On Turning 36

Today's my 36th-birthday, and I'm reflecting on my life, as I have been for the past few weeks, with as much honesty and vulnerability that I can muster. Here's a few things I'm learning as I begin my 37th year...

1. I can't be of help to those around me if I'm not taking care of myself.

If my emotional, spiritual, and physical needs are not being met on a regular basis, then I simply don't have much to give to the world. It's like trying to go on an endless road trip for thousands of miles, and only putting $5 worth of gas in the tank (while eating small bags of cheetos and drinking endless soda) and expecting things to work out just fine. You simply don't get very far that way. We need fuel and regular maintenance to live sustainable lives.

I need this too. I'm at my best as a husband, father, leader, teacher, and pastor when I choose to prioritize my own health, growth, and healing, SO THAT I can be of service to others. Taking care of myself is FOR the sake of others

It's tragic and unacceptable to me how American culture places so little value on self-care, and how the Church follows the lead of our culture in this regard. I've had to unlearn so many bad habits that were formed in childhood and early adulthood in order to lean into this one. And I'm still unlearning. But I'm also learning to make different choices, and finding myself in new and better places as a result.

This all takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and courage, and it costs a lot, but it is always worth it.

2. Vulnerability is the birthplace for compassion and empathy to grow in my life toward others.

I'm a super-judgmental person. I will own you in my thoughts. I'm smarter, better, more-put together, and I have an answer for everything. Most of you don't know this about me, because I'm really good at hiding it. Many of you DO know this about me, and I'm sorry.

Here's the problem with this way of living: it is devoid of connection to others in any meaningful sense. A life lived in the manner I described above is a life lived out of misery, isolation, and self-loathing. If being right (or PERCEIVED as being right) is the priority, being alone is the result.

I've been reading this Brené Brown book called Rising Strong over the past couple weeks, and I've been learning so much from her. Brené defines connection as "the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship." Man, that's good.

Brené says that shame is the thing that keeps us disconnected. I don't want you to know that I don't have my life put together. I don't want you to know that I have moments, days, where I'm a terrible father, an awful husband, a horrible boss, a distant son or brother. I don't want you to hear the cursing of others I do under by breath, or the contempt I have for you.

I want you to think I have it figured out. That I'm nice, and calm, and generous. That I'm capable. That I can conquer the world.

And I will trade meaningful relationships for the perception that you have of me, as long as you perceive me as put-together and successful.

At least I used to live this way. I used to want this. That house of cards has been tumbling down for several years now.

More and more, I could care less about what people know or see about me. I know who I am, I know who I belong to, I know what I'm here for, and I know I am loved.

In short, I know that I'm worthy of love and belonging. So I know I'm worth knowing, and I'm worthy of connection.

3. Everything about life is a gift.

I've learned from Ann Voskamp that gratitude is the antidote to fear, isolation, self-pity, and selfishness. Gratitude is the posture in life that says, "all is gift."

Everything I have, every relationship, every experience, every physical object, every desire, every longing, every heartache, every hope - these are ALL gifts. They are undeserved, yet I receive them anyway. The trick is in the receiving.

Probably more than anything these days, I'm full of gratitude for my wife, Wendy, and my boys, Josiah and Jonah. They are the most tangible expressions of God's grace in my life on a daily basis. They endure my lowest lows, my insecurity, my anger, my un-health, and my highest highs. And yet they love me.

I'm grateful for the people of Markey Church, who allow me to be their pastor. You know how imperfect I am in this role, yet you've chosen to stay. I'm grateful for that every single day.

I'm grateful for my Mom, my Dad, my brothers, my friends, my dog, good books, moving films, good food (and sometimes, bad food, which can also be good), great restaurants, traveling, time off, summer, winter, snow, sunshine, orange juice, reuben sandwiches at Zingerman's, good cheese, live music, four-part harmony, my back porch, and that sunset in East Tennessee last week (good Lord, that brought me to tears).

I'm grateful for you too. Thanks for reading. And thanks for accompanying me on this journey we call life. I hope to see you soon.