Love Well

The box was white and flimsy. It was the cheap kind of box one always finds surrounding something a little more valuable and a lot more fragile.

I opened the box and saw the mug, white with shadows, nestled onto it’s cheap protective cocoon. I drew the mug out of the box and inserted my right index and grasped it firmly.

The printing on the mug formed a saying I was well acquainted with. Its color, font, and style closely matching the inked in message I bear about on my right forearm. It is a reminder to me and a suggestion to others. Love Well.

I was happy to receive the cup. My wife and I wanted these as gifts and perhaps to sell. We don’t own the rights to the saying. We didn’t even make it up. We simply adopted it as our mission statement as a family. Love Well.

The custom mug came at an odd time. Seriously odd. From time to time I have a crisis that takes place in between my ears.  This is one. No one causes it. No one can help to cure it. It simply is except most of the time when it isn’t.

Not too long ago it was thought that if you struggled with such a crisis it meant your faith was weak. Maybe God can heal cancer, maybe not, but depression and anxiety are easy stuff. If you pray and God doesnt take it away your faith walk is somehow defective, broken, or even bogus. They never would apply those same expectations on a real illness or injury.

So here I sit, knowing that hundreds of people have accepted that I am commited to love and to do it well. Usually I do. Today everything inside of me fights against that. All the people I see today will he loved. Those I see tonight will be. Mostly everyone whose path I cross will somehow be loved as much and as well as I possibly can. None of them can hear the screams inside my head of.”leave me alone!” and only the few that follow my blog will ever be aware.

Love, Jesus style love, costs something. Not like Christmas gift costs something. More like it takes a withdrawal from your emotional and intellectual savings accounts to love well. Especially during those times when you don’t want to.

I don’t know if Jesus ever didn’t wanna love. He was love. Sometimes I think I am too. Then today happens and I know I have a long way to go.

Broke Not Poor

Poverty, poor, welfare class.  I grew up that way.  I lived that way for a while until at 25 I decided that I wasn’t going to cooperate with poverty any more.  I broke free.

There was that time in ’08.  I was technically homeless.  I blamed it on my divorce, which I blamed on me.  I was unemployed. I blamed that on the recession.  It was a short time, relatively speaking, but seemed to last forever.  On the other side of that brief period of time I was no longer unemployed or homeless. I was a successful craftsman and business owner.  My family was well cared for and we even went out of town for long weekends at Great Wolf Lodge. Life was good.

I married my best friend.  I guess I am lucky that way.  She too had been through financial hard times. She told me that being poor was a state of mind, while being broke was a state of finances.  That made sense to me.  I let those words sink into my brain. I embraced all that it meant.  I can point to both in my past, poor and broke. Sometimes they  came at the same time. Other times I may have had money and been poor, or been broke and been rich.

Perhaps it is because I was forgetting where I came from.  Maybe it was the human tendency to judge others.  At some point, though I had compassion, i became aloof from those who were broke or poor.  I felt that somehow it was always their choices that led them into that state. I felt as if it was always somehow their own fault.

I left a very successful business to move to an area that was financially disadvantaged. Maybe even poor in some regards.  People thought I had lost my mind. I couldn’t tell why I was led, but I can point to several markers that indicated it was Divine leading that brought me to this place. Then it happened. I became broke. It brought me back to some realities. My financial difficulties were largely brought on by the choices of other people, and not necessarily honest ones. I had not protected myself or my family from such events. Does that mean it was my fault?

To be honest, I have placed several things in motion that will prevent me from being broke.  I thought they would activate before things got to this point, but there is a 90% likelihood that they will activate and I will stop being broke.  I see an end.  But in the middle it is hard to see the end. At least it’s that way for me. And, I may be broke, but I am rich in so many ways.  If you want to know how, read some more of my blog.

Leaving my business and moving to the mountains brought a great deal of relief. There was relief from the long work weeks, the relief from dealing with contractors that all had some problem or another preventing them from doing what they agreed to do, and relief from the stress that comes with handling large sums of money and being responsible for so many lives.

Being broke comes with stress too.  I guess I forgot that.  There is the stress of having to count the items in your grocery cart and putting things back in order to fit into your tiny budget.  There is the stress of phone call after phone call from people wanting their money.  There is the stress of letter after letter threatening legal action. There is the stress of looking at a wife who has been used to having enough to not have to count to see if there was enough.  There are the late fees that add up that if you could afford you wouldn’t have been late in the first place.  All of that stress is real.  I don’t get to go home and try to forget it in the evening like I used to.  It never leaves me or goes to sleep.It is awake every moment that I am.

