Very Good

A year ago today, I dragged a handful friends into my biggest scheme yet.

They drove three or seven hours, put off an afternoon of senior projects for some pallet carpentry, and hid out in a cold parking deck for an hour all because I had a big idea.

That night, on top of an empty campus parking deck, in the same spot overlooking campus where Hollie and I meandered to on dozens of walks, I asked the best person I knew to spend the rest of her life with me.

Genesis is an interesting book in the bible to me. In my bible, the first chapter is named “The Creation of the World.” It’s a bold statement and something that seems like it deserves my attention. According to this story, God made the world and some of the things we recognize in it over the course of a few days. He created the heavens and the earth, and then created light. He then created the sky, and the next day land to separate water from water. And verse ten ends with, “And God saw that it was good.”

The next days he created the grasslands and forests, then the stars, sun, and moon. And he followed that by filling the skies with birds, seas with fish and whales and other creatures, and on the fifth day, he unleashed the beasts of the earth on land, the livestock, and all the creeping things. And verse twenty-five ends with, “And God saw that it was good.”

He did all this in the first chapter. At the end of chapter one he introduces man – “male and female he created them.” He charged man to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, and have dominion over the fish and the birds and everything that moves on earth.

For some reason, God put it in the minds of the early writers to go back and give us a little more detail about our beginnings. In chapter two, the author explains how God formed man from dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life to become a living creature, so he might work the earth. God took his fifth day creation by the hand, and put him in a garden. I imagine God took man to a high mountain and gave him the lay of the land – pointing out the rivers and where to find gold, the way a father might show his son the land below on his first hiking trip. I believe God did this with great satisfaction – but then turned to look the man he had created and named Adam, and he saw that there was something missing.

I imagine ridiculous scene for the story God shares next. In search of a helper for Adam – God had said, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” God brought every beast of the earth and bird of the sky and brought each of them to Adam. Presumably in a single file line. And whatever sounds Adam made upon receiving the beast or bird, “that was its name.” And after what probably was a very long day, or Adam ran out of sounds, they found there was no helper fit for him.

Neither the dog – man’s best friend, or lions or dinosaurs or whatever walked the earth in that day were what was needed to be man’s companion. So God put Adam in a deep sleep and took one of his ribs – and from that rib, created a woman.

This is interesting. It’s interesting that God created. I imagine that God didn’t need to create anything at all. He’s God, afterall. But as an architect of stories and master painter, God created the mountains and oceans, and fish, birds, and animals. And then he created man – supposedly as his crowning creation, to rule over all of this. To climb the mountains and sail the seas, use subdue pigeons to carry mail and domesticate the stallion into a means of movement. It sounds adventurous.

And yet, man was alone without a helper, and God declared that was not good. It seems like the plan God had in mind for man wasn’t necessarily to climb mountains and sail the seven seas, or spend all the hours of light chasing fish. Because he had all of this, and while it was not bad, it wasn’t good enough.

So from a rib of Adam, God made Eve. God made Adam incomplete to form his helper.

Ask a guy his passion and you might find that he has a heart for adventure, for competition, music, or work. Ask a married man the people he loves most and who frustrates him most, you may get the same person for an answer. Marriage has a way of revealing selfishness within our own hearts that masquerades as the faults of our others. And often just before I am able to connect the selfishness in my heart to the broken lens I am viewing my wife with, I have this urge to return to all the not-bad-but-not-good-enough things God created before woman: wilderness or work or some other passing passion. Without being able to chase them, at times I feel incomplete. These are things I could put my heart fully into if I had not already given it to someone else. All these are things God had created and wove into the fabric of the earth and yet found his artwork incomplete. But God created woman from man’s rib – in the process making man incomplete (and I’m sure very aware of this scar and void). After God created a woman to join man, and charged them to be fruitful and multiply, have dominion over earth together, Genesis chapter one ends with verse thirty-one: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Adam may have been complete before Eve. But together, they were better. They were very good.

