Thursday, April 08, 2010

"Who You Really Are = What You Do Under Pressure"

This was the scene one morning in the skies circling my hotel in L.A. during my recent journey there to take the Story Course with Robert McKee. My first full day in that city had been rough for me--spiritually, emotionally, physically--and the night that followed fared no better. So the next morning I wrestled myself out of bed and took a stroll along the streets bordering my hotel to clear my head and ask God what the heck was going on. Not two seconds after voicing the prayer, I looked up and saw a red-tailed hawk soaring directly overhead with two crows hard on its case, alternately dive bombing the hawk as it circled the hotel. A voice in my spirit said calmly and with a hint of levity, "That's what's going on."

I continue to be surprised by how slow I can be at times on the uptake about such things. Even Abraham had to fight off the birds to protect the offering God had commanded him to bring. Why should I be so easily surprised by opposition or think of it as something out of the norm? We in the West have been taught that happiness is defined by the absence of such things--resistance, stress, opposition, pressure, suffering, attack. But McKee would argue that true fulfillment, true happiness, cannot exist apart from them.

The logic goes like this: A man longs to find his meaning & purpose in the world. To do that he needs to discover his own true heart--that is, he needs to know what he's made of,  who he really is deep inside, whether he is more noble or base...and thereby determine his true place in the world. The thing is, says McKee, the only way for him to find out who he really is deep inside is by being forced to make choices under extreme pressure. "You are what you do under pressure," says McKee, "and the greater the pressure, the truer the revelation of who you really are." All choices made or actions taken in life absent of this pressure are what McKee would call "characterization"--that is, the elaborate self portrait we each paint for the world and point to and say, "this is me." Only it's not the real you; it's a portrait you've created of who you think you are or want to be. Who you really are, however, can only be revealed through the choices you make and actions you take in the midst of difficulty and struggle. The greater the struggle, the truer the revelation of your true self. Suffering, pain, resistance, stress--all of these are essential to the process of true self-discovery, and therefore, are essential to true fulfillment and happiness.

Though I don't believe McKee is a Christ follower, I was struck by how closely his conclusions about the connection between suffering and fulfillment matched the Bible's view on the subject:
"We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, [proven] character; and [proven] character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." ~ Romans 5:3-5

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." ~ James 1:2-4

McKee's view of character formation & revelation leads to one sobering conclusion I am pondering at length these days: What you claim to believe in or follow or support from your place of comfort matters not at all. That's all characterization; it may or may not be true, but it certainly can't be trusted. It is only what you do, how you live, when the pressure is on, that truly counts. How will you know, then, if you truly believe in the things you claim to believe until you have suffered real pain and loss for their sake?

"Of what worth are convictions that bring not suffering? ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

What do you think? Do you agree with McKee's assertion that "you are what you do under pressure," or is there more to it than that?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Creativity = Finding New Connections

The Story Course in L.A. left me with a lot to process. Not just about the writer's craft but also about many deeper matters--from the nature of creativity to what we mean when we say someone has a noble "character" to how communication really happens (text or subtext?) to what it really means to be a fully formed human being, and why so few of us actually get there.

Who knew a course on writing fiction would turn out to be the philosophical equivalent of a UFC throwdown?

So let me begin in the (slightly) shallower waters: What is creativity? When you are being creative, what are you actually doing? McKee defined creativity in an interesting way. He said that creativity is the art and skill of making connections that have never been named before between things that already exist. As an example, he quoted this line from a Carl Sandburg poem:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

He makes the point that the creative artistry in Sandburg's poem isn't in writing about fog or little cat feet, but by naming the previously unseen connection between them. Once you read this, says McKee, you can never experience fog in quite the same way.

Another example: The photograph by Brian Rust, above, in which he draws out for us the curiously disturbing beauty entangled in a mass of automobile corpses. And another: The elegant lyric in Brooke Fraser's song "Shadowfeet" (video below): "I am changing / less and less asleep." Again, the creativity, the artistry, lies in identifying a fresh connection between two things that already exist--in this case, personal transformation and the process of slowly waking up.

What do you think? Do you agree with McKee's definition of creativity? How might you spin it differently, or make for us a new connection?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Meditation

I once wrote a song that I called "Lord of the Morning." I used to live in an apartment with a big bay window facing East, and I would  awaken most mornings before dawn, make my coffee, and huddle up under a blanket on the sofa and watch the wonder unfold. It amazed me, and continues to now, how each morning's art is different. No two alike, from the first sunrise on earth to this very morning, as I sit writing these words, awaiting the sun. How can a God, however vast his means, paint billions of sunrises morn after morn, and make them all equally glorious in their own unique way? What kind of God would do that?