My time of being broke will come to an end.  I am looking forward to it. It was and is very painful. I don’t know about you, but I  really prefer pain free.  That said, however, I am committed to never wasting a pain.  If I have to feel it I want some advantage from it, so I am letting it teach me.  I think that the lessons here are not how to never be broke, or how to protect yourself from unscrupulous dealings.  I am pretty sure the lesson is more on how I look at others who are going through it. Maybe some of them cannot see an end like I can.  What keeps them going? How can I add hope to their lives.  I think the lesson is more about who I am than what I have.

I think that going forward I am going to be more likely to pay for the groceries of the mom in front of me who is counting out her change.  I think I am going to be more patient with that guy who is yelling at people for no apparent reason, but is carrying a load on his back invisible to the human eye.  I think I am going to try to love even more, and even better, those who cannot ever return the blessing. I can probably think of a number of ways my pain is going to instruct my future.

So please don’t send money.  I am, in some odd way, grateful that I am broke.  It reminded me to be more like Jesus.  We are, after all, His hands and feet here and now. It reminded me that God is my source, even during those times when it seems like I am.  It reminds me that faith is an easy word to say, harder to live.  It reminded me of what it means to love well.

Magic Harbor

About 20 some years ago, a fellow named Skip gave me a sailboat.  Ironically I only knew him through email and I had never seen the boat.  I wanted it, he wanted to get rid of it, and we did the deal without ever even meeting.

I traveled to Seattle and boarded a ferry. I crossed the bay to an island.  I unloaded my dinghy from my pickup and rowed out to a new adventure.  The boat was sound, even quite tidy.  Someone had broken in and stole the heater, but they covered up the vent and closed the hatch before leaving.

I began to live on board that boat while making it seaworthy for the sail back to my home port.  While I was there I became aware of two distinct communities. There was the water community and the land community.  The water community consisted of about 50 people.  They lived at anchor aboard their boats and one boathouse.  I think I was the only one there with a car. Transportation was by dingy or raft and then onward using foot power. There was another name for it on the map, but those who lived on the hook knew it as Magic Harbor.

The residents of the floating community were a mishmash of various personalities and baggage.  There were those who had no income, little means, and lived off of public benevolence.  There were some who chose to work odd jobs, others who had outside income from retirement, disability, or other.  Almost all were below the poverty line.  They lived a life of self reliance. They subsisted. There was even a code of conduct, unspoken but very real, among the community.  They were freedom lovers who chose the harshness of living “on the hook” over whatever they might have experienced ashore, and they were constantly under attack from those on that shore.

Those on the shore were middle class to wealthy.  Their yachts were tied up securely in the high priced and well maintained marina. They paid high prices for their homes in this desirable island location.  They loved their sweeping view of the Seattle skyline and their quint little island village.  They looked with a great deal of scorn and sometimes outright animosity toward those who enjoyed the same view and the same little seaport but did not have to pay anything for it.

Eventually those ashore were able to make it illegal for those afloat to continue living at anchor.  That is how democracy works. Their numbers and the dollars they represented gave strength to their desire to be rid of those who lived afloat. They had some good reasons and some bad, but they had the ability to sway the course of government and completely wiped out a community and an entire way of life with the signatures of a few government officials.  That was the end of what one of the residents called, Magic Harbor.

Fast forward 20 some years.  I left the seagoing life and moved to a small mountain hamlet.  I was drawn there by many of the same desires that drew those other folk to Magic Harbor.  Among those were the affordability of housing, the lack of government intervention in day to day living, and the necessity of self reliance.  There is even a code of conduct that goes beyond simply what is legal and what is not.

While many people dream of living this lifestyle. Some actually attempt it. Many are distrustful of people who choose this way of life. They don’t believe a community can do what is right without intervention. They make rules and pass laws that make it difficult on those who live this way of life. I am sure that if they could they would drive out the little “off grid” self reliant types that enjoy the mountain scenery without the higher price tag. They introduce apex predictors, regulate mining and other resources, and generally try to impose their preferences on a freedom loving, self reliant community. They have the numbers.  They have the dollars. One day they hope to drive us out, making it the exclusive playground of the wealthy.

I have dropped anchor here.  This is my place.  I hope I never see a time when those who choose this lifestyle are displaced, run off, by those looking down from their lofty views.  I hope I can stay free.  I hope you can too.

