Saturday, December 14, 2013

Playful Spirit

I wrote this poem after feeling such immense love directed towards me after I had woken up the other day. I hope you enjoy and experience the same love in increasing measure.

Playful Spirit by David Ello

Oh, to be roused
by the One who creates with a whisper,
that wonderful Spirit of Winter wooing,
laughing at the child's bedside
anticipating an ambush of Joy to be sprung!

Arms flung wide
and always ready
to embrace the ones who will soon awake,
who is this God that longs to play,
who dotes upon a speck of dust?

Jesus, Spirit, Perfect Father,
three-in-one and One in Three,
beckon me to company,
since I'm in you, and you're in We.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

An Ode to the One Who Fixes Things

Reading the book of Luke this morning, I was inspired afresh by what a healer Jesus was (and is), and how incredible it is that he actually seeks to fix broken parts of people's lives. Amazing. This is my response in poem. I hope you enjoy it.

An Ode to the One Who Fixes Things
by David Ello

Glue it back together,
fractured leg of figurine,
set it oh so gently,
and watch it stand anew.

Hold this broken necklace,
the clasp no longer closing,
this show of severed silver,
unite around my neck.

Torch this dying fire,
paltry pyre of soot and sticks,
douse it with your oil and flame,
and we shall dance in reds and yellows.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fear, Challenge, and the Potential for Growth

What is fear? Why do we fear it? What power does it have? And why do we, who host it from time to time, give it such power?

These are questions I am beginning to ask in preparation for writing a new short play.

This exploration of fear was spawned by by a realization I had recently in regard to how I'm reacting to some of my current classes as a grad student. (Like the litany of "r's" in that last sentence? Oh, alliteration.) The realization had to do with fear and how I have been hesitant at the idea of participating in different activities involving acting. Given my first 16 years of schooling providing ample opportunity (and later, training) in acting, this present fear of acting in my graduate classes should have no place. Yet there it is. What's going on?

One of the video assignments in my Inquiries into Teaching and Learning class shed some light on what I think the problem is here. This video on this idea by Carol Dweck will give you the gist of it:

In my case, it has to do with knowing that I have some talent and not wanting to negate that in the eyes of others (or my own eyes) by screwing up. So I'm fearful of trying something, showing that I'm rusty, not having acted in anything in a year (and the pressure is compounded given that I'm in New York City, Theatrical Mecca of Actors in the United States, full of some of the greatest talent this country has to offer). But why the fear? What's going to happen if I screw up, if I try an acting exercise and find that I am indeed off the mark a bit, not as adept as I once was (or can be in periods of more focused training)?

If you watched the video I posted a link for in the above paragraph, you heard about something called the Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset. The Fixed Mindset (according to Dweck) responds to praise of innate talent by not wanting to do things that prove that praise to be in error. In other words, someone who's been told "You're talented," may not want to venture into something more difficult for them after experiencing some level of failure in that difficult area, for fear that it might expose a falsehood about that praise. To condense it further, "You're talented," turns into, "You're not talented," when the Fixed Mindset is presented with something much more challenging than usual. Counter that with the Growth Mindset, which is stimulated by praise of one's efforts, not their talents, and according to Dweck, encourages one to take on challenges for their growth potential, no longer worry about whether or not they are talented. There is potential to get better, so the challenge is looked upon as an opportunity. How does all of this play into fear?

In the second mindset, the Growth Mindset, it seems that fear has less of a place. It's focused more on gaining rather than losing, on adding to knowledge or skill rather than subtracting from or negating it.

What if, instead of listening to fear, "Don't do that, you might expose your weakness," I, and others faced with a challenge, listened instead to the thought that says, "If it turns out more difficult than you thought, then doing it will give you an opportunity to find out and to get better at it." Whoever said that failure had to have such a weighty consequence? (Well, society perhaps says that to us all the time in a number of ways, and failure is rarely fun.) What happens if we stop trying to avoid failure and start focusing more on building skills that will by simple consequence result in increased success?

The one who is afraid to fail is less likely to try. I want take fear out of the equation. How to go about it? Try and fail enough times to find that failing is not so bad after all? Or try so many times to realize that success actually comes more often than failure?

Who said I was so rusty anyway? Who said I was prone to such failure? Where is that negativity coming from? I'm a trained actor. Key word: trained. So, rather than focusing on talent, shouldn't I focus on continuing that which helped to cultivate and sharpen that talent these many years past? On the TRAINING? And that implies something else: to try.

Allow me to spin the spotlight on you for a minute. Where are you afraid to try? Who told you that you'd fail? Others? Yourself? Past experience? Whether those voices are true or false (and I daresay most of the time they're false), why don't you step right past Fear's "Do Not Cross" rope and into the realm of possibility? Fail three times you might, but in the process, you might just gain (or sharpen) the skills necessary to succeed a hundred times after.

Shall we try and grow together?

P.S. For those of you who want to look at this from a spiritual lens, see this parable on investment that Jesus told to describe how his kingdom works. Check it out (this is the Message paraphase by Eugene Peterson)

"14-18 It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

19-21 After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

22-23 The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

24-25 The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

26-27 The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

28-30 “‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this 'play-it-safe' who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’"
-Matthew 25:14-30

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Caffeinated by a King or The Joy of Getting Over Yourself

What do you think when you hear this phrase? "Oh, just get over yourself!" Does it offend your deep sense of individual entitlement, the petting of ego that most Westerners are so accustomed to? Or is it liberating?

This morning, as I was reading and trying to hear from God, I felt like he said just that, albeit in nicer terms: "Get over yourself, David, and onto me, onto others, and you'll find more of what you need." I love it when he does that--you know--the counter-intuitive "I'm God, so I can say things that normally wouldn't make sense but they actually do 'cause I said them" way of going about things. Yes, some of you know exactly what I'm talking about and are smiling as you read this.

Anyhow, as I thought about this more, dialoguing with God in my head and heart, I began to taste freedom and joy.

