Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflection: A Delicate Balance

Recently I pulled out my Passion Planner and took a look at some of my goals that I set for the first three months of the year. Each year as the year ends/begins, I like to set a few goals for myself in areas spanning from my own health and wellness to home improvement projects and self-enrichment--things like learning new skills or refining existing skills. As I looked over my list, I realized something happened since the beginning of the year that had shifted some of these goals, that something is a really good thing, it is a desire to savor every moment I have with Jamie and Sylvia.

Among the many goals I started the year with, some have just had to just get reprioritized for now. I've heard it said that we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in five. Last year, as we were getting ready for Sylvia's arrival, Jamie and I found ourselves taking on more and more big projects, and not only taking them on, but getting them done. One of my dear friends and personal coach took a look at five of my goals that were launching between September and December of last year and said if I only accomplished one of them it would be huge; I'm grateful that I was able to take on and accomplish all five, but I'm not sure how sustainable that pace is for the long haul.

This year, I've noticed a natural gravitation toward goals that are focused more on family, health, and wellness, than on next major steps for the house, or new skills, hobbies, or interests being cultivated. And, while I want to continue to grow and expand in skills, during this season, my focus has become more centered on daily habits that build toward long-term goals. This is probably true for every single one of us, but over the last few months, I have become more aware of it than ever. I'm striving to take vacation (something I've historically not been the best at), and I am taking more intentional daily space to get away from connected devices, from social media, and from work, although my friends and the farmers I have the privilege of serving alongside are never far from my heart and mind. And, while my blogging frequency has dropped pretty significantly this year, I am still taking time for reflection.

What I've been discovering during this season is that there is a delicate balance as we each learn and grow and make our unique contributions to this world, and that there is a value to building foundations that will secure both the longevity and the depth of these contributions. Part of what has brought this truth into focus for me has been the blessing of having Sylvia join our family. Even more than before, I want to be stronger, healthier, and better at all that I am doing so I can be more readily available to play, to grow, to learn, and to enjoy this beautiful world with her and Jamie. We daily get play-time together, and we make it a point to have at least an hour each day outside. Beyond these daily routines, I've doubled down on fitness and health and made significant cuts to the amount of sugar I consume (I know that my habits have a potential to become Sylvia's), slowly and steadily train toward a fifth Marine Corps Marathon for Nuru, and building an almost daily regimen of bodyweight training and mobility.

While I could have chosen to focus my efforts toward achieving a litany of goals like the ones I have listed in my Passion Planner (blogging more frequently, working toward a blue belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, paint the house), those goals will still be available next year. What won't be available again next year is Sylvia's first year of life, and witnessing all of the discoveries and developments she is making. I don't think I'll regret waiting a little bit before painting the house. It will still need to be done, but I believe I'm gaining by waiting.

I believe each of us has a great deal we want to accomplish during our short period of years on this earth for the good of others and for the glory of our Creator. May we each be granted wisdom and discernment to know when to start, how to prioritize, and how to make the most of our limited days on this earth!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Unchained by Noel Jesse Heikkinen

A couple of weeks ago, I was skimming through my Twitter feed, and I noticed somebody writing about a book that Noel Jesse Heikkinen wrote called Unchained: If Jesus Has Set Us Free, Why Don't We Feel Free. I thought that the title was intriguing, and I have known Noel for several years and I have always been impressed by the thoughtful ways he communicates our common faith. While we have never had any lengthy one on one conversations, I have appreciated his authenticity and his unconventional speaking style. David C. Cook Publishing sent me this copy and I really wanted to read the book quickly and get a review up. Noel is primary preaching pastor at Riverview Church near Lansing, Michigan, and serves as the board chair for the mission agency I used to work for, Reliant.

First off, I'm grateful for the fact that Noel writes in the same style that he speaks. His wit is ever present, and his way of providing a fresh look at faith in practice has been one of the best aspects of this book. The focus of the book is looking at multiple facets of freedom that come from faith in Jesus, and the irony that many who practice the Christian faith are not experiencing this freedom in their daily lives.

