Being Faithful in the Darkness

IMG_0403

Darkness is a weird thing. In our Christian worldview, it never seems to be used positively, but it seems I’ve been in darkness (or fog or some kind of unknowing) for a while and I don’t believe it’s because of my unbelief or anything like that. My tendency in life is to assume that if life is dark and dreary, there must be sin in my life, or the evil one must be causing this darkness.

This certainly can be true of darkness at times, but is it always the case. Can darkness be good? Could God be the one leading me into the dark? After all, it was Jesus who led his disciples at an hour of darkness, to boat across to the other side of the the great sea.

So as I ponder this darkness, the ways of God, and the position of my heart and mind, it must be dark because there’s something in the dark that I can only learn here, where the lights are off, or really dim, and clarity is not a close friend. 

On a positive note, I can see stars at night only because the dark sky and the moon looks much more extravagant with a dark back drop. I sleep (and rest) better in the dark; I usually don’t labor physically when it’s dark either. I love the coolness of the dark in the spring and fall in Phx. 
The darkness is refreshing after 115 degrees heat all day in the summer, even if it’s still 105 degrees at midnight. Darkness gives plants and animals rest from the scorching sun all day. Fires and fireworks are much more enjoyable in the dark. The darkness humbles me as it exposes who I really am–all my fears, insecurities, and–and it also gives me a sense of comfort, knowing that the day of toiling is over and rest is coming. 
Those are some things I’m realizing that are better in the dark, so maybe this season of darkness that isn’t lifting (for over 2 years) is more purposeful than I believe it to be. I hope it is, but I have to admit that I hate it at times. I’m tired of being in this place of unknowing that only offers a visibility of 24 hours or less. I long for something new and fresh, something to come in and sweep me off my feet, something that is more intimate and deeper than ever before. 

And even as I write this, I’m reminded that deeper almost always means darker before it can be translated into something good. The deeper you dive into the ocean, the darker it gets, but then again, some of the most precious pearls are forged in the pressures of deep, dark waters. But those places are scary and not desirable, unless there’s a guide, a trained professional to lead me down there. 

This is where God’s role comes into play, as well as a community of friends and family who are courageous enough to walk with you and sit with you on the bottom of the ocean. God will make his bed in Sheol for his children. 

I hate the pain and fear of the dark and God’s seeming silence is horrible. It’s as if I’ve had years of tender care as an infant and toddler and now God, as a good parent, re-fathering me if you will, is putting me up on my two feet and telling me to walk, trust, to remember that I’m done nursing and I need to trust that he’s always near me even when it’s dark and he’s silent and I can’t see his face, or even see what tomorrow holds. I hear him saying, “I’ve got this Jeff. Trust who you’ve become. Be patient and faithful in the darkness. I will not disappoint you.” And my heart’s response is “Ok, I don’t want to refuse you anything you ask God, but I have to be honest, I have fear and doubt and need you to meet me at those places.” 

So for now, darkness is a companion, one I don’t want to scorn or make to be an enemy of light, nor do I want to wrongly celebrate. But I think maybe it’s only through being in the dark for long periods of time where we can actually long for the true light. Or maybe it’s in the dark where we learn that the true light is in us and we can be okay when darkness comes and stays for a while. Maybe darkness wasn’t meant to be a bad place. After all, it was darkness that arrived first in the Genesis narrative, and all that God had made was good. Who knows? 

St. John of the Cross likens darkness in the life of someone pursuing Christ as moments of mysterious and divine closeness. He likens it to the sun, if it were to be stared into with our eyes, it would make our senses go dark, but that would joy mean the sun stopped shining; it just means that our senses are limited and can only take in so much light until God graciously clouds his presence to not overwhelm or destroy us. 

I trust this graciousness today and hold onto the hope that light is always shining, and my senses are being refined more and more to take in this beautiful, life-giving light.

Are You A Leader?

IMG_3034

Leadership is a funny thing. Everyone’s got a different idea on how to lead, or different philosophies of how lead a business or a group of people. It’s hard these days with all the digital content flying in cyberspace onto our computer screens. Who’s right? Who should you listen to? Do you even care?

So, if you’re still reading this, I’m assuming you sort of care, so I have put together a list of quotes from various high capacity leaders that I’ve collected over many years, and they all capture something about what they think leadership is. So read on, but at the end of the blog, please leave a comment or two about what you would add to the question, “What is leadership?”:

Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Warren Bennis: “Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester: “Leadership is the process of influencing the behavior of other people toward group goals in a way that fully respects their freedom.”

