The First Fifty

5-0

It’s hard to think of myself as 50 years old.  Fifty always seemed like a big number.  An old person number.  Yet, here I am.  Fifty.  Thanks to my many friends and family who have made me feel special by taking the time to wish me a happy birthday!

Fifty doesn’t seem quite as old to me now, but it can wear on you a bit.  I understand why some people succumb to a midlife crisis as they seek validation and meaning.  They begin to wonder what their legacy will be and whether people will remember them.  They begin to measure their lives by the what-ifs.  But I can also see the greater joy of staying true and holding the course to leave a true legacy.

1966I have been incredibly blessed during my 50 years.  I was born into a family with great parents who loved and treasured my brother and me.  In all of parenting, I don’t think there is any more powerful force than making sure your kids know they are loved unconditionally.  And I was blessed to have been given that love as a child.  Mom and Dad could have taught all the parenting “experts” a thing or two, I think.

Of course, unconditional love has a source, and that source is God.  Without faith, love rings hollow.  But love that springs from faith allowed me to trust that my eternal father also loved me completely.  As our pastor likes to say, there is nothing I have done that will make God love me less, and nothing I can do that will make Him love me more.  God simply loves us completely.  If you don’t know that love yourself, you’re missing out on the best thing in life.

Mom and Dad also always believed Keith and I would be successful.  Failure was never something to fear.  The belief that the wind was always at our backs was nurtured at a young age.  Confidence in their gifts and abilities is probably the second greatest gift a parent can give their children.  Sure, I may have been an insecure introvert as a child; but I was still confident in my gifts and abilities.  It was an odd mix that served me better as an introspective adult, but their confidence in us allowed us to maintain confidence in ourselves.

Then, as I became a young man, I was blessed to meet the most amazing woman I have known.  Maggie eventually suffered a severe lapse in her otherwise excellent judgment and became my wife.  I still have to convince myself I’m not dreaming from time to time.  I’ll wake up and see her next to me, and I’m just hit with a wave of wonder.  She is everything I wish I was more of, and I cannot get enough time with her.

Of course, we struggled as a young couple.  We were bound to each other through our commitment through Christ and to marriage, but it’s always difficult when two lives blend into one.  Fortunately, there was sufficient grace to go around, and we had a lot of fun growing from two independent people into two people joyfully committed to each other.  I don’t want to imagine life with her.

famIn God’s timing, we were then blessed with Ally and Eric.  What great kids!  I tried – but too often failed – to help them be confident they were always loved and treasured unconditionally.  I have so many wonderful memories of silly times together; it’s hard to understand how I could be so blessed.  Recently, our parenting has shifted as the kids have become young adults.  My role is no longer to be “Daddy the Guardian.”  I hope to be a mentor and guide they can trust to always have their best interests at heart.

In terms of my career, I knew from a young age that my call was to be either a pastor or a lawyer.  If you’ve ever heard me deliver a sermon, you know going into law was the right call.  But I love using my gifts and talents daily to help people who are hurting.  And I treasure the relationships developed through this daily “ministry.”

So what does the next 50 hold?  I have no idea, but I trust the One who does.

In the meantime, since I believe wisdom is one of my primary gifts, let me leave you with some random thoughts I have jotted down over the past year.  If there is anything here you find helpful, I will be happy.

  • Trust and belief are closely related and deeply intertwined, but they are not the same. Trust weighs the odds. Belief doesn’t care about probability.  
  • Your greatest strength will also become your greatest weakness.  Interestingly, your greatest weakness can at times be your greatest strength.
  • Everyone struggles with the desire to place security ahead of holiness; this struggle seems to intensify with age.
  • The greatest and most difficult skill of communication is understanding how to reach others where they are.
  • Confession and repentance are not about obtaining God’s forgiveness. He’s already made that commitment. It’s about gaining a greater understanding of God’s sovereignty and injecting that knowledge directly into how you live your life.  
  • There is a big difference between trying to convert someone so you will feel better about yourself versus reaching out in love as one flawed person to another because you have experienced the joy, mercy, and forgiveness of God and you care enough about someone else that you desperately want them to know that same grace. 
  • Surely, if we understood the real tragedy around us, we would do something to help. But we deceive ourselves into living in fictional bubbles, where everything is safe and clean.   Yet, people are sick, hungry, and dying.  And many are going to Hell because they do not know Christ.
  • The gifts God gave the prophets were never for themselves. 
  • The tyranny of the trivial. Forget the urgent. It’s the meaningless things that crowd out our life and challenge our joy.
  • Politicians and media rarely let accuracy interfere with (or get in the way of) agenda.
  • If there is one lesson to learn about politics, it is this: Politics almost always ends up being about control and power rather than right or wrong.
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Ally’s High School Graduation

