God doesn’t give you more than you can handle…

Many well-meaning and good intentioned people throughout the history of history have recited those words in an effort to encourage others. The difficulty with those encouraging words is they are a potentially a misquote of scripture. Without boring you with the details of a hermeneutical study of New Testament Greek, the scripture verse that comes to mind for most they hear this 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says,

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

The word translated ‘temptation’ is the word in question. It is used 20 times in the New Testament and 12 of those uses it means temptation, as in tempted to sin. Seven times it means trial or trials, and two times it means testing. I would also argue there are several instances in scripture where it appears God has allowed people to experience trials beyond their ability to manage. Paul, the apostle who wrote 1 Corinthians, also wrote regarding a ‘thorn in his flesh’ and while it is unclear as to what exactly that was, he consistently asked God to take it away from him implying he felt it was more than he could bear. Jeremiah, a prophet in the Old Testament, spoke often of the despair he felt daily. Elijah, hid in a cave for months feeling the overwhelming and crushing weight of depression.

While I can appreciate the words of encouragement and sentiment those who care deeply for is offer when speaking these words, I’m not sure it is true. I suppose it is ultimately true, because everyday we manage struggles beyond what we think we can bear because we have to. Personally, there has been more than one time I felt so overwhelmed and overcome were it not for God and his immeasurable grace I would not have been able to stand under it.

While I am sure you are thankful for a brief word study by the esteemed and underrated theologian Eli, I am sure you are also thinking why is this on my mind? Like many others, 2020 has not gone the way I anticipated. Like all of us, I didn’t plan on a pandemic and all of everything that has come along with that. I didn’t plan on three months of school at home, seven months of office closures, quarantine and decreased social interaction, or wearing a mask everywhere and at all times. I have had some frustration at work, missing out on some advancement opportunities. I missed out on some great jobs opportunities that I would have really enjoyed. There have been health difficulties for both my parents and in-laws, resulting in several surgeries for both. My grandmother passed away. And the proverbial icing on the cake… Ronda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, had a full hysterectomy, and is preparing for chemo treatments.

This feels more than I can manage. This doesn’t feel like I’m not being given more than I can handle. This very much feels like more than I can handle. But, I guess in reality it isn’t. Somehow I am handling it. Somehow Ronda is handling it. Somehow our boys are handling it. It feels very crushing and very overwhelming. It feels like I’m walking on the edge, barely able to keep from falling into the abyss.

But we make it through, each day we press on and push forward. A lot of what had made it possible to handle this difficult times is the outrageous amount of support we have had from friends and family. I am not able to express my gratitude to those who have rallied around us in this time. Knowing we have such a community behind us is a great comfort. Thank you.

I am also reminded of the words of Jesus, when he offered to carry our burdens, even in the difficult times when we are weary and overwhelmed:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

This is very much a promise from him that he will carry us through the times we don’t think we can handle on our own. Even if God doesn’t promise he won’t give us more than we can handle, he has promised to carry the load for us.

If Patience is a Virtue, does that make Impatience a Vice?

When describing Tatooine to R2-D2 and C-3PO, Luke said, ‘If there’s a bright center to the galaxy, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.’

That feels like the most accurate description of me, when having a conversation about patience. I don’t find myself to be patient in most endeavors of my life. I often feel as though I am the antithesis of being patient. I just don’t the waiting thing well at all. I know this about me. Anyone who knows me well, knows this about.

I work in the child welfare and in mental health fields. I work with difficult, tough situations on a daily basis. I have the opportunity to wade into life with people who are dealing with all manner of trauma, difficulties, setbacks, hardships, and letdowns. Many of the families I work with, require a softer touch to effectively engage with them. I am in a leadership/mentoring program and a little while back, my mentor met with me in my office. As my mentor arrived, I was wrapping up a phone call with a client who was suffering from serious and difficult mental health diagnosis. This client struggles daily to recognize what is real and what is not. Sadly, most days she does not overcome that struggle and finds herself living a life based in non-reality. As my phone call concluded, my mentor commented I exhibited the patience of a saint on the phone call.

I have found my ability to be patient or understanding with others or the situations of others, is much greater than my ability to be patient or exercise patience in my own life. While I find it very easy to be calm, relaxed, and patient with others… I struggle to find the same calmness when surveying the landscape of my own life.

