Begin the Day by Sleeping

I have struggled with sleeplessness off an on in my adult life. The common theme when sleeplessness sets in is worry. My mind races and I tend to try to do two main things: solve problems in my head on my own or play out possible scenarios for whatever is consuming my thoughts. As I continue during Lent to consider  the “unforced rhythms of grace” that Jesus offers, I wonder what His life has to say in regards to sleep.

The fact that Jesus slept at all is a great reminder of his humanity. He had the biggest mission statement in history and yet he slept. Maybe if part of it had to do with his Jewish outlook on when the day begins. A new day begins at sundown in Jewish culture and the first gift of God for the new day is rest. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the unforced rhythm that Jesus offers regarding sleep is to see it as a gift from God. Even Jesus received this gift from his Father.

We have the opportunity to join Jesus in beginning our day by sleeping. I believe the first gift God wants to give us each day is sleep. It’s practical surrender, and I know Jesus is very interested in us learning to live a surrendered life. When my mind begins to spin or wander as I lay my head on the pillow, I remind myself that I’m not God, I’m off duty, He’s got it. I’m off the hook, it’s not up to me. May we receive this unforced rhythm of Jesus as we learn to see sleep as a gift.

Living with Rhythms

As I mentioned on Ash Wednesday, I am exploring rest during Lent this year. Specifically, during these opening days of Lent I am looking at Jesus statement in Matt 11:29: Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. It seems Jesus is offering rhythms, rhythms that we can lean into or reject.

As I type the word rhythm it makes me think of Father Rock. He is a retired Catholic priest who lived from age 70-85 in the hills of Oregon in a private lake community. He spent his “retirement” walking with men by having them join him at “Rockhaven” (his home) for a two-day retreat. I was able to return to Rock Haven once or twice a year for ten years and it was wonderful!

One of Rock’s staple teachings is ROD (Rhythm, Order, Discipline). Father Rock’s teaches how Jesus lived his life with Rhythm, Order and Discipline. According to Rock, RHYTHM is: that which occurs regularly, what is repeated and expected. The human body has natural rhythms, thus rhythm is helpful to the accomplishment of all things human.

How do we develop Rhythm in our life? (Father Rock)

  1. Plan your day with broad expectation
  2. Set priorities from urgency, importance, helpfulness
  3. Do what needs to be done today
  4. Take care of peoples’ needs first, then work things
  5. Make prayer part of your daily rhythm
  6. Do major work when you have major energy

These insights from Father Rock are practically helpful for me to look at as I begin a new day/week.

Ash Wednesday: Unforced Rhythms of Grace

What are the unforced rhythms of grace? Is it possible to learn them in 2019?

Eugene Peterson did a marvelous job with his interpretation of the Bible through the Message. In a few sections particularly, I believe he captured the essence of Jesus’ teaching, and the truest meaning of the Greek text, perhaps more than any other biblical scholar. Matt 11:28-30 is one of those sections.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 Throughout Lent this year I’ll be looking at Jesus’ teachings and promises around rest. To kick it off this Ash Wednesday, the “unforced rhythms of grace,” statement of Jesus stands out. So what are the unforced rhythms of grace and how might we learn them?

I believe the unforced rhythms are the rhythms that keep us in tune to ourselves and God. The once atheist turned follower of Jesus CS Lewis wrote, “The first job each morning consists in shoving [all other voices] all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” As we consider the unforced rhythms of grace, we are wise to ask ourselves if we are doing this on a consistent basis. Are we “shoving back…letting the quieter life come flowing in?” It’s not easy with the demands of the day, but the alternative is to keep living the opposite. Perhaps we call it the forced rhythms of antonyms of grace: disfavor, deformity, unkindness, pride, works.

As hard as it can be to learn the unforced rhythms of grace, it is comforting to remember that it is the way of Jesus. It is what he modeled when he walked the earth. His teaching have a way of keeping us grounded in the rhythms of grace that we were designed for. As we consider the unforced rhythms of grace, it is not so much a new learning, as it is a returning to that which we were created for.

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Being comfortable is of primary concern for most of us. We want things that give us comfort. We want to be isolated from pain. We want a certain amount of money in our bank account. We want stability. We want all of our relationships to be going well. We want to know that things are going to turn out ok. Put simply, being comfortable is very important to us, or at least it is to me.

One year ago this week Anna and I celebrated the release of my book Am I Loved? with a group of family and friends. As I looked around the room that night a year ago I was overwhelmed with gratitude for two things: God’s love for us and His display of love toward us through people. It was simple incredible to stand among a group of people that we get to live life with. One of the things I said in a short reflection with the group that night was that God’s story is always better, always more adventurous and always more creative. Little did I know that God’s story for our family in 2018 would involve getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

If you know some of our story, or have followed this blog in 2018, you know that things took a downturn with Anna’s cancer in the Spring. You may or may not know that things took a downturn for me as well in May and that due to stress, anxiety and sleeplessness I had to be hospitalized. Standing in front of family and friends in January at the book launch was comfortable for me. Sitting in a hospital four months later wondering if my wife was going to live and if I was going to be ok was very uncomfortable.

A quick reflection on followers of God in the Old and New Testament reveals that human comfort just doesn’t seem that important to God. What seems important to God is for His people to learn what it means to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I guess more simply put, God is interested in trust. Our learning to trust Him no matter what is going on in our lives. Our willingness to believe that He is for us and with us no matter where life takes us. The wisdom of Isaiah tells us,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9)

As our family enters 2019 we are attempting to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. The last two years haven’t played out the way we thought, not by a long shot. But what we do know now, perhaps more than ever, is that God is with us, and that His love toward us through people has never felt more real.