Watching this morning art session always had the effect of making me feel loved--in part because I reasoned that if God cared so much about the artful and unique crafting of each sunrise, how much more he must care about the artful and unique crafting of each human soul...and in part because there is wisdom in the sun's rising that whispers truths to the spirit that the unsurrendered mind can only guess at, as one might guess at the source of a sweet scent caught briefly on the breeze.

You are Lord God
King of the Morning
Arise and sing O Earth to the Lord your God
My song will rise and awaken the morning
For the Lord of the morning
He is good

I arise today to awaken the dawn, as I have so many times. But today is not like the rest...not just unique; the most unique. Not just artful; the most artful. This is Easter morn, and the Son is about to rise over the whole earth, victorious, King, Lord of the sun and every soul on whom its warmth depends.

Do you remember the old bluesy spiritual that asks, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" The song offers the question as an invitation to imagine yourself in that place in time with Jesus, watching the crucifixion unfold, watching him die. But you can also take the question literally. And the answer is yes.

I was there. We were all there. Everything in me that falls short of God's highest dream for the world, everything in me that hates and judges and demands my own way to the hurt of others and my own true heart, was there.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21

Whose sin did Christ become? It was mine. I was there. I killed the Christ. You were there too. On him. In him. Through him. We all were. The death of Jesus bonds us all in a common fallenness. We have no room any longer to judge one another. We have all committed murder. We have, all of us together, killed God.

But the story does not end there. Christ rose. He rises today. I believe that God, in the form of a man, literally and bodily rose from the dead, and in so doing, established a new kind of extraordinary life, a life that heals all that is wounded inside us all, a life that overcomes death in all its myriad forms. A life that he offers to everyone who will receive it. It is the very thing we've all hoped for, the very gift our broken hearts would most hope our Artist God, painter of billions of glorious dawns, maker of billions of beautiful souls, would give. And he has given it.

That's what Easter is--a celebration of the gift of this new life that God offers us all. I have received this life, and it has changed everything...because it has changed me. His love, his gift, his art in me, makes me whole.

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf...Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

It is a new dawn. Easter Morn. May you encounter the Son this day in a way you have never known before.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Inside Then Outside

I snapped this shot last week as I was preparing to journal on a misty morning in Boston. When I think of all the places in the world that journal has been, all the spaces in which I've written volumes that no one other than God will see, my soul grows warm and grateful. I think of David's realization of the beauty of his life:  

"The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Indeed, my inheritance is beautiful to me." (Psalm 16:6)

Right on, brother. I couldn't agree more.

For the past several weeks, I've been slowly reading Gail Sher's book on the writing life, One Continuous Mistake. Two quotes stood out to me recently:

"When you hack away at your writing and it refuses to ping, it means you still have something to learn--either about you or your subject, your feelings about your subject, or, more likely, both."

"Good writing happens cyclically, inside then outside, inside then outside. When it finally 'pings,' we simply bow."

During my recent time at the Story Course (of which I'll have much to say in coming posts), Robert McKee said that all writers are skeptics by nature. I don't believe this is true. I think it is more accurate to say that all writers are intrinsically honest--at least, all the compelling writers are. They tell what they see, as they see it, and convey its effect on them in a way that to others seems naked and powerful.

To do this, a writer needs to know something of the subject (actually, more than merely "something"...a writer needs what McKee calls an "Author's Knowledge" of a subject, a "god like" understanding of the matter at hand), and also be clear and honest about the subject's effect on him. A writer lives embedded ("in bed with") not only the subject itself, but also his experience of it--clearly, vulnerably, without hype or pretense.

To write in this way, I believe a writer needs to develop the capacity to be quiet and at rest--to understand the cyclical nature of this deeper creative process (as Sher describes it), and be content to look deep for as long as it takes to find the connections that have not yet been named, explore his own feelings about it all, and when at last he deeply, truly has something to say, to say it.

