, Facebook messages, and texts with the two of them for a couple weeks.

I had many talks with “Jack” and still communicate with him when I can.

What follows is a letter that Jessica sent to “Jill.”  We got permission from Jack and Jill to let us post this on here after changing the names.

We do not blame Jill, or any other Jills out there, for her husbands interaction with Porn.  That is in no way, shape, or form, her fault.  That is Jacks… and Jack MUST deal with it.  BUT… Jill’s ownership of her reactions to Jack can really set the tone for how they move through some of this stuff… or at least it did for us.  I owe whatever victory I have had in the arena of Sexual purity to Jesus and to my wife as He demonstrated His love and His healing nature through her.

I am so very proud of my wife.

Anyway…

We post this email, just 1 in a long set of messages, to hopefully encourage any other “Jills” out there who are dealing with a weak/wounded/lost “Jack”:

 

I’m sorry it took me a couple of days to respond. I was going to respond last night but my internet connection wouldn’t load anything and then we had to go to bed.

First off, let me assure you, Jill, that this is not your fault and that Jack’s temptation toward or fall into porn is NOT about you, nor is it a reflection of you. I know that is hard for you to believe, and you know that I know all-to-well the insecurities that come with a post-baby body and that I know the lies that will flood your mind and heart that your imperfections are what drives Jack away. Let me tell you that is one of the ways in which Satan will defeat you and drive a wedge between the two of you. And that is all it is…pure lies.  Strangely enough, God has wired our husbands to be intensely attracted to us and desiring of us even with all the changes our bodies go through. When Jack tells you that you’re beautiful or sexy, BELIEVE HIM!

That being said, all that Michael said is true, the more you approach him, the more free and willing you are with him, not only the more connection and intimacy you will have, but it helps him so much to fight the temptation to look at porn. It is much easier to click a few links on a computer than it is to think about approaching a wife who isn’t enthusiastic or is so tired or busy with household chores and children that she might reject or not notice his advances. I don’t know where you are on this. This is simply my experience and my knowledge based on discussions Michael and I have had.

I will go back and address some specific things in your message in a minute, but another thought off the top of my head… the passcodes and locks on the computer are like putting a bandaid over a gushing wound. They are a temporary fix for a deeper problem. Don’t get me wrong, I think taking any step to help Jack avoid falling prey to porn is good, but you’re only treating the symptom and not getting to the root of the problem itself, so do NOT think if passcodes are in place, that everything will be good. It won’t. The temptation and ‘need’ are still there…the temptation will likely always be there, although the severity of it may lessen as you deal with the problem.

The need for and the security that he finds in porn is a result of something else, wounds as Michael called them. Jack might not even know what those are himself. Those wounds will not heal without finding someone to walk through them with him… another man who is deeply committed to God, who is willing to love Jack and invest time and energy discipling him and uprooting the trash and cleaning out the wounds, who can communicate truth to him on an intimate heart level…not simply praying for him and sending him Bible verses. These help, but he needs more, and this is where true biblical church comes into play. This will also help Jack become the spiritual leader that you so need and crave. How can he be a spiritual leader when no one is there to show him how?

And the lady who is mentoring you should be teaching you how to be a Godly wife and mother and probing the emotions and thoughts you have regarding all of this. She should be turning you to the truths in God’s word, helping you remain grounded in your identity as a precious princess of the King in the midst of the raging storm inside of you. Encouraging you to love and respect your husband even when you can’t see how that’s possible. One of the biggest things I was told by two different godly women when we went through all that we did last year was that I HAVE to respect him. It is commanded of me by God (Ephesians 5). I know this is hard right now, but you have to respect Jack.

This should be a daily prayer of yours… not simply that God would protect Jack and help him stand against temptation and that God would make him a spiritual leader for your family, but that God would show you how to love and respect your husband today (every day), that He would guard your heart against the lies of Satan, that He would heal the wounds in both of you and bring you into greater intimacy and spiritual unity. If you do not pray through these things and ask God to change your heart, you will continue to suffer in pain and isolation from Jack.

Along these same lines, if you react out of pain, anger, and bitterness every time Jack confesses his falls to you, he will stop confessing them. He will either tell you nothing or he will lie (For the record, if you’re reading this, Jack, the lies make it so much more painful than just simply telling the truth to begin with. Trust me, as hard or humiliating as it is, up front honesty goes a long way toward healing the rift and moving past it).

