4 Lessons I’m Learning from the Hardest Season of My Life

If you’ve followed my blog for a bit, you know about my struggle with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and the 5 lessons I’m learning about walking with people in pain. This post is from a different angle–it’s about what pain is teaching me about life. I think the lessons here apply to anyone. I first wrote this a number of months ago for another context, and then ended up not publishing it. But it feels too significant not to share, so I’m posting it here. Let me know what you would add . . .

I curled into a fetal position, slamming my head over and over into the couch, like a drunken war vet who just wants to forget. The hot tears steamed down my face and dripped off the end of my nose, as the air turned a metaphorical blue from the swear words pouring from my lips. I coiled my hand into my mouth and bit down, trying to stifle the screams of frustration, anger, and hopelessness. Then I bit harder, so that I could taste the pain, because somehow I wanted my body to really feel the haunting emptiness and desperate loneliness I felt inside. I had never, ever, felt so alone.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Four years earlier, I had graduated from university at the top of my class. A couple of months later, I married my high-school sweetheart. Six weeks after our wedding, I started as Director of Student Ministries at a large church. I was 22, happily married, full of vision, and doing my dream job. For a couple of years, life was mostly good.

Then the depression hit. Full-scale, I’m-out-of-control, clinical depression. Uncontrollable anger. Desperate sadness. 20lbs of weight gain. Foggy thinking. Total lack of energy.

It was awful. After months of negativity and bad communication, my wife was emotionally beat up and spent. I felt exhausted at work and even more exhausted at home. Perhaps most frighteningly, in many ways, I didn’t even know my own self anymore. Where was the high-energy, straight A’s, idealistic college student of just a few years before? Where was the never-give-up, we-can-do-this, full-of-vision person that I was used to being? My wife said over and over, “I’d do anything to get the real you back.” Me too, I’d think, if only I knew how.

I tried everything to get that person back. Anti-depressants. Counseling. Rest. Light therapy. Vitamins. Exercise. But nothing seemed to help. For three years I lived life with the shadow of death in the passenger seat.

And I told almost no one. [Read more…]

6 Reasons Why I’m Not Giving Up on Church

Let’s be honest: It’s not hard to think of reasons to walk away from this thing called ‘church.’

youth ministry, student ministry, small groups, disciple-making, discipleship, Christian, teaching

(Photo by James Preston on flickr.com)

  • Church buildings across the world stand empty–they look more like monuments than movements.
  • Local churches spend more energy arguing over the color of the carpet or the style of worship than the lost neighbor next door.
  • Those who do want to reach spiritually lost people often grow discouraged as they face slow decision-making, church politics, and 101 reasons why their ideas won’t work.
  • Young people grow frustrated as older people won’t adapt and change; older people feel ignored or threatened.

It’s tempting to leave, to give up. In a world where we can worship with Phil Wickham, study the Bible with John Piper, and give to Compassion International all from the smart phone in our pocket, why go to church? And if the church isn’t going to carry out her mission–to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth–why not do Jesus’ work somewhere else?

I wonder if the apostle Paul ever felt this way. [Read more…]

Do We Tell Students the Wrong Gospel?

Maybe we don’t share the gospel because we don’t know the gospel. Or, maybe we share the gospel wrong. I don’t know–I’m a long ways from being an expert on evangelism. But here’s what I have noticed–we seem to spend a lot of time and effort trying to motivate and teach people to share the gospel. And, in the process, we assume they–and we–know the gospel. But I’m not sure we do . . .

I’ve noticed that our versions of the gospel don’t seem to match the gospel that the apostles shared in the book of Acts. We emphasize different things. We leave stuff out that they say. We say stuff that they leave out. In fact, our versions of the gospel often don’t even match the gospel that Jesus tells.

I’m sure I don’t have it completely right either–it’s a work in process. But here’s my attempt at telling the gospel in a way that more closely matches the gospel told by the church’s first messengers–the apostles. Tell me what you think!