"Freedom from what?" you may ask.

Having just moved across the United States to one of the biggest, craziest cities in America, there has been a lot of self-reflection and focus on getting my needs met. This is quite natural for anyone who has just moved somewhere, as there's a lot to think about pertaining to self: "How can I get this setup? Where can I plug into community? How long will it be 'til I feel settled here? Am I investing in the right activities and the right people? Is this or that a proper use of my time?" I, I, I, my, my my. Makes sense, right? There's nothing wrong with being there for awhile. But to stay there...oh, to stay in that self-focused state, that's the trap.

Before I moved here, in asking God for any strategies that might be helpful in getting settled, here's what I sensed him telling me. It caught me by surprise: "David, when you get to New York, don't think about how you can find community for yourself. Instead, think about how you can create community for others, and in that, you'll find what you need."

Wow. Total Jesus-Yoda moment (of course, he didn't phrase it in "Community you shall find, when community you make" but you get the idea). And I was thinking about this further this morning. The more that we focus on self, the more we become concerned with our own personal lack, and it's easy to forget about serving others. On the flip-side, as we serve others, we can begin to get our minds off of our own felt-needs, find a new level of release from those needs, and hopefully realize our needs getting met in the context of community as we seek to meet the needs of others.

Paul said it this way in a letter he wrote to this church in a city called Philippi: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. -Philippians 2:3-4 ESV

(Funny enough, this was the verse of the day on a site I visit often called "Bible Gateway." It seems there's a theme to this day.)

"Count others more significant than yourselves?" Really? I have read this verse multiple times before, and it always challenges me. But when I get down to the brass tacks of it, it make sense. I remember a very talented musician and speaker in a church I was a part of once breaking this down saying that if we were really mostly concerned about meeting the needs of others in the context of intentional, loving community, then no one would really need to worry about his or her needs getting met, and everyone would be covered. (Thank you, Shae Cottar. This has stuck with me for years, now.)

I think the problem comes when we begin to think about how community, God, or the world at large might fail us if we do just that, as it kind of takes the "other," whoever that other might be, in order to make this work. And we've all experienced the failure of others, right? Likewise, we know all too well our own propensity to drop the ball when it comes to serving someone else.

But what if we didn't have to fear? What if---let's say, we could take our focus off of ourselves in such a way that we could really make life more about serving someone else above our own interests, KNOWING with FULL CONFIDENCE that our needs would be cared for. (I am not advocating an abdication of personal responsibility or a lack of awareness of our individual role to play in our own lives. I take that as a given as responsible adults. I'm rather trying to combat an extreme.) What if we could rely on something or someone totally reliable, knowing we'd be taken care of every single time?

Some of you can see where I'm going with this, and I don't mean for this to come off as some sort of bait-and-switch blog post. My destination of thought, however, is that God is the one who can and will meet our needs if we let him, and he'll even use other people, unreliable, fickle others to do so as we get our focus off of ourselves and onto him and others. I've experienced this time and again.

Jesus, addressing a crowd of worriers who had even more immediate reason to worry about their needs being met than most of us do, said,

"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." -Matthew 6:31-34

Note the word "kingdom." Jesus speaks about seeking the KINGDOM of God, which in my mind denotes two things: there is a king in this domain (king-dom...king's domain), and there is a community, the kingdom. What is a king and a king's domain without subjects to enjoy in that domain? So as we are seeking first this kingdom (and the righteousness that Jesus speaks of), I think it is a call of liberation, to focus on God, the King, who is the true center of all things and on building up others in that kingdom. If we are centered on God and on others, we are properly oriented. If, however, we make ourselves the center, how disorienting that can be! (Most of us can't even sustain the same emotional center through the span of a day by our own volition. So how could we ever act as our own anchor?)

If that word "righteousness" in the above quote throws you off any or causes you more anxiety by putting the focus back on yourself and how "you need to be more righteous," I would hope allay your concern by suggesting that even that issue is covered by the one who calls us to focus on himself. It's my belief that Jesus calls us to focus on the kingdom of God and his righteousness as a call to relief, since it is after all HIS righteousness that we are to seek, not something originating from ourselves.

It's like a free cup of chai. He made it, it originates with him, yet we have to seek it, put out our hand and drink it in as he willingly offers it to us daily. (Yeah, I had to throw the chai reference in there. You were wondering when that might come, weren't you?) And when you think about it that way, who can make the better chai, you or him? (I must admit, I make a really nice home-brewed chai, so that can be a hard metaphor for me if I think about it too literally. But Jesus IS the chai and the one who introduced me to it, so I know he'd win the contest, hands-down--my hands. He'll do the work.)

So what are we waiting for? I wonder what will happen today as the result of putting others before ourselves, focusing on a king, his kingdom, and his way of doing things...Kingdom Caffeination, baby!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Expensive Chai: Counting the Cost to Enjoy the Purchase

Change is expensive. A progression towards something greater almost always requires the giving up of something that is quite good. (I've written of this extensively in a previous post entitled "Paradigm Shift: The Advantage of Loss).

I think it's important to remember this cost when traversing a bridge of change, as it frees the person experiencing the change to appropriately process the loss that transition requires and to more fully appreciate the reward that awaits on the other side of crossing over.

Having moved from Chicago to New York City almost three weeks ago, I have recently experienced a very big change, and its many facets continue to delight and challenge me, though the delights have far outweighed the challenges thus far. The transition from one big city to an even bigger city has felt much easier than it should have, and this I attribute to the incredible support of friends and family through prayers and encouragement before, during, and after my departure. Before I left Chicago, more than one person conveyed a strong sense that God was going to make my transition to New York supernaturally quick and easy, that acceleration would be the mark of much of this new planting here. To my relief, this has proven true in many ways, from an ease in acclimating to the sights and sounds of New York City to familiarizing myself with the incredible mass transit system, quickly integrating into various forms of community here and feeling quite at home from my first night in the city. Any challenges have felt minuscule compared to the glorious homecoming I have experienced in a city whose history and potential for great achievements is so vast.