This is perhaps the difference between a writer and a pontificator: "Deep calls to Deep"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Report on The Destiny Project Retreat -- Austin

The Destiny Project Retreat Austin rocked the house! Fourteen amazing women came together for four days of fun, authentic community and deep communion with God. The results were transformational. Here's what just a few of the women had to say about the experience:

"Throw away any preconceived ideas you have about retreats. This is not the's a million times better!" ~ Jamie

"This course has changed my perception of myself and will transform my world as I step into my true identity in Christ. Thank you!" ~ Sam

"The Destiny Project gives you the tools and space to slow down and listen to God and let His truth about who you really are wash over you. It helps you uncover the beautiful desires God has placed deep in your heart to serve and follow Him. I crawled into the weekend beaten and tired. I walked out encouraged and loved and motivated to be all that God has called me to be." ~ Edie

This retreat continually reminds me that whenever we come to God with willing hearts and open curiosity, God runs to meet us (Luke 15:20). He really does want to meet with us and tell us who we are and what he created us to do and empower us to live out that identity and mission in every arena of our lives. The Artist loves his art. The Father loves his child.

With seven trained and certified facilitators, new Destiny Project courses and retreats are being offered all the time. A new website will be up in just a few weeks at, to make it easier to find a Destiny Project course or retreat that works for you. But until then, feel free to email Haley and ask for info. She'll send you a list of all the courses coming up soon.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Report on The Destiny Project Retreat -- Seattle

The Destiny Project Retreat in Seattle is over, and I'm stoked by the powerful experience that it was for the women who came, as well as for my friend and colleague, Shannon Bruce, who facilitated the course. Shannon wrote me this note right after the retreat:

"I am basking in the afterglow of love that transpired through the circle of ten women who attended the retreat. It was profound to witness the impact of this transformational experience where women stepped out of the comfort zone into the unknown, creating a space of safety and acceptance to discover their desires, dreams, values, identities and missions."

One of the participants, Rhonda, described her experience this way:

"I’ve lived my life with the burning sense of knowing I was meant for so much more. I filled my life with busyness and over commitment not knowing what to say yes and no to.  I longed to really hear clearly from the Holy Spirit what he saw in me and where he wanted me to go in my life but never felt I could. 

"The Destiny Project Retreat changed all that!  For the first time I heard loud & clear from the Holy Spirit, that he definitely had an identity for me and my mission became quite clear! What incredible freedom to know what to focus my life around. The world would never be the same if every woman stood in their true identity and moved forward courageously in their mission. My prayer is that every woman would get this opportunity."

When I created the Destiny Project, I had no idea how many women were hungry for a training experience like this, where they can be authentically called forth to dream again, discover their truly unique identity as followers of Christ and embrace the full permission to boldly and courageously go after the inspired life God designed them to live. Thanks to all the women who came to Seattle with such open, courageous hearts.

New Destiny Project courses are being offered all the time. Most meet by phone, so travel is no obstacle. If you're interested in learning more, drop me a line. I'll send you our schedule for upcoming courses.

We hope you accept the invitation to be a part of the adventure!

Monday, January 25, 2010


The car is back in the shop today. I previously reported that nothing was wrong with it, but it turns out that's not quite true. Actually, there's nothing wrong with the engine, but the internal sensors are all out of whack. Specifically, one of the core sensors is shot, and its malfunction has caused a cascade failure of seven other key sensors throughout the system. The engine may continue to run fine for some time to come, but the dashboard will tell me, continually, that the car is busted in multiple ways, hanging on by a thread. Alarms are sounding off everywhere, alerting me to danger that isn't really there. So I'm getting my sensors fixed.

This curious trouble with my car got me thinking about the art and skill of Reframing -- which is a sort of human version of "sensor repair" work that all of us have to do from time to time. Sometimes our real problem isn't with the things that happen to us, but with the way we choose to perceive them. Our internal sensors signal "Danger," or "Fear," or "System-wide Failure!" while, in reality, the engine of our lives may be running just fine. "It's all in how you look at it" is an axiom that holds a lot of power for those who are willing to believe it.

Take Neo, for example, in the scene pictured above from The Matrix. As long as Neo saw the agents as agents, he couldn't really beat them. But when he shifted his perspective (i.e. retrained his sensors) to see them on a different level--as lines of computer code--he was able to overcome them easily.

