Author - Sameer

My Cape

childlike cape faith
Rachel made me a cape!  A full-sized, heavy, satiny, superhero cape!  I am totally shocked and bowled over by how freaking awesome it is!  This is the best gift I have ever received in my entire life!

I’ve honestly always wanted a cape, ever since I saw the original Superman with Christopher Reeve.  We both had black hair, and wore glasses, and were a bit nerdy.  Clark Kent obviously had a unique gift and calling on his life, and in my innocence I wondered if maybe I did too.  I remember using a safety pin to hold together the short end corners of the biggest bath towel I could find to wear around my neck.  And then I would run through the house with my cape fluttering behind me, and jump off couches and beds and chairs and anything else I could find.  In my mind, being a superhero involved a lot of jumping, perhaps as practice to leap tall buildings in a single bound.   

My cape made me feel strong, powerful, courageous, and noble.  It made me feel like I was more than meets the eye, that I had a secret and special quality about me that no one else had.

My cape made me feel strong, powerful, courageous, and noble.  It made me feel like I was more than meets the eye, that I had a secret and special quality about me that no one else had.  And that it would help me to be the best version of myself, to battle evil and save lives and just naturally do great and awesome things to make the lives of others better and safer and happier.  I think everyone wants this, and not just while growing up.  We want to have something extraordinary about us to share, something that we can unveil to the world to fulfill a grand purpose.

I haven’t worn a towel like a cape since before adolescence.  But I have always delighted in what it signifies.  And since I’ve known Rachel, I’ve joked offhandedly about how I would love a cape because it represents what I am all about.  Childlike faith.  Truth and justice for all.  Awe and wonder.  Intrepid valor.  Romance.  Living from one’s heart above all else, for the greater good. 

childlike faith castle

She surprised me with it for our second wedding anniversary when she came to visit me in Ireland this summer.  I got out of the shower, and there it was laying on the bed for me.  I was completely dumbfounded and speechless when I first saw it, and didn’t know what it was, but then it hit me. 

I was like, “You got me a cape?  You got me a cape?!!  You got me a CAPE!!!!” And she was like, “I made you a cape!”  Even remembering the moment as I write this out makes me marvel anew at her act of love towards me. 

You have to see it in person.  I’ll even let you try it on if you want.  I didn’t want a cape with the Superman logo, something you could buy in a costume shop.  I wanted my very own, something that no one else had.  And no one else has this cape in the entire world!  I love that it’s red, with a gold stallion as the insignia (its meaning is personal).  I love that the inside of it is black.  I love that it has weight and class to it, as the material is just exquisite and really makes me think that all of the best capes out there – Superman’s, Batman’s, Dracula’s – were made just like this one.  And when I wear it, I don’t feel derpy or ridiculous.  Instead, I feel joy – simply and purely.

I want to remain curious, and wide-eyed, and risk-taking – and expect that things will work out in the end.  I want to feel mysterious, and dashing, and capable of tremendous feats.

While we were vacationing around Ireland, my favorite thing to do was to find the ruins of a castle, put on my cape, and go climbing around on it.  You might think that it took me back to being a kid again, but in my mind it was a wonderful reminder that I haven’t stopped being a kid – at least in the most desirable ways.  I want to remain curious, and wide-eyed, and risk-taking – and expect that things will work out in the end.  I want to feel mysterious, and dashing, and capable of tremendous feats.  This is how I always want to see myself, how always I want to be.

As I think about it, my cape is important to me for two major reasons. 

First, it represents a rite of passage.  In adolescence, we have bar and bat mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition, confirmation in the Catholic faith, Quinceanera in Spanish cultures, Seijin Shiki in Japanese customs.  Many times, some symbol or token is given to formally mark the transition from child to adult, and their calling forth into greater responsibility, maturity, and strength.  I’ve heard of examples where the token was a replica broad sword from Lord of the Rings, or a necklace of great significance and meaning. 

superhero cape faith

It may seem like an unnecessary formality, but it is a very special thing to commemorate a major life change in a tangible way that conveys encouragement, support, and nobility.  It also then serves as a clear, unquestionable marker and signpost to remind a person from where he has come, and where he is going.  I find that individuals need to know when a transition has happened, or else they flounder and flail while seemingly suspended between two stages. And they never really make the “jump” – leaving the past in the past and fully embracing the present and future. 

My cape encourages me to stiff-arm complacency, press through fear, and fight the good fight just like Superman or Batman or any other caped crusader would.

I’m about to be a father for the first time.  This is a humongous deal.  My cape serves as a token of remembrance that spurs me on to be a hero to my forthcoming child, and to my wife.  It also reminds me to view the world as my playground, where anything can happen and everything is possible (I still believe that).  It encourages me to stiff-arm complacency, press through fear, and fight the good fight just like Superman or Batman or any other caped crusader would.  It helps me to rise up, and be the best I can be.

Second, in 2 Kings there is a great story of when the older prophet Elijah passes on his mantle (or robe, or cloak) to his younger sidekick Elisha.  A mantle is very similar to a cape, and represented a covering from God that conferred authority and responsibility to one chosen to do great things.  When I see my cape – and honestly even when I think about it – it serves a tremendous purpose.  I am reminded that He has set me apart, to be a light in dark places, to know the words that sustain the weary, to offer hope, to reflect how to live life to the fullest, and most importantly to point others to His son Jesus through all that I do. 

childlike faith ireland

There’s so much in this world that destroys our innocence, and that breaks our will and even our heart.  There’s so much that pushes us in the direction of bitterness, cynicism, passivity, and resignation. We find ourselves in a downright war for emotional health and stability as adults just trying to make it, and the battles we must fight every day render us weary. 

I think we’d all face these struggles with more fortitude and hope if we could approach them with the mindset we had before our childhood was rocked. Or stolen. And often, we need something to get us there, to jolt us out of our self-defeating thoughts and attitudes.

My cape does that. It serves as the reminder I need to regain the perspective I always want to have in life. It helps me to remember my identity, my calling, and all that I am meant for – and meant to be.

What My Pregnant Wife Needs From Me

pregnant wife needs
My wife Rachel is six months pregnant with our first child, and we’d both tell you that we’re enjoying this uniquely special time in our lives.  Part of me wishes Baby were here already so I could play with it.  It’s like, come on already, I want to hold you and cuddle you and love you to pieces!  The other part of me understands we need this to stretch out to the right number of weeks so Baby is as healthy as possible.  Rachel helps me keep things in perspective, and has a very mature and thoughtful outlook on this entire process.  This is probably because she’s spent a lot of time learning and researching about pregnancy and birth and newborns and motherhood over the last year, and I have spent a lot of time watching sports. 

Pregnancy hasn’t been a breeze.  I guess it’s probably not a breeze for anyone, ever.  Rachel had a really rough first fifteen weeks marked by a whole lot of nausea and vomiting, and it made me feel so helpless, and – yes – partly to blame.  When I could hear her in the bathroom hunched over the toilet sobbing and throwing up and coughing and spitting, I was like “I did this to her, this is my fault!”  But I understood that sometimes morning sickness happens, and she understood it too, and we got through it.  She was seriously such a champ in riding out the first trimester with such a good attitude.  I tried to love her well then, and seeing her “take one for the team” has inspired me to redouble my efforts to keep doing so.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Rachel needs to feel emotionally safe.  Even more emotionally safe than ever before.  What she is going through is – to put it bluntly – traumatic.  It is.  You have something growing inside of you. You’re always thinking about it.  And if you stop for a moment to get back to doing life, it reminds you by taking from you – oxygen, food, and all kinds of energy and thought.   Or by kicking you.  All of this tires you out, runs you down, and leaves you very feeling very vulnerable.  Plus, if it’s your first baby, all of these feelings are so new and you get freaked out really easily.  The insides of your body are stretching and straining, hormones and chemicals are rising and falling and basically going haywire, and you have random weird pains all over your abdomen and nether regions.  It’s super scary. Mommy has no clear idea what all is going on inside of her, and just wants Baby to be okay.  I want that too as Daddy, but I’m not experiencing all of the super heavy physical and emotional stuff that Mommy is. 

