Saturday, January 1, 2011

Top 5 Defining Life Themes of 2010

Every life is a story, and every story has thematic elements. These are the themes from my story in 2010. These aren't quite events or people or moments. They are the tone, the rhythm, the flavor, the mood, the vibe. They are all intertwined, like a tapestry of soul and emotion.

Fatherhood. While my son was born in 2009, I think I began to fully embrace the identity of fatherhood this past year. Fridays are my day off, and as Katie would go into the office, I would have a full-time daddy day. I made breakfasts, changed poopy diapers, went on walks, gave baths, and prayed constantly. Being a dad is painful, frustrating, wonderful, and joy-filled. Every moment I was reminded that I am a father, and God is my Father. In the films I found especially moving to the books I enjoyed most, fatherhood was present.

Grace. I learned this year that grace is more than just "God forgives you of your sins when you put your faith in Jesus." Grace is, in essence, everything. It's the unmerited favor of God, the blessings He continually bestows, the good gifts a perfect Father grants to His children. I saw grace in the smile of my son, the embrace of my wife, the pastel-colored skies of an Arizona sunset, the pages of a good book, the comfort of my living room couch, good coffee, good beer, the music of Jonsi and Sufjan Stevens and John Mark McMillan and others, films that made me cry, and every single breath I took. I used to think that grace was the opposite of "truth," that they were on some sort of continuum of "mean-but-honest" and "kind-but-enabling." I understand that grace and truth go hand in hand in marriage; they are lovers instead of philosophical inverses. To quote McMillan, "if grace is an ocean, then we're all sinking." I'm learning to float and bathe and splash and rest in that grace.

Suffering. Pain is deeply personal. What hurts you, hurt you, and comparing your pain with others doesn't help. I used to negate my suffering, trying to get over it as quickly as possible, anesthetize it away or fill my life with enough distraction to ignore it. I am learning to seek the Lord in the midst of pain, choosing to walk through dark valleys instead of around them, allow Him to suffer with me and heal my soul. There was a brief season this year where my son almost died. To have your child's life in the dock is something every parent dreads and no one wants to experience, and my desire to simply run--emotionally, spiritually, even literally flee from the hospital--was nearly overwhelming. To experience God's faithfulness and strength in the midst of pain is a strange beauty. Pain is personal, but with God, it is also communal. He bears our pain with us as we attempt to empathize and enter into the suffering of others.

Humility. I prayed a stupid prayer this past spring: I prayed for God-given humility. If you pray for this, God is faithful to bless you with your request, whether you're prepared for that or not. In every arena of my heart where pride had seeped in, where I was leaning on my own strength instead of Christ's, God humbled--sometimes humiliated--me. It feels hypocritical to write about learning humility on a blog, which could be considered one of the most self-promoting actions I could undertake. But I have to be honest about this theme. It's part of my story. God repeatedly reminded me of how much I suck on my own, how I need to find my entire identity in Him.

Presence. This theme emerged from my experience with the YMCP cohort as we discussed being present in youth ministry. The more I began to understand the gravity of presence, the more I saw it emerge as an ongoing Spirit-given reminder in my daily life. To be present to the people around you, to be present and aware of the presence of the Spirit, to not be overly distracted by what was or what could be, it all takes enormous discipline. Yet when I am at the close of a day and aware that I was fully present to my son when we were on a walk that afternoon, when I had been present and fully listening to the pastor friend over a cup of coffee, when I was present to my wife in the dying hours of the day when we're both exhausted on the couch, when I was present to the Spirit's leading and gentle whispers and murmurs and encouragements, then I am content with what has been. I didn't know it until the close of this year, but, for me, presence has become a value that transcends ministry philosophy and enters into the realm of identity, character, and the man I desire to become.

What are the themes of your story in 2010?

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