Neither one of you can fight this alone, and you cannot fight this together if you let your pain drive your responses. When Jack asked you to check the history on his phone, that was a big step for him. He is inviting you into the battle with him. When you found the website and got angry and upset, it was more destructive than if you had been able to talk about it with him and forgive him for it. He is now not only fighting against porn, but he is also fighting not to hurt you. He doesn’t want to hurt you so he lies, which then hurts you more, which then shames and defeats him, which leaves him in need of healing again, which he can’t get from you because he just hurt you so badly….it’s a vicious cycle.

Forgiveness….that’s a big topic. Let me encourage you, Jill, to do a thorough study of the bible on the topic of forgiveness. Try to answer these questions…What is true forgiveness? Does a person have to apologize or change their offending behavior in order for you to forgive? What does forgiveness look like as it is lived out (in an association, friendship, brotherhood, marriage, whatever – use examples if you feel you need to)? You hear “forgive and forget”…what does that mean and what is your opinion of this term? Is forgiveness different from mercy and if so, how? What does mercy look like as it is lived out? Feel free to add any other questions or thoughts.  I had to study this many years ago…I had no idea how to forgive for such deep and ongoing pain.

As far as dealing with deployment, everyone around him is gonna have a computer or phone so it would be super easy for him to borrow someone else’s to skype. That could go two ways…either he is less likely to look at porn because it’s not his device and he doesn’t want to be caught, or it could be easier to look since it’s someone else’s device and there’s no telling what’s already on it. Most units offer opportunities for communication on public use equipment…maybe not as reliable or free or frequent, but an option to look into. Frequent honest communication between the two of you, in love, no topic off limits, is a big deal. Your responses, Jill, as I mentioned earlier, will have a huge impact on this.

Having someone (mentor that I mentioned earlier) who will continue to pursue Jack as much as possible during deployment is another factor. Jack finding a guy or two to meet with and study the bible and pray on a frequent regular basis there, not like leading a bible study, but walking alongside each other and encouraging and challenging one another.

And, if you can do so without them being discovered by someone else, send him naked pictures of yourself to look at when he wants a little something. I was super uncomfortable taking them at first, but I set the timer on my camera (do NOT have someone else take them) and sent them anyway, and he really appreciated that. It gave him a release without falling into sin. You could also have Jack direct you and take pictures of you before he leaves.

Moving on to your feelings of not being loved or cherished and being overworked and unappreciated…welcome to motherhood and marriage. Not to make light of it, but I believe that every single woman struggles with this at some point. I think it comes down to just three things… laziness, miscommunication/misunderstanding, and the enemy’s lies.

It is entirely possible that Jack has simply become lazy in his interaction with you, not being deliberate in showing you love and appreciation. It is also highly likely that your feelings are being exacerbated by the feelings that have resulted from the pornography problem. Try to separate your feelings on the pornography from the rest of Jack and your interaction with him and see what you have left. The rest of it, you communicate to him, but you do so in a non-confrontational, non-condemning manner.

Here’s the thing…men and women think and communicate very differently. I, for probably years, struggled with this attitude…”Why can’t he get up and get his own drink? Why does he sit there on the computer when he sees me struggling to cook dinner and juggle kids and get the house cleaned up all at once? How can he ask me to do one more thing with everything on my plate? He doesn’t see anything I do! He doesn’t appreciate any of it!” Ten years into our marriage and four kids later, I learned through a professional counseling session that the whole time he was sitting there thinking, “Why on earth is she trying to do everything on her own? Why doesn’t she ask for help? She wants things done her way and she doesn’t want me to be a part of her world. I am just a pawn in her game of family and house.” All I had to do was ask, and it solved that problem for both of us…communication.

Asking for his help doesn’t mean you are his mother, or that you’re inferior for asking, or that he’s uncaring for not offering. Sure, it would be nice if our husbands just jumped in and did everything, but in all honesty, they’re not too sure just what we want or need from them a lot of time in regards to the baby needs or managing the household. And being that y’all haven’t been married that long and are new to the parenting thing, there’s gonna be a lot that he simply won’t see. And it’s not for lack of caring, it’s simply obliviousness or in some instances I’m sure, laziness or immaturity.