It’s super scary. Mommy has no clear idea what all is going on inside of her, and just wants Baby to be okay.

And so I have to be extra thoughtful and sensitive in what I say, and how I say it.  I don’t want to pile on to her emotional load in any way, but instead just want to help her offload some of it onto my shoulders by being supportive, understanding, super patient, and simply a great listener and friend to her.  I need to avoid coming across as judgmental or questioning her decisions or choices (Note to self: don’t say stuff like “Chinese takeout and froyo AGAIN tonight?”). I need to reassure her in subtle and obvious ways that she’s physically beautiful and altogether lovely, that I’m always going to be here through thick and thin (you know what I mean), and that I’m strong enough to love her and keep pursuing her heart through all of these changes. 

In this environment, she can rest against the stability I provide.  She can let her guard down and just be herself without having to fake it.  And she can keep her own heart soft without having to harden it simply to get through.  Honestly, don’t we all want to live and love and grow in an environment like this? It’s freeing.

It’s nurturing. 
It’s without condition. 
It’s how family should always, always be.

2) Rachel needs practical help with her responsibilities and tasks, and I need to be available and eager to pitch in.  Before pregnancy, we sort of both knew our roles in terms of who took care of what.  Of course, we’d always offer the other a hand, but I’d say that we had a good system in place to avoid unnecessary stress and stay on top of life (as much as is humanly possible).  Since pregnancy, I just have to do a lot more.  Rachel would love to contribute in exactly the same ways as she did before, but on some days she physically and emotionally cannot.  She just can’t. 

I need to not think to myself, “Dangit, I’m totally exhausted too, and now I have to do all of these other things as well?!??!”

I need to not think to myself, “Dangit, I’m totally exhausted too, and now I have to do all of these other things as well?!??!” or “What the pez, she’s been lying on the couch all afternoon and we have so much to knock out!” or “Holy crap man, we just stopped for a bathroom eight minutes ago and she needs me to stop again!” I need to think to myself, “Wake up, you shortsighted goober. Remember the promises you made at the altar.  Your wife is contributing in gigantic ways every minute, every hour, every day by CARRYING YOUR CHILD IN HER WOMB.”

Rachel is shouldering pretty much everything in this pregnancy.  I did very little to start the proverbial ball rolling, and I’m doing pretty much nothing to feed or take care of Baby over these nine months.  I haven’t read any books on parenting yet, nor have I gone to any newborn-related classes.  I haven’t even built a crib.  I will do those things, but I haven’t yet.  My contribution so far has been like 1%. 

When we were dating, I didn’t love her best by focusing on her needs.  I loved her best by catching glimpses of her wants and surprising her with them.  The things that made her eyes light up, or made her burst out into laughter, or made her heart melt.

And so I need to keep my eyes open for ways I can serve her.  And not just when she asks, but sometimes before she asks.  And not just tackling things so her needs are met, but also working to remember her wants.  When we were dating, I didn’t love her best by focusing on her needs.  I loved her best by catching glimpses of her wants and surprising her with them.  The things that made her eyes light up, or made her burst out into laughter, or made her heart melt.  That stuff matters so much, and conveys love more powerfully and reassuringly than anything else because it reminds her that she isn’t an obligation or a responsibility, but a joyous treasure.  Now even more than before, I should meet not just her needs, but also her wants. 

This takes hard work. And time. And a lot of intentional thoughtfulness.  And margin. If I’m doing life at 100% (or 110% – which is my norm) I am going to be irritable and annoyed when she needs me.  And this has happened (although I hope she hasn’t noticed it because I try to push it down and always do the noble thing). I need to allocate space – and purposefully make more space – in my life to have room to be thoroughly patient and loving at all times. 

If I’m doing life at 100% (or 110% – which is my norm) I am going to be irritable and annoyed when she needs me.  And this has happened.

I’m thinking I need to do this so much more over the last three months of pregnancy. Because it’s going to get harder as she gets more uncomfortable in her own skin. I need to be ready. I’m spending way less time on Twitter and Instagram, even for work purposes.  I’m following my favorite sports team less (which is a singular joy to me, like food or conversation or Netflix is to others).  But these are small potatoes. These matter so little, comparatively speaking, to what lies before Rachel and me. These, and other matters, are going to fade in importance as Baby gets ready to burst onto the scene.

I’m ready to rise up and be the husband I’m called to be. These aren’t just words. I know I have a strength deep down given to me from God to do this.  I haven’t done it perfectly, and I know I will fall a bit short as these months elongate in front of us before we can celebrate Baby’s birth. But I’m determined to do my best.  I mean, what is more important in life than this?  When I consider all of the other out there that vie for my attention and affection, nothing should even come close to the priority of my marriage – and the miracle of the blessing being formed and finished inside my bride.

The teachable moment in the viral BBC interview video

bbc-interview-video-interruption
By now, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the viral video of a political expert being interviewed via Skype by the BBC, and the comedy that ensues when his two daughters boldly and innocently enter into his home office before being corralled and yanked out of there by their completely embarrassed mom. I saw the video early on Friday morning, and immediately showed Rachel (who loved it because that could happen to us one day!). Then, I retweeted it and tagged Justin because we both do a lot of phone and video interviews with the media and I knew he would be able to relate.

What I wanted to now discuss was some of the thoughts I had after reading a breakdown of the video by Ben Thompson. You should read it too, because it’s a splendid and tremendously entertaining writeup, and also because some of his insights cut me to the quick (and perhaps will do the same to you).

While commenting on why Robert Kelly (the protagonist) tried to do all he could to maintain decorum during the interview even after the host pointed out that his daughter had entered the room, the author states:

What you may not know about these TV spots is that you don’t get paid a dime. Why, then, does the BBC, or CNN, or MSNBC, or all of the other channels have an endless array of experts who are willing to not just call-in from their home office but will also go to the trouble of putting on a suit-and-tie and arrange books just so? BECAUSE YOU’RE ON TV!

Here’s the deal: the male ego is both remarkably fragile and remarkably easy to satiate. Tell said ego he will be featured as an expert in front of a national or global audience and he will do whatever it takes — including 12 years of academia and wearing a suit at home—to ensure it is so.

While I have never put on a full suit to field a Skype call from my home office, I have absolutely put on a dress shirt and tie (while wearing athletic shorts from the waist down) and sat at my desk to video chat with an interviewer. When the requests come in (primarily via email), I am definitely guilty of running around and inconveniencing myself and my family to take the call. Justin is pretty much the same way. We both agree that it will help to get our research and best practices out to those who need it. We also feel that we only have a limited amount of time to build our careers, and this is one of the ways which require some sacrifice – especially if it is a big-name media outlet.

I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it).

What the author’s commentary pointed out to me was that I am largely doing it to feed my ego. I’ve done media interviews on weekend mornings, during the evenings when I should have put my laptop to bed, and sometimes even on vacation (though, thankfully, rarely). And I justify it over and over again – because it will be relatively simple to knock it out (just shave and put on a button-down!), because I know the answers to the questions they are going to ask, and because others will meaningfully benefit from the information I share. But if I’m honest, those are all secondary reasons to the primary motivation: others will see it and hear my name, and I’ll maintain relevance as a sought-after “expert” in the field. And my ego will have been fed.

Ugh. Just typing that out loud feels gross. Slimy. Yucky.

I don’t want that. I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it). I do believe everything good and perfect comes from the Lord, and that I don’t need to exhaust myself in human effort to “make things happen.”  But it is clear that belief has not yet permeated all aspects of my life, as much as I want it to.