Yet, I am beginning to remember the cost, and it feels important to do so, in order to fully apprehend the new life that stands before me. If the heart does not take its time to fully grieve what's lost, it is my conviction that it will not be fully open to receiving the new gifts to be poured into it.

I did my fair share of processing and grieving the loss of Chicago and the many blessings of my life there in the months before leaving for New York, and I have likewise taken ample opportunity to drink in the rich chai of cultural treasures that God has begun to lavish me with here, particularly through the vast milieu of good theatre to experience.

But where much was dispensed, there is much more to put it its place, and the process of such replacement is worthy of whatever contemplation is required to receive what's coming next. To put it in CHAI terms, it is helpful to fully reckon the chai that I drank and the chai that I was required to pour out (and that I pour out still) in the service of receiving new deposits of chai if this revolution is to continue. Receive, drink, pour out, repeat. Without the pouring out, one ends up withholding what is meant to be shared and prevents multiple others from experiencing that which comes from a truly fresh batch. New chai into old chai might result in a spoiled chai, or luke-warm at best. Let it be hot or in-between. (Does this sound familiar?) But I digress.

Jesus spoke of this exchange which is so relevant to the theme of losing to gain.

"...No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ -Jesus as recorded in Luke 5:37-39

Without a proper letting go of these old vessels, we won't be able to contain the now that life desires to bring. But honoring the expense of the old, these treasure chests, wineskins, or cups filled with chai, can further aid us in receiving the transformation for which we have so dearly paid...and for which others have so generously sacrificed in that expense. And what is to be gained in exchange will be so worth that expense, knowing that the cost was great. Time for some new chai. Are you ready?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Forever Chai: Navigating What's Supposed to Last...When it Doesn't

Sometimes, things disappear. In fact, with time, almost all things do.

"My David, that's a bleak way to start, don't you think?"

Stick with me, and you may enjoy where this is going. It's going to get good.

A few days ago, I set up a meeting at one of the only places I know of to get good, home-brewed chai in Chicago: Safari Cup. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to an empty shell of the coffee shop that once provided by most beloved substance. (Sound familiar? Something similar happened with me in regard to Borders Cafes years ago.) The only trace of the haven where I once enjoyed such solace with my beloved beverage was a sign with the old shop's logo on the side of the building, boasting of what had been but is, alas, no longer. After some discouragement, I was actually encouraged by this stark reminder of a truth that feels very important for me to remember in this season of letting go and preparing for what's to come. That's what I want to spend some time exploring today.

I am someone who places great value on people, experiences, places, and anything else in my life that provides me with the rich flavors of life. I value these so much, in fact, that it is very hard for me to let go of them when they are longer present. Something feels irreconcilable in this, as if I could never forget these rich fountains that once flowed so beautifully and freely in my life but have stopped flowing for various reasons. In my heart, I'm longing for the eternal, as Solomon wrote in his famous book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes:

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart..." -Ecclesiastes 3:11

Unfortunately, we live in a tension of this temporal life on earth and the promise of all things being made new through Jesus, banishing death once and for all. So what are we to do in the in between, the reality of things passing away and the equal reality of our human desire for what's beautiful to remain forever? I think the answer may have to do with one word: process.

Process implies movement. In life, there is movement from one moment to another, one stage to the next, and in order to move to, there must be a moving from. I spoke earlier about wanting to hold onto what's beautiful from the past. And while memories have their place, they are not a very sustainable place to live. A prophet named Isaiah hit this right on the nail as he was claiming to speak on God's behalf. I think God was giving the people of that old time a key to life that also applies to our lives here today. He says,

"Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland."
-Isaiah 43:18-19

Did you catch that? It seems impossible to forget the past completely, especially those things which were very beautiful or even painful. Both beauty and pain can cut us so deeply. Sometimes, beauty can cause the most pain when it's no longer a present reality. And I think that's what Isaiah is getting at here. Forget the things of the past in as much as they are causing you to live in the past. There's no life there. There's no chai at Safari Cup in Chicago any longer. It's somewhere else! So take your eyes off of the rearview mirror and look ahead at the surroundings in front of you so that you can see where the chai is located now. I use the metaphor of chai, but you can insert just about anything here.

What I often do, and I think what many of us end up doing when some major, life-giving establishment no longer remains is that we fixate on the ruins, either lamenting or re-imagining what was inside, and hoping that this will somehow change things. It doesn't. The next big thing might just be across the street, or a few blocks down. Maybe it's being built so it's visibility is not the highest on your reality radar. But if we'll take our eyes off of the old thing and look up, we might just see what's coming. He says, "See, I am doing a new thing!" I love that. "SEE!" I also love that the places where God builds something new for us are often in the places that we would least expect, the places that are hitherto unexplored by us...the wilderness...the wasteland.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned a verse from Ecclesiastes, but I specifically left off the second part of the verse, until now. Here is the full version: "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Beginning to end...If we can live in the present, enjoy the process, and look to the future, we won't get stuck dwelling in the past...or trying to drink chai in a building that's vacant.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pain, Progress, and The Scarlet Pimpernel

In all great epics, some tragedy of immense proportion is required in order for the hero or heroine to achieve their final victory. In fact, it seems as though the greater the loss and trial that the protagonists face, the greater and sweeter is their reward in the end.

This was my consolation this afternoon as I was musing upon the grief that has come to steadily visit me in regular intervals over the past two months or so, a grief that continually causes me to beg the questions, "When will this end, and why is it so darn hard?"

I was reading The Scarlet Pimpernel earlier today, the classic novel upon which my all-time favorite musical of the same name is based, and as I was reading and pondering the difficulties that Percy Blakeney must overcome, it was as if God spoke to me, saying, "All great heroes experience a crucible of soul and spirit, and it makes for a better story in the end. So also with you."

