The Anxious Christian by Rhett Smith

A couple years ago I was standing in the back of a rusty pick-up truck, driving through Jacmel, Haiti.

“Ryan, you’ve really been relaxed, just going with the flow.  Are you always like this?” (my pastor) Steve’s mom asked.

Steve looked at me and we both burst out laughing.

No.  No, I’m not.

I’m a high-anxiety kind of guy.  A worry-wort, as it were.  “Runs in the family,” my cousin Heidi told me once.

the anxious christian rhett smith The Anxious Christian by Rhett SmithWhen I saw Rhett Smith’s new book, The Anxious Christian, I literally laughed like this: “HAHAHA!”  Literally.  And I hate when people use the word “literally” incorrectly.

Anyway, I ordered it immediately and was not disappointed.

The question in the sub-title should have alerted me to Smith’s main point, but for some reason it still blew me away.  Can God Use Your Anxiety For Good?  I started going to counseling to get a handle on my anxiety a couple years ago, but for some reason I had never thought of this idea!  Smith says, “Kierkegaard referred to anxiety as our ‘best teacher’ because of its ability to keep us in a struggle that strives for a solution, rather than opting to forfeit the struggle and slide into a possible depression.”

It’s important to distinguish between good and bad anxiety, but of course God can use the good kind!  For example, whenever you attempt something new and you’re unsure of the outcome, anxiety exists.  What do we do with it, though?  We can either run and hide, or we can recognize it and go to God with it.  “When faced with anxiety we feel exposed, naked, and vulnerable.  Hiding and covering up is typically how we respond when we feel those things,” Smith says.  He goes on to say, “Perhaps anxiety is an act of grace because it encourages us to face our fears, so that we can then choose freely to follow God where He is calling us to.”

Smith addresses the notion within many Christian traditions that anxiety is somehow un-Biblical or even sinful.  Philippians 4:6, for example, I now see as an invitation rather than a command.  Choosing to suppress anxiety or to make others feel as though there is something wrong with them because they get anxious is not only unhelpful, but dangerous.

I also loved Smith’s point that we are always in the wilderness.  “There is just no way around it,” he says.  “The reality of life is that we are constantly moving from one big transition to another.  At moments we may experience a respite from the journey, but that doesn’t alter the fact that life is rooted in the wilderness experience of continuous transition and choice.”  Whoa.  And this journey we’re on doesn’t always go as quickly as we want it to.  We live in a society where everything is go go go and efficiency is king.  If you’re not DOING, you’re not…anything.  And “when we realize God is not in a hurry and we are, our anxiety begins to stir within us.”  Donald Miller talked about this at the Story Line conference when he said the Bible uses the analogy of agriculture almost exclusively when talking about personal growth.  Agriculture is not fast, nor is it easy.  My friend Andrew is starting a CSA and has run into problem after problem, reliant on things (i.e. rain) that are out of his control.  He has to be patient and strategic and he has to work hard for a long time before he sees the fruit of his labors.

We must do the same.  And we can expect to have some anxious moments when we do so.  The good news is, God can use that anxiety for good.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what you’ll get out of The Anxious Christian.  It’s easy to read, highly applicable, and incredibly powerful.

Now stop freaking out and go get a copy.

You won’t regret it.

You can find Rhett Smith at his blog, follow him on Twitter and “like” him on Facebook.

88 Great Daddy-Daughter Dates by Rob and Joanna Teigen

I was going to try and write a clever review about Rob and Joanna Teigen’s book 88 Great Daddy-Daughter Dates.

 88 Great Daddy Daughter Dates by Rob and Joanna Teigen

Instead, I’m going to do this.  Because it’s straight to the point, just like their book.

I’m a dude.

I have two daughters.

More often than not, I’m at a loss when my wife asks (read “tells”) me to “go do something with this girls.”

I know I’m not alone.

Rob and Joanna have come to our rescue.