And if I am objective about it, the primary reason why I am so keen on doing these interviews (again, to the detriment of my own schedule, peace of mind, and family prioritization) is because of the fear of becoming irrelevant. And it’s weird because I really don’t want fame or notoriety – I just want to be able to provide for myself and my family.

But if I’m irrelevant professionally, I feel like all opportunities (and provision) will completely dry up.

And no one will care.

And life will fall apart.

That is ridiculous. That clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord as my source and my provider.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Matthew 6:28

To me, it doesn’t matter whether the political expert was working during normal business hours, or inconveniencing himself and his family by fielding the interview just because of his ego. What matters is that I personally found a teachable moment in the video, and see its application to how I am currently living. And how I want to live as a man with childlike faith.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place. We just need to pay attention, and then apply those insights to our lives. If I am caught up in busyness, and just keep going through the motions without heeding what He is trying to teach me through my everyday observations and experiences, it will be such a shame.

I don’t want to fear missing out on ego-building opportunities. I want to fear missing out on faith-building opportunities. Because as my faith grows, so does my relationship with Him – from which flows the fullness of life I want and need above all else.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2lQL374

Life’s Sharp, Quick Turns

childrens-church
Have you ever been humming along in one direction, and then all of a sudden life takes a sharp, quick turn? And while the effect may not be disabling or deadly, it does throw you for a loop. And leave you wondering “what now, God?”

That is what has happened to me – and by no means is it crippling, nor does it induce a state of depression or rage. And I do realize that it doesn’t come close to more profound heartbreaks – like losing a job, or breaking up with your lover, or having a health emergency arise out of the blue. But it is leaving a hole in my life. And I am left trying to hear from Him to figure out what to do with it.

My church campus has had to stop offering childcare services to families as of today, simply because we were renting a space that has become inordinately expensive. It’s a bit complicated, but services are held in a performing arts theatre for adults, and children by their parents at a completely separate building across the street (a movie theater). The bottom line is that our church can’t afford the crazy high rent hike at the movie theater, and so we are shutting down our kids’ services.

I’ve been doing this forever. I seriously can’t remember what a Sunday is like without children’s church. And I have loved serving the elementary schoolers with all my heart.

I’ve been doing this forever. I seriously can’t remember what a Sunday is like without children’s church. And I have loved serving the elementary schoolers with all my heart. I’ve watched a good number of them join us as toddlers, graduate from our kid-friendly services as 5th graders, followed their growth and ascension through middle school, high school, and now – for a few of the oldest – even into college.

We would have so much fun every single week. I have loved jumping up and down with them during praise and worship, and helping them (with other volunteers who I care so much about) learn dance moves and hand motions. I have loved asking them about how school was going, and if they were dealing with bullying or sick grandparents or pets that were getting old. And I have loved trying to convey in the sincerest, most earnest and relatable way that God is real, that He loves each one of them so very much, and that they don’t have to try to be anything but who they are as they live to bring a smile to His face.

You know how when you think about your life, you’re not sure about some things, but you’re totally sure about others? Like, you might doubt your physical attractiveness, but you know you have a really good heart? Or you are not sure if the job you’re in is long-term, but you know you’re a really good friend and colleague to your co-workers? Or you don’t know if you’re ever going to fall in love, but you know for sure you’re not going to jack it up if it happens?

Well, I don’t have much of life figured out, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to do “God’s Kids” (our church changed its formal name a couple of years ago, but this is how I always describe it). I just “fit” there. The best of me was being used – to be a blessing to others, to honor God, to play a meaningful role in a community of wonderful people doing life together. Even though it required me to rise up early on a Sunday morning, I never minded. And yes, some mornings I was definitely tired and had to drag myself to the movie theater. But when I got there, the energy and excitement returned. I saw the kiddos. I wanted to talk with them, play with them, have fun with them. And I felt like I was meant to teach them, inspire them, motivate them. To me, it was a calling, and it fit like a glove. In that place and in that position, I thrived so easily. And along with the hearts and efforts of my co-laborers, we helped the kids thrive.

I don’t have much of life figured out, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to do “God’s Kids.” I just “fit” there. The best of me was being used – to be a blessing to others, to honor God, to play a meaningful role in a community of wonderful people doing life together.

But it’s over now. And at this moment, God hasn’t made it clear what He’d like me to do. I do see Him at work, though, because since I’ve been married I have been praying if He wanted Rachel and I to do something together – maybe host a couples group at our home, maybe get involved with some other service activities. But truly, He kept making it clear that I should keep doing God’s Kids. I found it a little strange, because I presupposed that He’d want me to spend more time with my wife. But nope, I felt very strongly He was telling me to stick it out. And now I realize He wanted me to help it end well.

It is the most precious thing ever to stumble upon something that you’re good at, and for it to positively and enduringly impact the belief systems and actions of others (regardless of their age). I cannot think of anything else that is more rewarding. You don’t want to be paid for it, or celebrated for it, or even noticed for it. You just want to be a part of it, because finally – in one aspect of your complicated and confusing life – you’ve found your niche. I wish that for everyone. I really do. It makes my heart come alive, and adds value to others – which provides incomparable meaning and purpose. It takes the edge off the perpetual struggle, reminds you don’t have to always be grinding and hustling to be fruitful, and simply feels right. Like this is how all of life was meant to be, and should be.

It takes the edge off the perpetual struggle, reminds you don’t have to always be grinding and hustling to be fruitful, and simply feels right. Like this is how all of life was meant to be, and should be.

Right now, I want my heart to be open to what’s in front of me in this new direction. Maybe He wants me to hang out one-to-one with some kids in my community, but outside of church. Maybe He wants me to babysit more, and spend time investing in children whose parents I consider friends. Maybe He wants me to start getting together with more adults and seeing how our lives intersect as we try our best to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

While my heart is heavy because a door has closed, I know He has been up to something while this season was coming to a resolution. If I am to embrace childlike faith and believe for the best, I have to expect something good – something awesome – is going to open up soon enough for me. And since it relates to my ministry, and service to others – and God is all about ministry and service to others – it’s easy to believe that everything is going to work out in time. But let’s say the sharp, quick turn in my life was much more dreadful. What if I instead was let go from my job, or had my heart stomped on by my lover, or received a terminal diagnosis? Could I maintain my hopeful expectations about the future so easily?

Probably not. But as I think about it, the God who loves me is as involved with those aspects as He is with my ministry and service to others. It’s all the same to Him. It’s my life, the live He gave me. And He loves me, and He’s with me, and He goes before me. In fact, I would argue that He’s even more intimately involved, because those tragedies would devastate me, and He promises that He is close to the brokenhearted, and rescues those who are crushed in spirit.

When the bottom falls out, when I feel lost and directionless, when I have nothing but questions and no answers in sight — He’s still working.

He is good, and He is still working. When the bottom falls out, when I feel lost and directionless, when I have nothing but questions and no answers in sight — He’s still working. When the silence around me is deafening, and no one is texting or calling or checking in — He’s still working. When I haven’t got a clue if life will ever get back to good again — He’s still working.

And deep down in my heart, since He’s got a much better plan and perspective on all of this than me, that’s all I really need to know.

He is good, and He is still working.

My Valley of Futility

futility-sign
I  am in a deep, dark valley. I know that sounds really dramatic, but that is my reality. The current season of my life has been marked by incredible futility. Pretty much everything I am trying to do right now is met with failure.

As an example, I’ve been wanting to find a mentor – praying about it, reaching out to people, seeking out connections, making sure it’s not contrived or forced – and nothing is working out. I have been trying to do the things I love – reading, fitness, guitar – but I’m so uninspired and when I try to do those things it feels empty, useless, and pointless. I’ve been tackling some home improvement projects and there always seems to be some problem I can’t sort out. And when I reach out for help, help doesn’t come. Even the date nights and sweet things I attempt for Rachel are falling way short (for example, the food was not good at all, or the gift I got didn’t really work out)). Plus, I can’t seem to get physically well from sinus infections no matter what I try, I can’t seem to protect my extended family from preventable hardships, and I can’t seem to get traction on any attempts to make new friends.  I’m so tired of constantly striking out.

