Living “The Best Day Ever”

It was really late and my four-year old little boy Will was still awake. I took him upstairs to brush his teeth and for him to use the bathroom before bed. While he was peeing in the toilet he exclaimed, “This is the best day ever! Right dad?”

His question completely caught me off guard.

While I put the toothpaste on his toothbrush, in that split-second, I had to think about it. I was completely exhausted from an incredibly long day. It wasn’t just a long day at work, we had one kid who cheered at a basketball game and another kid who had a swim meet in another town. My wife and I split events that night and I went to the one out of town. I was beat, but my mind was now racing. Is this the greatest day ever? If I say yes, do I really even believe that? If I say no, what will he think?

As I took a deep breath, I realized in that moment that it was truly the greatest day ever.

I was able to drink coffee that morning and go to work. I was able to watch my daughter swim and spend time with my in-laws at the event. I was able to eat supper that evening. I am in great health. I came home to a roof over my head. My wife and three kids were all at home that night. I was alive and breathing and truly taking it all in and appreciating the small things. I believed it. I really did. It was the greatest day ever.

“Yeah buddy, this is the best day ever.” His smile, as he looked me in the eyes, told me that he was glad I agreed.

Having a perspective that enjoys the present moment and lives it to the fullest has been a long and winding road for me. And God has used a variety of people and situations along the way to open my eyes and heart to the beauty of every moment.

One of those people was my neighbor who lived across the street from me. He was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and passed away just the other day. Way too early.

It was a scorcher, one late summer afternoon a couple of years ago. I was mowing my lawn, and if you have ever seen me mow… it is like a race. I push the mower as fast as I can physically push it. Not so much because I hate mowing (because I don’t hate it), it’s just that 99% of the time I have somewhere to go and am trying to finish as soon as possible.

As I was dumping the last bag of grass and preparing to clean up around the house, I felt as if someone was staring at me. I subtly looked over my shoulder and saw my neighbor standing in his driveway with his hands on his hips staring at me. I nonchalantly went about my business as if I did not see him staring at me. But as I continued to clean up it became obvious that he was not going to stop staring. So I looked at him and politely waved without having to take off my headphones or break my pace, to which he politely waved back.

But he kept staring at me.

Finally I stopped the blower and took off my headphones, “Hey, how’s it going?”

“Good! It’s hot out here. Why don’t you come over and get in the lake to cool down?”

“Nah, that’s ok. I need to finish up here.”

Undeterred by my refusal he tried again, “I absolutely insist. Come over and we will jump in the lake and talk for a while.”

“You know, I really don’t like to get in lakes (I’m weird like that), but I sure appreciate the offer!”

“Well I am not going to stop asking until you come over.”

And it was at that point that I submitted. I was going to go across the street and get in that lake. His insistence overpowered my excuses and my resolve to finish cleaning up around my house at breakneck pace.

I walked behind his house and waded into the cool water with my clothes on. I had to admit it felt really good. Before long my neighbor came out of his house smiling from ear to ear with a beverage in each hand, one of which he shared with me as he got in water. For the next hour we talked, cooled down, and watched the sunset with brilliant hues painting the evening sky.

It was good. And I will never forget it.

It wasn’t anything that he said necessarily that opened my eyes or changed my perspective, it was his simple insistence that I stop the 100 mile-per-hour rat race and take time to enjoy the moment, the conversation, and what is around me.

He also made it a point to offer insight into all of the topics about which I should be writing for my blog and for the newspaper. And it was quite an array of subjects, many of which I could only return a smile or a laugh!  Some were good, some were not so good.  And as it turned out, I never used any of his suggestions from that day in the lake.  I am not sure he even expected me to.

I am certain, though, he would be honored to know that he did unknowingly give me a great moment about which to write, a profound life lesson learned that day in the lake- stop and breath and live every moment to the fullest.

Sometimes we think that this “life to the fullest” is something that will eventually come, something we will experience one day in the future.

When I get the promotion.

When I get that raise.

When things slow down.

When we pay off the bills or pay off the student loans or pay off the house.

When the kids get older and can wipe for themselves or give themselves a bath or make their own meals.

When I get my kids graduated.

When I finally get to retire.

It goes on and on and on.

