Every morning the sun comes up.
Some mornings we can’t see it. The clouds cover the sky from horizon to horizon, and we have to trust that it’s true. We learn the alternative signs that the sun is there: it’s lighter outside, it’s 8:00am, the birds have become noisy.
It’s morning, and every morning, we get to choose.
I know what I want to choose.
I want to live a life full of extraordinary. I want to live a story worth telling.
I hope you do, too.
But the truth is, many will read that and think that they can’t live a life like that.
You know who you are. I can hear you thinking.
You are convinced your past has disqualified you. And that you don’t have any special gifts or talents. And you’re not handsome enough, or pretty enough. And you’re afraid of the risk involved in stepping outside the bounds of ordinary. And you have all these obstacles in your life, and they leave you for no time for anything other than survival.
No…you are quite sure that extraordinary lives are for extraordinary people with extraordinary circumstances, and you’re just ordinary.
I have a news flash for you: ordinary is a choice.
Maybe the problem is that we’ve let the media define “extraordinary” for us. We take our cues from carefully edited stories of carefully photoshopped people. We confuse sound bytes with real conversation. We expect good stories to have a soundtrack available on iTunes.
The reality is that extraordinary people often come in disguise. They are life ninjas to the core, sworn enemies of hopelessness and defeat, but they look like the cashier at the grocery store, the man running the weed whacker by the road, the woman pushing the stroller on the bike path, the kid with the hair on the skateboard. They love. They give. They refuse to be defined by the expectations of those who worship safety and control.
They dare to be who God made them to be, and they will not be deterred.
The world will always have loads of people smarter than I am. And you don’t have to look far to find someone better looking. Or funnier. Or more talented. Or with a thinner body. Or with a fatter bank account. So it would be pretty dumb to base any sort of value on those things, really. I’m always beatable.
So are you.
But it’s no accident that we are here on this ball of dirt right now. We only get a brief moment, a limited number of trips around the sun, and it’s over. We don’t have time to cower in fear of what we might lose if we truly live out loud.
That’s a sure way to miss every glorious opportunity, every sacred assignment gifted to us.
So today, I hope you dare. I hope you dare to fully believe that who you are is enough, and that the world needs you in all your you-ness. I hope you believe that God isn’t waiting for you to do something worthy of His notice, because He’s never once taken His eyes off of you. He’s got some great ideas of things you would love, if you’d just let go and let Him write you into the story however He wants.
And trust me…He writes the best stories.
It seems madness has taken over a world that is burning to the ground.
Israel and Hamas firing rockets at one another.
Riots in St.Louis.
Minorities, including Christians, in Iraq in grave danger as IS forces systematically and brutally execute those who don’t flee fast enough.
The incredibly talented Robin Williams dead at age 63 from an apparent suicide after a bout of deep depression.
What a fractured, broken world we live in. What fractured, broken people we are.
I have nothing to say about any of it. My opinions are neither here nor there. The world reverberates with grief and fear, and I have no desire to add to the noise.
All I know is Jesus. He came to live in this mess, He died to atone for it, He rose again to crush the power of its death grip on us.
Jesus in plan A, and there is no plan B.
I am generally a pretty practical person. This can work against me in the creativity department. But in general, it means I prefer to work smarter, not harder, and I don’t care to spend a lot of extended time fussing about things that are sentimental or emotional in nature. Change happens, so it’s best to just flex with it and learn how to develop a new normal quickly.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was feeling a bit sad. I feel sad because I’m missing the Voice of the Apostles conference in Orlando this year.
The practical side of me says “listen, you’ve got Brazil looming ahead. It’s not like you don’t have something awesome to look forward to.” And “it is what it is. You’re best to just move on.” And “you knew from the git-go that there was an excellent chance this wouldn’t fly. It’s not like you’re surprised.”
These things are true.
But I remember that atmosphere last year.
I remember showing up to a breakout session with Jamie Galloway, and within five minutes I knew I would be rearranging the rest of my week to attend anything he was teaching.