88 Great Daddy-Daughter Dates is filled with exactly what the title promises.  It’s more than that, though.  Each idea is presented in an easy to read and understand format.  The “Grab” part tells you what you’ll need.  The “Go” part tells you what you’re going to do.  And the “Grow” parts gives you a little lesson to learn with your special little girl.  That’s my favorite part.  It even gives you a prayer!

So, there you have it.  A no-frills review of a no-frills book.

If you’re a dad to daughters, or a wife to a dad of daughters, or a friend of a wife of a dad…you get the point.

This book is exactly as advertised.  And it’s great.

You won’t regret getting it.

Available now at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Today I Am Thankful

Last night my wife and I determined that I am very good at communicating my struggles, frustrations and concerns.

We also determined that I am not very good at communicating my successes, joys and thankfulness.

I’m working on it.  And today is as good as any to start.

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I’m thankful for my job.  Especially many of the people I work with.  I got to meet with a group of them today and talk about how to improve our work environment.  I’m thankful that my superiors are supportive of my desire to take care of my family, too.  They encouraged me to go take care of my wife today.  Which leads me to…

I’m thankful for doctors.  Julie has been sick for a while now, but especially the last few days, so I told her I would go with her to get checked out.  Within minutes they diagnosed her with strep and wrote her a prescription for antibiotics.  I’m thankful we can afford to go to the doctor and to buy the medicine to make her healthy.

I’m thankful for the guy who rang me and Claire out at Qdoba.  I picked Claire up from preschool (so Julie wouldn’t have to) and we went on a Daddy-Daughter lunch date.  I told her I’d get her a cookie, but totally forgot to buy it.  “Oh shoot!” I said as he handed me back my card.  I told him I forgot to buy a cookie and started to hand my card back to him.  Instead, he grabbed a cookie and slid it to Claire, saying, “Make sure you don’t eat this first!”  Then he winked.  Free cookie!

I’m also thankful for our trustworthy mechanics.  My car started to have this horrible rattle a few days ago, so of course I figured the exhaust was shot or something.  On my way to pick-up Julie’s medicine, I stopped at Avenue Auto to have them give it a listen.  Instead, he put it on the hoist right away and fixed what was wrong (loose heat plate).  When I asked what I owed, he waved his hand and said, “Bah, it was just a screw.  Don’t worry about it.”  Free car repair!  (We’ve been going there forever and they’ve always been good to us.)

Now I’m at home, writing this while my wife is resting up in our comfy bed and my kids are at the kitchen table doing their homework and coloring.

I have a lot to be thankful for.  And I find that the more I look for the things in my life that I have to be thankful for, the more I see them.  Pretty genius, right?

So…what are YOU thankful for today?

Watch Dive! by Jeremy Seifert

Last night I got to attend a special screening of the documentary Dive! and then participate in a Q&A with the director, Jeremy Seifert.

Then some of us tried to go dumpster diving.

It was an awesome night.

dvdcover 226x300 Watch Dive! by Jeremy Seifert

If you haven’t heard of this film, take 2:46 and watch the trailer.

“It’s about more than not wasting food, it’s about making sure everyone has enough to eat.”

That quote from Jeremy speaks to the heart of the film.  The dumpster diving, while provocative and even repulsive to many, mainly serves to make a point.  A point that should be fairly obvious to us as Americans.  We are wasters.  We are users.  We are consumers.  The statistics are staggering, especially when it comes to food waste.  We basically throw away half of the food we produce here in the land of excess.  It’s insane.

Dive! documents Jeremy’s quest to identify the issue and then to do something about it.  While the film shows his struggle to try and get Trader Joe’s and other chains to donate the food they aren’t going to sell to people who need it rather than throw it away, it’s clear he believes in being the change you want to see in the world.  “It starts at home, in our own refrigerators,” he said during the Q&A time.