We can convince ourselves that our life fulfillment will be here one day…eventually… when things finally settle down. Then we will be able to breathe at last and take it all in and appreciate it.

But the truth is that we can very easily miss the fact that “life to the fullest” has been here all along… right in front of us… in everything we do… in every moment. 

A rich and full life is not a future destination, it is a present experience. Be here now. Breathe deep. Take it all in. And give thanks with every breath.

In memory of my good neighbor and friend, David Ransdell.

Rest in peace…

Brandon

A Prayer of Reconciliation to the World

Somehow I forgot to post this when it was written in 2010. Of course it seems as relevant now as it did then. This piece is an excerpt from my 2010 book Unearthed: How Discovering the Kingdom of God Will Transform the Church and Change the World.

Father God,

Too many times we as Christians have been the loudest and most vocal voices and many times we have not represented or embodied the way, life, and teachings of your Son Jesus.

Our judgmental and condemning voices have become a poor representation of Jesus in the community and the larger world and have left many who do not know anything about Jesus with a bad taste in their mouths and a deep contempt for your Church.

Too many times we are quick to say that we are the “defenders of the faith,” or the “protectors of our Christians heritage.” Yet in our zealousness to defend, we have compromised the way of your son, Jesus, and have many times done it in his name.

Father we repent and ask for forgiveness, for we know that Jesus did not spend his time isolating and targeting special “sin groups” or trying to defend his positions through arguing and debating.

Father we ask humbly that you replace our ways with your ways.

For we know that the way of Jesus does not have to be defended; it must be demonstrated.

It never moves out in judgment; it moves out in love.

It never extends in condemnation to the world; it extends in grace and mercy.

The ways of arguing, defending, judging, and condemning always build up walls and embitters those in the world who are on the receiving end.

For every way that we as the Church have fallen short of representing you to the world, we ask for forgiveness.

Father, we are so eager to accept your grace, but are so unwilling to extend it. We are so eager to accept your love, but are so unwilling to demonstrate it. We are so eager to accept your mercy, but so unwilling to give it.

While we have known that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, we have believed that it is our responsibility to condemn it.

While we have known that Jesus said he did not come into the world to judge it, we have believed it is our responsibility to judge it.

While we have known that Jesus told his followers to “judge not,” we have instead decided to judge anyway.

And while we have known that Paul asked the Church, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the Church?” we have instead decided that we should be the judges of the world?

God forgive us for not being like Jesus to the world.

Father, we need the strength to sacrifice our own wants, needs, desires, and pursuits.

Forgive us for the ways we have put idols within the Church ahead of you and your Kingdom.

Forgive us for the way we have worshipped facility and program over you.

Forgive us for the way we have followed human convention rather than your Spirit.

Father, we desperately need the fresh breath of your Holy Spirit to mold us and shape us into something useable and to open our eyes to the things that are not important to you.

We know that while we have been ignorant and negligent in understanding and extending your Kingdom, our calling and pursuit should be to model Christ by living and extending your Kingdom, giving ourselves self-sacrificially in love and service to the world, embodying a life of peace, justice, and mercy that becomes the yearning of all humanity.

Father, it is in this calling and pursuit that we have fallen woefully and painfully short. And it is because of our shortcomings with the world that we desperately need forgiveness.

Father, we need your power and strength to apologize to,and seek forgiveness from, any and all of those who have been on the receiving end of judgment, condemnation, or abuse from those of us who have labeled ourselves as Christians.

We deeply and prayerfully apologize and repent. We have not represented the love, grace, mercy, and heart of Jesus very well…and we desperately need your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world.

To the atheist, agnostic, Jew, and Muslim, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the homosexual, African-American, or any other minority that we have judged and oppressed in the past, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the poor, enslaved, or victim of injustice, abuse, and neglect, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness for judging you and turning a blind eye.

To every single expecting mother who sought an abortion, we ask for forgiveness for judging you and turning you into an issue and not demonstrating the lengths to which we would go to show you love, guidance, help, and assistance

And to every single person who has experienced anything less than the unconditional love of Christ from the Christian, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

In Jesus name we as the Church in unity pray, Amen and Amen.

Sabbath: The Sacred Space

Anna had just finished cross-country practice when she opened the passenger side door of my car and sat in the seat next to me.