Do I presume to be a hero? Well not yet necessarily, but I will say that with my romantic notions of the world and my place within it, I have always wanted to be a hero and aspired to lead a revolution which brings freedom to many who are suffering at the hands of injustice, be it cultural, personal, or otherwise. I want my life to truly count for something, to live an epic adventure and to lead others in securing victory on behalf of others, much like Percy and his valiant league in The Scarlet Pimpernel. But that requires risk, and with risk, loss...and with loss, the hope and tenacity to press forward.

Is the pain always worth the favorable outcome that may not come 'til the very end of the story? Is the chapter of suspense, mistaken understandings, or downright despair worth the pages of glory and valor that are to follow? I must believe it. I do believe it. What we stand to gain must be worth the pain. Sometimes the pain we endure in a tough situation is the only way to enlarge our capacity for what's coming next...or what's coming forth.

This has certainly been true in my life. In my five years of living in Chicago, I have experienced some of the most remarkable victories, and the intensity of joy that I experienced was matched by the intensity of pain that I felt either before or after those victories were had. Two of them were

-Relocating from a smaller (albeit healthy) theatrical climate in Houston to a much larger theatrical city, Chicago, with far more opportunities for me as a playwright.

-Producing the world premiere of my original musical, "Master of Dreams," as work seven years in the making.

These two victories were the hardest feats I have ever accomplished, the strains of which tested the mettle of my very soul to show me what God has made me of...and where I am still in dire need of his assistance. Yet in all of the prodding, testing, and stretching, they added to me skills and strengths that will make me even more effective for larger feats to come. This was certainly true when producing my first professional show, a kids musical entitled "King David: LIVE!" While I came up to Chicago wanting to produce Master of Dreams first, I could never produced a show of that scale without first cutting my teeth on a smaller production (a cast of 3 versus a cast of 7, very little set and budget compared with a larger set, theatre, and budget, and so forth). I'm confident that God knows what we need to get to the next thing, and we can't skip out on what's in between. This often includes pain.

If there is any doubt remaining in regard to the worth of present and necessary pain to produce something greater, Jesus' words to his disciples in a time of their grief seem relevant:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you."
-John 16:20-22

I love that. Who can relate to the rest of the world rejoicing while you weep? And to times of grief finally turning into joy? The day always comes. The pain has the potential to enlarge one's capacity. And in the best cases, something new and eternal is born which brings a joy that will not be taken away like the rest.

In the words of The Scarlet Pimpernel,

"Someone has to face the valley,
Rush in, we have to rally and win, boys!
When the world is saying not to,
By God, you know you've got to march on boys!

Never hold back your step for a moment!
Never doubt that your courage will grow!
Hold you head even higher and into the fire we go!"

(From The Scarlet Pimpernel: The New Musical Adventure,
Words by Nan Knighton, Music by Frank Wildhorn)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Summer's Winter: Seasons of the Soul

What happens when the season around you is not the same as the season within you? How are you to proceed when it's winter outside but springtime in your heart, or summer outside but winter within?

I am experiencing such a juxtaposition in this current season of my life, and I've had a discovery which I hope will be helpful to others in navigating the seasons of their life.

At the time of this writing, it is mid-June, and I find myself still at the beginning of a beautiful, Chicago summer, with its blissful sunbeams and the perfect combination of cool and warmth blended in the breeze boasting of promise and long-awaited rest. Everybody in Chicago loves the summer. It's what keeps so many of us here to endure what often feels like a never-ending winter (and a sometimes brutal one at that). So why is it that this summer I couldn't be happier for summer to be over? I daresay it has to do with my internal season.

If you have read any of my previous posts from the past few months, you may be able to infer that the earlier months of this year, those of the winter, actually, were quite a marvelous season for me, given the abundance of life and fulfillment that I was experiencing in the gifts that God had provided for me. Aside from the fact that I have a special place in my heart for snow, I am convinced that my experience of the physical season of winter was tempered by the incredible springtime bursting with new life and hope within my soul and spirit. The springtime (or summer) of my soul brought the flowering of new love, and with it, several new experiences through which God brought immense fulfillment and healing to some very deep parts of me.

As with all seasons, however, some plants survive, while others do not. Externally, winter was turning to spring while whispering wistfully of the summer that would come. Internally, I felt a swift cold front and all that naturally follows.

I was crying to God recently, lamenting all of the pain that I have been experiencing both with the death of this relationship and the ebb of other friendships and landmarks that have been very life-giving to me during my time here in Chicago. I was reckoning the fact that I am going to be leaving this place in a matter of months to begin a new journey in New York City, and while excited for the implications of that new journey, I was keenly aware of the deep loss that will accompany such a relocation. I experienced such a relocation 5 years ago, moving from Houston, TX to Chicago, IL for further pursuit of original theatre work, and while the rewards have been many and worth the cost, the loss and pain preceding the prize was immense. What was adding to my grief and frustration in the midst of my lament before God was the acute awareness of summer, with its festivals, its light, the myriad of joy in fellowship that it always brings...and the fact that my internal temperature was incongruent.

That same night, not long after, God spoke to me gently, saying, "David, this is a winter for you. You just came out of a glorious season, and it was beautiful in its time. Even so, this is a different season characterized by things dying so that other things can grow in their place when the next season begins. Embrace the season, knowing that it is not going to be easy, nor is it supposed to be---death and goodbyes are not fun---and you will experience greater peace in the midst of it."

Was God being morbid? No, I don't think so. He speaks often of the joy that we can have in the midst of abundance or lack and the joy that his presence brings whatever the circumstances. Just see the Psalms or any of Paul's writings for such descriptions. No, it wasn't morbidity that God was after when speaking to me about this season of death, but rather a mature, face-to-face look at the reality as it stood (and stands) at the present moment. This is not going to be easy, and my life is slowly shutting down in this place, so I should proceed in a manner appropriate to the season. You don't plant new seed in the middle of winter or expect a harvest in the middle of a snowstorm. (Yes, anything is possible with God, but I am speaking generally right now.) Funny enough, I did have more peace after recognizing this season and accepting it. Did I receive comfort in that moment? No. But I did receive some peace...and a bit of hope.