Larry Osborne: “Leadership is having a message, sharing that message, and living that message.”

Dave Kraft: “Great leaders: 1. paint a picture of a compelling future that allows others to see what could be accomplished; 2. equip their team members by giving them tools, resources and training to fulfill their responsibilities; 3. release their team members by letting go of the tendency to micro manage so that others can learn how to lead.”

Andy Stanley: “Leaders don’t let success or momentum overshadow their vision, they’ve got to keep the vision out in front.”

Theodore Hesburgh: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.”

Andre Maurois: “The most important quality in a leader is that of being acknowledged as such.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “Leaders do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Theodore Roosevelt: “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss… The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”

Henry Miller: “The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.”

Dwight Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Lewis H. Lapham: “Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character; it requires moral rather than athletic or intellectual effort, and it imposes on both leader and follower alike the burdens of self-restraint.”

Walter Lippmann: “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on… The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully.”

Jesus of Nazareth: “You’ve observed how godless rulers (leaders) throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” Mark 10:42-45 (The Message)

Max DePree: “A friend of mine characterizes leaders simply like this: ‘Leaders don’t inflict pain. They bear pain.’”

Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin: “Ah well! I am their leader, I really ought to follow them!”

Peter F. Drucker: “Charisma becomes the undoing of leaders. It makes them inflexible, convinced of their own infallibility, unable to change.”

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf: “Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.”

Albert Schweitzer: ”Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”

Martin Luther King, Jr: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

General George S. Patton Jr: “Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader.”

John F. Kennedy: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Stephen R. Covey: “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” (This is one of my personal favorites!)

Grace Murray Hopper: “You manage things; you lead people.”

Ralph Nadar: “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Harvey S. Firestone: “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

Max DePree: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.”

Richard Nixon: “People are persuaded by reason, but moved by emotion; [the leader] must both persuade them and move them.”

To close it out, I’ll share a few of my own I’ve put together from gleaning from others: 

“Leaders are good listeners, then they will know who they are leading to better motivate them to accomplish what they all really desire.”

“Leaders walk with a limp, but they don’t let the limp define them.”

“Leaders are vulnerable enough to be real and authentic, and thick skinned enough to keep being vulnerable.”

“Character defines a leader, not charisma.”

“Leaders never grow out of being a servant.”

“Those who are die, and are willing to die for justice are leaders.”

Hope this has been fun to read. I would love it if you left a few of yours to share with us as well!

Knock, knock. Who’s there?

th

Growing up, I was a sucker for “Knock, knock” jokes. I didn’t like all of them, and many of the ones older adults told went over my head. But for some reason, I wanted to hear more. One that has stood out to me is this:

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Dozen.
Dozen who?
Dozen anybody want to let me in?

Such a play on words for my mind as a child was half the fun (or challenge), learning how it makes sense, stopping to think and put it all together. Sometimes I’d even process out loud, “Oh yeh, ‘dozen’, as in a dozen donuts! Ha! I get it!” The goal of most of the jokes for me was to conquer it, to understand it, to get it; ultimately, to be “let in” as the joke is humorously referring to. I wanted somebody to let me in, maybe sub-consciously to let me in on the secret of who I really was. Isn’t that what these jokes are getting at, the “who”, not the what?

Before I left on a family summer trip to a Young life camp in British Columbia, I met with Dr. David Beyda. I had heard him speak at a graduation ceremony and was moved to tears while he was speaking. As he shared beautiful stories of death and resurrection, he had an emphasis on the “who” of a person, not the “what.” “Who are you?” he asked all of us, from the power of the podium, and tears started water-falling down my face.

“Who am I” I asked myself internally. Now one thing you have to understand about me, I have spent years teaching, coaching, and counseling people along the lines of finding their identity based on “who” they were, not by “what” they do. So this wasn’t the first time I had heard this. “I’m a veteran at this” I told myself. “Why am I crying? Come on Jeff, you know who you are. You know your identity is not found in having something important in life to do. A title is just a title, it’s not what defines you.”