The current season of my life has been marked by incredible futility. Pretty much everything I am trying to do right now is met with failure.

I’ve been here before. Multiple times. If I look back on the trajectory of my life, there are regular cycles of a couple good years followed by a couple of bad years. And I also remember that my past has been marked by intense periods of failure and futility.

One embarrassing example comes to mind: between my first love and my last love, I remember trying so much to connect with a girl (seriously, any girl that I thought had potential), and every effort was a flop. A complete fail. I even wrote out of a list of all of the girls, and all of my attempts (I’m going to be incredibly vulnerable here and tell you that it was over 20 girls – hey, at least I was doing my part!). It was just comical – not because of the way I approached them (I was cool and normal and not creepy about it at all, I promise) – but because it was so very clear that God was thwarting me. I knew He was behind this. Because logically and statistically – one of those attempts should have worked out. For at least a little. For at least a minute, or an hour. For at least one quick coffee date, or even an extended conversation.

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But they didn’t. Not a single one. Not even a little bit, not even an iota of possible interest. Why? Because I am absolutely repulsive to the opposite sex, and have zero redeeming qualities? Nope, that is not it.

Because God is on the throne, and He loves me, and He had a different plan. A perfect plan, where He wanted to take care of things and where it wasn’t all up to me.

In retrospect, I am super thankful not one of those attempts or advances worked out because it protected my heart, mind, and emotions before Rachel came around. However, it was absolutely brutal to live in such a state of perpetual disappointment while trying to make something happen with the best and purest of intentions.

During that time, I just shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and resigned myself to the fact that nothing I could do would bring about any change unless He was behind it. And only after He decided to move, and after His plan came to fruition, was I able to see why I was mired in futility for so long. SO LONG.

It was absolutely brutal to live in such a state of perpetual disappointment while trying to make something happen with the best and purest of intentions.

And now, it’s happening again. I’m attempting anything and everything with the best and purest of intentions, inevitably failing, and returning with a sigh to that familiar place of painful resignation because nothing makes sense right now. Logically and statistically, something I attempt should work out. At least one thing!

As you might imagine, I’m trying to reconcile all of this just so I can figure out what to do (or not to do). In my devotional this morning I read over Ephesians 4, where it talks about futility.

To paraphrase, it basically says that I can’t live life as many others do – in the futility of their minds, who are darkened in their understanding and alienated from God’s way of doing things simply because of ignorance and also due to hardness in their heart.

That feels pretty spot on. One of my favorite pastors and speakers (Tony Evans) once said that if we are living life to the fullest, we should regularly experience spiritual realities (His power, presence, peace, guidance, wisdom, and joy) in our life. Even though I have in the past, I am not right now. In fact, He feels very far from me, even though He doesn’t move away (ever) – I do.

I do feel caught up in the futility of my mind. As I am not single anymore, building and taking care of a family has become my priority, and everything about that takes up a lot of space in my brain. I guess it’s a good thing because I do want to feel the weight of such a noble responsibility, but it is also a bad thing because I constantly catch myself leaning on my own smarts and wit and ambitions and ideas and abilities and efforts. Not His. And I don’t want that.

sisyphus street sign

Everything in this world tells you to lean on yourself to make things happen. But I know me. I’m not God – not even close. I can’t and don’t want to live under the pressure that everything is up to me. That’s why I’m so thankful God is God, and He is in charge – not me.

There’s this great verse in 1 Corinthians 3 which says “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” And that “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.”  Most days, if I were to be totally objective, I really do think I am wise and clever in what I tackle and try to knock out for the good of my life. But I recognize that it’s not totally guided by Him, but instead by what the world is telling me I should do. Honestly, I do feel trapped in the snare of my own cleverness. But it’s my own fault, not His.

The very next verse says “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.”  It’s like He’s just waiting for me to STOP. “Just STOP already!” I hear Him say to my heart. But I can’t stop, it seems. I am a hot mess right now.

Everything in this world tells you to lean on yourself to make things happen. But I know me. I’m not God – not even close. I can’t and don’t want to live under the pressure that everything is up to me.

As I keep trying, and failing, I can sense that my heart is getting hardened. I can really feel it. I’m starting to think things, and say things under my breath and out loud that betray this sad reality. And it’s awful. I don’t want to be like this, I don’t want to move in this direction even slightly. It’s just like the verse from Ephesians 4 says:  the futility of my mind’s thoughts is increasingly darkening my understanding (about Him and the way life works when led by Him). And it’s causing me to be alienated from God, my one and only true source. This is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to me.

I need a way out. Badly. Nothing I am doing is working, and I am convinced He is thwarting me for my own good. I hate how I currently feel, but I’m glad He doesn’t want me drifting away, and clearly is fighting for my heart. Because He loves me.

I’m fighting for my heart too.

Image sources:

http://bit.ly/2lxcUrS
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http://bit.ly/2laUTif

Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

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New Year’s Resolutions are normal, healthy, logical, and helpful. They springboard and incentivize us towards positive change. I understand why we make them, and why I made them for a good portion of my life. But when I consider the driving motivation for me personally with these January commitments to myself, it clearly reminds me why I stopped.

Resolutions are typically prompted by a feeling of discontent. At the end of December, something feels unsettled, unresolved, and lingering. Like “more” could have been done, or should have been done. This largely manifests in two ways:

  • More in the professional sense (better job, higher income, growth of business, more property, more investments)
  • More in the personal sense (wiser spending habits, being a better person, more time with family and friends, getting organized, enjoying life to the fullest, higher levels of health and fitness)

I am a fan of all of these. A huge fan. I want you to do them. But I just want you to remember that next year – while you’re doing all of these things, after you’ve done all of these things – you will still struggle with discontent. Even after accomplishing the really noble ones. Really. You will.

Maybe you already know this, but it took me a long while to really get it. Year after year, I kept thinking that if I just got better and better and better in all areas of my life – through more commitments to myself, more tweaks to my system of doing things, more goals and triumphs, more esteem and approval from my employer and peer group, more good times with family and friends – the discontent would go away. Forever. Never to return. And I’d be finally fully satisfied because I was now Sameer v2.0, or 3.0, or 10.0.

And so I made some New Year’s Resolutions, where I:

  • gave up soda
  • worked out more
  • earned my degrees
  • published papers
  • got promoted
  • bought a home
  • gained more followers on social media
  • went on more adventures
  • finally set up a 401K
  • watched more TED talks
  • read more books
  • learned more life hacks
  • spent more time with family
  • began guitar lessons
  • volunteered in the community
  • drank more water

But the discontent remained. I could tell myself that it was gone – that I was living out my days in the best possible of ways, pursuing excellence and accomplishment and fitness and adventure and success – but it would slowly show up again. I could forcefully shut the door on my discontentment, and barricade it out with a litany of goals and achievements and rationalizations and arguments, but it would still creep in under the sill and find its way back into my life like a mold.

And so I have gotten back to basics over the last handful of years – not perfectly, but in large measure. I’ve gotten back to a committed pursuit of God, and the priority of daily intimacy with Him. This is my number one mission, no matter what. Now to be honest, it doesn’t happen every single day. But He knows that it is my heart’s desire, and that I am doing my best. And that is what matters to Him.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” ~ John 4:14

To followers of Christ, this makes sense, and you realize that this is the answer. You’ve experienced Him being your everything, and all that you need and want, and how glorious and truly satisfying it is. But it’s so easy to lose it, to have lost it. Especially with so many daily and hourly pressures and pushes and pulls, along with cultural and societal messages that indirectly and directly cause us to lose focus.

