Saturday, December 29, 2012

My ONE WORD for 2013 Is…

Back in 2006, I was part of a small team of people that participated in an all-day “team-building exercise” at our then Manager’s house.

Like any good team-building exercise, we had a pre-meeting homework assignment. She asked us to come prepared to share our “one-word equity”—the ONE word that best described us, and why.

I’ll never forget obsessing about my one word before I finally landed quite happily on the word STEADY.

I nervously tested it on Joy—who knows me far better than anyone else. She overwhelmingly affirmed that I had made the right choice.

Even when I shared it with the team at our meeting that day, the whole room lit up with smiles and affirming head nods. There was no doubt that I had nailed it. And if you know me that well, you’re probably smiling and nodding right now, too.

Steady is SO ME.

And I’ve always been steady. When I was a kid, my mom would get frustrated (with good reason) because whether we were early or late, I would always put my shoes on at the same speed. In high school soccer, the coach kept me on defense because I had a fantastic foot, but I was a terrible sprinter. I just don’t have a category for high velocity. Some even jokingly called me One-Speed Scotty.

You’re already starting to see that being so steady definitely has its downsides.

At face value, steadiness is a sought-after trait by those with high highs and low lows. They wish they were more like me. I’m a picture of endurance and stability in a relationship, a long project or a difficult trial.

But like any word that so deeply defines a person, steadiness can have serious drawbacks.

I have a lot of dreams that I defer for the sake of being steady. I have a lot of big ideas I bury in my quest to be steady. Most of the time, I walk around feeling like I could be doing a lot more with the ideas in my head, and the skills in my hands. And I’m generally OK with that.

I don’t have a raging fire in my belly. I have a pilot light that will never go out, and I keep the kindling just out of reach.

Yesterday while I was in bed fighting a cold, I watched a documentary about a team of remarkable skateboarders called the Bones Brigade, who revolutionized and reinvented the sport back in the 80s. I was an avid skateboarder during that time, and idolized these guys, most of whom were only tweens at the time.

The documentary told the story of their epic journey to iconic skateboarding superstardom. By being together, they pushed each other to do tricks that had never been done before, or ever thought possible. As soon as one would do the impossible trick, the rest of the team would learn it, and do it.

I can only describe their rise as being defined by a persistent inner hunger to reinvent what was possible. One of the skaters, an amazing freestyler named Rodney Mullen, said in an interview,

“What makes us all do what we do at a high level is an inspiration that comes from so deep. It’s like a controlled desperation. And if you can’t tap into that, then it extinguishes. And you can’t find it up here [in your head]. It’s way down here [in your heart].”

Although it fascinates me, I have a very difficult time mustering up the desperation to do something.

Being steady and being desperate don’t really go together. Steadiness is like a rock. It’s enduring, but passive. It isn’t inventive. It isn’t desperate, or driven. It isn’t HUNGRY.

So for 2013, I want to challenge my heart to carve out a category for HUNGRY. Hungry to follow up on ideas I’ve been ignoring. Hungry to finish projects that have gone untouched for far too long. Hungry to go after opportunities without dwelling on everything that could go wrong. Hungry to grow in my faith. Hungry to take a calculated risk here and there, and see what happens.

It may take me a few weeks, but I’ll steadily get there.

How about you? Have you chosen a word for the year? What is it, and how do you hope to live differently in 2013?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp

All of us dream of going on some kind of big, hairy, audacious adventure at some point in our lives. It could be anything from a foreign adoption, to a new business venture, to a cross-country drive in a convertible.

On many days when I merge onto Interstate 75 in our city, I’m struck by the fact that this road I’m on connects Canada to Key West. I wonder about all the stories and secrets it holds. I’m allured by the adventure of passing my exit up, and driving another thousand miles, purely for the adventure.

God has wired us to be restless, in varying degrees. It’s what moves us to build better things. To ask questions. To see more than meets the eye. To create movements and lead change. It’s part of being made in His image. It’s a good thing.

Sadly, this is perhaps the good, God-given impulse we suppress the most as an affluent Western society. We are risk-averse to a fault, trusting our safety and security more than we trust our Savior.

Shawn and Maile Smucker have co-authored a great new book called How To Use A Runaway Truck Ramp that reminds me of how often I treasure safety and security more than my Savior in everyday life.

The book is a true story that took place earlier this year. It’s a very tangible telling of the raw emotions, second guesses, nagging fears and mountaintop moments (literally) they experienced with their four young kids on a 4-month, 10,000-mile road trip around the United States. And they did it in a borrowed 40-foot tour bus formerly used by Willie Nelson (which I think is so incredibly cool!).

With wisdom, humor and grace, they helped me to see the character-building value of adventure, in a society where adventure is suppressed more often than not.

At places, my heart raced as I careened with them over narrow mountain passes, pumping the failing brakes on their old bus. At other places, I could taste Shawn’s fear of a father stranded with his family, leaning up against the side of the bus, not sure what to do next.

But in every situation, he and Maile helped me see that the adventure was well worth it, despite the difficulties. No. Because of the difficulties.

You’ll be challenged by Shawn and Maile’s story. As you live the adventure with them, they’ll show you that stepping out of your comfort zone is not easy, but it’s eye-opening. It’s not rational, but it’s rewarding. It’s not logical, but it’s life-changing. And that there’s so much to gain from choosing the harder, somewhat crazy road sometimes—even if the brakes are a bit spongy.