But the honest truth that evening was I realized how much identity I still found in my “job” or “title”. I could preach the best sermon about finding your identity in Christ, calling others out on not looking to false idols to feel worthy or valuable, or reminding a congregation that Jesus is all we need. But over a year and half out of not having a “real job,” with no “title”, having walked away from pastoring a church that I had started years ago, and struggling financially, I was at a pretty dark, low place. My good friend and mentor Jerry Price, calls this a “Zero-State”.

For whatever reason, that night at the graduation ceremony, I was brought face to face with the sober realities of who I am in life. I was face to face with all of my failures, all the broken relationships that swirl around in my head, and the struggles of not being a very good provider for my family. As these realities confronted me, I knew then, that I am not defined by all of that.

The “who” of who I am is full of dark ugliness that brings death to those nearby, and at the same time beautiful budding flowers that bring about life and joy. This lesson was brought home to me later in the summer, at a Young Life camped called Beyond Malibu.

It was a couple weeks in, during our assignment there, when some of the death that Jesus wanted to renew in my life would be exposed. The “who” of Jeff, behind all the masks of pretension would come blazing out and I couldn’t deny it anymore; Jesus wanted to deliver me from the false “who’s” and bring me into the “who” that gives, not takes.

It was a weekday, the day after I had a very fulfilling day of work and investment in young men’s lives. I felt valuable and worthy because of what I was able to offer. But the following day, I was with all my kids, most of the day, while Amy had her turns. It was the end of the day and I had lost it with the kids and was sure to show Amy that I was done.

This wasn’t the first time I had played this manipulative game to make Amy feel sorry for me and see that I had “suffered” for the good of the family. Even as I type this, I cringe at how selfish this sounds, but it’s all true… this is what I was feeling and thinking internally. It was this day that my wife offered me a gift, a gift that has kept on giving.

She had put together that evening this behavior of mine and was done! This is coming on the heels of many years of her supporting “my vocation” and raising children with me being there in person, but not always present in spirit. This is after years of Amy sacrificing many of her dreams for me to do what I love and feel passionate about, and today was the last day that she would let me power play her with my lame attempt to regain any dignity I thought I had lost that day from letting her use her gifts.

She looked at me at let me know more or less, “On the day that I am needed and able to use my gifts, and you are with the kids, you are unhappy to be with them. It seems a good day for you is when you are being used outside this family. It is my turn. I hope this isn’t a competition against me because I was ‘used’ today and you ‘weren’t.’ ”

Ouch! She was so right. This was “who” I was inside, and it came out like acid in the eye. Painful. And instantly I felt like defending myself in the past, but I knew that Amy had called out my “Knock, knock” jokes, and saw past my attempts to make myself look better than I really was right then. I had no other option but to hang my head and admit that she was right. I had to face “who” I really was behind all the proper relational etiquette I had learned with spiritual language.

I was found out, and you know what, I loved it! This has happened before in our marriage, but not at a point where I had so much to lose. I was the pastor, the one who taught people how to live a “gospel-centered” life, I wasn’t supposed to be struggling with this. But there I was, struggling with it, and I was brought to a “Zero-State.”

I could go lower, but at this point it would be below ground, with darkness and coldness to look forward to. Or I could admit I was somebody I didn’t want to be and decide to be responsible. Amy offered me a huge gift that day. She offered me grace, grace that said, “I won’t put up with your crap anymore because I love you and want to really connect with you. This game you’re playing isn’t connection. I want intimacy with the true Jeff.”

I got answers this summer to a deeper level of “who” I am because of my crap being called out. And now I have the chance (and I hope I’m making good use of the opportunity) to drop all the false self’s that I had built up around the insecurity and shame of my life.

I know the world is a much better place when I am truthful with the masks I wear, for honesty and confession is the only way to truly strip ourselves of the false persons we have tried on over the years to cover up the parts of ourselves that we’ve been told were unacceptable and shameful.

I wish for you that you find hope in my journey, and that you have people around you who are as loving and courageous as Amy is. Maybe you may even be the one to be loving enough to say enough to someone in your life, of course with grace and love.

The Evolution of Kineo

2000-01-01 00.00.38

Kineo. This was the name of a church plant that I pastored for 5 years. It’s a name loaded with meaning to me personally. It’s bigger than just what Kineo Church meant to me. It’s a Greek word that means “to move” or “to put in motion”. I have a good friend who mentioned this quote below years ago and it ‘moved’ me:

“If you claim to stand in a rushing river, yet you are not moved, then you are not standing in a rushing river.” Unknown

This impacted me greatly, as I was someone who claimed great things about God, who He is, and what it meant to be a worshiper of God, yet I was unmoved and uninspired most of the time in life. The word Kineo came to mind when I looked up what the phrase “to move” meant in Greek literature. This first ‘moved’ me years ago, and continues to move and shape me to this day. So I wanted to share with you the evolution of what this word has become to me.