[Read more…]

What Gospel Story Do You Tell? (Help Wanted)

Friends: This one is a bit risky, I suppose. But I really want your thoughts. I’m on assignment–someone asked me to write down the gospel, for use in a youth ministry context. I’ve shared the gospel in teaching too many times to count, but I’ve never tried to write it down. It’s a challenge! What do you include, what do you leave out? How do you keep it theologically sound, without filling it with ‘Christian’ words? And don’t forget all the important elements! But, in the process, how do you make sure it’s more than words–that it’s music, story, and poetry? That it reflects the beauty of the one who lived it? Do you feel the challenge? It’s so important to get it right!

youth ministry, student ministry, small groups, disciple-making, discipleship, Christian, teaching

(Photo by bgottsab at Creative Commons)

A couple of years ago, I did one of the more interesting Bible studies I’ve ever attempted. I went through the book of Acts and tried to analyze and understand each place that they share the gospel. How did the original apostles tell the gospel in the first years after Christ’s return to heaven? I was struck–and disturbed–by the huge differences between how they told the gospel and how we typically do. I set out to try to tell the gospel story in a way that is truer to the model of the apostles.

So, here’s my attempt. I welcome any and all feedback (although I don’t promise to agree 😉 ). What’s missing? What lags? What do you really like? What would you change? Join the discussion in the comments below . . . and thank you! Your feedback is super valuable to me on this one . . .

Tonight, I want to tell you a story. It’s a story of good news and bad news, of villains and heroes, of deep questions and haunting answers. It’s a story of pain and heartache, and of final victory. It’s a story of battle and romance, of war and love. It’s an epic story, that many have heard and few truly understand. I think it’s the greatest and most powerful story I’ve ever known. In a way, it’s your story and my story. And it’s the story of the universe. [Read more…]

5 Can’t-Miss Lessons for Walking with People in Pain

As many of you know, this has been the hardest year of my life. I’ve lost count of the number of doctor’s visits we’ve had, but it’s well over 70. The battle with depression and discouragement has been just as real. Along the way, I’ve asked you for permission to share some of the things God is teaching me. But this post isn’t only about me–it’s about someone else who has walked in tremendous physical and emotional pain, and the things we’ve all been learning as we walk this road together. This one’s a bit longer than normal, but it comes from the gut. Thanks for letting us share some of the lessons we’ve learned . . .

(Photo by vajdic at sxc.hu)

(Photo by vajdic at sxc.hu)

It’s hard to walk with someone through times of tremendous pain. And tremendous pain is what my sister has experienced for 14 years. In 1999, she suffered a severe head injury. This led to too many problems to count–chronic, high-level pain . . . extreme fatigue . . . constant nausea and dizziness . . . loads of spinal problems . . . . Then, just as she was finally recovering, nearly 10 years later, disaster struck again. While on a work assignment in Peru, a bus she was riding got in a traffic accident. Faced again with spinal problems and a head injury, her body went into a fully reactive mode, and began to attack everything. She developed off-the-charts food allergies, and then the life-changing burden of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. It was–and is–heart-breaking.

In the first years after her injury, she shared her world of pain with me by writing. I remember sitting at my desk in university, crying hot tears of anguish as I struggled to type a response. I remember walking the neighborhoods of NE Portland, yelling at God at the top of my lungs. The pain she has felt has been real and fresh. The questions we ask in those moments are raw and unfiltered. I was doing everything I could to understand what she was going through. She would say that I was one of the best at entering her pain with her. 

But I still I had no idea. 

And then it happened to me–to us. [Read more…]

What Can We Expect from God When We Meet with Him?

We often talk about what we should do when we meet with God. But what is God doing when we meet with Him? How are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit working on our behalf when we encounter them?

I had the privilege of speaking on this topic at the recent Josiah Venture Fall Conference. Feel free to take a listen, here:

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/26194721/3-FALL%202013_Catching%20fire.mp3]

(If the above audio player doesn’t work, click here to play or download the file.)

(Click here to listen to my talk on “Jesus-Style Disciple-Making”. If you’d like to listen to the whole conference, click here.)

