For Revolutionaries and Visionaries Only

One of the gifts I’ve been given from the construction world is that I understand it takes time to create something beautiful. And that ‘time’ includes lots hard work, sweat, many mistakes, sometimes broken bones, blood, busted budgets, mental toughness to keep the vision in mind when all you see is a mess, and the willingness to keep at it, to do it the right when things get difficult, and not cut corners. I have many terrible stories of what cutting corners does in the construction world… just go out to a new housing suburb and ask a homeowner what issues they have with their “new” home. Good work, beautiful work, takes time and commitment to do things right.

With many jobs I work on, there is demolition that has to happen before we can start actually ‘building.’ Whether it’s digging the footer for a stem wall that is going to hold the bearing load of a building, jackhammering out old concrete and rebar to build something more functional or more aesthetically pleasing, or tearing out walls, ceiling or floors for a remodel. The homes or buildings where demo takes place becomes a dusty mess, full of hazards and is in need of strong labors to tear out and haul off all the junk that is no longer necessary.

It takes this…

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To get to this…

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Or this…

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To get this…

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In life, this struggle is the same. We all want the beauty without the work. We want the resurrected life without the death. We want healing but not the pain. We want the finished product, but not the long journey of demolition and clean up to get to the point where you can actually start building again. We want to live in peace, and run from disorder. We want to ignore what’s broken. We want to cut corners. This is a human desire. I don’t know anyone, who in their right mind, loves pain and waiting a long time for things to become whole. But not loving these things does not mean we can dodge them and expect the beauty we long for.

You see, this work is hard because if forces us to deal with that which we are afraid of: exposure of our shame, ignored trauma and loss, an invitation to grieve, asking others to help us haul off the junk that’s been demolished… This work is hard because it invites us into the truth of the way things really are, and to ‘willingly’ move into our shame and grief seems like a death wish at worst, and stupid at best.

But it is precisely the digging into the shame and moving into the grief that is what creates the beauty. It’s the asking for help and recruiting strong laborers to help with the heavy lifting. But remember, it’s the ashes covered over the forest floor that brings about a plush forest in years to come. It’s the work of sitting in your pain long enough to die to the old ways that have kept you numb isolated, and without passion and intimacy for years. Death must be at work within us for beauty to ever surface in the purest sense.

So here’s to the hard work of creating beauty when there is no clear vision of what it will look like once we get there. Here’s to sitting in our pain (not completely on our own though) long enough to die, and in the tomb of grief, in time, it will turn into a womb. And once again, you will be invited into the pain as you will labor to give birth to the hidden beauty waiting to be revealed.

This is an invitation for the revolutionary, the visionary, the one who is not happy with the way things have been, for those who are not willing to cut corners, and move past the comments that are meant to keep you from feeling and dealing with what’s really going on under the slab. May this encourage you today to stay the course, and as Mumford and Sons puts it, to not succumb when the world is wrapping round your neck. Find your broad-shouldered beasts and invite them in to your shame and grief to share to weight and pain of this journey towards beauty.

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Knock, knock. Who’s there?

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.