If you’re into documentaries, you need to see Dive!  It will make you think.  It will make you want to act.  Jeremy does a wonderful job of exposing the hard truth of the matter without being preachy.  He brings you to a place where you think, “Man, he’s right.  I need to be a better steward of what I have.”  Which is good, because he’s not a very imposing figure.  I guess that’s what happens when you eat garbage.  Hey-oh.

So, rent or better yet, BUY IT.  And then have a party at your house and show your friends.

And then start changing the world.

(After the viewing and Q&A a few of us went and hung-out.  After a while we all kind of looked at each other and blurted out, “LET’S DO IT!  Let’s go diving!”  Mind you, it was raining and windy and freezing.  We went to five different places…and totally struck out.  It was a total blast, though.  My wife shook her head in the morning after I told her what I was up to until 1am on a Tuesday night.  “Is that why your clothes were soaking wet?” she asked.  Yes.  And it was totally worth it.  What a great night!)

P.S.  Checkout Jeremy’s NEW film (to be released later this year, I believe) on GMOs.  SO good!

 

Follow Me: Final Message

Our new series at The Journey Community is called Follow Me and will be exploring what it looks like to really follow Jesus.

Kim Cecil spoke this morning about the call of Jesus as the “lover of my soul.”

Eww.

I know, I know…immature.

She used Song of Songs 3:1-4 as her reference.  It’s actually a beautiful passage.

But, I’ll just go ahead and say that it’s totally strange (for me) to view Jesus as a lover and to pursue Him as such.  I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman; it’s weird.  That said, we must not miss the meaning of this metaphor.  We mustn’t miss the message because of our (my) unease with mixing sexual metaphors with theological ideas.  Those of us who have experienced the pursuit of a lover and the results thereof can understand what God is doing here.  There’s a closeness in intimacy that is surpassed by nothing.  There’s a joy and excitement within the tangle of lovers.  The desire for our lover is immense and when we have him/her we can scarcely let go.

Does this closeness, joy and excitement mark my relationship with Jesus?  Is there a spark there?  Does my desire to be with Him make all other desires pale in comparison?

If not…why?

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Doing What You Love Makes You Smile

First, take 20 seconds and watch this:

Do you see what I see?  Watch Ruben (in the white shirt on the left).  See the joy on his face?  What about Mike (playing guitar behind Ruben)?  You don’t bounce around like that unless you’re having fun.  And Gareth.  Gareth is playing that thing in the middle.  It’s called a “Jingling Johnny.”  He’s Irish.  Need I say more?

The sound quality in this clip is garbage because I was standing two feet away from them.  And it doesn’t bother me a bit.  All I need to see are their faces.  Their faces say it all.  Because doing what you love makes you smile.

Now let me give you a little context for this.  The people you’re looking at are the members of Tenth Avenue North, one of the most popular bands in Christian music right now.  Less than two hours before this moment, they played on a huge stage in an arena where nearly 9,000 people watched them.  9,000.  And now, here they are playing on a stage where they don’t even fit, in front of 250 people.  And they’re having a blast.  They’re playing.  And I don’t mean playing their instruments, I mean playing like kids.  They’re experimenting.  They’re forgetting words and laughing about it.  They’re doing accordion solos.  They’re being infected by Gareth (from the amazing band, Rend Collective Experiment) and his “Jingling Johnny.”

The story of how they ended-up at Redamte Coffee House is amazing in and of itself, but what I love most about it is why it happened.  These guys are intentional about keeping their passion for their craft fresh and alive.  They are incredible performers and do a fantastic job infront of huge crowds.  There’s a whole different set of expectations, though, when performing infront of 9,000 paying fans.  That’s why they rekindle their passion by finding these little shops in towns all over America and having impromptu secret free shows for their die-hard fans.  They get to play around and laugh and stomp and yell and screw-up and…who cares??

This is joy.

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Kim, Jeff, Jason, Brendan, Ruben, Mike and Me.