Big Words

I was chatting via social media the other day. I wanted to succinctly express an entire paragraph of description. I came up with a doozy, intertwined missional expressions. Pretty cool, huh?That is how lingo is born.

I used to be great at lingo. I used it frequently. I even used it correctly. At least to me, it made me look knowledgeable. A veritable expert to be consulted in the event that knowledge is lacking and even when it isnt.

I served aboard a ship a long time ago, alongside a set of twins. One worked in engineering and was buff and muscular while the other worked in the ships office and was slender, softer, and not quite as ripped, but other than that the two looked alike. They both had been born and raised in Quebec. Often times when they wanted to communicate with each other they would lapse into speaking French. That’s pretty cool except they would do it in group settings as well. Since most of us only spoke English with a smattering of Spanish slang thrown in, it was pretty frustrating. It let us know we were outside the circle, unwelcome to the deeper relationship, barred by the barrier of language shared between the two. They were there, close enough to touch. But they really weren’t present. They were with is but not really with us.

Lingo is cool, except when it is not, and that is often. As a people, a group of Christ followers, we were told that the same way the Father sent Jesus was the exact same way Jesus was sending us. God sent Jesus to be with us, I mean really with us. To move into our neighborhoods. Our lives. He spoke the common language and made references to what was common in the lives of his hearers. He went to all the common places we frequented. He addressed specific people but he spoke in a way that anyone could understand. If he hadn’t then I imagine I never would have clued into the Gospel message. It would have just been like French and I wouldn’t understand. I’m just not that bright.

I know lingo. I’ve got a decent repitoir of it just in case I really need it, but I rarely do.

I am not interested in being that cool, wise old guy that a limited crowd access. I am more interested in loving, and loving well. Loving well is inclusive so I try to make my language reflect that. It doesn’t take lingo to love well and love welcomes people inside. If you listen in I hope you can understand, even feel free to jump right in. The more the merrier, especially if you haven’t a clue about what we are talking about. Hopefully we are talking about Jesus. Not a lingo heavy doctrinal discussion, but a real, gritty, human discussion of our real life collision with this amazing visitor from Heaven who came to be with, I mean really with, us, which is everyone.

Monking Around

I celebrate good. I want my life to reflect my surrender to what is good, to a Jesus style way of living.

I never write from my darkness because I dont want there to be any evidence that it exists in me after it passes. The reality is that it is. I am taking a pretty big risk here, letting my readers into this dark place. I dont mind telling you about it after the fact, when the flowers begin to sprout from the scorched earth of my soul, but during the process I keep it to myself, or at least I try to leave no physical evidence to the fact that sometimes hope and faith are in short supply.

Lies, betrayal and bold theft. Hell, there were even a couple of attempts on my life. Amazing it is that every instance came from people who i had considered friends. They received my gifts and ate meals with me and my wife and kids.

Today, and many others I suppose, I want to be a monk. I want walls separating me from them. I have more than a few phobias. My phobias were well earned. I won’t dignify them by posting my resume of trauma and i wont ask to see yours. I believe you. I hope you believe me.

There is this really dark place that looks very inviting. It is a place of cloistered solitude. Extreme vetting is to be expected of those who desire access. Few, if any, are those who qualify. It calls me in.

There are a few relationships that are redemptive. They are the only things that keep me from donning a brown monks robe and heading off the grid. I have lost a lot. I’ve thrown away even more. I know better than give in. I know I won’t like the landscape when I return from this dark space if i give in.

None of this would be an issue if there wasnt this voice screaming in my head. Perhaps it is only tinnitus, but it is loud. It calls me to love others the Jesus way. It is at odds with my desire, even my need, to withdraw. It puts me back out there where the hurt is. Kindly keep your christianized cliches to yourself. They don’t help. I don’t want any of it. This is real.

I get the cloistered monastary. It’s high thick walls are a lure. I am looking for a balance. I know deep down that balance is health, and health is good, but damn, the extreme looks so much more inviting right now.

In a letter the Apostle Paul sent to Timothy he said, “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times, for people will only love themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving, they will slander others and have no self control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God.”

That just about sums it all up, but knowing that God saw it coming does not make me feel any better about it, any of it. It might make a difference tomorrow. Stay tuned. I will likely tell you how it all works out.

I love love, as well as kindness and goodness. I cling to those and celebrate those. At least mostly I try. They more reflect my heart than the other, and the other is breaking mine. Can’t even imagine what it does to God’s.