Thanks, Shawn and Maile, for letting me tag along on your grand adventure.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Balancing #Sandy and Sovereignty

'Hurricane Sandy, Oct.28-29, 2012 at the Outer Banks, NC.  Mostly Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills' photo (c) 2012, dedhed1950 - license:
As I write this, a super storm is pounding the coast of New England. In fact, its eye is making landfall over Manhattan this moment, and the storm itself has already broken more meteorological records than I can count.

I’m sitting 600 miles from its center, and the windy darkness is howling violently around our doors and windows. I can only imagine what it must be like on the coast. I’m thankful to be here, but I tremble for the families who are affected.

As anxious east coast residents stay miles from home with loved ones and wait out the next 24 hours, the minutes will seem like days. Their property and possessions will be laid bare to the fury of a thousand-pound gorilla of a storm with a wimpy name—Sandy. And there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

If we believe in God, storms like Sandy naturally make us think about God’s sovereignty—the doctrine that God is meticulously ordering every circumstance. The doctrine that natural disasters, diseases, calamities and catastrophic events are all under God’s close, watchful eye.

For years, I have stroked my goatee, smiled smugly and affirmed this doctrine. My God is big. He is Creator, and is over all things. He is in control. He is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. He simply can’t NOT know all about it, or be in control of it. Nothing happens off His watch. Period.

I believe it's true. But a lot of hard things happen in life. And calamities come in a steady stream around the world, all begging for answers that aren't easy.

Lately, I’ve wondered if the doctrine of God's sovereignty has been a convenient way for me to personally avoid the real, raw emotion of watching calamity unfold—a way to suppress the emotion of the loss in its devastating wake. I’ve been second guessing if it’s human—or helpful—to hover just above the groans in the safety of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

I believe in the sovereignty of God. But I believe it can turn my heart to ice if I'm not careful. I’m starting to see that the Bible models a different application of it than I’ve had in the past.

Joseph believed in the sovereignty of God. But he didn’t let it diminish his love for his brothers, even when they betrayed him. He didn’t write them off as a lost cause, as I probably would have.

David believed in the sovereignty of God. But it didn’t numb him from seeing his sin for what it was, being broken over his divided heart, and worshiping God with words that have moved millions after him.

Paul believed in the sovereignty of God. But it didn’t numb him to the sting of Israel’s rejection of Christ. His deep anguish over his lost kinsman was a kind of kindling that helped fuel his heart for missions. He was not OK with their rejection.

But most of all, as the sovereign God Himself, Jesus wasn't even numb to the realities around him. He wept when he learned his friend Lazarus had died. He cried out a wailing lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Things got to Jesus that so often don’t get to me, because I believe God is sovereign. What’s wrong with this picture?

Like Joseph and David and Paul and many more, I remain solidly committed to God’s sovereignty. But now, when calamities like Sandy come, I’m choosing sensitivity over smugness. Tears over terse answers. Awe over arrogance. I want to be more merciful, and less matter-of-fact. I'm learning when to speak, and when to just shut up—sticking to what is fitting for the occasion.

I want to embrace God's sovereignty, but still cry like a baby. Still be human.

God, in our knowledge, may we not become puffed up, cold and stoic in the face of calamity. Teach us to be still, and know that You are God.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Political Post: Are We Following the Wrong Story?

'Election 2012' photo (c) 2012, League of Women Voters of California LWVC - license:
While the nation holds its breath for the outcome of November 6, a mother in a run-down trailer park breathes out a bedtime prayer with her child, who will one day plant churches in China.

While the nation is frozen, paralyzed in its preoccupation over who will occupy the White House, a family spends a Saturday serving warm soup to the homeless.

While America spars dividedly over which party's brand of change is better, a boy pours out his piggy bank to count the coins he’s collected for his favorite charity.

While bitter political arguments pervade the social networks, a sweet 77-year-old sings hymns to her dying husband in the night.

While political prophecies of hope or despair dominate the headlines, a pastor stands up on a Wednesday night—telling five faithful families one more time about a carpenter who came to earth as Prophet, Priest and King.

* * * * *

If you want a front row seat to witness what God is doing in the world, put down the newspaper. Close the lid on your laptop. The most remarkable things are happening in the private moments in your community, in the most unremarkable places.

Look where the surroundings are modest, the people are unattractive, and the finances stretched. Look for hope where life would seem to be most hopeless to the naked eye. Look where the road is hard, with no prospects for better days—regardless of who’s in the Oval Office.

How can I say this?

'Field of Boaz' photo (c) 2011, - license:, there was another time when a nation groaned under corrupt judges, longing for a better leader. 

It was the story everyone was following. But it wasn’t the Story they should have been following.

While that entire nation was coming unraveled and crying out to God, God was knitting together a kingly line in the most unlikely place.

A bereaved widow named Ruth, gleaning the crumbs from a barley field in Bethlehem—whose faithful life had taken so many bitter turns—would meet a faithful man who would become her kinsman redeemer. Together, they would beget Obed, the grandfather of David, bridging the unbroken bloodline to Christ Himself.

It was unremarkable, and marked by tragedy. It was dusty and gritty. It didn’t make the headlines. But it changed the course of history. 

The message of the story of Ruth whispers to me, You're following the wrong story. Look down at the sheaves, the things right under your nose. Your wife. Your kids. Your small group. Your church. Your community. There are more remarkable things unfolding there than you think. Be faithful in your field, and don't be distracted. God is working in you there, more than you know. November 6 will do nothing to change that.