So far I have found the year 2020 to be one giant exercise in patience. Like many others, I find myself amidst struggles and hardships that require patience, calmness, and understanding to navigate. I often find myself asking God why he feels the need to constantly challenge to grow and increase my understanding and application of patience. When I reflect on this minor interaction with a mentor who saw me exhibit patience, understanding, calmness, and empathy to a client who was struggling; I begin to understand why I struggle with learning patience in my own life. I am fortunate to be trusted by others to step into their loves when they are struggling the hardest. I am fortunate to have the relational disposition to walk alongside others as they struggle.

It occurs to me, maybe I struggle so that I can help others when they struggle. Maybe the patience I am learning has little to do with finding calm or peace in my own life, but rather to be calmly and understandingly available to those around me who need someone to help lift them up.

Considering this, I don’t mind the continued lessons of patience God is consistently teaching me.

This time of uncertainty.

What do we do when our normal is challenged? Do we rise above the circumstances of that which is challenging us or do we falter, crumble, and begin to fall apart? Not that these are the only two responses, but they seem to be opposite ones that I most struggle against when things change in ways I couldn’t have predicted and certainly didn’t want.

Right now, everyone’s normal is being challenged. Challenged in ways we could have never predicted, expected, or planned for. How are we handling this challenge? Honestly, each day is a difference reaction for me. Some days I feel like I respond appropriately and I manage the challenge and the change with dignity. Other days, I feel like a two year old throwing a temper tantrum because I am being inconvenienced. The reality is much bigger than that, but at the same time it isn’t that complicated. For most part, not much has changed for me and my family. The biggest and most obvious change is the kids are at home and Ronda and I are also at home. All. The. Time. Both of us are lucky enough to have jobs which are considered to be essential, and to have jobs which allow us to work remotely. Work-wise neither one of us has slowed down at all. In some ways, Ronda is slightly more busy putting out fires and running damage control on her cases. Me? Hammering on my computer, doing to office work portion of my job and then heading out to homes and interviewing people as though nothing has changed.

If work is essentially the same, and family life is changed by the boys being around all the time why does it feel so suffocating right now?

It’s more about the perception of what has been taken away from us and the realization that was has been taken away is certainty or stability, and that has been replaced with fear and unknown. I love the movie the Replacements, because Keanu Reeves (I am unashamedly supportive of Keanu Reeves day), and one of my favorite scenes is in the locker room when Gene Hackman asks them what they fear. Bees, spiders, and quicksand. A fear I have is the unknown.

I don’t particularly like not knowing what is coming or what is happening. I drive Ronda crazy when she plans activities by constantly hounding her for details, plans, and arrangements. I used to think that need to know was related to my ‘type a’ personality. While I don’t deny I lean towards the overbearing and asshole-ish ‘type a’, I am not so sure my need to know isn’t born out of  a fear of not knowing. Out of a fear of having no idea how to handle what is coming if I don’t know what is coming. For me, not knowing what is coming is 100 times worse than knowing what is coming, even if it is bad. My brain is constantly working to make sense and figure out what is next, so I can know and be prepared. I don’t like being surprised and not knowing what is next.

Right now, we are in the midst of the biggest ‘we don’t know what’s next’ in my lifetime, aside from the months following 9/11/01. I am reading a book written by a former FBI agent and he speaks a lot about the uncertainty of the months and years following 9/11. Not that you ever forget the times that your life drastically changes, but you take for granted the changes that came as a result of that life change that are not normal life. Our lives have changed and things are becoming different in front of our eyes and we don’t know what is next. We don’t know. And the lack of knowledge is suffocating. It is overwhelming. It is frightening.

But this fear, this suffocation, this feeling of being overwhelmed can’t last forever. It won’t last forever. If you have read to this point and you are hoping to find words of wisdom or encouragement on how to overcome this time, I am sorry to disappoint you with none of either. My only advice I would offer to you at this time, is the advice I am offering to myself. Focus on what matters most and make the most of the time we have. It is hard to juggle working from home, managing the boys, and helping them to get their schoolwork complete. And all the other stuff that is normal day to day life, without adding in this unknown fear of covid-19. I am trying to work during the times that I can be productive and work. I am trying to take the time I can to spend it with the boys and Ronda. And I am trying to take the time that I can for myself. All the while, keeping the perspective that being overwhelmed and freaking out, being rude and mean to everybody doesn’t help anyone.