Tour Guides

Last week, I lead a few tours as a part of the grand opening for a new apartment building the company I work for had just built. Even though the new building wasn’t a project that I worked on, after a walkthrough with the team who spent the better part of their last three years making the building a reality, I was back in a familiar element.

I was a tour guide at the college I went to. So twice a week, and the occasional Friday visit day, I spent an hour or two of my day walking around campus with one or ten prospective students and their parents who were considering the school that I went to as their future home for the next four years.

The admissions office had it down to a science. The tour routes were exact, guides strategically selected (no electrical engineers escorting potential nursing majors around campus), and the script highlighted all the great things about our school and was wordsmithed to make the imperfect appear palatable and unimportant. But even with all the systems in place, there was a prevailing rule to make a tour great: get off-script.

We learned quickly that a twenty three-to-one student-faculty ratio would quickly be forgotten by the “prospies.” But they would probably remember that Bradley was a school with small classes and individual attention if I told them about the time my senior year I fell asleep in my class of twelve students. There’s no hiding when you’re sitting in a circle discussing the book you didn’t read. (Pro tip: Falling asleep isn’t a good way to avoid being called on.) Generic statements about cool school sponsored events didn’t register like when I would point to the grassy knoll next to my old dorm, and talk about the time when one of the RA’s bought a roll of plastic and a bucket’s worth of cheap soap and invited all the floors out for a slip ‘n slide when the sprinklers turned on at midnight during my freshman year.

Our jobs were to convince prospective students that this campus was a place that they could call their school and their home. And while we had an arsenal of facts programmed into our head (“A top five school in the region according to US News: Best Colleges!!! And the four schools ahead of us probably don’t even have your major. Or this cool statue that spells out Bradley if you spin in a circle three times and look at it upside down.”), the thing the admissions office expected to close the deal were our own stories.

I think that’s how God wanted us to share his story with our neighbors. He gave us a book that we sometimes confuse as a script (“Hey! Read these sentences in Romans. Now you’re a Christian! High five/side hug!”), rather than remembering that it’s a compilation of stories and changed lives.

Jesus was a tour guide who walked around the earth and told John, Peter, Thomas, and the other disciples how his father was working in his life and shaping who he was. And then he invited them to walk with him. And they lived and learned, and in turn walked through life with others, sharing their experiences with people who became names we recognize like Paul and Timothy. And they shared their hardest times and proudest moments with others that that led to others that led to you and me.

It’s not that we need to skip the script. We absolutely need to know the script and know it well.  But the script itself was inspired by stories, and we need to bring it back to those roots. It’s easy to fall back on just the script: the facts and the life verses that have guided us through hard times when we’re sharing with someone for the first or tenth time. But maybe we were meant to let them see deeply into that hard time, and see how that verse was the only thing that we could hold on to in those days because everything else we had held on to had fallen apart. Even if that hard time is happening right now.

That’s what Jesus did, teaching from the script but also inviting people to walk with him from town to town and day to day. And that changed lives.

It Doesn’t Change the Shot

I love playing sports. My left arm is sore because, almost a week ago a few of us guys decided we couldn’t get used to this whole “adult” thing and had to shell out $800 for the privilege of reliving the college intramural days – when the same game cost the team a cool $20.

This fall, it’s flag football that caused Hollie to raise an eyebrow and ask, “HOW much?” It was tennis in high school, but it was always basketball first. I grew up on it, playing my dad in the driveway until the sun went down and the front porch lights weren’t strong enough to illuminate the shadow of the moving ball; on the “C” and “B” traveling teams I where struggled, the smallest post player you’d ever seen – because I couldn’t dribble well enough to play the point, and was too slow to be a rangy wing; and at Friday ball – every Friday at 2:00pm the Markin Rec Center, where I always tried to back my defender down before spinning right and putting up the fade-away. A good fade-away was the only option for a too-short middle school post.