Kineo. It is not really an entity, although I often dream about a non-profit called Kineo. But even if it ever becomes an entity, it is more of an idea. Kineo, “to be moved”, is not concerned with the type of movement that explains the “How do you become successful” questions, nor is it the kind of movement that answers the “What do you do” type of questions. No, the movement of Kineo to me is an ethos (look up what ‘ethos’ means in a dictionary if you have to… there’s no shame in that… I had to do that when I first came across the word). Kineo is an ethos which is radically committed to answering the “Who are you” and the “Why do you do what you do” type of questions in life. Kineo is a new way to be human; it’s an habitual spirit of a community of justice and love, displayed in what it desires and how it behaves.

Kineo is a call to move.

To listen.

To see.

To stand.

To hold.

To fight.

For the vulnerable.

For the marginalized.

For the broken.

For the grieving.

For the lonely.

Kineo is a corrective voice to the dominant culture, to help open eyes and ears to voices and stories that have been lost in the wreckage of Western development. It’s a corrective voice for entrepreneurs of the future to consider a new way of business and profit, of shared values and community engagement that gives birth to new types of partnerships. It’s a corrective call to break the silence of the powerless, and to pave new ways of success and healing from trauma. It’s a corrective voice to the old forms of the gathered church to consider alternative communities: slow, organic churches, neighborhood parishes, shared living communities, communities that rediscover the power of proper lament, rest, and the sacramental life, but not dismissing the old forms either. It’s a corrective voice to the consumer model of living that has left sabbath on the dusty shelf of life. 

It is within this idea, this ethos, that Kineo was birthed. It’s been my desire for this ethos to penetrate hearts and minds, to begin to take shape in neighborhoods and businesses, families and faith communities, cities and states. It’s a movement with no real form, and is already happening regardless of myself or this blog post. It’s an underground erosion of the soul that moves people to begin alternative ways of doing life, caring for the marginalized, regaining hope, experiencing beauty, resting and playing, and boldly loving which brings about change.

Will you be a part of the movement? It requires great costs. It demands you drop the act and begin to be honest with who you are. It’s terribly scary and will wreck your status quo agenda in life. But it’s essential for those who are longing for more. It’s your choice. This is your world. You’re shaping what it’s like every day you’re alive. Join the invisible movement today! Tell me about your “Kineo” story. I would love to hear.

Finding La Querencia

Last summer marked the beginning of a new pace in life, well, at least an attempt for a new pace in life. I’ve struggled to understand sabbath in my life for over a decade. I think I’m just now scratching the surface of its purpose. And so it was, that last summer we were able to take 2 months off from life, rent an RV, and cram Amy and I and our 4 kiddos into a small space and drive. Crazy? Yes! Necessary? Absolutely!

We traveled around the country chasing good weather, family, and friends who were intentionally living out the mission of God in diverse contexts. This was a trip of a lifetime for us, a trip where I began my search for la Querencia wherever it is God has me. 
It was last summer when I first read a copy of a book called Slow Church, and there is a chapter where Smith and Pattison talk about sabbath rest and they quote the American author Barry Lopez, writing about the Spanish word querencia which is sometimes translated as the “haunt of wild hearts”:

“[He] describes la querencia as a place on the ground from which one draws strength of character.”
It is clear to me, after another season of being able to serve at a Young Life camp and another 2 months off of routine life in Phoenix, that sabbath rest is really resting in who Jesus says I am… He was meant to be our querencia. He’s the one who truly gives rest that strengthens my character. 
In a world full of busyness that drives us to live at a pace that is not based on a biblical worldview; and a culture that “forces” us to eat whatever is placed before us (or is cheapest and easiest to buy); and a society that has placed work and money at a level that turns people and places into commodities to be consumed… we are in desperate need of alternative lifestyles that display a different kind of pace, a different kind of patience, a different kind of work ethic… all of which are not possible if we are not a people who know how to rest and trust during the seemingly “unproductive” days of rest.
Time. It is time once again this summer that has reminded me that God is not in a hurry and rest is a way of trusting Him in the midst of a world that feels like there’s not enough time in the day. Time reminds me that we are living in eternity now before God. Time reminds me that God shows up in the now; he dispenses grace, mercy, forgiveness, reveals beauty, and matures us in the “now”. Time allows us to enjoy moments and to have fun, but it was not meant for us to base our lives on or to drive into a pace of life that drowns out real life. 
Learning to live in the present, pacing myself, eating slower and being more aware of what I am eating are all being sharpened and awakened as I slow down, rest and trust God in the seemingly “unproductive” now. 
This second summer trip is the result of a commitment to live differently. The difference… hopefully it’s a new kind of sabbath, a sabbath that leads me to places of Querencia that I believe God wants me to inhabit with him daily. A Querencia that was always meant to charge up God’s people to live holistically productive lives which means a healthier pace, more responsible eating, divine rest, more fun, deep healing, and a holy patience with work, people, and life in general.
So for today, I’m finding my Querencia with my daughter Mia at Magic Mountain screaming our heads off, feelings sick, and eating churros! 
  

Beyond Normal

IMG_4664

Beyond Malibu is an extraordinary place. It’s named after a Young Life camp called Malibu, situated about 100 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s a beautiful club-type property on the corner of the Jervis and the world-renowned Princess Louisa Inlet. It used to be a retreat center back in the day for very wealthy patrons. Rumor has it that even JFK and his family visited there.

If you know Young Life camps, you would know that when they acquired the property, they eventually made it one of the top youth “play-houses” in the world. It’s full of cedar decks, built on multiple levels, with shops, a large game room, a gym, a pool, and a myriad of water sports/activities, all mixed with lots of energy from work crew and summer staff volunteers and blaring music, all while being surrounded by beautiful towering mountains that go from sea level to over 8,000 ft.

This place is beautiful as you can see in the photos below…

IMG_4515

IMG_4099

IMG_4105

IMG_4530 - Version 2

And so it is, that at the corner of Jervis and Princess Louisa, there lies this beautiful gem of a property, but a couple miles back, deep in the Princess Louisa, tucked away behind a small island, nestled in the trees that crowd the shore line of this part of the world, is a base camp for the mountaineering/adventure camp called Beyond Malibu, named because you must go “beyond” Malibu, beyond all the comfort and provision of “normal” civilization, to find a new way of experiencing camp.

IMG_4436

IMG_4431

IMG_4674

IMG_4664

At Beyond, there aren’t the same amenities that Malibu has… there’s no electricity except for the kitchen/barn area that is hydro powered from the water coming down from the glaciers. There are no flushing toilets, no snack bars, and no game rooms to fill your free time with. To sum up Beyond, it’s work, rest and people.

You work your tail-end off to prepare each week for mountaineering campers who will go up into the glaciers with guides for 6 days, for an experience with Jesus like no other. The work that it takes to get the base camp ready to send off trips is unbelievable, and the work often takes you past the point of exhaustion, so that when it’s time to close off the work day, rest comes very easily.

It’s also a great detox program for the consumer driven culture of the West that gets what it wants “now”. No electronics for kids, no numbing devices or activities are available to escape the reality of boredom at times, no snack bar to grab a quick snack between meals as hunger breaks into your life around 3pm, and comforts from home are far away as a new normal is slowly embraced.

Beyond Malibu is beyond normal.

What is experienced at Beyond is a way of life that confronts the type of cultures that most of us come from. It forces slowness. It demands patience. It creates wonderful community, especially after the forming, norming and storming process takes it’s course in relationships. It allows space for meaningful conversations as no one can travel in their metal boxes alone from one place to another. Beyond slowly works into each person a certain level of vulnerability that allows hearts to be exposed and known.

Isn’t that what we all really want… to be known? Maybe the first time you hear that phrase, you would say, “That is not what I really want!”, until you sit with the reality of not being known. We were created for this new normal, the Beyond-type-of-normal. A way of knowing that makes social-media-type-of-knowing look like child’s play. It’s a way of knowing that forces you to be honest with who you are and how you really feel in life. You can’t pretend in this environment.

The Beyond normal is a new normal that I believe we all need to some degree, as life can only hold us up for so long as we identify ourselves by “what we do.” We weren’t created to answer the question, “So what do you do?”. We were created to answer the question “Who are you and why do you do what you do?” The “what” is usually answered as you learn about the “who” and the “why” of a person.