I remember my foot and knee screeching in pain but I didn’t care, I wouldn’t stop dancing because Georgian Banov was getting happy with his violin, and when Georgian gets happy with his violin, you just have to dance.
I remember the sweet comfort of knowing beyond any doubt that it was impossible to be the weirdest or most intense person at the conference.
I remember the boost in focus and creativity I had just from being in that place with those people.
I remember the joy of the deep freedom in worship there. When you’re in a room with a few thousand other people whose hearts are free in their worship, it shifts something in the atmosphere. Unified freedom in the presence of God is heady stuff.
I remember feeling like I was home.
That’s a pretty glorious feeling.
When I cancelled my hotel reservation two weeks ago I listed all the reasons to myself why it was better that it worked out this way. Like…it’s a lot of expense right before heading to Brazil, after all. And we’re shorthanded at the store…my coworkers would be glad to have me on the schedule. And if I skip a year, maybe I could go next year and I’d probably appreciate it more because I missed this year.
I think I was stretching on that last one.
I really am ok that I am not there. Nobody ever died from feeling a little sad. And I am trusting that God has something better for me here, something that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been there.
I wonder what it is?
Today I gathered up all the important documents I’d been compiling, shoved them into a Fed Ex envelope, and waved goodbye to them as they began their speedy journey to the processing center in Chicago.
Brazilian visa application submitted, check.
As far as I could tell, I only had one more thing left to do: fill out a checklist for Global Awakening and send it to them. According to the paperwork I could mail it, email it, or fax it.
I don’t have a fax machine. It was easy to rule out that option.
Email is dandy. It’s there almost instantly. But…it means scanning the document and then figuring out where it is living on my computer. I don’t know how to work the scanner. And Google Maps can’t help me find my way around the neighborhoods on this Macbook. I usually get Mr. Sparky to help with these things, but tonight is opening night for the play he’s in, and I hate asking for his time during the few minutes he has home.
So…mail it is. I can work an envelope and a stamp with the best of them. I even have my own address labels, which always make me feel like kind of a big deal.
Listen, you really need to just let me go with it. I need to feel like kind of a big deal for a few minutes, because I’m still licking my wounds that I don’t know how to work the scanner and have once again been beaten by simple technology. Not that it’s much of a challenge for technology to beat me. It’s just not intuitive to me.
And so I filled out the checklist and dropped it in the mailbox, and it will likely be in Mechanicsburg, PA by Tuesday.
This is really happening. I may look calm on the outside, but inside I am squealing hysterically.
Now I have the next six and a half weeks to learn more Portuguese, acquire things I need for this trip, and plan my packing.
That last part is more important than it usually is. I can usually just figure that I can go to Walmart for anything I forget. But they don’t have Walmart in Brazil, and even if they did I wouldn’t have the Portuguese skills to find what I was looking for. So I need to plan it out and get it right on this end.
You know what this means: I’m gonna be a list-makin’ fool.
Am I the only person who does things that aren’t on the list and then goes back and adds them to the list just so I can have the accomplished feeling of crossing them off?
Yeah…I didn’t think so.
I love me some poppycorn.
I’m not talking about that plastic-coated stuff in a bag that you put in the nuker. Nasty.
Real poppycorn. Hot, crisp, salty. Maybe a bit of white cheddar powder. Tastes like corn, not weird chemicals.
Lucky duck that I am, I am married to a most excellent popcorn maker. Mr. Sparky pops a mean bowl of popcorn, which is not the same as a bowl of mean popcorn, thank goodness.
Nobody likes to reach for a few kernels and pull back a bloody stump. Just sayin’.
As much as I love a bowl of fresh hot popcorn, it remains one of those foods I can’t seem to eat neatly. It’s as if gravity forms a extra strong force field around me, and somewhere between the bowl and my mouth it hijacks my plan to shove several kernels into my eager mouth. Those kernels go flying and end up in my lap. Or on the floor. Or in the dog’s mouth.
