Friday, May 5, 2017

Oak Savanna Souls

We grew up with 40 acres of woods as our playground. A cool, magical escape from the lazy humid days of stifling heat. We'd walk the lane to the wooded edge and step boldly inside.

There were trees to climb and trails forged by animals to follow. One particular favorite tree had a low lying branch that slung out like a porch swing. I'd sit on that tree limb, the soft breeze slowly lifting my hair, as I sung and made up complicated stories of fairies I was certain held home in these woods.

The woods were exciting and full of things like moss and strangely shaped rocks and vines that held berries I knew I could eat. But the woods also held secrets. Acres you couldn't reach because the brambles and thorns were too thick, refusing you entry even at the exchange of blood.

I realized then that I would never truly know these woods for the simple fact they wouldn't let me all the way in.

The first step to restoring an Oak Savanna is to remove everything that doesn't belong. The thicket, the thorns, the overgrowth that chokes others out; it's all removed. Invasive weeds and quick growing nuisance trees that shoot up too fast and too tall, hoarding all the sun and leaving Oak saplings weak in the shadows are cut down and hauled away. The bad and the ugly removed to give the mighty Oaks a better chance to grow strong.

But there are also decent trees holding court among the Oaks. Trees that, on any other given day, would be considered a pretty decent addition to a yard or field. They aren't invasive species. They aren't harboring illnesses or disease. They have full limbs covered in bright green leaves, waving a gentle welcome in the wind.

They are good trees.

But they don't belong.

Sometimes, something good can stand in the way of something else becoming great.

Sometimes, something good can stand in our way of becoming great.

It's easy to look at our lives and see the thorns and thickets that are stopping us from standing tall and mighty. We remove things like immature behavior, arguing with clerks, screaming at the driver who is going too slow. We chuck out the irresponsible friend who can't seem to have a good time without getting drunk and disorderly. We cut out the drugs and the booze and the casual sex to make room for the relationships that last and the children who will bring grandchildren who will bring great grandchildren and so on.

But it's harder to get real about the decent things; the seemingly good things that, standing alone would be wonderful, but for whatever reason they're soaking up too much of your sun.

It's so much harder to take inventory of our lives and admit that hard truth that this, while good on its own, is not good for the growth of me. 

It's easy to get overwhelmed and frozen in fear as the reality of eliminating something good from your life is something you need to take action on in order to reach your mighty potential. Too many book clubs and recreation athletic leagues are slowly crowding out the necessary communication needed to make a relationship work. Too many community fundraisers are standing in the way of paying that past due bill. Too many friends are paying for the dinner and giving the good gifts at Christmas but gossip too much while peppering toxic ideas in their commentary.

We know better.

We know what we need to do.

And those of us that do the hard work of getting rid of the good are rewarded with the great.

But others will not want to look at their life at all. Content with the brambles and thorns piled high, vines so thick it's impossible to see through. Acres of a soul unreachable. They would rather remain unknown than to start the hard clearing required to enable them to reach their greatest potential, They would rather keep the comfort of their disorder and chaos than remove the bad and ugly required to give them a better chance to grow tall and strong.

Are you mighty?

Are you living tall and majestic?

If not, what is standing in your way of becoming great?

And why are you letting it?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Greatest Challenge of My Week

Last night at our weekly Bible Study, we were presented with a challenge: this next week, really look into a hard truth within ourselves and answer the question, "how do I treat other Christians?"

On the surface it seems like a no-brainer. I love Christ and I love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ! One of my most favorite things in the world is to talk about God -- not in the hammering of theological rhetoric but rather of the awe and amazement I feel with God working in my life.

You want to sing together? Pray together? Talk about how awesome God is together? I'm there with you!

I love other Christians and I shower them with my love!


I mean....

just the ones I like.

Because the hard truth is that lady at my church who is socially awkward and trying to follow her in a conversation makes my head hurt? I avoid her. I don't make it obvious, of course. No one would know that was what I was doing. But the hard truth is, I do it. And I watch out of the corner of my eye (always being careful not to make direct eye contact) how she works the room trying hard to find someone to talk to. And I can see it -- I can see how her heart longs to be welcomed in. And I actually pray that someone decides to make the first move and walk straight up to her and say hello, ask how her week was. Not me, of course. I don't think I'm the person who should do it. But it's good for me to pray that someone else does it, right?

