The Blessing of Living Unfinished

priorities

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It happens almost every Monday morning.

Somewhere in the midst of my commute to the office, I start to review the weekend. Occasionally, I’m richly satisfied by the collection of moments and memories bridging the gap between work weeks. But the truth is, most Mondays, I end up asking myself, “How did I begin the weekend with such good intentions, and how did my priorities get so out of whack so quickly?”

A couple of months ago, on a holiday Monday, I received an answer to the question.

For several weeks, we’d been assembling a trailer for our van. My wife and I are not particularly talented mechanics, so the going had been slow. But old friends had come to town for the weekend, and they were helping us put the finishing touches on it.

Finally, the last wire was spliced and the last nut was turned.

My friend rolled the trailer to the rear of our van to attach it but stopped short when he got there. “You don’t have a hitch on your van,” he said, ‘’you’ll need to buy one and have it installed.” This had not occurred to us. Like I said, we are not exactly mechanical geniuses. Our shoulders were slumping in defeat, when our other friend observed, “Well, that’s the way of projects. They’re never finished.”

That’s the way of projects, and that’s the way of life.

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The Life Changing Difference Between Seeing Beauty and Seeing Beautifully

“Dad.” Pause. “Daddy.” Shorter pause. “Dad!” Almost imperceptible pause. “Daaaadddddyyyyy!”

My eyes remain locked on my computer screen.

In other words, I first respond to my youngest son, Quinn, the way most of us respond to most of life—with distraction. Life is asking us to look at it, but our eyes remain locked on our screens, our minds remain locked on the past or the future, and our hearts remain locked on our nagging obsessions—food and drink, shopping and media, gossip and gripe.

Eventually, though, Quinn surpasses a decibel threshold that gets my attention. I finally lock my eyes on him.

“Dad,” he says, a little breathlessly, “come see the bathroom.”

mindfulness

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I immediately picture an overflowing toilet or toothpaste smeared on a mirror or a trashcan torn asunder by the dog. I sigh heavily and ask with trepidation, “What’s wrong? Is it a mess?”

My second response to Quinn is dread. When life finally gets a little of our attention, we tend to be reluctant to look at it. After all, in the daily news, everything seems to be falling apart, so everything everywhere must be falling apart, right? We pay attention to the problems, and then we come to expect them. We start dreading life instead of looking at it.

But Quinn responds, “No, Dad, it’s not a mess. It’s beautiful.”

We walk into the bathroom. The toilet isn’t overflowing, but there is trash on the floor and the cap has been left off a leaking tube of toothpaste. I see nothing particularly remarkable, let alone beautiful. Quinn steps back. Crosses his arms. Smiles. And says, “The light, Daddy, look at the light.”

Slowly, I begin to see what he’s seeing. The bathroom is subtly illuminated by slanting early morning summer sunlight. I’m no longer distracted or dreading, and I can see what I would have missed only moments before: the bathroom is glowing.

It’s luminous.

Beauty, it turns out, isn’t in the eye of the beholder; beauty is in the eye of the watchful beholder. Unless we are present, even beauty becomes invisible. But if we watch this life attentively, which is to say beautifully, we might just experience the beauty that has been there all along:

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Our Best Hope(s) in a Summer of Violence

hope

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An hour before gunshots rang out in Dallas, I was playing a game of basketball with my kids in the driveway—a game called Around the World, in which it’s every man, boy, and little girl for themselves. The game started pleasantly enough but quickly devolved. Cruel words flew back and forth. A ball was thrown, not at a hoop, but at a head.

Around the World, violence begets violence.

And in America, it has been a summer of violence. Orlando. The summertime killing fields in south Chicago. In Louisiana and Minnesota, two more black lives senselessly ended. In Dallas, five policemen executed for crimes they didn’t commit. And the next violent tragedy, whatever it may be, just waiting in the wings.

Like so many, I’m grieving.

Grief can take many forms.

Indeed, this summer, grief has taken many forms in me. Immediately, I want to get right up on my pulpit and pontificate about people and policy and politics. Immediately, I want to talk about solutions, because sometimes solving is a way of not feeling. Sometimes, quick solutions are denial in disguise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, denial is the first stage of grief. I see this form of grief inside of me and all around me.

Yet, I know, my solutions are just a slightly more dignified form of my anger.

Anger is the second stage of grief, and I’m in a rage. I read the headlines and I want to scream until my throat is scorched. I saw an image of a sign held high at the Dallas protest: Know justice, know peace, f**k the racist police. I’m as conflicted as that sign:

My yearning for peace mutates into the very anger by which peace is slaughtered.

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What Will People Think of the New Me? (A Post About Courage)

This week, I made a change.

For almost four years, I’ve been sending my weekly blog post to subscribers in the form of a stylish email, replete with my website banner, the featured image, and the full content of the post. However, because such emails are increasingly being filtered by email services as advertisements, this week, I changed my method. I sent a more barebones email, and subscribers had to click a link to read the post right here, where everyone else reads it.

And it made me a little anxious.

courage

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Actually, it made me more than a little anxious—it made me so anxious I almost couldn’t bring myself to make the change. But make the change I did. Instead of running from the anxiety, I decided to pay attention to it. To let it teach me. And this is what I learned:

I feel exactly what my therapy clients feel.

Over the years, I’ve observed that one of the biggest barriers to change isn’t our lack of desire for change or our inability to change; the biggest barrier to change is the potential reaction to our changes. We fear how people will react if we don’t give them what they’ve come to expect from us.

They like who I am, but will they like who I’m becoming?

People seem to be okay with Me 1.0, but how will they react to Me 2.0?

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How Good Habits Break Bad (and How to Make Them Good Again)

A year ago this week, our family moved to a new town, and a lot changed.