To those who have never walked with Christ, I know this sounds weird and churchy and completely out of touch with the way the world works, and with all that you know (and all you’ve been told) about doing life. I totally get that.

But if you struggle with some level of discontentment every year, and you continue to assume that the answer has to be “more” (fitness, money, degrees, popularity, relationships, you name it), I just want to suggest that it will likely leave you right where you started when it comes to fulfillment, and when it comes to peace. From my experience, what you truly want and need will ultimately remain elusive. Maybe from your experience as well, as you look back over the last handful of years.

“If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a glass slipper on a gouty foot.” ~ John Bunyan

But perhaps you’re thinking, “WAIT – this time could be different. This new year – if I can just make certain things happen – everything will finally work out, and be awesome, and I’ll have arrived.”

You’re welcome to try. I hope it works out for you this time. Or the following year. Or the year after that. It just never did for me, and for basically everyone else I know with a few decades behind them.

What I have found is that His love and presence and closeness is better than life. Better by leaps and bounds. And it doesn’t leave me missing something, or searching for more to resolve the tension between where I am and where I think I need to be.

And here is the kicker, and what I think is so amazing as it relates to the end-goal of New Year’s Resolutions: an intimate, abiding relationship with God inspires and directs and guides me to pursue the personal and professional goals that I want and that He wants for me. And when both of us are fully on board, it’s so much better because I know He’s in them, and they’re the best He has for me, and that He will help make them happen. It’s not just me, all alone – year after year – deciding to chase after this, that, and the other to keep a gnawing but pervasive sense of dissatisfaction at bay. And I’m not left to just spin and sputter in futility. He’s helping set the goals, orchestrate the action plans, and always there along the way to bless, encourage, and support me.

“You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.” ~ St. Augustine

Don’t make resolutions in another well-meaning attempt to resolve the discontent you currently feel. You’ll soon enough find something else you think you need to have, or do, or become. Instead, inquire of God – not blindly, but thoughtfully, considerately, and genuinely. Take a chance on Him being real, active, unconditionally loving, and wanting to be meaningfully involved in your life. And, if He shows Himself strong (as I know He will), resolve to pursue Him and His heart above all else. The personal and professional success will take care of itself along the way, but will pale in comparison to what you find truly matters, and truly fulfills.

Give this a go in the new year. You have nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2h99FEt

Hide and Seek

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I  have a three-year old nephew named Blake, and he is the cutest thing alive.  I bet that all uncles say that about their nephews and nieces, but I personally think Blake would out-cute all other cute kids in any cuteness competition! Well, he and his family visited us this summer, and we spent our days going to the beach, swimming in the neighborhood pool, watching movies, and just spending quality time together.  And I truly enjoyed it so much, particularly since he’s of the age where he’s so much fun to play with – especially for a big kid like me.

One afternoon, we discovered that he absolutely loves playing hide-and-seek.  He loves it so much.  You should see his face light up when I ask him if he wants to play – it is the purest and most joyous expression I have ever seen!  I mean, he basically freaks out with excitement and he looks like he’s going to jump right out of his skin – it is hilarious!  I ask him if he wants to come find me, or if he wants me to come find him first.  Then, I remind him of the rules (“you have to close your eyes when you count to ten!”), and we go at it!

You should see his face light up when I ask him if he wants to play – it is the purest and most joyous expression I have ever seen!  I mean, he basically freaks out with excitement and he looks like he’s going to jump right out of his skin – it is hilarious!

Sometimes, our game starts off with Blake first searching for me.  I have to remember that he’s only three, so my hiding spots can’t be too difficult to uncover.  My favorite one is behind the hunter green curtains in my living room right by the TV and sectional couch (where the other family members are typically hanging out).  An adult could look over towards the sliding glass doors and see a Sameer-sized bulging outline in the drapery, or notice my toes peeking out from below, but Blake has to be guided a bit by others in the room who are not playing.  And after a few persuasive suggestions to check the curtains, Blake finds me, and I let out a dramatic wail in defeat, and he bursts out in laughter, screams, and runs away from me as I reach to grab him, hoist him over my shoulder, and tickle him to pieces.  I wish I didn’t have other responsibilities, because I seriously could play hide-and-seek all day with this wonderful boy bundle of cuteness.

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After Blake and my extended family left at the end of their vacation to drive back to Virginia, Rachel and I were chatting about hide-and-seek.  We reflected that our nephew definitely loved looking for me, and was thrilled when he succeeded in finding me.  However, it was clear that he actually preferred to be the one who found a secret spot to hide, and then wait to be found by me.  I mean, he was over-the-moon happy when I located him in his hiding spot – behind a door, under a blanket, between the wall and the couch.  You would think that he would be bummed out because I had technically “won” at that point, and maybe even get upset and throw a fit because he didn’t win.   But he wasn’t.  He was beyond elated when I found him.

Rachel and I thought there may be something instructive in this, and we didn’t want to miss it.  We wondered if maybe it was a picture of the heart of God, revealed by observing the heart of a child.  And so we tried to put words to the glimpse we had been given.  I remembered that “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Prov 25:2), and really wanted to dive in deep and learn from this.  I think if we want to have a vibrant, living relationship with Him, we have to exert the effort to press in when something strikes us.  Otherwise, we’ll keep missing what He wants to show us and teach us, and wonder why we never (seem to) hear from Him.

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The first thing that came to mind was that everyone waits to be wanted, pursued, discovered.  You very well may agree with me.  Think about a girl who waits for a boy to come along to show her interest, care about what she hopes for and dreams about, and become captivated by all that makes her beautiful. Think about the athlete putting in hours and hours in the pool, or the gym, or on the track – hoping that a scout might come to one of his or her games and offer a scholarship or a shot in the big leagues.

Think about a girl who waits for a boy to come along to show her interest, care about what she hopes for and dreams about, and become captivated by all that makes her beautiful.

I believe God is the same way.  He waits to be wanted, pursued, discovered.  This isn’t because He needs us to find Him; His emotional health is not dependent on our choices.  Instead, He wants us to search for and chase after Him because He knows that there is no better discovery for us than Him.  His presence, peace, and perfect love are the absolute best things we can find.  The greatest treasure of all.

Second, God doesn’t make it an onerous burden for us to find Him.   You don’t need to exhaust yourself looking high and low.  He simply wants you to be “all in” in your search – looking with open eyes and an open heart.  He isn’t hiding from His creation for the sake of hiding, just to put us through the paces.  I think He’s just checking the state of your heart.  Once He knows you are committed, He’s happy to reveal Himself to you with relative ease.

Imagine if I was half-heartedly looking for Blake.  Instead of actively going around to each corner of each room searching, I decided to plop down on the couch and watch some football.  Maybe every few minutes I might yell out something like “Here I come, Blake!” or “I’m getting closer!” just to make him believe I’m still in earnest pursuit.  How awful would that be?  It’s so disingenuous, so wrong to fool a kid like that.

I can’t half-heartedly play hide-and-seek with my nephew, and I can’t half-heartedly seek out God and His ways and His love.  He knows our intentions and motivations better than we ourselves do.

Either I am in, or I am out – I can’t half-heartedly play hide-and-seek with my nephew, and I can’t half-heartedly seek out God and His ways and His love.  He knows our intentions and motivations better than we ourselves do.  I’ve experienced His love and insight in such powerful ways when I simply come to Him, knowing that nothing else can help me feel better, and that there are no answers to be found anywhere else.

The third thing that came to mind is that Blake wants the game to be about him, and not what he can do for me.  He wants me to pursue him for him alone, and not to get him to take a selfie with me, or go to sleep early in exchange for the playtime together, or for any other reason where I’m using him to accomplish a goal of mine.  It’s likely that as a three-year old, he’s not even thinking about that.  You and I as adults, though, definitely do because we’ve been burned in this capacity at one time or another.