Endings

After years of talking about it we finally did it. I had done it years earlier and tried to unsuccessfuly replicate it. That is, co-living in community. Intentionaly letting someone live with you for a common purpose. Our purpose? To love well.

It was working well. Messiah said that people would know we were his disciples by the way we loved each other. It was a work in progress but it was progressing. Our co follower along this journey was changing and growing more into the kind of Jesus person he always wanted to be, and so were we.

The reward for co-living was a life of facing down difficult things together and committing to change for the better. It was making no plan B other than adding to our community, growing the love and letting it spread beyond.

The dream is still alive, but our friend, housemate, and fellow Christ follower is not. He passed away a month ago.

I was mentally prepared for most every difficulty that could confront and possibly derail our attempts to live our Jesus walk in a community in full view. I was not prepared for this one.

Not sure what happens next. His room is empty. His place at the table is too. It doesn’t feel like they are ready to be empty but neither am i ready or even willing to fill them with someone less committed to community than their former occupant.

I only have a few blog readers. Perhaps that makes me lazy, I don’t know. I know a post is supposed to end with a lesson or at least some sort of closure. I have no ending. I cannot tie this up in a little bow and set it on display. Had I waited a bit longer i probably could, and while it would still be real, it wouldn’t be raw.

How Beauty Feels

Beauty is subjective. One likes the mountain while another likes the desert, and even another preferes the sea. One may like them thin the other thick, while another likes something in between. Perhaps it subjectivity is linked inexplicably with socialization. Perhapes it is God given, like so many other parts of ourselves, neither defective or prefered, it simply is what it is.

Beauty is rare. But then, maybe it is not. When He created, God thought everything quite dandy. In fact, He said it was good. Beautiful, in fact? What happens to us when beauty becomes common? Does it become less desireable over time? Maybe I am thinking that the beauty that surrounds us all raises the bar increasing the standard.

Beauty is learned. One way it is learned is by practiced cooperation. Artist, engineers, and archetects make it their life work to discover, replicate and create man made works of beauty. Craftsmen lay their hands with great care and love upon wood and stone and steel to transform raw material into a different kind of beauty and function.

Finally, beauty is felt. There is no beauty apart from feeling and i think that feeling is the function of soul. You can feel beauty physically. I am prone to take beauty through the eyes, though it is not restricted to a single sense. I cast my gaze across an object and it swells in size, its very presence in my field of vision making any other presence an unwelcome intruder. It begins in the back, somewhere near the back of the eye, warmimg as it moves forward. This feeling spreads over my face, often forcing a smile. It moves downward into my chest, spreadjng its warmth into the depth of my belly and tjngling its way into my extremities.

Beauty is God’s gift, i am convinced that the ability to perceive and experience, to vecome one with in some etherial sense, came to us when the Creator breathed His own breath into the nostrils of the created, and they became a living soul.

Through the years i have grown cold to beauty, As of late my heart has begun to thaw. I want to honor God and the gidt of beauty he gave by surrendering to it wherever i find it, to cooperate with it in such a way that respects the beauty and honors the Law of God. I committ myself to seeking the beautuful, pulling back the ice curtains hung around my heart. I commit to see, really see, and preserve for ithers as well.

Floyd

I never set out to be Floyd. For that matter, I never set out, nor did I ever intend, to live in Mayberry. Well, I am not Floyd. I am Kevin. This isn’t Mayberry, it’s Republic. This is not the 1950’s, heck, we are in a complete other millennia, far removed from Andy Griffith’s little town in the deep south, at least, but not really. We aren’t them, we are us, but deep down everyone here who is familiar with the story knows, we really are them.

I am the town barber. I wasn’t always the town barber. I was actually one of many barbers in a couple of different cities with fierce competition all around. Now I man a shop with two chairs, one barber. The second chair is for me to take a nap in should that need ever arise. There isn’t any real competition. There are a couple of beauty shops in town. They are awesome. There are even a couple of dog groomers. But for right now, I’m the only barber.

I love walking down the main street in town. It’s only a few blocks long, at least the town part. I feel like I’ve been transported back to 1955. I wasn’t around in ’55 but it is what imagine it was like. Way different from what I was living. People you don’t know, or don’t even know if you know, wave at you from across the street or from their cars. People remember your name, your story, and the last time you talked. The kids are polite. Heck, there doesnt even seem to be any stray dogs sauntering through the shadows. People shovel their sidewalks, mostly, and often times shovel yours just to be neighborly.