I guess the advice I would offer is to take each moment as it comes, breathe in and breath out, and try your best to let the fear of the unknown overwhelm you to the point you are unable to function. I will pray for you in this time and ask you pray for me as well.

Philippians 4:7  – And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Milestones

Let’s be honest, nobody really cares what you had for breakfast or dinner last night.

Nobody cares how your workout was or that you went to the gym 75 times this week.

And nobody especially cares that you had an awesome vacation that none of the rest of us were able go on.

But what we do care about, if we genuinely care about you, is the milestones these posts often represent. This morning, I began to take the obligatory first day of school photos of my boys and realized we have reached a milestone this year. Noah, our oldest and the one refusing to smile in the photos, is starting high school. This is a milestone. High school was an unforgettable time in my life and I expect it to be in his as well. Additionally, he is growing up. He is one step closer to being out of our home and on his own. He is one step closer to becoming an adult. He is one step closer to finding his own life apart from us as his parents.

As I thought about it this morning, I enjoy being able to share in these moments of the lives of friends and family thanks to social media. We can all share in the milestones our friends and families reach. Which is what social media is about for me. I use it to share what is happening in my life and to enjoy what is happening in your life. These milestones are meant to be celebrated, to be enjoyed, and to be reveled in. These are the moments in time that draw us closer together, that builds the community we have together, and makes it stronger. Honestly, I’m in uncharted territory for me today. I have a son in high school. While this feels crazy, it is reality. I asked hims today if he was nervous and he was like no. I was nervous for him! He is attending a high school that has a ninth grade center, but is taking at least one class on the main campus. I got a little overwhelmed thinking about the fact he has to go to TWO brand new schools today. And while I know he is capable and will survive just fine, it is kind of scary.

This is where sharing these milestones comes in, because I know other parents who have already been here and experienced this. Parents who will encourage me that it is ok and that he will be ok. I know this to be true, because I have been that person for many of my friends. I am not old (unless you ask my friend Mike), but I am older. My boys aren’t grown yet, but they are older than some of my friend’s kids (and there are three of them, which is its own unique challenge). Ronda and have been married for a long time. We have hit many milestones before our friends and have the opportunity to share our experiences with our friends and family. And sometimes, we hit milestones that are new territory for us.

Milestones are what really makes life enjoyable, though right? These are the experiences we should be remembering and taking note of. These are the things that make life fun and worth living. These are the moments that often define how the rest of life is gauged. Sometimes the milestones we hit are painful and remind of us hurt. Sometimes the milestones are ones we don’t want to remember. Even those are worth remembering because they are markers of our life and where we have been. That’s what a milestone is anyway. It was originally a stone laid along the road to note when you had traveled a mile. You knew how far you had traveled by noting the number of milestones you passed. The same is still true for us. We can see how far we have come in life or how we have overcome obstacles or the course of our accomplishments or simply watch the growth of our children by noting the milestones. The significant moments that mark something special.

Enjoy my family’s cheesy first day of school photos, because for us it marks a milestone that we will remember for years to come.

Detours

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I have been thinking quite a bit about detours. What I mean by detours is those times when you thought you knew how life was going to go or you were pretty sure you knew what direction you were taking, only to have the script flipped on you. So you had to detour.

Generally, I hate detours. Mostly, if I’m honest, it’s because I really am a creature of habit. I like adventure as much as the next guy, but I also really like my routine. I like to know what to expect. I like to know where I am going and when I am going to get there. And detours don’t really figure into that structure.

Not that I have anything to really complain or be upset about. My life is in a pretty good place right now. Our boys are healthy and doing well. Summer was pretty good for #theFloridaWestfalls. School is about to start back, bringing with it lots of new adventures. Noah, our oldest, is starting high school this year. We have had a change up in the sports our boys play, which is going to save us money and time over the next year. Ronda and I celebrated 21 years of being married last week and had a blast doing so in the mountains of North Georgia. Ronda’s business is going very well for her. Things are good for me at work.

But, there is still that feeling of restlessness and underlying discontent. As I self-reflect to try to understand where it is coming from, I feel the root cause is speaking to a deeper issue or a deeper sense of lack. A sense that I detoured long ago and still today I am feeling the effects of that detour. Maybe an example…

hikeinnmap
This map was taken from the Hike Inn’s website – http://hike-inn.com/

Last week, Ronda spent a couple nights at the Len Foote Hike Inn.

