Sunday, January 24, 2016

#2 - Faith Journey (The Year of 52)

Jordan River
I'm on a journey in my 52nd year to write about my memories and experiences, my triumphs and learnings through difficulties ("tragedies" is far too harsh a word as most of them are 1st world problems). I have no doubt there are things between the years of 1969 and 1977, but this is the jump I've chosen to make for this "project."

I came to faith backwards, is how I like to begin sharing my story. That's probably a theme for my life, doing things in the wrong order! Wrong according to some, that is. I'm not sure God is so concerned with the order as with the heart of the matter, although there are certainly cases to be made for the order of some things like marriage and babies. But that's for another post.

My family was part of a large Church in Cincinnati and I was participating in a large Confirmation class. I'm guessing there were 35 in the class. It was THE most boring class I'd ever been in up to that point and from that point on to today! The curious thing was that down the hall in the Parlor was a growing youth group that as they grew they got louder.

My plans were clear: I would be confirmed, join the church and never be seen again. God interrupted, as He so often does. He had other plans. As the saying goes, if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans!

As the end of the class approached and membership loomed, if we had not been baptized as an infant we needed to choose the mode of baptism we wanted, sprinkling or immersion. What I appreciate about the Wesleyan theology of the Methodist Church is that it's not about the water but rather the activity of God in baptism. When the focus is on God then the amount of water doesn't matter, although there are clear analogies to death and resurrection in an immersion baptism that makes it a preferred method.

Ancient baptism pool - Israel
Well, I chose to be immersed, along with what I remember were more than a dozen others. We Methodists had to borrow a Baptist Church for the ceremony. In 1977 I was probably thinking: "I've already been in the water 2 hours a day for 6 days this week, now I'm going under again!?" But that's what I did. We marched behind the screen, up some steps, down a couple of steps into the baptismal pool and out the other side.

It was after that that something changed. I dried off, got dressed and at some point found myself out under the portico of this Baptist Church. I remember looking up, because that's where God lives, and praying:

"I don't know if You're real, but if You are, I want to know You."

Talking with friends who were part of the growing and loud youth group, they were talking about Jesus. I knew about him but not a lot. In Confirmation class we weren't learning about Jesus, the Head of the Church. We were learning about the Church and I was bored. These people down the hall were joyful, excited to be at Church. "How weird," I thought to myself.

"I don't know if You're real, but if You are - and these friends down the hall believe something about You - then I want to know You."

Backwards. Baptism then a prayer of faith. Although I'm really not sure the order matters here because baptism depends on God's activity not the water. God moves and that's the most important part. The focus is on what He does far more than what I do, as if I could do something without Him that was of eternal significance.

Whichever way it happened I'm glad it happened. I think it took! My faith journey was off, on a roller coaster ride through life. I consider this a pivotal moment in my life. What is your pivotal spiritual moment?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

#1 - Memories (The Year of 52)

My earliest childhood memory goes back to age 5. That's a long way back from where I am today. As is often the case, one's earliest memory can help solve the riddle of "What am I all about?" For me this is the case.

If you know me well, you won't be surprised to find my mind going back to a swimming pool. My first competition was at age 5, even though it was unplanned and unanticipated. With a borrowed suit (that was too big) and no goggles (yes, it is possible to compete without goggles), the pool has been calling my name ever since.

My mother fills in some of the gaps before this vivid memory of mine. We arrived at the iconic now and at that time new Keating Natatorium in Cincinnati, Ohio to watch my sister compete in the summer Junior Olympics. Walking through the doors into the Natatorium which took you into the middle of the wooden, pull-out stands, Coach Tim Blood asked my mom: "Did he bring a suit?"

I wasn't really on the team. Apparently I got in the water to "practice" because I was there with my mom for my sister's swim practice. The answer was, "No. He's not even on the team."