Here's an example from my own life: I'm in a season where a lot of change is happening in a lot of arenas of my life all at once. For the past few weeks, all this change has made me feel tense and anxious, even though all the changes are good. I realized recently that the "frame" or perspective I was holding around all this change was that it was "Too Much All At Once." But, in reality, that's not really true; that's just how it felt. The deeper truth is that all this change is coming at exactly the right time for me. The truth is that "This is the Right Time. I'm Ready for This." That shift away from a perspective that wasn't really true to one that is true has caused my tension and anxiety to vanish. Nothing externally has changed one bit; yet my experience of it is vastly different, all because I reframed the way I was choosing to see it.

My friend John Burke gave an interesting talk at Gateway Church this past weekend along similar lines. While talking about how lies can lure us into destructive life patterns, he gives some very practical steps for shifting your perspective in life from views ("frames") that are not really true to much more life-giving views that are. When you have about 40 minutes, I recommend checking it out.

Twisted | Watch Your Blind Side from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Encouragement

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, 
in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, 
the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. 
Do not let the hero in your soul perish, 
in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. 
Check your road and the nature of your battle. 
The world you desired can be won. 
It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours. 
~ Ayn Rand

(sorry, they disabled embedding for this one)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Lies That Bind

I was impacted this past Sunday by this short video, created by the amazing creative team at Gateway Church to illustrate the binding force of lies so many of us believe about who we are and what we are capable of offering the world.

Bound from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

The video reminded me of a simple but profound question that I often ask in my coaching work with clients...

What's holding you back?

None of us are exempt from the effect of lies that we believe. They bind up our souls and hold our hearts hostage, keeping us from living out the bold, free life that God intended for us all. They keep us from action. They keep us living small.

Here's a challenge: Sometime this week, sit alone with your journal and make a list of just five things that you deeply desire. If you like, use these questions as a guide:

What's one thing you deeply desire...
  • ... for yourself and your life?
  • ... for your family?
  • ... for your relationships?
  • ... for your nation?
  • ... for the world?
Then, after each one, write your response to this question:
  • What are the messages I tell myself that hold me back from taking action to make this desire a reality?
Lies are subtle: Obvious from a distance, but hard to see up close. Part of wisdom is recognizing that there are voices in the world that don't have your best interest in mind. And some of them are inside your own head.

"You will know the truth; and the truth will set you free." ~ Jesus (John 8:32)

P.S.-- For the full message connected to the video above, go to (or just click here). And join us live online next Sunday morning (9:30, 11, and 12:30 central) for more of Gateway's current series on overcoming lies in our lives.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Last week, my engine light came on. I took the car to the shop, where the technician hooked the computer up to my dashboard, looked at the screen and promptly frowned. "You shouldn't be driving this car," he said. "You've got seven system warnings firing; something is seriously wrong. I can drive you home. I think you should leave the car here. It isn't safe." So I did. Once home, I canceled all the offsite meetings I had scheduled for the next few days. Thankfully, most of my meetings for the week were by phone. But then, one by one, various people called and canceled all but one of those as well. Within a few hours, what was a full week of meetings turned into an unexpected private retreat. A blank canvas. This was starting to feel like a setup...

"You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction." 
(Psalms 23:2-3, The Message)
Life is full of rhythms. This is by Design. Years. Seasons. The ebb and flow of the tides. Day and night. The circadian rhythms that govern our bodies' daily cycle of consciousness and sleep. The more frequent cycle of hunger and activity that we pass through several times a day. Even our breath is governed by a rhythm that marks the passing of each moment of our lives. But the one rhythm we often miss--or perhaps intentionally resist--is what my friend Ruth Haley Barton calls the Sacred Rhythm. (Click here to see her book by that title, and here to read an article she wrote giving an overview of these rhythms in the life of a leader.) These are repeating cycles of active engagement in the work you are called to, solitude & rest, and restorative community. As any athlete will tell you, our bodies are not designed to sprint at full speed indefinitely. Neither are our souls. Just as our body needs both rest and refueling after a season of exertion, so do our hearts. A lot of us are slogging onward through our days with our souls dangerously dehydrated and starved, but it's been that way so long we don't even feel it anymore.

After more than three days in the shop, it turns out nothing at all was wrong with my car. Its absence didn't cost me a penny, but through it God called me away for a time of much needed solitude, rest and reflection with Him.

You have to pay attention to the signs. Sometimes when it feels like your best-laid plans are running foul, it may just be a signal from above. And the smartest thing you can do is drop your war and run away, at least for a while.

Friday, January 08, 2010

New Video for The Pearlsong Refounding!