Tonight, Alyson​ Grace Jordan will graduate from high school.  Friends and family are coming from all over to enjoy this time with us and support her.

Ally at Rialto Beach, WA.
Ally at Rialto Beach, WA.

Ally has approached high school with a championship attitude.  Yes, she has checked off the resume boxes: Student Body President, Captain of the Cross Country Team, Multi-Year Letterman, Valedictorian, etc.  But more importantly, she has also grown tremendously as a young woman.  She is a better friend.  She has reached into the lives of those around her to minister to them and help them better understand God and His love for them.  She has grown more passionate about her relationship with Christ.  These are the things that I am even more proud of.

Some accomplishments are very nice and rewarding; others are eternal.   I’m glad she has such a wonderful mix of both.  And so, we are excited to see where God takes her next and how she continues to grow.

Meanwhile, we are in full-swing planning mode for the transition coming this Fall when our little girl moves out on her own into a brave new world. She’s ready, and she’s prepared.  I am confident she will shine a light wherever she is, and I am immensely proud of her.  She will be a success, and I know college (go Heels!) will be a wonderful time for her.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit part of me wants to just wrap my arms around her and keep her here with us.

It was only this past week I truly began to realize this Fall would be the first time since we had the kids that our family would go an extended period of time where we would not all be under one roof.  That thought hit me pretty hard.  It’s a significant shift in our lives as well as Ally’s life.

The house will be more quiet.  And it will be less fun.

I remember the moment Ally was born.  She changed our world in that second.  We understood the miracle of life in a whole new way.  And we were changed for the better.

I remember holding her while she slept as an infant.  That warm feeling with which only a baby can fill your soul.

I remember when she first began to walk, and that her first word was “light.”  How funny when a little while later, Eric’s first word was also “light.”  Why?  I don’t know.  I don’t think we talked that much about lights.  But I sure am glad they both radiate the light of Christ.

I remember a strong willed and ultra-competitive young girl who couldn’t stand to lose at anything.  The words “Goosey Loosey” still invoke trauma, I think.  Feel free to ask her why.

I remember the days spent playing with – and organizing – a herd of plastic dinosaurs.

I remember playgroup and first friends.

I remember the time I told her to not walk around the corner where I couldn’t see her; so, being the literalist that she was at 2, she dropped to her knees and crawled around the corner.

I remember that Grandma and Nana couldn’t get enough of her.  I so wish Nana was here to see her now; she would be so proud.  A child can never be loved too much, but Grandma and Nana both did their best to test that theory, and they both radiated a special love that I think only a grandmother can do with their only granddaughter.  Grandma still tries to love enough for two grandmothers now, I think.

I remember the time Maggie called me at work when Ally was 4 and said, “I just lost my first argument with your daughter; I need you to talk to her.”  Like me, Ally would sometimes argue with a wall until the wall crumbled into submission.  It can be both a gift and a curse.

I remember a child that was prone to random attacks of gravity; she could fall walking on a flat surface.  Yet she excelled in her first ski lessons.  Go figure.

I remember a child who so loved being home schooled that she argued vehemently with me when I suggested we consider public or private school for high school.  But I remember a young lady who then chose to attend GRACE and embraced the school and all it offered.

I remember when Ally began to confide in Maggie more as an adult than as a child and how this was a neat change to watch in their relationship.

I remember late night battles when the desire to spread wings clashed with desire to protect.  But I remember so many wonderful conversations from those times and believe we all learned a little better how to love and respect each other.