Play basketball twenty years – you’ll never take the same shot. You’ll be an inch this way or an inch that way, the defender with a hand in your face will force you to put a little more arc on your shot, or the slope of your driveway will make the hoop actually something like ten feet six inches, rather than a flat ten. There is of course, one exception. The free throw. On a regulation basketball court, that’s fifteen feet away from the hoop, which always sits ten feet off the ground. Every time. And while other shots change as a result of the presence of a defender, the time left on the clock, or just the differences between practice and game speed – the free throw remains the same. Ninth grade basketball tryouts, the empty gym at Markin at 11:00pm on a Saturday night, or game seven of the NBA finals. It doesn’t change the shot. I find something magical about this. I can’t think of another situation in another sport that’s close. A penalty kick in soccer encounters a goalie, even an extra point in football introduces the variable of the holder or the the winds in an outdoor stadium. But the free throw is amazingly constant. Fifteen feet forward, ten feet up. Same hoop size, same ball. The situation may change, but it doesn’t change the shot.

I was taught good shooting technique was B.E.E.F. Balance, Elbows, Eyes, Follow-through. Start with a solid base, elbow tucked in and at ninety degrees. Eyes on the front of the rim and flick the ball up, your arm and hand reaching up and out, as though reaching into a cookie jar on a tall countertop. But good form doesn’t guarantee success, and some of those labeled with “bad” form have been the best from the charity stripe. Rick Barry, an elite player from the 70’s and 80’s, abandoned his prototypical jump shot for an underhanded, two armed toss whenever he stood at the free throw line. Barry is one of few professional players to ever shoot better than 90% from the line. 80% is considered very good. The free throw is almost 100% mental, 100% muscle memory.

On every regulation basketball court there is a small nail in the middle of the free throw line, usually painted over – you have to look for it. I would put my big toe of my right foot behind it, and my pointer finger on the air valve to perfectly center the ball. Toss the ball out in front of me with backspin. Catch it, two more bounces. One more spin in my left hand, realign pointer finger and valve, and lock my eyes onto the front of the rim. A slight bend of the knees, and then up. Pushing up from the legs, through the arm and out with a flick of the wrist, the ball is on its way. Any miniscule variation, at any part of the sequence can mean the difference between hearing the soft swish of the net and the clank of the ball against the back of the rim.

There’s a huge difference between practice and the last two minutes of a game. Fatigue, unfamiliar opponents, raucous fans. But when the whistle blows and you find yourself at the free throw line, the shot is the same. You’ll never meet a remotely serious basketball player who doesn’t have pre-free throw routine. The point is to realign with what is constant. Jason Kidd, one of the greatest point guards of all time would put the ball in his left hand, wipe his shorts with his right, then blow a kiss at the rim. Then one bounce, then shoot. Michael Jordan spun the ball once between his hands, five bounces, then one more spin between the hands before he shot.

In college, the free throw line was my solstice, my constant. Amidst stress of homework or deadlines, a break to walk across campus to the gym was my relief. On days when I felt on top of the world, free throws humbled me. I could spend two hours at the gym shooting nothing but free throws, never leaving the paint unless a shot went horribly off. The was the constant of the free-throw line that seduced me.

We have a clear path to God, through his son Jesus Christ. This we know never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is constant. And although life can move and pull us in every direction, there comes decision points where we can choose to do to do the thing that will deepen our relationship with Christ, or do the other. We may be tired, there may be twenty thousand people screaming in your ear, but the shot does not change. You know best your pre-shot routine. You know your form. And you know our God is constant. Life will always happen, but it doesn’t change the shot.

Follow

Trifecta complete.

As a new Twitter-er, there’s a whole new world of social media and 140 character thoughts to endlessly swipe through. I’m a little late to the bandwagon (Aside: At what point is it no longer considered a bandwagon?), but here’s three things I’ve learned in 24 hours:

  1. No one stands on a table and proclaims to be a “Twitter-er.” No one says that except those who think they’re clever but actually are not. I tweet. Cool, got it.
  2. One hundred forty characters isn’t a lot of space if you want to share a complete thought, tell a good story, or share the lesson you’ve lear
  3. Following is the new friend request/accept.