Accepting the season as a winter released me from feeling guilty about my lack of festivity and gaiety over the season of summer. It's summer on the outside, and while I will try to enjoy of it what I can, I need not feel bad about wanting it to be over. What I am experiencing is a normal progression, and God is with me in that, not expecting me to be in a place that I am not.

Here is the main reason this gives me such hope. If I am currently in a winter, that means that a springtime is coming soon when ice melts and new life bursts forth with the brilliance of a sunrise after a long, cold night. Ironically, my internal springtime will come in an external season which has always been so life-giving to me, that of the fall--also coinciding with my birthday, celebrating my third decade. What a perfect picture of death and rebirth, the ending of one year and the beginning of another.

Solomon had it right when he said that there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the sun. I encourage you to consider what season you may be in right now and to ponder how you might work with that season, not against it. Would you wear a wintercoat in the heat of the summer? Or shorts in the winter? Check your soul...and if you can't figure out what season you're in, there is One who knows the weather of your life much better than you or I ever could. He can calm a storm in an instant, calling for peace until you current passage ends and a new one begins. Just ask Jesus. He might even invite you for drink of chai...and chai is good for every season. ;-)

" A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Imposter Emotions or How to Walk on Water

Imposters...What comes to your mind when you hear that? An image of unwanted guests breaking into your living space? Somebody hacking into your private information on a computer or other electronic device? How about an emotion?

Yes, you read correctly. Have you ever thought of emotions as imposters? I don't mean all emotions of course, as we all know that emotions are a normal and healthy part of the human life. But what if some emotions that are valid some of the time are, in fact, not valid all of the time? What if some are not actually ours to carry when they come? This is what I want to explore today, as I have had a recent discovery in this area that may be immensely helpful for anyone reading this. Sound interesting? Read on!

The modern (or post-modern), Western society of which I am a part seems to have gotten a very good grip on diagnosing emotions as a normal, healthy part of life as we know it, whereby the more we can be honest with what we are feeling, the better we can assess what is going on and how to move forward. Feeling joy? Be joyful! Feeling sorrow? Perhaps it is time to embrace that sorrow and grieve so that the emotion can have its proper place and joy can come again. But what of times when we feel something like sorrow, grief, or immense fear, seemingly out of no where and are suddenly ambushed by a barrage of negative feelings? Have you ever felt yourself crushed like this, and the more you flailed, the deeper you began to sink in the emotional quicksand, with what felt like little hope of getting out? I have. It is times like these that I think the imposters have come in, and the more sudden the relief, the greater the sign that it was an imposter emotion in the first place. Let me explain.

Two days ago, I read an email that triggered some negative emotions for me. Normal right? Yes, emotional triggers can be quite normal, especially when we are in a process of healing and some of our heartstrings are still tender in areas. However, the intensity of the emotions that I was feeling after being triggered was way beyond what felt appropriate given what I was reacting to and the real scenario at hand. It was as if I had taken a medical cocktail from Dr. Jekyll's personal stash, with sudden, swirling side effects of extreme pain, fear, and an incredibly intense desire to escape with little hope that anything I could do woud help. Sound crazy? It was. I had no reason to feel those intense emotions at that time, especially given what I was reacting to and the reality at hand. Soon enough, I realized that these emotions were not valid for those moments, as opposed to other difficult emotions that I had worked through in a previous grieving period. These, unlike those healthy emotions, were what I am calling the imposters; emotions that make us feel they are in their rightful place yet have no right to enter or stay where they have intruded.

You may now be asking, "How is he so sure that these were lying emotions? Sometimes we just feel what we feel."

Sometimes, yes. But sometimes, no...not at all. Here is part of why I think these were lying emotions and how we can expose them for what they are, towards removing them from where they are not welcome.

1. Healthy emotions, those in their rightful place, are productive. Whether joyful or painful, when we are experiencing emotions in the right way, I have found that they lead to something worthwhile. For instance, if the valid emotion is sorrow or deep grief, experiencing the grief and processing through it (whether through crying, ruminating, or whatever else) typically brings one to a place of release where what's necessary has been felt and the next wave of positive emotions like joy can enter again. Imposters, on the other hand, are not productive at all. They simply keep one stuck in an extreme with no promise of progressing towards something on the other end. This experience that I had the other day was just that.

2. Imposters exaggerate reality and twist it into something much larger than it actually is, making us feel small in the midst of whatever is being imposed upon us. These imposters are often fed when we give into speculation, feeding imaginations of what could be in a scenario (often negative) and what might have happened or will happen, versus looking at whatever facts are known. Healthy emotions, in my experience, often interact with what is known. Imposters, by contrast, offer heaps of the unknown, often presenting worse-case scenarios to partner with our imagination in one of the most destructive of ways. (I am speaking mainly of imposter emotions that mirror the negative. Those which mirror the positive would be best served by another discussion.)

3. Imposter emotions can be rid of quickly when they are dealt with as such. When we expose imposter emotions for what they are, we can readily kick them out, and the result is an expedient, marked shift in one's emotional atmosphere. The quick sand is suddenly dry ground, the tempestuous sky once riddled with dark clouds is surprisingly clear, and the light that has penetrated makes way for clarity of thought and vision. What was overwhelming moments before now seems preposterous, out of place, unnecessary.

How are we to deal with these imposters? As with many of my posts before, I would like to draw upon the wisdom of an age-old text here, one that has proven fruitful in helping me navigate life's complexities on multiple levels. The truth is that the way I got out of the clutches of the imposters I spoke of was by calling out to others and to Jesus in prayer. I have found Jesus to be very effective at driving out imposters, which in my belief sometimes equate with evil, harassing spirits, and other times turn out to be simply lying emotions. More often than not, I think it is a combination of the two. Regardless of what you believe the source of of imposter emotions is, here are two things that I did, both of which are based on practical, spiritual principals from the Bible.