Coach Tim said they needed a fourth for a relay. All I had to do was make it down one lap of the pool. With the too big suit tightly tied on my 5-year old body, I arrived at the scoreboard end of the pool to be the 4th.

I'm not sure when I realized it, but the pool was long course, 50 meters, a length I'd never seen or swum before. My outdoor "practices" were in a 25-meter facility. I don't remember diving in but then up pops my memory. At about 25 meters, when my mind and body felt like I should be finished, I lifted my head to see I was halfway. Only halfway. Twice as far to go. I remember those thoughts and then the determination to finish, which I did.

This earliest of memories is a microcosm of what drives me in life. I love to win. More than that, I hate to lose. I'm competitive. Give me a challenge and I'll find a way to make it work. Tell me I can't do something or that something won't work, it only spurs me on forward. These are good attributes, springing from the competitive character that makes the impossible possible.

I'll make a competition out of how many strokes it takes for one lap in the pool to how long it takes me to cut the grass at home.

This determination to win can also be a "not so good thing", when it becomes the only thing. I can get so focused on reaching the goal that I will forget about the people who surround my life. If I'm not careful, others can become a means to an end rather than part of the journey and accomplishment. The intense focus is an asset and a deficit. This is a thread that can be found in every story of my life.

So I'm learning to enjoy the journey and to remain competitive but being more careful of people. Everyone has strengths that can become weaknesses all too easily.

What is your earliest childhood memory? Does it serve as a micro-story for your life? Do you have a strength that is also a weakness when it becomes the only thing?

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Year of 52 - The Beginning

It's my 52nd birthday, a time for reflecting, refocusing, renewing and redeeming. A friend of the heart, Dan, counseled me during a particularly difficult time: "God redeems all that He allows." God doesn't cause everything that happens in our lives. Everything does NOT happen for a reason. God does use everything that happens in our lives, whether by His ordained will, the stupidity or evil of others or our own unwise choices. God redeems all that He allows and I have found that taking time to reflect helps me to refocus, renew and redeem the experiences He has allowed.

There are times I've ignored God and experienced things that He can redeem. There are times I've chosen my own way and run into issues and experiences that weren't His will, but He can redeem them.

With my 52nd birthday I've decided to write about 52 experiences I've had, choices made by me or choices made by others, all of which had an impact on my life. It's not a matter of positive or negative impact because I believe if I learn something, then it's a positive. You can succeed or learn. Failure really isn't an option for me.

I've made a list chronologically, along with some more or less general experiences such as "mission trips" rather than separating out each one. From my earliest childhood memory at 5 years to those life-altering times such as marriage, becoming a parent then a grandparent, there are lessons I've learned. I've uncovered patterns - some of which I don't like - running like threads. It's not surprising but compiling the list brought new insight and appreciation.

I've found that looking back, reflecting, is the best way for me to move effectively forward. It's a way to learn. Distance and time bring clarity to life's experiences. My choices for the most recent two years are suspect at this point, perhaps a little myopic. Time will tell.

The first post will be the week of the 17th, the day I share with Benjamin Franklin and Al Capone, along with a high school classmate, Jill. We're quite a collection.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Leaders & Takers

I stood for some moments watching these ducks and I learned a lesson about leadership, maybe more than one lesson. You see, these ducks weren't all doing work to get the food amongst the kelp and seaweed at the shallow bottom. One duck was diligently diving while the others stayed above the fray, but just as diligently searching for the diving duck. As the non-diving ducks would see their compatriot surfacing, they would frantically move into position and begin to reach for whatever the one had worked hard to get.

There are leaders who, well, lead. I'm not thinking of delineating between good and bad leaders here, just that some people lead the way. They are the divers who search out new possibilities and work hard to gather resources.

There are takers who, well, try to take what leaders work hard at gathering.

What I didn't say early was that these were young ducks. They were learning but while one was learning the benefits of hard work the others were learning the idleness of being takers.

I wondered which one I have been exhibiting. Which one are you?