You have to communicate, and you cannot do it in an accusatory manner. Simply tell him that you need to discuss some needs and desires with him, and then lay it out in black and white. Giving him specific ways in which he can help you with Baby or the house, as well as specific things you would like for him to do in order for you to feel loved and cherished will be more helpful than just giving him a light-hearted or vague ‘I need more help and I need to feel more loved by you.’ There are even many times now when I will tell Michael, “Hey, I did this today and I want you to notice it,” or “Hey, look at this…you have to be excited about this for me! ” Then it doesn’t go unnoticed simply because what are significant things to me may not be so significant to him, and I won’t be disappointed when I get no reaction.

And don’t let the enemy slip in and cause bitterness or resentment when Jack doesn’t meet your expectations. He is human, and he will fail you. It’s just a part of being the imperfect sinners we are. Know and trust that Jack loves and cherishes you deeply, and dwell on the things you see that show you that…like the fact that he willingly met with the youth pastor, attended those meetings, and asked you to check his phone. Like how he loves on Baby or even does simple things to take care of you by taking out the trash or something like that.

If he doesn’t seem to notice your feelings, then you’ll just have to make the first step and start sharing with him. If you want a hug, ask for it. We cannot expect someone else to know what we need or want at any given time, specifically when we are wired so differently (different personalities, values, love languages, needs, priorities…). Communication…it has to be a priority.

So anyway, I wrote this mostly to Jill since you are the one who wrote us. Michael, if there is any error in my words, please let me know. Jill and Jack, we are an open book and always open for questions, discussions, etc. Feel free to respond with your thoughts, feelings, etc. on here. And please give us a call any time. My schedule is very open right now, and even if Michael is in school, he will be glad to return a call if you leave a message or text. If you want to take a vacation to the east coast sometime, our doors are always open to you and we would love to see y’all!! We love you both very very much!

I will be praying for you both. When is the next deployment?

On a side note, we are doing great as well. Michael’s class is mind-numbing and intense, but he’s a genius so he’s doing well. I am loving some downtime and finally getting the house in order and looking forward to fun times with the kids for the rest of the summer. They are all doing well, starting to make friends, and enjoying the freedom of being done with school for the year! Looking forward to hearing back from you!

Much love,

Jessica

Vulnerable Much?

Vulnerable, Wounded, and Broken

It seems as though I often get into conversations with people that are very similar to other conversations I have had with other folks recently.  Maybe it is because the people I spend my time with are all going through the same things in their lives (doubtful), or maybe it is because I see some things I my life and as I address these things in my life, I get to talking about it with other people.

One of the conversations that I seem to be having kind of often is about vulnerability, woundedness, and brokenness.

What is vulnerability?  It is being exposed.  Being open to something or someone which could cause me pain.

I just wrote about my sense of confidence and when I reread what I wrote, I saw a theme.  I saw that I did not want people to really see who I am because then they would not respect me… would not accept me.  In essence, I saw that I try to NOT be vulnerable.  I try to ensure that I am NOT open to other people, I do not want to put myself in a position which would allow somebody else to cause me pain of any kind.

I have come to realize over the last few years that this life of hiding who I am in order to protect me has caused me to shut my family out of my life.  My own kids, who love and adore me, have been placed on the outside of my boundaries.  As I got really good at being dependable, confident, and bold, I became good at hiding my fear, lack of confidence, and feelings of uncertainty.  When I started to hide who I was, I thought those who loved me would still be able to know me.  The real me.

I was wrong.

It seems to me now that I am great at building walls, but cannot put a door or a window in a wall to save my life.  Nobody can get to me because I won’t let them, even though I really want them to.  Boy oh boy am I NOT vulnerable!  LOL… who am I kidding.

Even in my “unvulnerability”, I was still being hurt, and the more I hurt, the thicker I made the walls.

I have recently started tearing them down.

As the bricks of my fortress came crashing to the ground, I felt really relieved.  I smelled the fresh air of love from my wife and kids, I saw the blue skies of genuine acceptance from my teammates, I walked free!