1. Reach out for help. Isolation is a great envrionment for imposter emotions to continue their assault. King David, who experienced a great deal of hardship both before and during his kingship, wrote this in one of his songs to God:

"I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." -Psalm 16:8

Rather than isolating and looking inward, David would remember to look outside of himself to the presence of the One who was with him, even at his right hand. Sometimes this looks like reaching out to others to pray for us or encourage us as an extension of God's presence in our life.

2. Expose the lie, cast it down, and declare what's true. Remember what I wrote earlier about speculation and how imposter emotions often feed us heaping spoonfuls of the unknown? It's the equivalent of chewing on gravel; it hurts our teeth, can make us choke, and does nothing good for our digestive system. Speculative rumination is not productive. So determine what the speculations are, declare instead what is known and what is true, and tell those speculations to leave, that they no longer have any power to dominate with their phantom truths. Truth always overpowers the lie when truth is upheld. Often it is helpful or even required to have someone else work with us in separating the truth from the lies in a situation. Jesus is immensely helpful in this. Check out what he did for his friend and disciple Peter when Peter and the other disciples were taken aback by the sight of Jesus walking on the water:

"But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'

'Lord, if it’s you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.'

'Come,' he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?' "
-Matthew 14:27-31

There is so much to mine from this, but for our purpose here, I will simply point out that Peter was in a risky situation, allowed imposter emotions to get the better of him, and Jesus remedied that by catching him when he was sinking...IMMEDIATELY. Isn't that great? For those who look to Jesus, he will immediately catch us when we cry out to him. Often, he does bring us into situations that can naturally bring doubt, fear, or other difficult emotions. But none of these remain valid when Jesus is leading us into a situation as he was here, because we are safe with him. Jesus is king over fear.

Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament and experienced hardship after hardship, also knew the power of speculation and the greater power of bringing speculation to Jesus:

"We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." -2 Corinthians 10:5

Once again, there is an emphasis on contrasting the unknown with the known, "speculations" versus "knowledge," and bringing speculation under the authority of one who can do something about it. That's what I did, with the help of my brother as we prayed on the phone the other day. The shift that took place was remarkable.

Wherever you are approaching this from, whether a purely naturalistic standpoint or including the spiritual as I have done (which I believe is the more holistic and complete route to full freedom in these areas), I would like to ask you, what imposter emotions might you be allowing in your life right now? What is valid for the present, and what is no longer necessary for your current emotional journey? And who is there to help you to expose the imposters? Who can you call out to? Might you see Jesus out there, seeking water-walkers like himself?

See you on the water.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gatsby, Love, Death, and the Elusive, Green Light

Last night I saw Baz Luhrmann's mesmerizing film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and given the state of transition that I find myself in currently, the film struck many chords in my heart and mind on multiple levels. I was particularly impacted by what the film seemed to say about the perils of holding to the past too tightly in an attempt to prolong something that is no longer relevant to the present. This I would like to explore with some thoughts from my own musings with God in the Bible the past few days, and a U2 reference thrown in for good measure. If this sounds like interesting food for thought, please, join me as I digress.

For those of you familiar with the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald or who have recently seen the new film adaption (or the old one, for that matter, though I don't know how good it is), the affluent Gatsby spends an incredible amount of time, thought, and personal resource towards reclaiming a past love that in his mind is meant to be his again. (Spoiler alert, important info coming up, fyi.) However, as the story unfolds and Gatsby's plans play themselves out, he is left with little more than a fleeting phantom of the love that he once shared with the ethereal yet earth-bound Daisy. Ultimately, Gatsby's attempts to recreate and reform a fractured past disintegrate in a beautifully tragic sequence of his great love retreating back into herself, away from Gatsby and the subsequent death of our tragic hero. Were this a Greek tragedy, we might say that hope, while his greatest strength, also turned out to be Gatsby's tragic flaw, the hamartia leading to the hero's impending death. Much like Gatsby's fixation upon the green light across the water, flashing on and off in the distance signaling the hope of a dream deferred yet sought after again, so also the object of his desire in Daisy proved to be a waning light, on, then off, beckoning in the distance, yet never to remain steady.

Okay, are you depressed yet? If so, this is not my intent, but I suppose you may be feeling the weight of the above scenario as I am as I write this. Thus, I would like to introduce the hope. If hope can be a flaw, a hope to reclaim a past that is no longer supposed to be or able to be, then where is the place for present hope? I believe it comes in putting the past to death and beginning a new journey, letting the green light fade, and finding a new direction in which to focus one's gaze. Some may take this to mean something relationally, as if I were implying that this is simply about saying goodbye to and old season of love and finding a new object of affection to fixate upon. While this can certainly be the case, I think the concept of hope in a new direction applies in a much broader way. It has to do with new experiences, a new ways of living, being, new environments and circumstances, and a willingness to leave the familiars of the past in order to step into these fresh gifts with eyes and heart clear and open. We've got to leave the state that U2 so poignantly sings about with in their album All That You Can't Leave Behind: "You've got to get yourself together. You got stuck in a moment, and you can't get out of it."