The night inspired me to be intentional about keeping my passion fresh and alive.  How do I do that?  What do I love to write about?  What makes me laugh and smile?  What makes me most passionate about my craft?  It’s vital that those of us who do anything creative take the time to keep the embers of our passion hot.

So, maybe you’re not selling thousands of albums and performing infront of packed arenas, but the message is the same:  If you’ve forgotten why you love doing what you do, maybe it’s time to figure out what your “secret post-concert show” is.

Or we could all just buy a Jingling Johnny.

Goodbye, Sally!

I’ve always been fairly callous when it comes to the death of my pets.

There were the gerbils (yes, gerbils) that all died because the pet shop sold me the wrong bedding.  There were the two quail that made their way into our heating ducts and died somewhere in the maze of aluminum (long story).  To this day, I’m not sure what happened to my iguana.  I literally can’t remember.  And my earliest memory of losing a pet was when I was four and my goldfish jumped out of the tank during the night and landed on a watercolor picture I had lying on the floor.

Well, this morning my heart was softened.

Last night my daughter Anna’s fish, Sally, passed away.  So, this morning before school my wife pulled Anna close and broke the news.  “Anna, I have some bad news.  Sally died last night,” she said.  Initially Anna made a funny, surprised face.  Then she broke.  She started crying softly and crawled into her mommy’s lap as Julie held her and rocked her and told her how sorry she was.  Julie talked about what a good fish Sally was and how she lived a long, full life.  She acknowledged how sad it was and that we’d all miss her.  She asked Anna if she wanted to share any memories of Sally.  Then she said, “I’m so glad you drew that picture of Sally.  Can we hang it up in your room so we can always remember her?”  Anna nodded yes, her face red and wet with tears.

Who needs movies to get all emotional?

The funny thing is that nearly every morning for the last four months I thought Sally was dead.  I’d go over to her bowl and she’d be lying on her back, on the floor of the bowl, motionless.  “Sally?” I’d say and tap the glass.  She’d come to life and I’d let out a sigh of relief.  Another day for Sally.  We had her for years, so it wasn’t like I thought she’d live forever.  And I was prepared for her to go.

But, I wasn’t prepared for Anna’s reaction.  See, Anna is my strong, sassy girl.  She’s hilarious and smart and beautiful…just like her mom.

 Goodbye, Sally!

www.MoreThanJustPictures.com

I used to say she was my favorite, even though I know you’re not supposed to say that.  We have a special bond, though.  Always have.  And then a year and a half ago Anna was hit by a bicycle, ending up in the ER and then the hospital for a couple days.  There was a moment (and you can ask my dad’s snot covered shoe) when I didn’t know if she was going to pull through it.  Things went downhill fast in the ER and she was whisked away from us.  I remember falling to the ground when I saw my dad and step-mom and crying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do if something happens to her!”  Thank God, she healed.  And how!  Within a couple weeks she was back to normal, physically.  Emotionally it took a bit longer, but she seems to have recovered completely and is stronger than ever.

One thing Anna does rarely, though, is show sadness.  She laughs a lot and she gets angry, but not sad.  So, when I saw her face fill with such sadness and I watched her crumble into her mom’s arms, it caught me off-guard.  I hurt for her.  I was sad for her and with her.  It was a powerful moment.  One that, even though it was difficult, I appreciate.  It helped me see Anna’s soft little heart.  It helped me to fall even more in love with my amazing wife.  It helped me to see that even in loss, good can be found.

All this thanks to an old beta named Sally.

Follow Me: Part II

Our new series at The Journey Community is called Follow Me and will be exploring what it looks like to really follow Jesus.

What hinders us from following Jesus whole-heartedly?