It was only a matter of time before I ended up hurt again.  I was faced with a dilemma… everything in me wanted to run and hide.  I was good at it.  I had mastered the art of running and hiding but making it look like I was still leading, still in control, still handling business.  I decided instead to just be hurt.  Which led me to really consider the words Broken and Wounded.

I know they are very similar.  I know that some people will tell me that there really is no difference.  I know that some people will tell me that I have the definitions backwards.

Wounded is what I was, and still am to an extent.  Wounded is not good.  Wounded is bleeding out on a battlefield, riddled with bullet holes.  Wounded is sitting in my house, hiding from life because I am dying and don’t know what to do about it.  Wounded is being hurt by people, hearing what they say, and believing them, right or wrong, internalizing what they have said to me, and choosing to react to life based on the effects of these hurtful things.

Broken is what I am, and what I really want to be.  Broken is a result of living life.  Riding a bicycle and falling, breaking an arm.  Broken is being hurt by what other people say to me and acknowledging that it hurts.  Broken is receiving the pain in me from my own actions towards others and realizing that I have inflicted wounds so deep.  Broken is acknowledging my weakness and my pain, hearing what is said to me, observing the worthless things that I do, but rejecting that any of that makes me who I am and instead, choosing to live out of a deeper sense of identity.  Wounded vs Broken is like this…

 

I am worthless

because I have a broken arm

and so I cannot complete these tasks

or fulfill these expectations.

 

VS

 

I am not worthless

because I have a broken arm,

I am just not capable of performing these tasks right now

    or fulfilling these expectations placed on me at this time.

The thing that I realize about being vulnerable is that it lets me be broken.  Building walls around me keeps me wounded.

Wounded is dying…

Broken is healing…

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but I need to go home and see my kids… I need to leave my fortress…

Are you broken or are you wounded?

Are you vulnerable or are you hiding?

And how have you moved from one to the other?

(If you don’t mind me asking)

The Cost of Discipleship

Continuing what I was writing about regarding discipleship and mentoring

A friend asked me a long time ago what it cost to be mentored by somebody. I said it didn’t cost me anything.

Then you are not being mentored…

That got my attention. I knew I was being influenced by a couple guys, I knew that I was changing and that my life was reflecting the lives of these men the more they influenced me. I was being mentored. Naturally, being told that something was not happening when I clearly thought it was caused me to dig a little bit.

Come to find out, he was right. I was being influenced by these men, but there was no direction in their influence. There was no goal for my development. There wasn’t a reason or a purpose to our time together, other than the surface level stuff we were doing. These guys would correct me when they would hear me saying something wrong or doing something wrong, but that was about it. My life was changing simply from proximity to them. I started using little slogans, slang, and jargon like them, and could tell that I was valuing some things more than I used to, and some things less than I used to. Because these were some good men, the changes in my life were also good…

But that is not the point of discipleship.

I do not want my life to meander directionless to a form of maturity that is good. I would like for my life to push forth deliberately and purposefully toward a form of maturity that is great.

Here lies the crux of the matter. Direction and Purpose. To be a disciple is to be a strict adherent to a certain set of principles. To be a dedicated student to a philosophy, a proponent of a way of life. Taking a step back from the churchiness of the word and thinking about it in the world of martial arts, a disciple of Jui Jitsu patterns his life around the art. I have a friend who is a phenomenal fighter, a beast of a man. This guy eats a diet that is far from “normal.” It takes eating “clean” and “Paleo” to a whole different level. The guy goes out late on weekends with friends, and still gets up at the crack of dawn in order to get his cardio in. He spends HOURS upon HOURS reading books and articles about his art, practicing in a gym, sparring, entering competitions, fighting in tournemants… He is a very weak bicyclist, doesn’t do any paddling (as far as I know), couldn’t care less about what was going on in the land of TV (unless it was fight night). He has focus and direction, and he submits his life to the disciplines of his art and the instruction of his mentors.

The Bible actually teaches that there is a cost to disciplehip. Jesus compares it to a king going out to fight a war. Does the king evaluate his enemy, then go and try to settle his differences without a fight if the enemy is stronger than he is… He compares it to a man building a silo for his grain. Does he start building the tower without first calculating how much the tower will cost in the end? If either of these people do not evaluate the cost of their decisions, they end up defeated.