It was amazing. We hiked five miles from Amicalola Falls State Park to this amazing inn. Literally, in the mountains away from civilization. We then hiked up to the approach trail to the Appalachian Trail and made our way up to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT. When we left the inn to head back to the car, we took the trail that led us up to the AT approach trail and hiked that trail back out to our car. That was an equally great trail, with new sights we hadn’t seen on the way in… because it was a different trail. But once we were on the trail, we were on the trail and we had to deal with the ‘consequences’ on taking a different trail to hike out. Once we were on it, there was no going back. Technically, we could have gone back but you see what I mean.

That’s the kind of detour I feel like I am on. One that I got on a long time ago. One where the ripples of getting on it are still being felt today. And just like hiking out a different trail, this trail is a good one. It is one with new sights and new adventures I would never have imagined seeing or being a part of if not for being on it.

Sometimes, detours take longer to get to where we are going. For a number of reasons this is true. I have been called many things, but patient isn’t usually one of those things. I noticed I have difficulty being patient and waiting for things to happen or come to fruition. I have even been known to try to force things to happen, when they are happening fast enough for me. But often, rushing and forcing things to happen only makes it worse. I don’t think it is always true that good things come to those who wait, but in my case it is almost always certainly true that when I try to force things I make it worse.

Where does this leave us? I can only speak for myself, but it leaves me trying to slow down and be patient. To enjoy the detour for the sake of itself. Detours aren’t always bad, they take us to new places and put us on new paths we might not have chosen to go down if given the choice.

Easter Sunday

What does Easter mean to you? Is one of the few days of the year that you go to church? Is it a time that family gets together and you think of how thankful you are to have all of the members of your family? Is it simply chocolate, those nasty Peeps, and Easter bunnies? Whatever it means to you, I hope you enjoyed your Easter this year.

Today, my family spent time together at church. This isn’t anything new, we go to church regularly. This year it felt a little different because we are in an interesting place as it relates to a church home for us. Since Christmas, we have been doing some searching. Literal and figurative searching as we think through our current church home. You may have guessed, this is a much bigger discussion for another time…

Most of us spent several hours this afternoon with friends. We met them for lunch and I enjoyed a tasty beer I have never had before. I hesitate to name and describe it for fear my one beer-shaming friend will see this and comment. You know who you are… After lunch, two dads took five kids to a bike park and we hit a BMX pump track and a mountain bike trail together. We rode, we chilled, we hung out, we enjoyed the company and friendship of our families. Except for Ronda, she was stuck doing trial prep for a big trial she has coming up later this week. Don’t worry, I have been helping her out as much as I can.

But Easter was different this year. We didn’t cook a big meal, we didn’t have lots of people over, we didn’t make a big fuss at our house. We just went to church, ate lunch, and hung out with friends. As I sit here and look back on the day, it was likely one of my favorite Easters in recent years. Despite not making a big production of it, we made sure we hit the important parts of the day.

Food. We had food together and spent time talking to each other about things that matter in each of our lives.

Fun. We spent time together and after lunch, we didn’t tackle any large topics or discussions, we just spent time together and showed that we care about each other. I’m not going to use the catch phrase that we ‘did life together’, but I am going to say that we spent time together today, just being together today when we both needed it.

The importance of being together can’t be overrated. This is particular relevant to me as I wrestle to make sense of some things going on in my life right now. No, I don’t have anything monstrous or catastrophic happening in my life at the moment. But, I am wrestling with understanding how to navigate through a few things. Being able to be with other people and be myself and not have to worry about what they think about me feels nice.

Being able to talk to someone else who understands life is not all roses and just because we are Christians doesn’t mean life is easy and without struggle. Being able to respond to their frustrations with, ‘I feel the same way! It’s good to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t buy that lie.’

I suppose what I am really trying to say is this… whatever Easter means to you, I hope that your Easter was enjoyable and you were able to spend time with people who matter to you, doing things that matter to you.

Here we go again…

I have decided to start writing again. Lots of things have changed in my life since the last time I shared my story on a blog. Some of the changes are good, some are bad, and some are very hard for me to cope with. The decision to start writing again is motivated by a desire to have a cathartic outlet for me, but also to share my journey with you on the off chance it may help you in you story. I look forward to sharing my story with you.