And that guy who loves the Lord with all his heart but always (and I mean always) manages to somehow talk about a hot topic item I'd rather stay away from? Please, oh, please, Lord don't let me get stuck serving with him. I don't want to be perceived as having the same exact view as him and I am not going to debate him. So, it's just easier to avoid him. Which is good, right? Because that way I'm tampering down potential drama. Right? I mean, this isn't the time or the place for that conversation so it's better I just serve by someone else.

Then there's that family. You know the one. They have more money than they know what to do with. Here I am scraping by while trying to raise awareness about worldwide poverty but what are they doing? I see they posted about another vacation they took. Must be nice. Try living in a third world. They have no idea what going without looks like. Obviously their heart isn't in the right place. Sure, they might come to church each week but what sort of difference are they really making in the world? I mean, I don't really know them. I've never actually had any sort of conversation that one would consider in depth or personal. I don't actually know their story, like how they met or how they came to live in this town or, well, anything about them really. But I know their type, you know?

And that one. Oh, man. I still remember the things she said when Avery died under the guise of Christian love and truth telling but all she did was further destroy my shattered Mama heart. Others have told me that she really does have a good heart, that she's well intentioned but sometimes her passion gets in the way and she doesn't think when she says things. She didn't mean to hurt me. She meant, in her own way, to show me love but it came out all wrong. I'm not mean to her, I just pretend she doesn't exist. You know, to protect my heart.

How do I treat other Christians?

I think this is going to be a rough week of reality for me. I'm being asked to pray a prayer I don't want the answer to. I'm being challenged to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal in me the people I have incorrectly labeled as not worth my time. To show me those I see as simply 'the least'.

If, when we receive Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we each one receive the Holy Spirit in our hearts, understanding the knowledge that the power of God Himself is within us, then why do I fail to see Christ residing in my fellow brothers and sisters? Why am I so quick to ignore or avoid or walk away from my same Christ who resides within them? Because the hard truth is it is easy to justify the way we truly treat other Christians.

There is a responsibility to open my eyes, Lord. One that I will not be able to ignore once my eyes are open. So, I guess the next prayer would be show me how to love like you , Lord. 

I just hope I'm up for the challenge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why I'm Frustrated with the #22 kill Push Up Challenge for Veterans

The 22 kill push up challenge is to raise awareness to the fact that 22 Veterans commit suicide everyday. If you choose to accept this challenge, add a video everyday for 22 days, doing your 22 push ups and calling out someone new everyday to do the same.

The rules are simple: do 22 push ups, every single day, for 22 days. Each day, record yourself and, when you post your video, tag a friend and ask them to also participate in the challenge.

And the challenges - at least according to my news feed - have been readily accepted.

Except I've noticed something else: as quickly as they are initially accepted, they are completely forgotten.

What happened to day 7? Or 12, or 19? Shoot, what happened to day 2?

With every lack of daily post, the message of just give up, it's easier is whispered. And here's the thing: this challenge is to bring awareness to the fact that TWENTY TWO VETERANS SUCCEED IN COMMITTING SUICIDE EVERY DAY. The message through this challenge should scream don't give up! We know it's hard but I know you can keep pressing through!  Not, well, gee, this sucks, let's just stop and give up.

I am 100% certain that I could not athletically whip out twenty two push ups if someone asked me. I would consider it a futile attempt at best. In fact, I wouldn't even want to try because I wouldn't see the point. And I certainly wouldn't want someone video taping my pathetic attempt and failure to be broadcast on social media for all the world to see.

Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that getting out of bed isn't worth it. Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that punching in that phone number isn't going to make a difference. Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that talking to someone is just going to end in humiliation and more failure. 

But my healthy mind tells me that while it seems insurmountable in this moment --- and in fact, it kind of is, right? --- that if I just take that first step to try and then take another first step and try again tomorrow and then take another first step and try again the third day - eventually, I'll be able to get through twenty two push ups. Eventually, as long as I keep showing up and keep trying to give whatever little I've got, I will make it through. 

It won't be easy. And I'll want to quit and I'll hurt. I'll hurt everywhere. And those studs ripping off their twenty two and forgetting about it, they won't understand the hurt and the ache and how hard it was just for me to show up. But I'll know. But there is bound to be another person in the same boat as me who will understand the hard, too. 

Twenty two days is a big commitment. But I'm tired of people accepting the #22 kill push up challenge and not following through. Because military folk, their commitment is much, much longer than a mere twenty two days. You sign up for four years, you will give them four years. You re-up for another two? You're there for two. You don't get to change your mind, or stop mid stream. You don't get to stay in bed on the days you don't feel good. There is no dropping a class a few weeks into it because you feel your work load is too heavy. You do not get to pack up your things and go home when you want to. You have no choice. You made a commitment and you will honor it.