I talk about the cost of discipleship and the marks of a disciple at the same time. They go hand in hand.

A mentor is somebody who is willing to invest their LIFE into somebody in order to replicate the essence of who they are in the person listening to them.

A disciple is somebody who wants to develop some character traits that they see in somebody else and is willing to make the sacrifices required.

When I have the opportunity to mentor somebody, I look for 3 things at the minimum, 5 things if I can. I evaluate everybody who wants some of my time according to these principles, whether they want me to influence them as a husband, a father, a son, a sailor, a leader, or a medical provider… they all get put on the same matrix.

Are they FAT? Does their life spell FAITH?

Faithful, Available, and Teachable.

Do I see evidence in their lives that they maintain some sense of commitment to something outside of them? Have I seen them make sacrifices, choose to do things that they would rather not do because it was required by their commitment? Do they have the time to meet with me? Are they willing to wake up early or stay up late in order to talk with me? Are they willing to ride along with me while I run errands just so that we can spend some time talking? Will they make our time together a priority? Do they receive instruction or do they argue against anything they don’t like? Are they an “expert” on everything, constantly nodding their head and telling me they already understand, or do they listen, take notes, and attempt to assimilate what they see and hear in me?

Faithful, Available, Initiative, Teachable, and Hungry.

The F, A, and T, are the same as above. Does this person take the initiative or are they passive? Will I have to poke and prod them to get up off the couch, or are they motivated to make some changes? Are they pursuing life, charging down the river, or are they more or less existing, like a leaf floating on by? Are they hungry? Is there something deep inside them driving them for some kind of change? Are they excited to be mentored because they read a cool business book that mentioned it, or are they fueled by a desire to trim the fat from the flesh and go to war?

When I meet with somebody for the first time after they talk to me about taking an active role in their lives, I lay out a couple things.

1… This costs me, a lot! I spend a lot of time praying for, and thinking about the people I mentor. I reread chapters from books that I think might help them, I write letters and emails, I take notes about conversations I have had with them, I jot down things I observe from them, I prepare for our formal meetings… At 1 point in time, I was investing about 8 hours of my own time for every 1.5 hours I spent face to face with one of these guys… once a week! At 1 point in my life I had 3 guys who were resource heavy on me… that made for 24 hours of my own time, each week, 4.5 hours of time with them, each week… Significant cost! I paid it willingly (except for during hunting season… That was my time of the year to check out and recharge…)

2… It is going to cost them. When we get together for our formal meetings, they were to have a couple pens, a high lighter, a notebook, their Bible (or whatever source document we were using at work). They were to have whatever assignments I gave them completed. I expect that what we talk about is received and acted upon.

3… Before we met the second time, and I scheduled that for the following week, I wanted them to memorize all of Psalm 1, write 5 observations per verse, and be prepared to discuss it with me. If this was a guy I was mentoring at work, I had them memorize some leadership intensive/character development kind of quotes as well as some important piece of our literature.

After looking at the cost of Discipleship that Jesus laid out in the Bible, after showing them what it was going to cost me, what it was going to cost them (at the minimum), and after telling them what I expected them to memorize and have ready in a week, I would ask them…

Are you sure you want to make this investment?

I have had more than 1 fella tell me straight up, NOPE, and we finish our snacks, we talk about other things, we move on with life.

I have had some guys get pumped, like I was trying to nut check them before a big game, they say yes, then show up a week later without their Bible, Notebook, Pens, High Lighter, and with no verses memorized. I have smiled, greeted them, chit chatted while I drink my tea or coffee, and then, politely explain to them that they failed to pay the cost. I was not going to sacrifice my time with my family, or with other men who were hungry, to meet with somebody who is not serious… and then I walk out.

A surprisingly large number of guys have risen to that challenge… they come prepared… mostly… Usually there is a lot of stumbling through the verses, the observations are a bit thin, there may be 1 pen, and a crayon… but I see very quickly that there was effort made, a price was paid.

And then I know that it is costing them…

… I know they want to be there…

And when it costs me to be mentored by somebody…

My heart is all in…

What prices have y’all paid to be mentored/discipled? Have you ever paid the price because the person discipling you was not committed to your time together? Or vice versa, a person you were discipling was not committed?