But the book starts a few steps before this freedom to talk about what it is to not be free, and what we have been freed from and for. Noel shares both personal story, examples from pop culture and history, and quite a wide array of scripture to ensure that his points are made. The book walks through what exactly Jesus has freed people from, and also explains some of the ways we exchange our freedom for various forms of slavery. Noel provides counterarguments for some of the popular misunderstandings and errors in thinking that lead people to submit themselves to what amounts to slavery to new activities, slavery to guilt, and slavery to shame (among other forms of slavery). He also differentiates a popular definition of freedom that is very self centered from a definition that opens up the fact that our freedom exists in a place where we have never been, and makes it hard for us to comprehend what it even means.

Noel unpacks very thoughtfully and thoroughly the challenges experienced by what theologians call our positional and our conditional realities, and he unpacks these not as an academic, but as a fellow sojourner and "recovering hypocrite" who wants to see others set free from guilt and shame so that they can live a more joy-filled life of faith. He doesn't prescribe a list of practices that make this transition possible, because that in itself can become another form of slavery; rather he points out the fact that this freedom is the Christian's reality, whether they feel like it or not.

As good as the text itself is, I really love the fact that this book has discussion/reflection questions at the end of each chapter. Sometimes, it is really easy to speed through a book, but not take time to consider deeply what one reads. I know that unless I intentionally carve out space to reflect, it is all too easy to be on to the next topic, book, blog, or activity.

In addition, the afterword of the book was very different from any afterword I've ever read. I won't tell you what it says--you'll have to read it yourself, but the content of the afterword really says something about Noel's faith, and his desire for other people, especially but not only his friends, to experience it and experience it richly.

Regardless of one's faith perspective, I believe readers will enjoy Noel's writing style, his heavy (but not overwhelming) use of scripture to make his case, as well as his wit and humor as they take time to savor the truths being presented by the text.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Reflection: Squash Blossom 2017

This year marks ten years of keeping a small vegetable garden at the house and of enjoying its produce. But there's something more than the productivity of this truck patch that I have enjoyed over this past decade, and that is the beauty of the growth. Each year I have carved out time (even if it is just a few seconds) in the early morning to savor the beauty of the emergence of the squash blossom. My Shawnee ancestors and many other indigenous peoples have also made a practice of enjoying this natural beauty, and even incorporating it into jewelry, beadwork, and quillwork designs. It is also a tasty delicacy that can be enjoyed during the summer as a portent of more food to come from the various plants of this small garden.

These flowers are a gift that are shared most readily with those who wake up early to see the blossom fully opened. As the day progresses, the blossoms close, and so not everyone gets to witness these plants in their full splendor. Not everyone wakes up early. The squash blossoms do not grow alone, but there are clusters of these flowers along each squash vine, some of the blossoms have squash attached, and others are simply the blooms themselves. And yet, each one contributes to the strength, growth, and development of the plant.

I savor the early morning moments I have each year with the squash blossom as well as the rest of the garden. In a college town, things seem to get moving pretty quickly, and there are many blessings to be found in the stillness and the quiet in the early morning hours. The blessings don't stop as the day moves forward; they just change in their shape and texture. Like the blessing of watching my ten month old daughter enjoy a tomato fresh from the vine.

Seeing her enjoy this makes me wonder if that was part of why my dad worked so hard in our gardens growing up. Not only did he get to watch the blessings of growth and development happen after seeds were planted in the garden, but he also had the joy of watching us kids run out to the garden to grab a tomato or a green onion or some other snack after school. There's a blessing that comes from being able to provide for others, especially when we can see that provision savored. It kind of reminds me of this video that Nuru made a few years ago highlighting the story of one of the farmers in Kenya with whom we worked, Joshua.

There are many blessings to be discovered and enjoyed as we spend time with the earth, and learn to be better stewards of the small corners where we live. I don't know if you have ever planted a garden or not, but there is a bounty beyond the early and late harvests to be found in working with the soil. Whether or not you plant a garden, may you find time in your day to savor and enjoy the beauty that the Creator has strewn all around us!