But my lunchtime didn’t.

Even though it should have.

In our old town, the kids’ school started at 9am, which meant our family ate breakfast around 8 o’clock. Then, I’d get hungry for lunch around noon. In our new town, however, the school bell rings at 7:35am, so our whole morning schedule got bumped up almost 90 minutes.

For weeks, 11am would roll around, and I’d get ravenous.

bad habits

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For weeks, I wondered what was wrong with me. Had my metabolism somehow sped up in this new place? Had my stomach grown? For weeks, I wondered and I hungered—for at least an hour—until my habitual lunch time rolled around. The problem, it turns out, wasn’t my hunger; it was my habit.

Sometimes reality changes, but our habits don’t.

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The Parable of the Mass Shooting That Didn’t Happen

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

He watches the people lined up outside the club. People? More like swine. Robotic pigs, programmed to get into lines, to work and to sweat all day and then, at night, to rub their sweaty bodies together on a dance floor.

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

But it’s not just a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

No one has ever kept their promises to him.

mass shootings

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His parents always told him they were interested in him, but when he tried to talk to them, he could see the faraway-glassy look in their eyes. And they told him they’d love him no matter what. But he overheard what they condemned in everyone else. Would they really love him if they knew the things he really thought, the things he really did, and the things he really wanted to do? He thought not.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

His girlfriend had promised him forever. In return, he’d promised her everything. Then, after all that promising, she’d had the nerve to tell him her feelings had “changed.” That she no longer loved him. That it was over. One more promise broken.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The politicians promised prosperity. They said there was a formula to things: honest work, blood, sweat, tears, a house, a marriage, kids, and retirement accounts were supposed to add up to the American dream. But his father had worked like a slave for the company, and then the company abandoned him for cheap, overseas labor. The banks had robbed people blind on bad mortgages, and now his parents’ house was worth nothing. His parents weren’t dreaming; they were scraping by.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The church promised him peace. They’d told him if he went every Sunday, gave his energy to their programs, his money to their building, and his heart to their Jesus, then he could be assured of eternity. But his problem wasn’t fear of the afterlife; his problem was despair about this life. He’d hoped the church would open the trap door, showing him the way to a deeper, more meaningful level of this life. Instead, they’d just kept making empty promises about the next one.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

So, as it sits on the car seat beside him, he wonders, why am I hesitating?

Why am I sitting instead of shooting?

Yet, he knows the answer. The man.

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A Dad’s Letter to His Kids (About the Perfect Father’s Day Gift)

Dear Little Ones,

The Kohl’s catalogue arrived in the mail again.

Another Father’s Day, another 20% off coupon, and another volume of masculine-looking gifts: lots of sports stuff, grilling stuff, and gadgety stuff. But I’m not writing to tell you about the gift I want you to give me.

I’m writing to tell you about the gifts you’ve already given me.

Father's Day gift

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You’ve helped me give up control.

From the moment I found out you were in your momma’s belly, the most important thing in my life was also the thing over which I had the least control. For thirteen years now—through birth and growth and temper tantrums and increasing independence—I’ve had to learn how to be caring without being controlling. As you know, I’m still learning, but the lesson is one of the most valuable gifts a man can receive.

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A Post About Marriage and What We’ve All Longed for Since the Crib

I’m in the garage working, when my daughter runs in breathless.

“Come, Daddy, fast!” she exclaims. I ask her what’s wrong, and she looks at me quizzically. “Just come, Daddy!”

Okay.

We walk around the garage to the backyard, where she climbs onto the trampoline and starts bouncing. I wait. She bounces. And bounces. Finally, I ask her what she wants me to see. To which she replies,

“Me, Daddy. I just want you to see me.”

I know, Sweetie, it’s what we all want.

In fact, it’s probably the reason so many of us get married…

marriage

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of marriage books.

Most authors mean well, but, oftentimes, the subtle or not-so-subtle message is that if you find a good marriage, then you will finally find the good life. If you get your marriage right, then you will finally feel right. If you are satisfied with your marriage, you will finally be satisfied with your self.

And no marriage can deliver on such promises.

However, I just read an early version of a marriage book that may have restored my hope for the genre. It’s entitled, Very Married, by Katherine Willis Pershey. The only problem was, after finishing it, I couldn’t quite get my head around what had touched me so deeply.

Then my daughter bounced.

And another little girl squealed…

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The Simple (But Not Easy) Choice That Will Define All of Us

resilience

I’m standing in my daughter’s room, and she’s showing me her new pen.

The body of it is thick and filled with glittering liquid, and it’s still wrapped in the original cellophane. I’m oohing-and-ahhing when her older brother walks in. Probably feeling left out of the attention and the interest, he decides to rain on the parade.

“That’s stupid. You can’t use it if it’s still in the plastic.”

My daughter explains, “I’m protecting it because I don’t want it to get ruined.”

He decides to play on the fear she’s just revealed, and he taunts her with a devious smile, “Yeah, that’s true, you better not drop it or it will be broken forever.”

Then, my daughter pauses. Something new comes into her eyes. It’s fire. She stands up straighter. She looks directly at him. She holds out the pen at shoulder height.

And she lets it go…

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Why You’re Good Enough (No Matter What)

self-worth

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I’m good enough.

I’m smart enough.

And doggone it, people like me.

Those are the famous words of the Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley, beloved for the humorous way in which he borrowed from any self-help or twelve-step movement in order to feel better about himself. And they sound a lot like words I often use in my clinical practice, in my writing, and in my own mirror. I often talk about the never-good-enough feeling called shame, and the importance of healing it by believing we are already worthy, even beautiful.

Sounds similar.

But Stuart Smalley’s sentiments are actually the opposite of mine. 

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