Here's a new video for my fantasy novel trilogy, The Pearlsong Refounding, created by my friend and WayPoint tribemate Wendy Balman. Thanks so much, Wendy. This is awesome!

Please share with your friends!

Gideon's Dawn, Waymaker & The Word Within from Michael Warden on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

My Current Reading List

This is a shot of my niece on one of her many climbing adventures. I love the satisfaction this photograph conveys; the sense of peaceful rest and reward that comes at the peak of a challenging climb. It reminds me of a similar gift I experience from reading a challenging good book.

"A good book should leave you...slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." ~ William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958
It's no surprise that I'm a lover of books and of reading, being a writer myself. I typically read two to four books each month. Here's a quick list of what I'm reading right now:

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink -- A fascinating and (for a right-brainer like me) deeply encouraging exploration of the current dramatic shift in the western business world from a left- to right-brained leadership model.

Await Your Reply, a novel by Dan Chaon -- A Christmas gift from The Enchanter. Regardless of genre, I love reading fiction that's exceptionally well-written. So far this book does not disappoint.

Clairvaux Manifesto: A Personal Odyssey of Spirituality at Work by Kirk Bartha -- Part autobiography, part poetry, part instruction manual, part wisdom literature reminiscent of great Christian mystics of the past, this is not a book that can be easily labeled--or easily put down. Truthfully, it's more art than a linear text; the kind of book you don't read so much as open yourself to, and let it have its effect. So far I'm deeply moved by the effect it's having on me.

Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius -- Continuing my exploration of the Jesuit approach to faith and influence in the world, I plan to engage in the Ignatian spiritual exercises over the next few months. This book is my guide.

What's on your current reading list?

Monday, January 04, 2010


I watched the Kingdom of Heaven on New Year's Eve--an inspiring way to step into the new year. Although the main character Balian struggles with self doubt concerning his faith, in many ways he embodies the very essence of what it means to believe. He sees. He chooses. He acts. He lives an integral life; there is no disparity between what he professes and what he does. He is true in that way. He is not fooling himself.

This is not common. We all profess to believe many things; to care about many things. But how we live tells the tale. Our daily life is the canvas upon which our most holy creed is written, choice by choice, action by action. Everyone, ultimately, lives what they believe.

I've become increasingly aware of late of the difference between dreaming something, and believing it. A dream may let you taste a thing, and know it in the way one "knows" a meal before he eats it. It's experienced in the realm of imagination, anticipation and desire. But it is not yet believed because it is not lived--enacted, integrated, chosen--out here in the real world of tears and sweat. It's why fantasy video games and online virtual worlds are so appealing. Users can freely dream themselves to be something without the annoying requirement of having to actually risk and fail and bleed and grow in real life. This sort of dreaming is a little like porn: A fantasy that keeps you from experiencing the real thing.

But when a thing becomes real, it becomes about you, here, now...about how you live your life, what you actually do to embody your belief, each day, not just what you imagine to be true. You become the belief, and it becomes you.

If someone examined your daily routine for one week, what would they say you truly believed about life?

(If you see the movie, choose the Director's Cut. That's the story as it was meant to be told.)

Friday, January 01, 2010

This Showed Up the Next Day...

...after posting my entry On The Edge of, of all things, a fitness magazine. Love the image. Love that Merton is getting air time in a fitness magazine. A great thought--and aspiration--for the year 2010.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

On the Edge of Life

I had an interesting conversation with a member of my tribe this week. We'll be co-leading part of a workshop next week that's focused on helping people overcome long-standing struggles in their lives and cross the line into authentic freedom. In coaching, we call this "edge work," because the line between where (or who) you are now and where (or who) you want to be can often feel like a dangerous precipice of sorts--a cliff edge to a free fall, the line between the calm bank and the raging current, or simply a step into the dark. Even though you may truly want the change to happen, it feels "edgy" or uncomfortable or painful or even terrifying to move your life in that direction. It may be something as seemingly minor as losing those last 10 lbs or something as major as drastically altering your lifestyle for the sake of your values or fully surrendering your heart to that deep calling you know is yours. Whenever you're trying to make a change, and the change is particularly hard or resistant or you find yourself failing repeatedly in your attempts to move toward it, then you're up against an edge.