What would you say is the cost of discipleship?

Confidence or Something Else?

If you would have asked me about my confidence a year ago today, I would have told you that, though I come across as being very confident, I am really not.  I felt as though I was lost in a cloud, flying blind, a lot of the time (and still feel this way a lot).  I would make decisions and if they went poorly, I reacted very badly.  I tended to pour anger and frustration all around me because I felt as though I was not capable, or was not ready to be in the positions in which I found myself.

Ask me now about my confidence and I will tell you with great assurance that I am no longer as confident as I used to be!  I will also tell you that it is okay.

My parents, in-laws, wife, and kids can all tell you about times that things have not turned out the way I had hoped they would because of a simple mistake or oversight on my behalf, and how I feel as though I have failed at so many things.  Having come to this school, I have been placed in some very difficult positions.  The pace is so quick, the requirements so strict, the instructors so demanding, I have been forced to start pushing the envelope which contains my sense of “everything will be okay.”

Everything will in fact NOT be okay.

I am going to fail and I am going to screw stuff up.

I have been told by past leaders that I am a leader, that the bar I set for my peers is pretty high, and that I outperform those around me.  I never saw that.  I saw that other people would get worked up a lot more about the requirements, would work harder at their tasks than me, and would spend more time getting their tasks accomplished than I would.  My perspective was that they were better equipped and more motivated to succeed than I was, that they understood what was going on better than I did, yet somehow my leadership, and those working around me, started to rely on me as the “go to guy” for things that involved me.  I was so afraid of screwing up what I was working on, that I never pulled the trigger on a project or task until I was absolutely, positively, 100% sure that the task was complete and met the standard.  By the time I executed my task, I felt absolutely confident that it was right…  but I would not act until then.  This did not breed in me a sense of confidence though, it simply created a sense of focus, speed, and intensity in me that caused me to work my tasks faster than those around me.  While they were still unsure of what to do, I had finished my work and called the shot… confidence in my ability or quickness to finish because of a lack of confidence in my environment?

I would stay at work until 3 AM working on some tasks.  Think about that!  I would do almost 2 days work at night while my peers were home asleep because I was afraid I was going to miss a deadline or turn in a job that was incomplete.  My “confidence” was purely fueled by a true lack of confidence.

I do not have the time or resources to work my current tasks until they are absolutely 100% complete.  I am having to turn things in, run reports, finish tasks when I am mostly sure they are okay.  That is a long way from 100% complete and correct.  I am turning things in that meet the standard but require some correction instead of turning in perfection.

Having worked for so long in an environment where my work was pretty close to perfect, turning in things that simply meet the requirement is really hard.

It got even worse this month.  So far I have failed 1 test (made a mighty 64 on it), and have had to redo one of my tasks 7 times before it met the standard!  Talk about a death blow to my paradigm of confidence.  In the midst of the rework, I had the privilege of writing lines like I was back in middle school in order to correct one of my deficiencies.  I am faced with a Gastrointestinal lab, Head/Ears/Eyes/Nose/Throat (HEENT) lab, Cardiovascular exam, and HEENT exam all stacked up next week.

Guess what… my world did not come to an end.  I have royally screwed up several things this month now that I am having to perform on a much higher level than I have in the past and it is okay.

I don’t feel as though I have clearly communicated what I am feeling…  let me summarize like this…

I was so afraid of failing and having other people see me how I see me that I worked really REALLY hard to make sure everything I did was absolutely spot on.

Now I am in an environment where I cannot do what I used to do.

I was super afraid that I would drop the ball and the people around me would see me for the fraud that I so often feel I am.

I dropped the ball… I dropped it many times!

The people around me, family, friends, co-workers, leaders, looked at me, gave their advice/criticism, and moved on.

I had to do a lot of work because everything is not okay.

Apparently that is life…

And I really am okay!

Confidence is a thing of irony for me now.

What others may see in me and call confidence is really just me learning how to fail, recover well, and live with the grace and mercy that has been given to me.

Everything in life is not okay, but with grace, I can be.

…  So Joey, when you ask how I am doing, and I say, “I’m doing really well” and you say, “Awesome… I would like to hear why you are doing well…”… well…  this is why.

Thanks for asking!

 

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