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One of the saddest commentaries on the human condition is that we often want others not for who they are, but for what they can do for us – how they can make us feel, how they can improve our personal or professional life, how they can meet our needs.  And to be honest, you and I often pursue God for the very same reasons, and not simply for Himself.  I wish we would think a lot more about how this makes Him feel, and how this makes us seem – particularly because we’ve all been on the receiving end of this sort of exploitative and manipulative arrangement.  It’s such a horrible feeling to realize that someone else is interested in a romantic or platonic relationship not because they love your heart and love spending time with you, but because they want something from you.

It’s such a horrible feeling to realize that someone else is interested in a romantic or platonic relationship not because they love your heart and love spending time with you, but because they want something from you.

When I play hide-and-seek with Blake, he is the end goal.  Finding him, making him shriek with glee, bringing the biggest smile to his face, and showing him how much I care about him – that is my motivation, and there is no other.  This can be distilled even further: I do it because I love him, and this is the best way I know how to show him.  Obviously, with Blake I know I am going to find him in short order.  With God, sometimes it takes a while.  But there is a point to the patience and perseverance required – it’s not random and arbitrary.  He knows what He is doing:

  • the search has a purpose in building your faith;
  • the time it takes to search strips away the false pretenses and separates true seekers from the exploiters and manipulators; and,
  • the reward – for the comparatively few who make it their mission – is incomparably grand.

This is His way, and this is His economy.  He’s made it so plain to us: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13).  I mean, how much more clear do we need Him to be?  When playing hide-and-seek, I was searching for Blake with all of my heart, with no ulterior motives and solely because I love him.  Personally, I want to be pursued by others in the same way, and so do you.  And so does God.  Of anyone, He deserves that.  This pure, passionate pursuit of Him is the deepest and highest way in which I can demonstrate my love – and so I must.  Plus, as I mentioned, it is the best thing for us –  the absolute best way we can spend our days and our lives.  He receives glory (honor, renown, magnificence, beauty, distinction) from the hiding, and we can share in that glory through the seeking and finding.  I am convinced that nothing else in our lives can match that – without inevitably falling short.

Sea Turtles

There was this one time where I really loved this girl, and she loved me back, but things got jacked up because life is broken and people are broken and mistakes are made. In this relationship, most days were really, really great. But there was one day when something happened and my heart was shattered into a million pieces. I can’t get into the details, but I feel like most of us – at some point – have been devastated before. I mean, really, really devastated. Like when all of the air gets sucked out of your lungs, and you can’t breathe but you still feel like you’re going to be sick. Like your entire world starts to actually simultaneously spin and collapse all at once. And you know you’ve never felt so much pain in your entire life.

I feel like most of us, at some point, have been devastated before.

That was how I felt in that moment. I just looked up the date in my journal, and I had written the following at the time:

The lesson can’t be from all of this: there is no such thing as the fairy tale. There is no such thing as things working out beautifully for you in all areas of life. I don’t want to get cynical. I want to keep my childlike faith. I really really want to. I think I will be able to, but this can’t be the lesson. It just can’t. It can’t be a reality check. I don’t want to believe in reality checks. I want to believe in a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children. I need to believe in 2 Chronicles 16:9, that His eyes are on the lookout for those who are faithful, for whom He can show Himself strong. I need to believe this. I just do.

While I was pretty wrecked for the next eighteen months or so, God did do something the very next day for me. I didn’t realize the magnitude of it until much later, but He did show up in my life in a powerful way. And it’s important to reflect on because I believe He wants us to stay childlike in our faith, even when everything is falling apart. It’s so very hard sometimes, but He realizes that and shares in our suffering – and if we listen closely and pay attention to things around us, we will see Him move.

It’s so very hard sometimes, but He realizes that and shares in our suffering – and if we listen closely and pay attention to things around us, we will see Him move.

What happened was that the very next day, my friend invited me to go try to find mama loggerhead, leatherback, and green turtles. Living in Palm Beach County, we’re situated on a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean where 200-300 of these glorious beasts emerge from the water every night (and sometimes during daylight hours) to lay their eggs during the nesting season of April through September. However, you don’t see them all the time. It’s comparatively rare. And I’d been out before and had never had any success stumbling across one.

I had been sad and in bed all day, and was in no mood to leave my house, but for whatever reason I felt led to say yes when asked. And so we met up at around 10pm, and just started walking South along the shoreline on Palm Beach Island. The moon was almost full, and it was a beautiful still night with only a gentle lapping of the sea on the sand. There was a warm breeze which helped keep the mosquitoes away…and while I was out there, I realized I was super thankful not to be at home mired in my misery.

Over the course of the next four hours, we walked up and down the shoreline of Palm Beach Island.  And God gave me nine mama loggerhead turtles, up-close and personal.  If you think about it, that is mind-blowing, as most people go their whole lives and never see even a single one. We got close enough to eight of them to touch them if we wanted to (we didn’t). We remained quiet and tiptoed softly around them so they wouldn’t get spooked or alarmed.  We knew they needed to peacefully make it up the beach and deposit their eggs, cover the nest with sand, and then head back to the water. We even sat motionless by one for at least thirty minutes and watched its laborious efforts to dig a nest.  It just felt miraculous to be so close to such majestic and prehistoric-looking sea creatures, and it was almost too much to take in and process. I just shook my head and smiled in amazement, as it had lifted me out of my sadness for a night.

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When I got home, I took the time to write out my thoughts following the experience. For one, I felt really special, like God was personally giving me a gift with every turtle. I had seen turtle eggs in their nest a few years ago, and little turtle babies one morning after surfing and talking to a volunteer who was tending a nest, but I had never seen a mama before. They were so enthralling to watch. It was like God pulled back a veil to give me a glimpse of something extraordinary and otherworldly. There was no one else around when we were out there on the shoreline, and it felt like we were on another planet.

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And now that I am thinking about it, I’ve gone out numerous times since then with friends and haven’t seen another. It’s almost like God provided the highest of highs for me while I was at the lowest of lows. He meets us right where we need Him to, because He knows our story and feels our pain and knows what we’re going through. His timing is perfect, and His ways are perfect. I haven’t needed Him to come through like that since, but I definitely needed it on that day of tremendous heartbreak and heartache.  I know I will suffer loss and devastation in the future, and what makes it easier for me to face is knowing that He will once again somehow show up and be there for me.  I can count on it.  I am confident He will respond in a perfectly-crafted way – specific to my situation, my needs, and the tenderness of my heart.

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Another interesting thing was that I kept looking backwards (while we were walking forwards) to see if there were any turtles we missed, or that were coming out of the water behind us. However, my friend only looked forward and believed that if we were going to see a turtle, it was going to be in front of us, and that we weren’t going to miss it. I thought that was profound. And maybe a message from God to me as well, perhaps related to my broken heart and perhaps related to everything in life. Because upon reflection, eight of the nine turtles were right in front of us (what are the odds of that?!), and while I did see a turtle behind us on our walk back to the car, it never fully left the water.

So I took that as a reminder that I want to try to live life not looking backwards. Even though it’s hard, since I have a natural tendency to evaluate and dwell on the past.  Especially when the bottom falls out, and when I think I’ve lost my chance and life is never going to get better.  I think the entire experience showed me that God does have special gifts for me, that he is a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children. And that He is going to keep showing me in unique and soul-stirring ways that I am loved so much by Him, and that I am not going to miss them. I’m just not. I just need to keep moving forward and not look back, and not think that I have missed something.

I think the entire experience showed me that God does have special gifts for me, that he is a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children.

I felt the real weight of this realization at that moment. And really, I still feel it right now. I’ve thought a lot about what He has for me, and for my loved ones, and I remain convinced that we cannot miss out on His best as long as we are staying close to Him, getting counsel from loved ones, and operating in faith instead of fear. We cannot miss out on His best. Even if we think we have, and even if we actually somehow have, He is beyond loving, and He will bring it back around to us again so we didn’t actually miss it. He’ll put it back in front of us, He’ll re-introduce it into our lives.