I remember learning that parents need to grow up, too.  We can’t put our kids in protective bubbles.  We have to learn to let them experience life, and then we have to learn how to be there to cheer them on through the hard stuff.

I remember so much more.  Above all, I remember a precious, beautiful, radiant young girl, who has grown into an even more amazing young woman.

Ally, you will always have my heart.  I love and treasure you more than words can express.  And I am proud of your character and who you are as a person, even moreso than I am proud of your accomplishments.  Keep growing, and keep your eyes and heart fixed on Christ.

I love you, honey.

As we say at the end of every church service, you are sent.

Review: Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs by Bruce Wilkinson

I have to admit I was initially turned off reading this book due to the very casual writing style early in the book.  If I recall correctly, much of the early section of the book was adapted from presentations Wilkinson has given to large groups.  In that setting, the familiar style probably worked better.  But I really got tired of sentences being punctuated by “friend” so frequently.  However, I’m glad I kept reading because Wilkinson offers up some great advice in this book.  

The book is divided into three main sections.  The first (and largest) section of the book talks about individual faith.  The second talks about marriage and the third explores relationships between parents and their children.

Wilkinson says there are three types of faith: the First Chair, Second Chair, and Third Chair.  As you might imagine, the First Chair believer is the one who is all in.  As Wilkinson describes it, “First Chair living is anchored in a person’s whole intellect, will, and heart.”  The Second Chair believer sounds like an accurate description for many of us; this person has committed to belief in Christ but is inconsistent and often compromises with the world around him or her.  As Wilkinson says, “The Second Chair person has God on the tip of his tongue but self on the throne of his heart.”  Meanwhile, a Third Chair person has not personally committed to faith in Christ, although they may be immersed in something Wilkinson calls “churchianity” – surrounding oneself with the trappings of faith (such as church attendance) but not having a personal relationship with Christ.

Wilkinson’s goal in this book is to help the reader move into First Chair faith.  He uses Biblical examples of men from these different chairs to illustrate the impact our position has on our relationship with God and those around us.  He also then gives an example of each chair from modern life.   He has a good discussion about how goals differ from these different chairs and does a nice job of showing the slippery slope of compromise.

Most of Wilkinson’s target audience would likely identify themselves as Second Chair Christians, under the rubric he proposes.  It is of some note, then, when Wilkinson says, “From personal experience I can tell you the most unhappy, frustrated, stressed, and disillusioned people in the world are not non-Christians as you might expect, but Second Chair people who know Christ yet who fight Him and His leadership for years and even decades.”

Wilkinson spends significant time explaining the effects of being a Second Chair Christian and then begins to work toward a solution by proposing a series of questions to work through in order to gain a better understanding of lordship in our lives.  The primary tool he recommends is confronting personal sin, and he devotes significant time to discussing how to confront these sins in our lives.  He also offers practical tips for recognizing recurring sin and developing a strategy to avoid remaining ensnared by it.

He says there are two primary motives at the root of sin:

  1. We seek the pleasure that comes from that sin, and
  2. We seek the absence of pain that is the immediate source of our temptation to commit that sin.

He then begins to turn the book toward personal relationships, noting that 70% of “our inner conflict” results from unforgiveness.  This leads him to a discussion of marriage that at first felt a bit out of place in the book, but seemed appropriate once I got a little further in.  Of course, he talks about having a First Chair marriage, too, and he spends some energy discussing how a marriage should look.  He addresses the roles of husbands and wives.  Although he generally espouses traditional headship and helper roles (with a good bit of clarification since there is such misunderstanding in public discussion), he also cites Scriptural authority for the wife to rule her household.  He also discusses what he calls the “The Seven Stages of Marital Slide” and calls on men and women to find joy in their marriages.  He had a great personal example from his life of taking a year away from ministry to focus on his marriage and his wife because his wife confronted him on the fact he had prioritized his ministry over her.  This section led to a very nice discussion on restoring marital oneness.

He then moved on to discussing being a First Chair parent.  By now, I was looking forward to the advice he would offer in this section.  He exhorts parents to raise godly kids, not just good kids, and he makes good use of a sports metaphor to explain how critical it is that we pass along true faith to our children.