After a few minutes of chitchat with my oldest daughter, she asked a very direct, yet inquisitive question.

“Dad, why do certain religions have a day when they don’t work or do anything?”

It was a fantastic question. And just the kind of question I love to answer.

I explained to Anna that the Sabbath was a day of rest given to mankind at the very beginning of creation. It was a day in which all work activity was to cease so that people could rest, rejuvenate, and give thanks to God.

I then further explained that Sabbath was central to the very heartbeat of Judaism, as God instructed them through His law to abstain from any activity that constituted work. Sabbath was, not just true for His people, but also the animals and the land. Animals were to be given a day of rest each week and the land a year of rest for every six it is worked.

As I explained Sabbath to Anna, and how important it is to our well being (mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and communally), I began to think about my childhood and how every business in our small town stayed closed every single Sunday. And as I thought back to that time it made me so profoundly sad. It was a sad realization that there had been something so simple and so life-giving built into our culture, given for our benefit, rooted in the very foundation of creation, and we lost it… we walked away from it. And there was not even as much as a whimper when we lost it.

Maybe because we lost it so slowly. Maybe because it started as one store and then another and then another. Maybe it happened so subtly that our pace didn’t really change and we really never recognized what was truly being lost. Maybe if we would have lost it suddenly then we would have realized the magnitude of what we were giving up.

It wasn’t just stores and businesses.  It was us.  Individuals.

We were walking away from Sabbath as something that was optional, even a little archaic.

It was insignificant… of little consequence.  If we lost it… well… we wouldn’t be missing anything.

But Sabbath was a fortress wall behind which we could retreat at least once a week to find our breath and maintain our rhythm. Behind the towering walls of Sabbath we found respite, relief, and peace and even regained our sanity because it was the only thing strong and sturdy enough to withstand the unrelenting assault of busyness, 60-hour work weeks, and capitalistic greed.

But here we are now as wayfarers and travelers, with not even as much as a faint memory of where we used to be. Another generation, and the generation after that, has come along after us and has been introduced into a world, and a culture, that does not stop, that does not rest, that does not take time to breathe, and does not understand our desperate need for sacred space.

The pace at which we are moving is increasing without any evidence of slowing down.

The amount of information coming at us at any one moment is doubling and tripling in the wrong direction.

The degree to which we are connected to technology only promises to make us more connected and more connected… not less.

And to be honest… it feels like suffocation or drowning or losing control or all of them at the same time.

But to many, including Anna, I am fearful that this feeling is shockingly normal… because they have not known any other way.

And it is evident.

In our anxiety.

In our stress.

In our mania.

There is no denying that we are paying for it heavily with our minds, bodies, and souls.

And the thing is… the forces keep coming and they continue to increase and they keep taking more and taking more.

It is subtle but incremental… and completely overwhelming.

Matthew Sleeth, in his eye-opening (and highly recommended) book 24/6, writes:

We cannot turn back the hands of time. Our 24/7 world is not going to change. Life will only get more intense. New communication tools, nanotechnology, and human engineering will increase the number of tasks an individual can do simultaneously. We will look back with nostalgia at the 24/7 world once these “advances” make 48/7 a reality. If we wish to have a weekly day of rest, it will no longer happen as a societal default. It will happen only as a result of conscious choice. All we need to begin is to “remember,” as the Fourth Commandment tells us. We must remember the why and the how of a day of rest.

He is right. We cannot depend on our societies, our governments, our businesses to make the right choices or create sacred space for us. Once we abandoned the sacred space of Sabbath, there is nothing left but empty promises that will never give us what we keep hoping to attain- a better life.

The fortress of Sabbath still stands. It is still there. It hasn’t fallen or been destroyed. We just left it. The doors are still open to enter back into a Sabbath’s Day rest… to stop the madness… to stop the cycle… to stop the work… to escape the forces that are overwhelming us and imprisoning us.

The Sabbath doors are open and beckoning us to come back and take a deep breath and spend time with family and play with our kids at the playground and take a walk in the evening while watching the sunset and enjoy a meal with our friends… and discover what we have really wanted all along (but maybe never even known it)- life in it’s fullness.

Sabbath is calling us back.

I am not much on New Year’s resolutions… but Sabbath would be worth pursuing in the new year.

Have a happy new year!

brandon