Caution: Change Ahead

Sometimes you see things coming. And other times, things are forced upon you. Last week it was the second one.

MCS, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Youth Ministry

(Photo by Christopher Whalen at Creative Commons)

Day one of summer camp for our denomination started well. After months of focusing on MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) I was glad to be back in a familiar role: camp speaker. Also familiar was the easy banter of being with students, the constant dunking attempts of middle school boys in the water (they were about 1 for 20 against me), and the dinner-time conversations of a camp filled with high school and university students. After a day of fun in the water, we settled into an evening of singing, teaching, and games. I was looking forward to digging into Philippians chapter one with the group the next morning. It felt great to be back at camp.

And then the fog rolled in. [Read more…]

Lessons from a Snow Leopard

I stood there, frozen. His two, predator eyes were locked on me and my family. His long, thick tail twitched back and forth, and his body sank into a crouch. A chill ran down my spine as I saw his powerful front paws and his razor-sharp claws. The snow leopard watched me, his gaze unblinking. Death was embodied in that stare. 

(Photo by Peet van Schalkwyk at Creative Commons)

(Photo by Peet van Schalkwyk at Creative Commons)

Turning to Liz, I said, “Well, shall we keep going?” Caleb said, “See you tomorrow, snow leopards.” Bailey started to pull on the leash, and with that we continued our daily walk past the local zoo.

Here’s a simple question for us: Are we preparing our students for life in the real world, or life in the zoo?

Here’s what I mean. Maybe snow leopards in the zoo have all the perks. They never have to hunt for their food. They’re never in danger of predator or hunter. A veterinarian gives them regular checkups. They’re fat, clean, and well nourished. They haven’t a care in the world.

They’re also not really living.

[Read more…]

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life . . .

Questions. They rattle through our heads like a string of cans tied to a scared dog’s tail, bouncing, crashing, skipping around erratically. The more noise they make the faster our mind goes . . .

What questions do you ask?

Will I have enough money in 2013 to pay my debts from 2012? Where should I go to college? Will that business deal come through this week? Will that person ever like me? What am I going to do with this medical situation?

For me right now, its
Will Liz fully recover soon? Can I learn this language, and soon? What next steps should we take in ministry, and will they work?

(Photo by photoloni at Creative Commons)

(Photo by photoloni at Creative Commons)

Questions. I wonder what questions you and I ask. And I wonder how those questions control our stress levels, our faith level, and, ultimately, our actions. What questions do you ask? [Read more…]

Three Things I’m (Re)Learning about Patience

@#$%&! patience!

Friends–I’m posting this today because it speaks to me–we can’t get home because of a major storm. It also speaks to my whole life right now–waiting. I first wrote it a couple of years ago. I’ve updated it and posted it again here:

My three-year-old son, Caleb, is not a very patient person. If I’m making him food to eat, he’ll often cry, because he isn’t already eating the food. If we’re riding in our car and just 5 minutes from home, he’ll whine, because he wants out of his car seat now. If he’s ready to go somewhere and I’m not quite ready, he’ll fuss, because my timing doesn’t match his timing. He has no sense of perspective. It’s almost like he can’t see a big enough picture to wait for just a minute. It’s almost like his sense of time and perspective is so limited that he doesn’t recognize the absurdity of his impatience. It’s almost like waiting any amount of time is waiting too long. And yes, I’ll say it before you can: he comes by it naturally.Patience

Who’s got time for patience anyway? I don’t. I mean, let’s be honest—patience isn’t exactly a ‘hot topic’ around most people’s dinner tables. Some of us confuse patient people with boring people (they’re just ‘patient’ because they have nothing to live for), or we just think patient people lack motivation (sure, you’re patient—that’s why you never get anything done—and why I have to do it all). Patience isn’t exactly breaking news (pardon the pun). We celebrate lightning fast computers, bigger faster cell networks, faster internet providers, faster news feeds . . . the list goes on and on. When was the last time you saw an ad that was marketing patience? Do you value patience?
[Read more…]

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