I will eat the ones I can rescue from my lap. The floor…eh…kinda iffy to eat stuff off of that, what with pets and my personal stance on not over-vacuuming the carpets. But Jake the Jerk-Faced Dog gets to keep anything he finds.
It’s actually almost ridiculous. It doesn’t matter how many kernels are in my hand. Some of them are going to end up somewhere other than my mouth. I don’t know how it is I keep dropping them, but I do. Every. single. time.
When something brings you joy, it doesn’t really matter how good at it you are. You do it for the pleasure of doing it. You may not become famous for it, and you might not save the world doing it, and maybe nobody cares except you. But if it makes your heart dance, it’s worth nurturing.
This is what keeps karaoke bars alive all over the world.
You were made to find joy in things large and small. Some of them you’ll be really good at. Some of them will remind you not to quit your day job. And that’s ok. God never intended for you to do everything well, but He did intend for you to do everything with great joy.
Even if it’s just eating a bowl of poppycorn.
I’m actually a really good popcorn eater. My technique is rather sloppy, but I what I lose in form I more than make up for in function and enthusiasm.
Just ask Jake the Jerk-Faced Dog. He loves to watch me eat poppycorn.
Nobody likes to feel bad.
It really stinks to feel bored. Or depressed. Or angry or sad or scared or anxious or lonely.
We go to great lengths to avoid feeling any of those things. That is how addictions begin and are perpetuated. We’ll engage in all sorts of destructive behavior if it will give us a few minutes worth of good feelings, even if those good feelings are followed by an avalanche of guilt and shame. And the pharmaceutical companies are making a fortune off of medications that are supposed to balance our brain chemicals so that we don’t feel bad feelings.
In a world full of bad news, we desperately want to feel happy.
I’ve heard it said that happiness is an inside job. It’s true; no amount of stuff, money, or excitement can bring us good feelings that last. But I propose that happiness is rooted in something that is deeper than feeling good.
Happiness is the fruit of joy.
Happiness and joy aren’t the same thing. Joy is deeper and far less fragile. It can bear up under pain and discomfort, and it doesn’t flee during moments of emotional distress.
And here’s a cool thing to know: God is joyful.
Maybe you thought He was mad at you, or busy wringing His hands over the bad things happening in the world. But no. Scripture says that the joy of the Lord is our strength. If it’s our strength, then surely He doesn’t experience any lack of it Himself.
The more we embrace His joy, the more likely we are to slip into full-blown happiness.
I’ve noticed some things about really happy people.
They are grateful. They look for things to be grateful for.
They don’t feed their hearts or minds with things that insinuate that God is anything other than good.
They refuse to be concerned about things over which they have no control.
They limit the influence of joy-suckers, even when they can’t limit the presence of the same.
They actively choose joy even when it seems like a ridiculous option.
When I’m struggling to grasp happiness, or even joy, it’s a clear signal to me that I need to take specific action. Joy won’t magically return to me. I am responsible to create an internal environment that is conducive and welcoming to it.
It’s the internal environment that protects joy when the outward circumstances of life become difficult or painful.
I don’t know who said it originally, but many times I’ve heard the claim that God is more concerned with your character than your happiness. I think that’s a rotten thing to say, because it implies that God doesn’t care if you’re unhappy.
The truth is that He cares a great deal. So much so that He’ll let our character issues topple our ability to receive and maintain happiness so we’ll deal with them and once again become a hospitable container for joy. His joy.
I’m not always so good at this joy business yet. Some days I am cranky and easily frustrated and tired, and all I want is my blankie and a nap, and maybe some ice cream. Like today.
But I expect a full recovery tomorrow.
gaze fixed on the target.
Eyes burning with intensity,
unflinching in focus
relentless in pursuit
following every movement.
Lips drawn back with
tongue locked and loaded,
Waiting for the command to fire,
for the release of
through an explosive whisper.
Maybe this will be the first domino,
maybe there will be a tidal wave
or an avalanche
And we will be
over our heads
and we’ll forget to care.