A relay event has always struck me as a powerful illustration of parenting. Success for us as mom and dad isn’t just about how well we run as individuals, but about how well we pass the baton. And only when the story of the generations who follow us is told will our “win” at raising godly kids be known.

Wilkinson goes on to discuss different parenting styles and the effects these styles can have on our children, and he proposes seven steps to raising godly children.  He spends the last chapter explaining that pain in a child’s heart can haunt them as adults, so he suggests an approach in order to deal with this sort of “heart wound.”

Overall, the guidance in the book is good, and I certainly felt much better about the book when I finished it than earlier when I was frustrated so many statements ended with a causal address.  On the whole, I recommend the book, and there are some sections that are particularly strong.  If you want to check out the first few pages of the book, you can do so for free at Amazon.

Disclosure – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Review: When Work & Family Collide by Andy Stanley

I was excited to see this book available for review recently.  Andy has a way of conveying Biblical truth in a way that connects to the struggles of day-to-day life.  This particular struggle, balancing family and career, is one I believe to be of great importance in our success-driven society – and in my own life.

When Work & Family Collide

The book begins with Andy offering context to those of us who are workaholics or who struggle with prioritizing the demands of work with the needs of home.  Essentially, he wants us to understand that when we choose to work long hours, even for good purposes, we are putting work at higher priority than spending time with loved ones.  And the message to those loved ones resonates at a deeper level than we might realize.

Andy proposes two solutions.  First, honest communication.  Ask family members how they feel about your work schedule or when you miss their events.  Second, action.  Make a deliberate and calculated schedule change that glorifies God by emphasizing family.  I should note that Andy focuses the book mostly on the impact time away at work has on those closest to us, but it also has a significant impact on our service to God.  Andy does spend a good amount of time explaining that we are to honor God with our time, but in this book, the focal point of that desire is expressed through interaction with loved ones.

One thing I appreciated was how Andy defined the problem of time commitment:  “Your problem is not discipline. Your problem is not organization. Your problem is not that you have yet to stumble onto the perfect schedule.  And your problem is not that the folks at home demand too much of your time.  The problem is this: there’s not enough time to get everything done that you’re convinced – or others have convinced you – needs to get done.” (page 14.)

Throughout the book, Andy says you either “cheat” your family or you “cheat” work.  I’m not a huge fan of this sort of language, but I understand what he’s trying to say.  In essence, there simply is not enough time in the day to do everything work requires and meet every need or desire of your family.  I’ve lived with that tension for my entire career.  Even though he says you need to “cheat” work, Andy’s solution of prioritizing time is predicated on open and honest communication at work, too.  In that respect, I quibble with the use of the word “cheat.”  His main goal in using “cheat” seemed to be to emphasize how we treat our families when we don’t make them the priority, and he certainly is not advocated doing anything unethical to your employer.  I just felt the language was clumsy on this issue.

But his conclusions are powerful, as are some of the examples in the book.  I was shocked to learn that in his own life as a church planter, Andy committed to spending no more than 45 hours per week at work.  In fact, I can hardly fathom that he was able to build such a strong ministry with that sort of time commitment.

And there is the rub with our earthly thinking: Andy did not build that ministry.  God did.

Likewise, God ordains the paths of our lives and, if we are to believe the Bible, is sovereign in all things.  This means we can expect God to bless our commitment to follow His leading and His paths, such as investing time with our families.  Andy showed the provisional side of God’s character throughout the book; and God truly will fill in the gaps when we are committed to following Him.  The issue for many of us is that we believe but do not truly trust, so we try to handle things ourselves.

I heard a pastor recently tell an analogy that lined up perfectly with this truth.  He talked about a rappelling trip he took when he was just a teenager.  Although he was afraid, he forced himself to lean back on the rope and repel down the mountain.  His friend, try as he might, could not will himself to put all his weight on the rope, so the friend tried to climb down using the rope as a safety net.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way rappelling works, so the friend was unable to get down and had to climb back up.  The friend was exhausted, had not accomplished his goal, and was now embarrassed.  These are the same consequences we often face when we refuse to lean fully on God and try to do things ourselves.