Erik looked at Luke 9:23-27, 57-62 with us and we talked about what gets in the way.  There were two things that stuck out to me.  The first is fear.  Fear looks different to all of us, but is nonetheless real in all its forms.  For instance, Erik mentioned the fear that God isn’t going to come through.  We don’t follow Him whole-heartedly because we’re afraid He won’t provide.  Taking it even further, and I’ve admitted this before, sometimes I fear that if I follow Him whole-heartedly, bad things will start happening in my life.  And I’m afraid of that.  I’m afraid my faith won’t survive it sometimes.  Fear makes you do stupid things.

Erik also tackled the part about the guy who wanted to go bury his father first and the one who wanted to go say goodbye to his family before following Jesus.  Jesus’s response seems a bit extreme, but what was his point?  I don’t think it was literal.  Erik posited that it had more to do with the fact that we want to have everything in order before we do what God calls us to.  But, at the risk of putting words in His mouth, God is less concerned with me doing what He’s called me to do perfectly than He is with me doing it at all.  We can plan our entire lives, but at some point we just have to do what Jesus is asking us to do.

For instance, we’re familiar with the story of Peter walking to Jesus on the water.  Erik asked us, “What is your water?  What is God calling you to that you don’t feel prepared to do?”

Maybe it’s time to do it.

What stuck out to you from Erik’s message?  Listen here!

Follow Me: Part I

Our new series at The Journey Community is called Follow Me and will be exploring what it looks like to really follow Jesus.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  To really follow Him?

Today Pastor Steve shared the first message in our new series.  In Mark, we hear a story about two guys who “immediately” follow Jesus when He asks them to.  They left what they were doing, changed direction, and committed to a lifetime of really following Jesus.  They didn’t know exactly what would happen, of course, but they had an idea.

Steve said that “follow” is an abrasive word.  I agree with him.  We don’t like to be told what to do.  We equate our ability to make choices for ourselves with the amount of freedom we have, which is not always the case.  Often we need to follow someone for our own good, like a physical trainer.  If we want to lose weight and get in shape, we follow them, even when it’s hard, because we know the results will be good.

What is Jesus asking you to do that you don’t want to do?  Or, what is it He’s asking you to do that doesn’t come naturally?  Is he asking you to change your way of thinking about something?  Your perspective?

It’s important to ask ourselves if we’re just going with the flow of life or if Jesus is leading us?  If Jesus is leading me, I will be uncomfortable from time to time. Change, growth, progress…it’s usually uncomfortable.

It’s funny because Steve pointed out that the big things are easy; it’s the little things that are most difficult (usually).  If Jesus is asking me to move to a different country to share the gospel there, it’s exciting and new and adventurous.  We’re open to those things.  But, if He asks me to forgive someone close to me rather than hold a grudge, that’s not as glamorous.

One picture Steve gave us was that of following Jesus closely.  He told us about a time he climbed a mountain with our Jeff and on the way down, his goal was to follow exactly in Jeff’s footsteps.  Wherever Jeff stepped, Steve would step.  He said he really had to pay close attention and he had to be right behind him for it to work.  If he stopped and looked around or went his own way, suddenly Jeff would be far ahead.  It’s not a perfect parallel, but it gets the point across, I think.  If we want to follow Jesus closely, we need to be near Him.  We need to pay attention to where He is leading us and follow Him intentionally, with all of our effort.

What does following Jesus look like to you?  Feel free to answer any of the other questions posed in this post, too!

(I aso love this video!)

When Sam Was Born

Today my son turns 8.  He makes me so proud.  He’s smart and funny and kind and sensitive.  He’s a good friend.  He’s an amazing young man.

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My Sam

This is something I wrote three years ago about Sam’s birthday.  I thought about editing it and I probably will at some point…but not this year.

Five years ago today (now eight) I became a dad for the first time.

We were living in Salem, WI, near Kenosha at the time, so Julie was scheduled to have our first at Burlington Memorial Hospital. We liked it there because we had to drive past the Hershey factory on the way. On a Wednesday morning as the sun was rising, the air dry and cold, we left the house. Julie was scheduled to be induced. After a twenty minute drive, we parked and with a pillow tucked under my arm and a big Packers duffle bag stuffed with all our birth day essentials on my shoulder, we walked into the hospital, excited. And nervous. I remember registering and getting our wrist bands and heading up to the birthing wing.