Beyond gets past the “what you do” in life and gets straight to the “who are you” and “why it is you do what you do.” We need this new normal to invade our lives so we can truly know and truly be known. This is where meaningful relationships begin. This is a hot bed for the transformational change many of us have been longing for in our lives.

Thanks Beyond Malibu for offering a Beyond-type-of-normal experience!

IMG_4717  IMG_4713

IMG_4748

An Anniversary Reflection

It was the summer of 1996. I had just graduated high school in May and soon after I went off to a work crew assignment at a Young Life camp in British Colombia called Malibu, I know, rough stuff, but somebody had to fill the role.

That summer most of the friends I made were from Dallas, and at the end of the assignment in June I thought Dallas was the new place for me. I moved out there to make a new home for myself and lived in a house with a few  friends who were in Young Life. Everything I owned I packed into a 1985 Toyota Corolla and made trip to the Lone Star state. I had one cassette tape at the time and my car stereo had no antenna, so I wore out an old Plank Eye album. Packing everything you own and driving somewhere is an exhilarating experience. If you’re ever bale to do, I highly suggest it!

Fast forward to the first week of September now, that same year. I found myself unsettled, uneasy, and empty. Dallas was fun, but it wasn’t home, and I was fighting to make it feel that way. The fight ended that week and I realized there were things in Phoenix that I hated, but I was running from them instead of facing them. There were mountains I didn’t want to climb and thought if I ran far enough the other way, I would lost sight of it all. I found out that’s not true. I chose to face the mountain, even though I didn’t realize the cost or what that would mean until much later in life.

So I packed up my Corolla again with everything I owned and made the trip back home with Plank Eye. It just so happened that the weekend I arrived in Phoenix was the same weekend of Young Life’s leader weekend retreat in Prescott. So I passed right through Phoenix and headed up to Prescott… Young Life is a large part of what home is for me.

That weekend I was in the for the surprise of my life. You see, there was this really good looking girl in Young Life I used to hang out with before I graduated, but she was a tier or two above me on the marketability scale. I liked her, but never gave it much thought about making a move to put my ego on the line to ask her out or anything. But this weekend, the weekend I chose not to run away anymore, was going to change my life.

I found myself in the same small room with and a handful of others learning about something I don’t remember. My mind was fixated on her, but I wasn’t going to let my body or my eyes show it. Every now and then I would wander my eyes over to where she was sitting, being careful not to let her see me look at her. But about 5 minutes into our time there, I looked her way, and realized… she was looking my way!

Our eyes met and locked into one another, love music began playing in the background, and wind started blowing through her hair… No, not really, that was just what my mind was thinking of though. She had a calm happy smile and waved at me and I waved back with sweaty pits, a nervous smile, and sweat drops building up on the side of my nostrils as if I had just had some really hot salsa. I thought to myself, “She waved! What does that mean? Is she just being nice?” I was so excited and nervous at the same time.

Then a sort of game ensued. We kept making eye contact and full on flirting was in play. I couldn’t believe it. I came home to face my fears, but this was a different fear to face. “The best looking lady in Young Life, the most eligible bachelorette, was flirting with me!” I thought to myself. “How do I not mess this up?”

There’s not enough time to explain all that happened after that, but one thing’s for sure, I was hooked and couldn’t stop facing that fear of rejection. A few months later I was sitting at a Wendy’s just before Christmas, 1996, looking into the eyes of Amy Roth as we both told each other that that we both wanted to be a ‘thing’!

May 29th, 1999 we made our love official and covenantal. It would take a while before I would see the value of making a promise, but now that I see it, it means much more to me than I ever thought it would. She has loved me at times only because she promised to love me, not because I’ve been lovable or even worth loving. This has been life giving to me and I know my covenantal love for her has been life giving to her as well.

We labor to make our love fun and passionate, not just covenantal. But sometimes when it is not what it should be, the covenant keeps you in the game. In this season of life, I am the source of the lack of fun and passion most of the time, and am grateful for my wife of 16 years who has loved me in beautiful and hard ways and has lovingly spoken life and truth into me and our marriage.

Happy Anniversary Amy Skeens. I’m thankful you chose to commit to me and chose to do life together. May God give us grace for another fun, passionate, and covenantal 16 years.

photo