I was in a food establishment recently where I had heard the chai was most excellent, and the time of day finally allowed me test that mettle of this praise. To my great delight, the accolade that this chai had received was well deserved, and I felt supremely blessed to have to found another good place in Chicago to enjoy really GOOD chai (something the quality of which is quite hard to find in a restaurant or cafe). Why do I bring this up? Well, in this time, I was reminded of the rewards that can come with risk in seeking out new avenues of sustenance, new environments and opportunities to engage with which can sometimes only be experienced if one is willing to step out of a comfort zone and risk the disappointment or pleasure that the unfamiliar may provide. In this case, the unfamiliar was Native Foods Cafe, a place that I was familiar with in so far as their Vegan chili (Vegan though I am not), yet not certain as to whether or not the chai would meet my expectations. I am thankful that it did. In that same environment, I was also met with another experience which further affirmed this venture into change. The waitress asked me later if I wanted a refill, to which I replied, "Surely it is not a free refill since it is chai, right?" I was pleasantly mistaken, and upon savoring the substance of another round of that heavenly liquid, I thought how in life God also provides us re-fills once our cup is empty (or almost empty), and how in order for a refill to take place, an emptying to some degree must precede it.

Empty your cup. Give it to Jesus for a refill. The old was good, but it's gone. Time for something fresh. New light. New, green light.........GO.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results.22“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” -Jesus, in Mark 2:21-22

"You've got to get yourself together.
You've got stuck in a moment,
and you can't get out of it.
Don't say that later will be better.
Now you're stuck in a moment,
and you can't get out of it."
- U2, from their album All That You Can't Leave Behind

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Friday, March 29, 2013

The LOVE of God

Love. Romance. Passion. God? "One of these things is not like the other..." Or is it?

Today I want to explore the parallels between human romance and the love of God. I am not planning to cover the various categories of love and their distinctions (for that, I highly recommend The Four Loves in which C.S. Lewis has done an excellent job). Instead, I'd like to take some observations that I've made from own recent romance and how I believe they apply to God's love for us. When I say God, I refer to Jesus, Holy Spirit, and of course, the Father, whom many in the Judeo-Christian world often think of as "God." I am using God as a blanket statement for all three persons of this trinity as I see him. So, let's begin!

I don't typically use bullet points for my blog posts, but bullets seem fitting for this one. So here are a few observations I've made on the connection between romantic love and God's love for us human beings.

1. Love creates a deep longing to be with the other. In my own romantic relationship, I have noticed a growing desire to spend loads and loads of time with the woman I adore. Her presence is somehow life-giving such that I feel parts of myself coming more alive when I am around her. Of course, the same could be said for how some of us feel about our relationship with God, that his presence is life-giving, and that seems to be a common experience for many whom I talk to who are engaging in an active relationship with God. However, how many of us have thought about our presence as being life-giving to God and him craving to be in relationship with us? The more that I grow in my own relationship with my girlfriend, the more I am convinced that God longs to be with those whom he loves, and he will go at great lengths to make that happen. Look at the cross, for starters. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, Jesus, that whoever believes in him should not be lost in death but experience life eternal, continually in God's presence for all time."-John 3:16 (paraphrase mine) Yes, I daresay God went to great lengths to spend time with his love and that he goes to great lengths still, though this was the most dramatic, costly and clear demonstration of such love. Amazing. How many of us would give the life of our own pet, much less our own flesh and blood (or ourselves for that matter) to create the opportunity for fellowship with those who might not even love us back? Wow.

2. Love does crazy things, especially when it comes to TIME. I have already touched on one of the crazy things that love has done as relates to God, namely that love makes incredible sacrifices to spend time with the loved one, but how does this translate to one's use of time? It has been my experience that when I am with the one I adore, my awareness of or value for my own time easily goes out the window! I enjoy spending time with this girl so much that one or two hours can easily turn into 4 or 5 without me even realizing that so much time has passed. And the funny thing is that I rarely care that I have continued in fellowship longer than I had intended or planned. The only drawback is that it often means less sleep if I have to wake up early for work the next morning, but even then, this is a sacrifice that feels worth it given the life-giving benefit of spending time with such a beautiful creature. And isn't it the same way with God? I don't know about you, but I have found that God often likes to do things way past the timeframe that I gave him to do it in. For instance, when I was in Edinburgh, Scotland several years ago with a group of internationals to share Jesus with the people of Edinburgh Fringe Fest, I recall getting ready for bed one evening, thinking that the best of the day was behind us, and we'd better get our sleep to prepare for what God might have planned the next day. Apparently, God wasn't finished yet, though it must have been 1:00 in the morning when we felt compelled to pray some group members present. And God did some AMAZING things in that prayer time! I thought, "God, you're crazy! Shouldn't we be getting sleep?" And yes, sometimes we should be. But I find that God is much more of a late person than some of us are at times. So I have begun to try throwing out so many parameters of time when it comes to my own pursuit of God, deciding on occasion to simply "waste time" on him, if it can be called a waste at all. He's worth being pursued. And he loves to pursue us. So why not, even if it's 1:00 in the morning? (The Genesis Creation Story points to each day starting the night before, anyway.)

3. Love is a lavish gift giver. I am betting that many of you reading this right now have also read or heard of a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. (If you haven't, I highly recommend it.) In that book, Chapman refers to different ways in which we as human beings like to express and receive love from one another, whereby certain forms, or "love languages," are preferential to others based on the person. One of my love languages is that of GIFTS! Whenever I receive or give gifts, I feel that something very special is being imparted. Does it have to do with the gift itself? For me, not so much. It is the thought behind it and the fact that somebody, whether God or an actual human being, wants to surprise me (or if I am giving the gift, that I get to surprise someone on the receiving end)! In a romantic context, I have discovered the utter joy of having a gift prepared with a delivery date that the receiver knows nothing about. The gift is in motion, I have paid for it and arranged for its delivery, but it has yet to arrive. And the anticipation I have felt is so great that it is hard for me to keep my mouth shut about the surprise that is coming. This caused me to recognize something about the love of God and his incredibly generous character. God has so much in store for his loved ones, much of which has a designated delivery date some time in the future which we are almost always in the dark about. Often, I myself whine about such gifts, having asked God to bless me with something (a romantic relationship, for example, which he finally did! And when he did, it was primo!) yet not seeing them coming fast enough and wondering if he forgot about me. All the while, God is on the other end going, "I've ordered it! It's coming! It's not there yet, but I know when it's going to arrive. I'm getting it ready, so just wait! It's on its way!!!" This kind of perspective, recognizing that God is eagerly anticipating blessing me in some way, though he and I will both have to wait for its arrival due to factors often unseen by me, has helped me to love God even more and to realize that he is not holding out on me. He's just much more patient. ;-) Of course, sometimes God can't even keep his surprises to himself and gives us a snippet of what he's bringing to us. One example of this is in Isaiah 42:9 when God was telling the Israelites about some incredible things he was about to do: "See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you." If intimacy grows through confiding in one another, then this is surely one of God's ways of developing his love relationship with us.