Typically, though, whatever it was wasn’t really His best for us.  And if we can just wait a while, He will bring along something more perfect. There is so much freedom in this realization. So much space to live and breathe and make choices and just TRUST. I’m pretty positive He doesn’t want us on tilt all the time, stressed out as to the future. He just wants us to keep moving forward and not look back, staying expectant for Him to do something incredible. To the faithful, He will show Himself strong.

Ever since that night, sea turtles have held a special place in my heart. I think you can understand why.  They were God’s instrument of love to me, reminding me in such a special, personal way that the best is yet to come. The best was yet to come, but I was in a very bad place that day, and couldn’t see it, couldn’t conceive of it. And so He chose to do something tangible, something magical in my life, to encourage me to let go of the past and believe for the future. My hope was at death’s door, but He intervened through nature, through sea creatures nesting. And it kept hope alive.

Image sources:

http://www.seaturtlespacecoast.org/mlb-content/uploads/Ed-Rosack-01.jpg
http://fohn.net/green-turtles-facts-pictures/images/Laying-Eggs-800×600.jpg
https://tourismtalktt.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/leatherback-4.jpg
http://d2tipiv4cs5bo1.cloudfront.net/d4/5f/0f5f81734131ac30e54e9b3290b8/feeling-the-heat-with-jeff-corwin-sea-turtles-video-image.jpg

Climbing the Sound of Music Mountain

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Rachel adores The Sound of Music. Personally, I knew all of the songs from as far back as I can remember (I am pretty sure my parents had me watch it when I was seven), but I really didn’t remember the storyline. I mean, I remembered a nun, a bunch of cute kids, some Nazis, and a LOT of singing. But that’s really it. Well, on our recent trip backpacking across Europe, we spent a few days visiting Austria – where the movie was set and largely filmed – and I decided I needed to take the time to watch it with full attention.

I have to tell you, after finally watching it as a grown-up, I was blown away. I absolutely loved it! I mean, you probably love it too.  It’s a masterpiece in every way, with stunning landscapes and cinematography, and a soundtrack you can sing for the rest of your life.

Even more, though, I think I loved it so much because I was drawn to Julie Andrews as Maria. She portrayed a person with an approach to life that is just so winsome, so infectious. She is cute and fun and playful, with her doe-eyed earnestness contrasted by just the right amount of mischievousness. Plus, she sings like an angel, gets along with everyone, and loves adventure. Finally, in my mind she demonstrates so much childlike faith in how she approached the world and interacted with others. In so many ways, she epitomizes that term. Watch the movie again with this concept in mind, and you’ll totally see what I mean.

I have always felt like there is something powerful to this notion of childlike faith – something weighty, something transformative. And I’ve thought about it – and tried to live it out – every single day, for decades. Because I’ve needed to have faith every single day, for all of these years, many of them fraught with difficulties and challenges made me fearful, made me want to give up. I don’t know how I would have made it this far without it.

Most of the time, I am successful in approaching life with childlike faith, because I’ve always said that I want my life to be a grand experiment – where I intentionally believe that things are going to go my way – not because of positive thinking, but because of the promises in God’s Word.  His Word is my anchor – the truth I can stand on –  and that billions have stood on for millennia.

I’m not going to lie, though – some days are rough, and I lose focus and energy, and forget His promises, and regress to doubts and anxiety about my present and my future. Things aren’t ever perfect, but I really thought that one day, they would be. I really believed that one day, my relationships and work and health and confidence would all just line up perfectly and be amazing, and stay that way.

But over time I’ve come to the realization that that just never happens. It’s not going to. And if it did, we wouldn’t really need childlike faith, or God for that matter. We’d just be incredibly amped up about how fantastic life always was, and have a grand old time living it up. What I’ve learned is that we need to choose childlike faith every day, when it’s easy and when it’s hard.

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The Untersburg Mountain – with its infamous lopsided peak – towers proudly over the city of Salzburg and surrounding areas, and is the mountain which Maria loves and frolicks upon at the beginning of The Sound of Music while singing “The Hills Are Alive.”  It is an epic scene indelibly etched in our minds’ eye as well in as our hearts, and – I found out – it is an epic hike to the summit. And while in Austria, we knew we had to do it, because really, how awesome would it be to climb to the top of Maria’s mountain!?!? So awesome.

While we were eager to tackle it, we were both a bit worn out from the previous hikes of our trip. And by the time we got about halfway to the top of the Untersburg, we were pretty thrashed. We were exposed on the rock and had no shade from the beating sun, we were out of water, and we had already finished our lunch and most of our snacks. We actually thought about turning around and heading back down the trail.  But we had one singular hope that kept us going – there was a popular cable car ascent to the top, and we figured that if we could just summit, we could ride it down instead of descending by foot.  And so we pressed on.

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Eventually, we found a supply of water coming out of a pipe in the mountain that we had read was safe to drink. It was cool, and refreshing, and tasted better than any water I had known before. And so I filled up our bottles and also my body, and we soldiered on. From this point, it was pretty treacherous all the way to the top, as we had to climb a steep set of wet and slippery rocks next to a sheer drop into the valley below. Mountaineers before us had installed a braided metal cord into the rocks so we had something to grasp as we maneuvered upwards, and while that helped on one side, there was nothing but a long fall to certain death on the other side.

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Rachel begged me to hold the cord with two hands, just to be safe.  I could tell that she was really scared, and that it was taking all the courage she could muster to not look down and not look back.  Along the hike, we saw numerous memorials mounted into the cliff face, honoring the spot where other climbers had fallen and lost their lives.  We soberly recognized it could happen to us as well, and so we went very slowly, held onto the metal cord, and offered encouragement to each other until we both successfully reached the top of the trail.

It was such a great feeling to finally arrive there.  We were safe and on solid ground, and we had made it!  However, we realized immediately that there was a second trail we now needed to take uphill for another 45 minutes to actually get to the cable car station.  I know that doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but we were wiped out.  It struck me that life is like this sometimes – you think you’ve arrived and then it’s like surprise, just kidding, ­you still have a long ways to go!

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We wanted to rage in that moment, but it wouldn’t have done any good.  And we were still in a time crunch – we had to get up to the cable car before its ascent/descent schedule had ended for the day.  So we couldn’t even sit down and rest.  We had to put our head down, and keep moving, telling ourselves that we had gotten this far and just needed to go a little further before we could relax on the cable car ride down to the valley below.

When we got to the station, though, we were in for another surprise. We found out that the cable car we had seen going up and down the mountain was actually for a group of about 30 workers who were doing construction. The foreman who greeted us stated in no uncertain terms that it was closed to all visitors and tourists. And that if we just turned around and started down the trail, we’d be at the bottom in a couple of hours.  Crap. Thanks, man.

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I remember feeling my heart drop into my stomach. In my head, I thought, if it was a do or die situation, I could get both of us down this mountain. But I knew that I was pretty worn out, and Rachel was starting to feel sick.  And so I decided to ask the foreman if there was any way that we could ride down with him and the rest of his team at the end of their day. He replied that he personally couldn’t allow it, but that he would call his boss down below in the valley and ask him to make an exception. And then he asked us to have a seat on a bench outside the station, and give him a few minutes.

When Rachel and I looked at each other at that moment, I could see disappointment and concern in her eyes. I am sure I betrayed the same, but I also immediately remembered those words: childlike faith. I wanted to believe that this was going to work out for us. Because God loves us. Because He is the author of all good things. Because He delights in us, and He supplies our every need. And so I was going to believe. I consciously made that choice in that moment. And both of us just sat on that bench, quietly praying and believing that God would make a way.