When we spend long hours at work, our spouses shut down because they don’t feel prioritized in our lives.  Everything in a marriage becomes harder.  We become ashamed.  Our children may lack feeling truly loved, causing them to seek the wrong sort of attention or – even worse – viewing God’s love as conditional or limited, like ours.  They lack direction and focus.  These are things that happen because we think we have to “get it done” at work ourselves rather than fully trusting God to provide for our families.

One thing the book does not do is promise some sort of pie-in-the-sky response by God.  Andy clearly says you may make less money if you work fewer hours.  He clearly says you may have to give up some of the “toys” you thought you wanted.  But he also very clearly says God will honor your commitment to following Him.  It is not the prosperity gospel, but it is the truth of attaining an abundant life, and Andy is clear that we also honor God by providing for our families (in case anyone thought the answer was simply to abandon work!).

Andy encourages us to trust God.  He gives some specific steps for how to trust God.  And then he gives a general plan of action for how to properly prioritize family rather than just follow some general sense of work-life balance.  Andy encourages us to 1. Make up your mind to quit “cheating” at home; 2. Come up with a plan for how to handle a transition (and also communicate it to the appropriate people, including your manager); and 3. Set up a test period to see how well it works.

One last note, since I just alluded to the concept of work-life balance: A friend saw me reading When Work & Family Collide, and we had a brief discussion about the subject.  He said he had been to a work seminar recently in which the theme was not just work-life balance, but “work-life integration” – as in, always being available for work.  My friend rightly scoffed at this concept, but I have to guiltily admit this same concept has often been my attempt at finding a way to spend more time with family; just bring the work with me.  Unfortunately, distracted time causes the same frustration to those around us as lack of time.

My point being, don’t try to half-step your way through it, like I have done for years.  Pray.  Do your best to discern God’s leading.  Commit to following that lead.  Communicate your intentions, and then do it.  I am attempting to apply this lesson in my own life; I encourage you to do the same.

In closing, Andy had one final bit of encouragement that I also want to relate here.  While we can quibble with some of his assumptions, the conclusion seems sound:

When successful men and women reminisce, their defining moments professionally are never related to how many hours they worked. And I’ve never heard of a business failure attributed to a work schedule.  Success is always related to good decisions, unexpected opportunities, market conditions, and a host of other things that nobody really had any control over. The sixty hours you work this week may not reap nearly the same productivity as the sixty hours you put in next week. Why? Because of things you have no control over. …

But the opposite is true in family life. Happily married couples never attribute their success to unexpected opportunities, market conditions, luck, or good timing.  You’ve never met a healthy family who chalked up their success to being in the right place at the right time.  With family, success is always related to time. In the world of family, you have far more control over the things that really make a difference.  (pages 102 – 103.)

Disclosure – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Midlife Crisis?

I’m a soon-to-be-44-year-old-professional male, so I would appear to be a prime candidate for a midlife crisis. I have a stable (wonderful is actually more accurate) marriage and loving kids. I have a meaningful career that I have really enjoyed and feel makes a difference. So, am I really a candidate?

By all recent accounts, yes, but not in the way the phrase is normally used.

A friend and I talked a couple of weeks ago about our version of having a midlife crisis. He was having the same basic experience I was. After focusing virtually all of our talent and effort into work, we were both feeling a very strong tug to focus on the people in our lives and the ministry opportunities around us.

Lamborghini Murciélago at Monza
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t think I’m in any danger of falling for some hot babe (at least, no one other than Maggie). Nor am I likely to blow all my money on an exotic car (no matter how cool they may be – although I have to admit my bike might play a role in the traditional definition).  But I am in the throes of becoming more passionate about my family and my God.  It’s challenging and exciting.  (Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been deeply in love with Maggie and the kids. I’m just trying to be more focused about our time.)

Men seem to dive into poor choices at a “midlife crisis” because they look around and see life slipping by. The believe the things they thought were important are no longer all that important. They wonder what it was all for. They decide to focus on themselves because they think they’ve “earned it.”