Our talk of edge work reminded me of these words from Jesus, "Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Luke 17:33). I thought about how any move toward authentic new life involves a very real (and often very painful) kind of letting go, a death of what is, or of who we are now, to make room for the new life that is trying to emerge. The farther I go on this journey, the more deeply I realize that Abundant Life is not something you master; it's something you surrender yourself to. It's something you must die--that is, lay down your life, all that you are and all that you have--to possess. Only really, it possesses you.

As I wrote in Alone With God:
"Imagine a raging river full of white-water swirls and smooth dark boulders that cause the current to twist and churn. Now imagine yourself taking a running leap into the center of the current, plunging yourself into the torrent of rushing waters, and experiencing, as a result, the absolute loss of control over everything. In the beginning, that is how it feels to lose your life in Christ. It's a sort of "baptism unto death." But that is just the beginning.
Once caught in the flow, once the shock of the water enveloping you with such force begins to subside, you soon stop your struggle against the current, and, quite suddenly, you find that you are more alive than you have ever been. It is a wild life, even reckless, but the River flows with a purpose you can only faintly imagine, toward a goal that you cannot see. In joy, you give yourself to the River, and, at last, you rest...allowing this Power so much greater than yourself to take over the matter of your existence. And in that rest--the Sabbath Rest--you find yourself at peace, sustained and moved by the River to which you have given yourself, fully and without compromise." (Day 79)

May God grant us all the courage today, to jump.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Powerful Example of Vision Mapping the Year Ahead

After my recent post sharing my Vision Map for 2009 and encouraging others to create a similar map for their own lives in 2010, I received a note from Michael Winks, a man in Casanova, Virginia, in which he shared with me the vision map and goals he had created for himself in 2010. I thought it such a deep and artful example of how powerful this process can be, that I asked his permission to share his work here on my blog. He graciously agreed (thanks Michael):

2010 Resolutions
Arising early to hike the peaks and meet God on the side of the mountain. The sunrise touching it once more for the first time.
Knowing the rush of taking turns knee-down on the sportbike.
Unleashing everything I have on an overhang rock-climbing route. 5.12
The sea rejects all shackles, but I will fight it, and it will embrace me. Two miles.
Sparring and training -- having my hand wraps cut because they fused together.
Holding the oiled walnut stock while releasing the slide catch of my rifle.
Studying men who have lived lives of faith, justice, honor.

I desire to hear that melody again. Once more hear and embrace the roar of noble things, of God, of beauty, of passion, of all that which is good. I desire to dance in its strength, to let its current sweep me, awaken my heart, and to make me new.

Makes us new. Bring us life. Great battles rage.

I'll add to Michael's great work here these three quotes, which I pray will provoke us all to dream again, in a way that is more risk-filled and true than we have dared before.

There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. ~ Howard Thurman
Tell me…do you not feel a spirit stirring within you that longs to know, to do, and to dare, to hold converse with the great world of thought, and hold before you some high and noble object to which the vigor of your mind and the strength of your arm may be given? Do you not have longings like these, which you breathe to no one, and which you feel must be heeded, or you will pass through life unsatisfied and regretful? I am sure you have them, and they will forever cling round your heart till you obey their mandate. They are the voices of that nature which God has given you, and which, when obeyed, will bless you and your fellow men. ~ James A. Garfield, in a letter to a friend
Let the wars begin, let my strength wear thin
Let my fingers crack, let my world fall apart
Train the monkeys on my back to fight
Let it start tonight 

~ Switchfoot, "Let Your Love Be Strong"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Gift You Bring

One Christmas many years ago I found myself huddled in the cramped rear seat of an old bus bouncing through the German countryside on its way to Weisbaden. It was a horribly chilly winter night. Several of the windows toward the rear of the bus were busted out, and the other 28 people on board (all native-born Germans) were huddled up toward the front where it was warm. But as I was the last person to get on board, there was no more room in the “heated” section, so I was relegated to the arctic gale in the rear, among the baggage. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if Weisbaden hadn’t been a full 10 hours away. And even that might have been tolerable if I’d chosen a different wardrobe. Expecting a long ride through the night on a heated bus, I had chosen to wear only shorts and a t-shirt. My bags had been loaded onto a different vehicle, which was nowhere in sight.

It was a truly awful experience. I spent the first four hours rubbing my arms and legs to keep them from going numb in the cold, or else shifting piles of duffle bags to block the wind from hitting my skin. I was never quite successful at either task.