Your veterans, they missed birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, high school reunions. They missed sitting in the hospital holding their daddy's hand before he went in for surgery. They missed taking their sister to her cancer treatments. They missed picnics and concerts and water parks. The missed curling up on the couch with their wife. 

Instead, they were up all night on patrol, ensuring the perimeter was secure. They hiked for miles on end with a 40-pound rucksack on their back. They learned how to decontaminate themselves after a chemical attack, how to throw a grenade, and how to disarm the enemy in hand-to-hand combat drills. Oh, and just for the record, the number of push ups completed by those in the military every single day well exceeds twenty two. 

But, yeah, twenty two days in a row of twenty two push ups - part of me wonders if, when you realize how hard a 22-day commitment is, you're overcome with an overwhelming realization of the true meaning of military commitment and you start realizing, with awe, just how much these veterans have been through.

One day, while cleaning our barracks, a girl using a mechanical floor buffer quickly unplugged the machine, wrapped the cord around her neck and jumped out the third story window. 

During night training, the guy next to me died. Just stopped moving and died. We were shuffling through mud on our backs, our weapons across our chests, barbed wire inches from our faces, gunshots, explosions, chaos and yelling surrounding us -- and he just stopped. Stopped in a puddle of mud under the barbed wire. I got to the end and out of the chaos and watched as two soldiers went in and dragged him out. 

This all happened during training. I never went to war. I never felt that all encompassing fear, never witnessed that nightmare. And still, coming back and trying to fit into a world that I hadn't been in was difficult. Friends had moved on, family had inside jokes I didn't understand, I rolled my socks funny out of habit. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to come back after war. How does one even begin to try to find a new normal? 

There is a stereotype of military personnel. They're tough. Hard. They can handle anything. Besides, they willingly signed up, right? They knew what they were getting into. It's not like they were drafted.

Except there are still a whole lot of men walking among us who were drafted. The last draft was in the early 70's. For many, they didn't have a choice. 

And for a lot of young men and women, the military is a chance to rise up. Put your time in and get that education, that VA loan, that medical care. It might not be ideal but it's better than the projects they grew up in, or the abusive home they couldn't wait to escape, and it's something when you've got nothing. For a lot of veterans, the military was a way to exist, a way to live, a way to get food and shelter --- no one could foresee the effects of 9/11 or the years of military combat that followed.

22 push ups.
For 22 days.
Post the video and tag someone new each day.


To raise awareness. 

Twenty two veterans kill themselves every single day. 

That's too many. 

So, yes - accept the challenge! But then actually do the challenge. Fight through the hard days and complete the task. Because giving up is sending the wrong message. Because posting a video of yourself looking good doing push ups is self-serving --- instead, with each push up you do each day, think about how the military has affected you. Think about your time in service. Think about what you would do if you signed up. Could you? What do you think would be easy? What do you think would be hard?

Every day you hit record and drop to the floor, think about how you actively support those who have seen horrors you only watch through a cinema screen. Do you support them? Or do you just say you do?

Every time you bust out your twenty two, think about every military person you actually know. Have you reached out to them? Have you taken them to coffee? Do you know if they're struggling? What would the impact be if they killed themselves? Who would they leave behind? Are you okay with attending their funeral knowing you chose to not keep trying to keep the lines of communication open?

Look, I'm a big fan of armchair slacktivism - when done correctly. Throwing it out there once isn't enough. In a world full of shouting you have to keep putting the information out there. Put in your 22 days. Tag 22 different people to help get the word out. But PLEASE, ADD THIS NUMBER to each post you share: 1-800-273-8255. It belongs to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The lives of our veterans matter. Their hearts and their souls matter. They shouldn't be suffering alone and they shouldn't be left to figure it out on their own. Twenty two of our veterans succeed in committing suicide each and every day --- and that number is way too high. Our mission as a country, as decent human beings, should be to settle for nothing less than zero. And to do anything and everything we can until we reach zero.  

U.S. Army Sgt. Alexander Cerney, left, an infantryman with the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to do push-ups while Master Sgt. Theodore Cook, also with the 101st Airborne Division, watches during a Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter competition at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan, July 14, 2013.

** Visit the 22 Kill website to learn more about this awareness initiative; and to see exactly what the original challenge entailed. How has it changed through the "phone game" of social media?

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