Anna Cancer Update

Thank you so much for your support and prayers this past year, and especially this summer. Anna completed 12 weeks of chemotherapy in mid-August. We recently had a CT scan to check on the progress of treatment and we are very encouraged with the results. According to the oncologist, the scan shows no sign of the original tumor. In addition, there was extensive lymph node activity in May. As of this latest scan all lymph nodes appear normal with no invasion. There is still a small amount suspect cancerous activity in the liver so the doctor has prescribed an additional 6 chemotherapy treatment in hopes of getting the cancer to full remission. We are taking a deep breath around here and are very grateful for how well Anna’s body is responding to treatment. Thank you for continuing to hold our family through this season of life.

In May a friend was reading Psalm 18 and pictured Anna, the kids and me standing in a wide-open field being held by God and God’s people.

But me he caught—reached all the way
    from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
    the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
    but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!

 God made my life complete
    when I placed all the pieces before him.
When I got my act together,
    he gave me a fresh start.
Now I’m alert to God’s ways;
    I don’t take God for granted.
Every day I review the ways he works;
    I try not to miss a trick.
I feel put back together,
    and I’m watching my step.
God rewrote the text of my life
    when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes. (Psalm 18:16-24)

Anna and I have returned to Psalm 18 many time the past 5 months and we feel like this experience of being held by God and God’s people has come to fruition over and over as we have “placed all the pieces before him.” Thank you for being among those who have held us through this season of life. We are so grateful for you!

Four Life Transforming Experiences

I’ve been reading a book titled, Jesus Plus Nothing. It is impacting me in that the author makes the case that Jesus provides experiences in our lives that we all desire. Experiences that often seem unattainable. As our family goes through this season of cancer we are comforted by these truths of Jesus outlined in the book.

Four Life Transforming Experiences:

The Experience of Peace: Jesus was all about peace.  Peace is not just absence of conflict or cessation of the battles waging in us and around us.  It’s a sense of inner calm that all is going to be alright.

The Experience of Joy:  Joy is different from happiness.  Joy is deeper than that.  Happiness depends upon the happenings that are going on right now.  Joy is an inner quality of seeing things with a positive perspective.  Joy is the ability to enjoy the scenery, when you are on a detour!

The Experience of Love:  Although peace and joy are commonly identified with Jesus, love is the theme of who Jesus is and what he taught.  Most Christian children know the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Jesus is the epitome of love. To act like Jesus is to do the loving thing. – This love relationship is so tight that a follower of Jesus can actually own the love of God in himself.

The Experience of Grace: Grace is something you don’t deserve, something you didn’t work for, something you weren’t able to plan for or to orchestrate. Grace is given by Jesus, many times with no rhyme or reason to it. – Two of the dynamics within the experience of grace are forgiveness and freedom.

As we reflect on these experiences, we are reminded that we are being invited into the peace, joy, love and grace of Jesus every day, every moment. He is with us, we are in his care.

Anna Cancer Update: On Hope and Suffering

It was late fall 2017 that we last titled a blog post: “Anna Update.” For months there just wasn’t much to report. Anna was feeling good and we were encouraged by her progress. Her December scan showed that her tumor and lymph node activity was the same as the previous scan at the end of the summer. It wasn’t until her scan in early May that we received new news. The news was such that a blog post was the last thing on our minds. The news was that the tumor had grown in size and beyond the original location of the body. After we gathered ourselves and considered viable next steps, we decided together for Anna to begin a 3-6 month regimen of chemotherapy. We are 5 treatments in, and are just now beginning to catch our breath.

I looked back at that last “Anna Update” post and the subject was Waiting and Hoping. Turns out we may not be very good at either. We thought we had learned a few things over the years about waiting and hoping, and perhaps we have, but we know very little about how to actually do it. How do you wait and hope? There is a section of Romans 5 on hope that I have not ever liked,

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not disappoint…” (Romans 5:1-5a)”

The part I don’t like is suffering. Paul says that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Anna and I want to learn to hope but we don’t want to suffer. Who does?!

Suffering isn’t a popular word in our culture. According to Dan Bruner, “Becoming Christ-like will involve suffering. Suffering is what causes us to trace our lives after the example of the suffering King. Suffering is not about pain. Suffering is about giving up and losing control.” Maybe that is what it means to wait and hope. Maybe it’s about embracing suffering, releasing control. And perhaps that is why Paul mentions suffering as the precursor to endurance, character and hope. We want all of those things, but we pushback against the suffering.

So, as I mentioned, we are just now beginning to catch our breath. We don’t know what the days and weeks ahead hold, but we are certain that God is with us in the suffering, in the hoping. The learning process this past year since Anna’s diagnosis has been so valuable for us. We have asked God from the beginning to direct our steps, and to specifically show us the next step along the way. This has been a source of comfort as He has answered that prayer over and over this past year. We see this current treatment as the next step of trusting God in the process.

It’s almost hard to type because it doesn’t make sense on paper, but we are finding ourselves more and more grateful – grateful for the suffering; grateful for the hope that we have in Jesus. And, grateful for the many friends and family who are with us. We have been overwhelmed at the care and support of so many who love us. We are not in this alone, not by a long shot!

Thanks be to God!