The birthing room was small and sterile. Very plain and clean. Thankfully the requisite hanging hospital television was in fine working order. We spent the day talking to each other, reading, watching TV and napping. It was a really long day. Every time they checked Julie, she was the same. Very frustrating.
Julie’s doctor was awesome through all of this. He was a tall, bald, laid back man named Mike. When Anna was born a couple years later, Julie’s doctor was a different guy who was tall, bald and laid back. He was also named Mike. We acknowledged this happy coincidence almost every time we saw him.

I remember leaving the birthing wing to take a walk at one point. I didn’t realize until I was in the main lobby how I looked. See, the birthing wing didn’t have windows and it felt like it was night the whole time. I was in my pajama bottoms and a plain white t-shirt, hair disheveled, smelling terribly, I’m sure. It was like a different world out there. The sun assaulted my eyes through the big bay windows. The nurses, clad in their crisp, clean scrubs hustling and bustling to their next destination. Elderly couples shuffling toward the information windows. Children running around, grabbing and jumping, their parents either chasing behind or ignoring them, distracted.

My most vivid memory besides the actual birth was when I called my dad the second to last time before Sam was born. I was hopeless. We had spent the whole day there and nothing was happening. They were going to send us home. Julie was embarrassed and sad and upset, as was I. Why wouldn’t she dilate? I don’t remember what my dad said, but I know I was silent. I was trying not to cry. I just wanted him to be there to give me a hug.

Shortly after that call, they told us they were going to check Julie one more time. Praise Jesus, things were moving along! We were allowed to stay and we were having that baby, come hell or high water, whatever that means. I called my dad back right away.

In the early evening, my hospital dinner came. A delicious turkey dinner with all the fixin’s. In what would become a tradition with all our kids’ births, this is precisely when they decided to break Julie’s water. There I was, watching TV, a hot plate of delicious right in front of me, and a foot to my left…water breaking. I don’t remember if I ate my meal or not.

Once Julie started pushing, it took less than an hour. The nurse made the mistake of telling me how to read the machine Julie was hooked up to. “Every time the number starts to go up, Julie needs to push. So, yell at her to push all the way until the number tops out and starts to come down.” This was the most fun I think I’ve ever had. Julie would say she was starting to feel a contraction, we’d assume the position, and I’d start to yell. “C’MON, JULES! PUUUUUSH! YOU CAN DO IT! C’MON! ALMOST DONE! KEEP GOING! And…you’re good! Relax, babe! Great job…” I’m not sure this was Julie’s favorite part, but she sure held up her end of the bargain. Especially since her epidural was only working on one side.

When Sam started to come out I remember the nurse calling out, “Doctor, we’re ready for you!” I heard a rustling of newspaper and as I looked out into the hall, I saw his legs uncross and he got up and sauntered into the room. “Ready, huh?” He had been sitting in the hall, reading the paper and waiting for his turn the whole time. For some reason I thought this was hilarious.

Sam was a miracle. He barely made a peep when he arrived. He was alert and looking around, taking it all in. He was so unusually alert, that the nurses were pulling other nurses in to look at him. “Linda, come look at this cutie! He’s loving everything!” And we were loving him. His eyes were huge and bright blue from day one. I’m biased, of course, but ask anyone who knew Sam as a baby…he was the cutest ever.

Holding him was amazing. Knowing he was ours. We got to keep him. Everything had changed. For the better.
The next day we took him home. We barely made it. It was snowing heavily, so we all got bundled up and headed out. On the way, we were coming up to a stoplight and a car decided to go right through. It was so out of control that, even though it was facing us, it actually passed us on the RIGHT. After it passed, we stopped, took a breath, and thanked Jesus. Then we went home.