This mindset has become a part of me, and isn’t something that I arrive at after a battle between idealism and realism in my mind. It used to be like that, but it got easier when I kept seeing that there was no better option for me than to trust Him, no matter the situation. Yes, sometimes things don’t work out the way I want or expect them to. But they do work out according to the plans of a loving Creator who knows more than I do about what’s best for my life. And that’s good enough for me.

untersburg-cable-car-austria

After about five minutes, the foreman returned. And he smiled at us. His boss had said that we could go down with the workers in the cable car. Relief and gratefulness washed over us like a flood. And shortly thereafter, we found ourselves packed like sardines into a cable car with 30 other construction workers who all looked at us oddly and laughed and joked among themselves in German. I don’t even care if they were making fun of us, and if they thought of us as stupid American tourists who foolishly would have been stuck on the top of the Alps if it weren’t for them. My heart and intentions were in the right place. We hiked to the top, didn’t know about the cable car closure despite our research, and God lent us a hand so we wouldn’t be miserable, get injured, or hate life on the hike down. I love that about Him. He understood our situation, saw our hearts, and rescued us. Thanks, God!

Childlike faith is a simple concept, but one that all of us unnecessarily complicate. Perhaps this is because life, as we live it, naturally becomes increasingly complicated. But maybe we consciously can fight against that trend by choosing to believe for the best, regardless of how things look or what our emotions are saying to us. Maybe we’ll be disappointed, but maybe – just maybe – we won’t.

Regardless of the outcome, the choice deepens our relationship with Him, helps us experience peace instead of chaos, allows us to pointedly reject fear and worry, and keeps our heart open and hopeful instead of closed-off and hopeless. And the best thing about it is that the choice is, and always will be, available for everyone.

Image source:

http://www.sound-of-music.com/fileadmin/_processed_/csm_slide1_64ff140afc.jpg

http://images.summitpost.org/original/791109.JPG

Do Not Be Afraid

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One of the very generous gifts Sameer and I received for our marriage last year was a week-long trip to St. Thomas.  Sameer had to continue work remotely so it turned into a kind of solo retreat for me most of the time. As a new bride, I thought it would tear my heart into pieces to be on my own sometimes, but it turned into a time of deep healing instead – a time desperately needed.

Our wonderful friend Sara, who is living in St. Thomas while attending grad school, took us around the island showing us the sights during our visit. While we were driving up and down the hilly and curvy roads that crisscross the island, she told us that the locals are afraid of the water.  She said that each generation has taught the next generation to fear the ocean. I found this so shocking, and so counter-intuitive.  It seemed so sad, especially as I had just gotten SCUBA-certified and had – for the very first time – seen the breathtaking splendor of God’s creation in deep water.  It was also bewildering because people all over the world come to the US Virgin Islands just for the water! Yes, the ocean can be dangerous at times, but it is stunningly beautiful and majestic – how could anyone be so consumed by fear that they miss some of the most beautiful experiences in life?

Through Sara’s observation, I knew that God was speaking, not about the locals, but about me.  The details were different, but the issue was the same.  Just like the locals, I lived in fear.

Through Sara’s observation, I knew that God was speaking, not about the locals, but about me.  The details were different, but the issue was the same.  Just like the locals, I lived in fear.

When I was young, I sang all of the time. One of the most formative experiences I had while singing happened on my way to Wednesday night bible school when I was about six years old. My grandfather took some of my siblings and me there every week to learn about the Bible while he met with the elders of the church. This particular Wednesday, we were driving along and I began singing something I had learned that morning on my Mozart’s music “Leap Frog” game. The song was Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria from “The Magic Flute.”

Apparently, Grandad wasn’t expecting his small grand-daughter to sing one of the most difficult arias ever written in the back seat of his car. I remember the moment so clearly because he was obviously delighted. And more than just delighted – he was exulting in my singing.  He was flabbergasted and completely overwhelmed by it! I had never seen him react to anything that way.  And knowing that I was bringing him joy with my voice, I decided in my heart that day that this is what I was meant to do: I was meant to bring people into a beautiful experience through my singing.

Stress and competition filled my thoughts instead of the bliss I had experienced as a young child.  Plus, added to the mix were peer rivalry, jealousy, rumors, pride, and the need for approval and affirmation.

Fast forward a few years, and the beauty had faded.  Stress and competition filled my thoughts instead of the bliss I had experienced as a young child.  Plus, added to the mix were peer rivalry, jealousy, rumors, pride, and the need for approval and affirmation. At this point, I had forgotten why I began walking this road, as well as the real purpose for my gift, for my life.

The day after I heard Sara’s story, I began reading a book by Stasi Eldridge called “Captivating.” In it, she comments on the core desires that every woman seems to have, and discusses how most of us have neglected our hearts while surviving life’s wounding blows.  One of the first stories in “Captivating” is about a little girl, the daughter of a friend of the author. When her mom brought her to work, she would go from office to office singing and twirling, fully expecting to delight her audience, and be delighted in. She didn’t think she may have been distracting them from their business, or out of place in a work environment. She wasn’t worried about bothering or annoying anyone. She was just being her joyful, musical self, and loved sharing that gift with the world.

When I read that story, it took me back to that car ride with my grandad, singing unashamedly and letting my gift shine before others. Then I took a long journey through my past, reliving the painful experiences that taught my heart to hold back my true self, and to care so much about what other people thought of me. I realized that I had been living my life in fear.

I took a long journey through my past, reliving the painful experiences that taught my heart to hold back my true self, and to care so much about what other people thought of me. I realized that I had been living my life in fear.

At times, I truly felt that the only reason my friends and even my family liked me was because of what I could do for them. This has led to the disease of perfectionism. Sometimes we joke about that term, and even use it as a reasonable justification for why we do things the way we do.  But that hides its malignant source, and never forces us to consider the insidious toll it takes on one’s heart.  I was never perfect, but I would put my whole heart into doing things with the assumption that I needed to be. The primary reason wasn’t because I strived for excellence and wanted to honor God (even though that’s what I kept telling myself), but because I believed if I didn’t do things well, I would be found lacking, rejected, and cast aside.

Through multiple moments of rejection, pain, and unhealthy thinking in my life, I had become dependent upon the good opinion of others. If I am not keenly aware of God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me, criticism crushes my spirit. If I am asked to do even a small thing differently, my heart curls up into a tight little protective ball, to guard against the rejection I think is inevitable.

This isn’t just about singing. It encompasses all the things that I find myself doing throughout the day.  The lie I fight every day is, “You will never be good enough.” The fear I have been living in is, “if I don’t perform well today, no one will love me or care about me.” Even as I write this, it is so sad that I believed this even for a moment. How could I live in fear about something that is so untrue?

The lie I fight every day is, “You will never be good enough.” The fear I have been living in is, “if I don’t perform well today, no one will love me or care about me.”

I thought again about the story of the locals in St. Thomas. They have been taught, most likely through real experiences that crushed them, to fear the water. I sat on the balcony of our hotel room, overlooking the sparkling blue waves lapping in the bay, and feeling the heavy weight of my fear that was also learned through real experiences that crushed me.  And then I asked God for help. For hope. For something.  And in those quiet moments, He responded. He let me feel His deep affection for me. I didn’t need the approval of others. I have the approval of the One who matters. The One who loves me with a fierce and undivided love. A love that is not fickle and dependent on my actions and behavior. And He has given me a beautiful life. One to explore and enjoy without being hindered and held back by fear.

I have the approval of the One who matters. The One who loves me with a fierce and undivided love. A love that is not fickle and dependent on my actions and behavior.

My hope is that one day you and I will fully and continually operate in the wide-eyed innocence and trust that my six-year-old self displayed when singing for my grandad.   I want to always sing and live joyfully, exuberantly, shamelessly, with abandon. I know that people may criticize and reject me; nevertheless, I will continue to delight my Father in heaven and be the apple of his eye (Psa 17:8). And all the while, I am committed to inviting and welcoming others to join me in a new way of believing, where we can all feel the depths of His great love – a perfect love that casts out all fear.