The town has a herd of mule deer. They don’t actually belong to the town, but they are convinced they belong in it. It is against the law to feed them, but they seem to find enough forage in yards and around local businesses to keep them interested. They move about town freely, crossing the main street, always using the crosswalk. Seriously!

Did I mention we only have 2 police officers? No Barney here. They both are very well trained and professional, and though I never asked u am sure they both have all their bullets and they are where they belong. Oh, and there is Karma, the police dog. Oh yeah, there are plenty of puns about Karma catching up with you.

To be sure, there are some curmudgeons and the local gossips meet almost daily to discuss and solve everyone’s problems over acuppa. There are grumpy folk, recluses and there are those who keep anonymous in order keep their freedom. They aren’t apparent. They are there. Like in Mayberry, the make the occasional appearance then fade back into the background to be replaced by the wholesomeness of a community that love and respect over discord and disharmony.

I know full well that I am the new guy. I do not have a staring roll. I am not Andy, Barney or Opie. Shoot, I ain’t even Aunt Bea. I am the barber, a bit actor that adds a hint of seasoning to the main dish that is our town. I only have a small part, but I have a part!

The folk here welcome you to make it your town. They don’t much like it when folk try to make it like their town. You know, the one they came from. Why would anyone e want to? Welcome back in time. Welcome to our town. Welcome to my town

Thin Places

Thin places are amazing places.  Like an early morning mist, they are elusive and often change location in a moment.  They are well camouflaged, so much so in fact that most people run right past them never even knowing they are there.  Worse still, they often run right through the middle of them, busy, hurried, and oblivious. Like rushing across so much gold in the sand beneath our feet. Such loss.

Thin places, in Celtic lore, are those places where exists only a thin separation between heaven and earth.  A place where we can be in the earthly realm and in heaven all at the same time.  A thin place is where the holiness of the Eternal can be seen, felt, and experienced on this side of the veil that separates mortal from immortal.

Some thin places seem to stay in the same place. They don’t always move around, though it seems that mostly they do.  I have experienced a thin place, close in perception of the Presence of God while standing on familiar ground.  I know I am in a thin place every time at Dinosaur National Monument.  Each time I go I feel heaven so close. Strange, so many of the scientists who study ancient species believe their findings separate man from God.  When I am there I feel even closer.  God. Creator. Savior.  He first thought about dinosaurs and they did not fall apart from His knowledge. He thinks about me too.  Nothing that happens to me is apart from him.  Such care.  I sense creation in the presence of the ancient.

There is a thin place in the mountains where I live.  Often times I find it hovering over the town. Even more I find it hovering over our home just outside of town.  When I cannot find it there I can usually find it in the lonesome trails that are minutes from my front door. It is strong when I am alone.  Stronger still when I share it with others, but that kind is even more rare.  Finding two humans in the same heart at the same moment doesn’t happen often..

Thin places are healing, warm, and restorative places to be.  You can only experience them by first finding them.  You can stumble across them accidental, but will notice only once your senses are tuned to find them.  Loving God and loving folks is the best antennae for tuning into the presence of a thin place.  It makes them stand out more. They are more common than you think.  You just have to look for them, feel for them, and long for them. The best way to increase your odds of finding thin places it to linger longer than necessary once you have found one.  Get to know it.  Get accustomed to it.  Allow your pallet to be changed to long for its taste.  Perceive it, sense it, explore it.

Thin places are miraculous.  The downside is that when miracle becomes the rule then law becomes the exception.  That is why we cannot stay in a thin place, or if we do the thin place seems to move on away from us.  Thin places are special places.  They are places where we love to be.  I think that God loves to meet us there.  A lot like He did with Adam in Eden.

Thin places can go away in an instance.  A clumsy disregard for what is holy, an attempt to explain or somehow invite yourself to partner with it, and poof, there it goes.  Jesus invited three of his disciples to join him in a thin place.  Moses and Elijah came down to meet them.  Peter opened his mouth.  First mistake in a thin place.  Don’t pollute the air with what you have to say.  He tried to get involved, adding man efforts to a God event.  Second mistake.  Then it was over. Vanished and gone.  I wonder how long it could have lasted if he had just been.  I wonder if Jesus was disappointed.

You cannot make a thin place.  It simply is.  It is there.  It is just beyond the common.  It is waiting for you to take the time and to dream the dream of finding and letting it wash over you like a shower.  A baptism of closeness to the One who created  you, me, and the thin places too.