But then, sometime in the fifth hour of my ordeal, something extraordinary happened. A young German woman sitting up front (whom I had never met) noticed me all bunched up in the back in my pathetic shorts and t-shirt, and she quietly asked one of the men up front to carry her thin jean jacket to the back of the bus and offer it to me.

I literally wept with gratitude. No kidding. It didn’t matter that the jacket was far too small for me to put on, or that it provided only minimal insulation against the cold. I was just so moved that this stranger who didn’t even speak my language would extend such kindness to me at a time when I really needed it.

That was in 1990, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday. As I’ve reflected on that experience in the years since, I come to realize that the gift that woman brought me wasn’t really the jacket. The real gift was her kindness. I never even learned her name, but I will always remember the gift of her warm and caring heart.

During this season of giving, I think it's important to look beyond the stuff under the tree and think about the larger gifts you have both given and received in the past 12 months. Perhaps they came from strangers who crossed your path in a time of need, or perhaps they came from those who know you best. But whatever their source, their impact is unmistakable. They are the gifts that awaken our souls. They evoke tears of gratitude. They provoke us to think more deeply about who we are and what we offer the world. They change us for the better. These are not the sort of gifts you purchase at the store and wrap in a box. They come directly from the heart, and we give them to each other in myriad ways—through a warm embrace, a kind word, or just by our faithful presence in another person’s life.

As you reflect on the past 12 months, what are the biggest “soul gifts” you have received from others in your life? Who gave them to you? How have those gifts impacted you? As a part of your Christmas celebration this year, why not contact each of the people who come to mind and thank them personally for the unique gift they have brought into your life?

Now consider the other side of the equation. What is the deeper “soul gift” you have brought to others in the past 12 months—that life-affirming treasure that flows naturally out of you when you are at your best? To whom have you given that gift this year? How has the gift impacted their lives? If you have trouble identifying the gift you bring, consider asking the people closest to you to name it for you. You’ll be surprised how quickly they are able to do just that.

The presents we exchange at Christmas are merely symbols of a deeper gift that’s far richer and more lasting. So as you celebrate Christmas this year, remember this: The real gift you bring to the people in your life…is you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reading the Signs of Season's Change

Brisk wind this morning. My front lawn, trimmed neat and clear under yesterday's sun, is now overrun with snow drifts made of maple leaves. It is just one sign among many of the season's change, even here in the South where such transitions are more subtle. The temperature dips of course, but it isn't only that. The birdsong has grown thin. Orion drifts higher in the night sky than in the summer months, when he can scarcely be found at these latitudes. Even the air feels different on my skin. The scent of the world has changed.

This month also marks the emergence of new seasons for many of the souls I know. Some are moving from a season of scarcity to a season of advantage...others from a season of pain to one of healing and reclamation...others from a long season of hiddenness to one of prominence and impact...and still others from a season of ease and learning to a season of refining, like gold in fire.

To know the season you are in, all you have to do is notice the signs. But when seasons change, the more difficult part is this: To stop resisting the new season you are in, and choose it.

"Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?"--C. S. Lewis

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"...To Cast Their Best Upon Thy Fire"

"What makes thy being a bliss shall then make mine
For I shall love as thou, and love in thee;
Then shall I have whatever I desire,
My every faintest wish being all divine;
Power thou wilt give me to work mightily,
Even as my Lord, leading thy low men nigher,
with dance and song to cast their best upon thy fire."
--Diary of An Old Soul, December, Stanza 10, by George MacDonald

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish preacher and writer of more than 52 volumes of fantasy, poetry and other works exploring Christian faith. Instrumental in the conversion of C.S. Lewis, MacDonald has become widely known and revered for his depth of insight and practice regarding what it means to live freely from your heart, and the joy and love that spring from an intentional daily intimacy with God. Late in his life he ran in some noteworthy literary circles: Mark Twain, Lewis Carol, and Ralph Waldo Emerson all counted him as friends. G.K. Chesterton once cited MacDonald as one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th Century.

And yet, MacDonald experienced failure after failure throughout most of his life. He suffered from tuberculosis, suffered the loss of his wife and four of his children, was widely rejected as an author until his final decades, and as a result, lived in  poverty most of his days.

The life of the truly free does not always look the way we expect it should. As Jesus said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). To set you free, Freedom will intentionally offend your ego, time and again, to sever you from the chains of such a false presumption.

What if the thing you're struggling against is actually the door to Freedom?