I was going to list more axioms of romantic and divine love here, but given the specialness of the number 3, I will stop at that. For those of you who have mused on such lovely connections as these, I would love to read your thoughts. Perhaps I will write a second part to this exploration. For those of you reading this and going, "What? Is he crazy? I've never experienced God in that way, not in a tangible, romantic sense," I encourage you that such a crazy, loving God exists, and he is most clearly seen through the person of Jesus! As I write this on Good Friday, the downward/upward slope to Easter, I urge you to drink what the Giver of Chai is offering. He is not relegated to boring, religious ritual (though religious ritual can certainly help seekers and believers to experience God's presence.) He is, instead, a living, breathing, romantic who desires to drink a cup of chai (or coffee, if that floats your boat) with you. Won't you join him and let him caffeinate your soul? He longs for you and for the incredibly caffeinated, soothing drink that you are. The cross says it all.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Paradigm Shift: The Advantage of Loss

I want to talk about a paradigm shift, something that may seem backwards but when applied affects one's whole experience of the world. Here is the thought, direct from the words of Jesus: "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but she who loses her life for my sake will save it."

In the society of which I am a part, my peers and I are constantly striving to build upon what we've gained in order to secure the life that we want, and this often means keeping and cultivating what we have already established. This could be as basic as protecting the relationships that form our immediate community or making personal investments in a current job that we like and want to grow in further. It could involve building professional connections in a local sector of an industry (in my case, expanding my network in the local, Chicago theatre scene) and staying rooted in one locality in order to sustain and create credibility for oneself in that industry.

While each of the above scenarios are all good and well in themselves and have their proper place in the development of a thriving human life, I believe there are times when to stay in that "preservation" approach can actually undermine the growth that we need for our lives to move forward into realms of greater fulfillment and effectiveness. Once again, I am not saying that being rooted and establishing relationships in credibility in one place is a bad idea. (On the contrary, this can be quite necessary and beneficial in most cases, especially for people whose normal mode of operation is the opposite, simply bouncing from place to place.) But I do feel that there is an equally unhealthy emphasis on maintaining what we have, which keeps us from experiencing what awaits us as we let go of what is safe and predictable in our current state. Confused yet? Stay with me. ;-)

Let's explore this with an example from my life as an eighth grader. For some, the formidable years of middle school (or junior high as you might know it) are years that they would rather quickly forget, including their eighth grade year. For me, however, my eighth grade experience was one of the highlights of my educational, social formation. After two years gaining my bearings and finding my place in the obtuse adventure that is a magnet arts middle school, I arrived at my eighth grade year feeling on top of the game and in control of my destiny. I was well-liked by most of my peers (you can't please everyone, can you?), felt confident and respected as an active member of the theatre department and overall really liked the community of friends and colleagues--alright--teachers--that had been established up that point. That year was one of the most joy-filled years of my life and perhaps one in which I felt the most emotionally healthy.

So here is where this example comes into play with the subject at hand. Would it not be completely wrong and self-stunting for me (and for others with me in that king-of-the-world scenario) to stay in the eighth grade for at least one more year, despite the requirements that I leave my middle school life and advance into the ranks of the high school adventure? Most if not all of you reading this would unequivocally shout a unanimous "Yes!" (or at least think that such a question is ludicrous to ask in a scenario like mind where no academic reason for repeating the grade was necessary). And in this example, it seems all too clear that to move forward from one grade to another would be the obvious progression.

But what if I were back inside that eighth grade head of mine and thinking, "Why leave this place now? My community is solid, my reputation is intact, my artistic pursuits are smiled upon. I've got it made! I need to build in this place where I've developed roots for the past three years. What's another year or two going to hurt? This is where it's at."? I wonder if this is the mentality that we all too often get stuck in when given an increasing measure of success and comfort-level in our current life situations. You may retort, "Well, we're not in middle school anymore. This is adult life. This is different." But I ask, how do we know that the state we are in is in actuality the end of the season, ready to push us forward and out into the next? This is a question that I think is worthy of addressing, but which I will not attempt to address in this moment. Rather, I want to present the thought that there is a time to move on, and that in these times, the way forward feels counter-intuitive. We must often lose to gain, and if we keep too much when it is a time to give up, we can easily lose what we hope to gain as life and others move forward while we remain glued to the past.

I am considering grad school right now in New York City. That is the the looming change that is on the horizon for me, or the possibility thereof, at least. I have been in Chicago for the past four and a half years now, and it was only in the last few months that I was able to finally produce the very show that I came up here to develop. I am brimming with a wealth of rich relationships with the community that God has given me, and in certain work scenarios, particularly in the realm of some of my theatre teaching, I feel very much established and comfortable. However, there are other factors which are not quite settled yet, which I feel leaving Chicago and pursuing graduate study in NYC would further solidify, factors which I do not see as clear a solution for were I to stay in this beautiful city. I don't necessarily want to leave Chicago, the city of dreams (as I like to call it). But if I get into this grad program in New York, I know from my Chicago experience what rewards can come from leaving one city and starting a new life in another, as painful as the losing aspects of that transition can be.

What about you? Where might God or life be directing you to give up what's comfortable in consideration of gaining something greater where risk and unpredictability are assured?

Lose to gain, gain to lose. The cycle continues. What part of the cycle might you be in right now?