That’s not exactly what’s happening to my friend and me, but there are at least a few parallels.  We haven’t decided anything is less important, so we’re not scaling back careers or wrecking our marriages.  We seem to actually be making better choices.  We’re finding ways to be more efficient and effective at work in order to buy a little extra time.  We believe our work is very meaningful, but we recognize the need for balance, and we want to do something important outside the office.  We’re also trying to take better care of our health, so we can be here longer and enjoy the time more. In general, though, we’re trying to focus less on ourselves and more on those around us.

This sort of midlife crisis isn’t about giving anything up. It’s not about walking away from the commitments of marriage or career. It’s about responding to the call to be a better steward of what we have. It’s about being more engaged with God on a daily basis. It’s about dying to self. It’s about making a difference in the lives of others while still carrying on the lives with which we’ve been blessed.

I previously was able to be much more engaged with my family and ministry opportunities despite having a huge work drive.  As time went on, family and ministry time was supplanted by down time since I treasured “personal time.”  I’d like to say it was that all my time went into work.  While I did – and still do – put a lot of time into work, when I do a real evaluation, I can’t say it was really work that took time away from family and ministry.  It was at least as much self. That’s why I feel pretty confident I can re-engage without shorting other commitments, particularly as I have learned many good ways to be more efficient with work.

Am I up for the challenge? I think so.  I hope so. When I consider the potential legacies I could some day leave, the ones that make the most sense are ones that focus on eternity.

Willing to Die for Those You Love

I had an interesting dream last night. It went like this:

A screenshot from To Beep or Not to Beep.
Image via Wikipedia

Our family was somehow gathered along the lip of a huge cliff.  I don’t know if we had climbed there, but it was a long way down – like Wile E. Coyote kind of long way down.  As we all moved carefully, Ally teetered at the edge of the cliff and then fell off. I quickly assessed the options. Along the ledge was a small parachute that, for some reason, I knew would only work for someone below 120 pounds. We had no other parachutes or ways to save her as she plummeted to certain death. I grabbed the parachute, leapt over the edge, caught up to her, strapped the parachute on her, told her I loved her and that she shouldn’t worry, then pulled the cord for her and let go. She immediately slowed and floated to safety as I gained speed in a plummet that could only end badly.

The nice thing about dreams is that you get to be the hero, and you don’t even have to really get hurt, so I didn’t have to think twice about diving off to save Ally, even though I knew it meant I wouldn’t make it. I’d like to believe I’d make that sacrifice, if necessary, even if it wasn’t a dream.

In real life, we often say we’d die for someone we love. I guess the question should be whether we’re willing to die to self for someone we love.  I’m thinking specifically of the marriage relationship.  Since I don’t face actual life-and-death marriage situations (at least, not so far in 17 1/2 years), saying I’d die for Maggie is really a somewhat cheap expression of love.  It would be much more meaningful to her if I would die to myself for her on a daily basis.

What do I mean by that? I mean I would die to myself by putting her desires above my own.  I would die to myself by seeking ways to lift her up and encourage her.  I would die to myself by focusing my attention on her rather than on pursuing my own entertainment.  I would die to myself by handling all the annoying little things to make sure she didn’t have to deal with them.  I would die to myself by speaking her love language rather than my own.

If you are married, I hope you will really consider this approach. Many marriages end in divorce, but I believe most divorces can be prevented with a proper focus. Being “spiritual” doesn’t do it. You have to be intentional. There is no greater evidence of intentionality in a relationship than being focused on and attuned to your partner.

We know that when we’re dating. The world revolves – perhaps too much so – around this wonderful person. But we tend to become more and more self-centered after marriage. “She doesn’t make me happy anymore.”  Really? When was that someone else’s job? And, by the way, how are you doing in terms of “making” her happy?

But there is a way out that will make you happier than you would have thought possible. Die to self. Show her you really mean it when you say you love her and would die for her. She’d much rather you live for her than die for her (at least, most of the time!).

And, to be clear for those who may object to saying you should “live for her,” I’m not talking about putting anyone else in God’s place. But note the truth above applies to our relationships with God, too. Die to self. Live for him. No wonder Christ chose marriage as his primary illustration of our walk with him.

So, try it. You may have to dive off a metaphorical cliff or two, but it’s not as far as it seems. Make a real commitment to reinvigorate your marriage by focusing less on yourself and more on your spouse. Die to self, live in love.