So now I “follow” people. I told Twitter that I want to see these particular people’s 140 character thoughts. I want a window into their lives. Some of the people I follow are celebrities or writers, and some are just people I’ve had the good fortune to come across in my life. But I also claim to “follow” this dude named Jesus.

If Jesus was a Twitter-er, I’d follow. Click the little button to the right and it turns blue. Quick, easy, painless. But just like the writers or people I just don’t get to hang out with often enough, being a “follower” on Twitter doesn’t really mean much at all. Jesus might appreciate the retweet, but there’s much, much more to him than that. As a Christian, we’re called to know our savior, know the man who is the foundation for the life we claim live, and follow his lead through an uncertain life. That type of following is more than a retweet.

Behind each 140 character message shared by Jesus or otherwise is a set of circumstances, setting, cast, and personal history that shaped that twelve word tweet. Jesus as a person, was a person. And just like there’s no one who would understand you and all that you are through your shared tweets and well-filtered Instagrams, we can’t claim to know our God by giving him a quick retweet and calling it a day. Granted, it’s not like I can call Jesus to catch up and I can hear about that story from his apprenticeship days that shaped his views on issue XYZ, or talk about what we’re struggling with over a pizza. But, he did make himself available – through the cross that gave us a connection to his Holy Spirit, through prayer, and his story recorded forever in scripture. Not to say that meaningful prayer, an understanding of scripture, and authentic connection to Him is easy. It’s time and effort consuming. Then again, so is a real relationship.

Go Paddle a Canoe

It’s February now, which means I’m just about over the snow and cold, and ready to be outside. So long as I look out the window and up, it’s a perfect cloudless day. Looking down reveals snow stained by dirty cars and dogs who just couldn’t hold it any longer.

I’m ready for June, time to watch the sun set after dinner, Summer Shandy(s), and being outside. I think I’ve overcommitted my vacation days towards far too many trips to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. Bottom line, I’m a bit ahead of summer, but it’s never too early to think about how I need to paddle my canoe.

My first trip up to the Boundary Waters was the summer after high school with a few eagle scouts and a buddy who probably has spent as many nights in a tent as I have in my bed. I was deemed a “2” on our scale of camping abilities, ranging from negative ten to ten. So, not a huge contributor to the success of the group, but not necessarily weighing us down either. I was just kind of there (from a skills standpoint. I’d still like to think I contributed a number of the funnier jokes to the trip). I plopped down in the middle seat of the canoe with my borrowed pack, borrowed sleeping bag, and every other piece of borrowed gear and put my back into the strokes. It’s not difficult to make a canoe move.

Even if it’s your first time in a canoe – you can figure out pretty quickly how to make that sucker move. Just put the paddle in and pull back. I was pretty good at that. I was earning my keep – maybe quickly earning my promotion to a “3” or even “4.” Day two came and so did a screeching halt to my confidence and any chance of added skills points. I took a turn at the back of the canoe. Steering. The first day I had found out it was easy to make a canoe move. That second day, I found out it was pretty darn hard to make the canoe move in the direction I had set.

Set a direction for your life and things suddenly get much more interesting. Coasting and floating through life is easy. Have no ambitions or goals, set your eyes on nothing and you will be content to float among the waves. Yet the moment you set your sights on God and living a life that honors Him, you begin to notice how easily you can drift off course, you don’t move nearly as fast as you feel like you should be, and your canoe just isn’t as flashy or good as your friends’.

The proper canoe terminology is the “J-Stroke.” It’s a paddling technique that basically means that with each paddle, you make a small directional correction by pushing out and away while also pulling the paddle backwards. The less advanced technique is the drag – the non-sexy, stop all momentum and spin the canoe around in circles until you realign with your target before you commence paddling. Then repeat in something like thirty seconds because canoes are just about nearly impossible to keep straight unless you have learned some proper technique.

It’s easy to focus on the big decisions. Which canoe you’ll take out on your adventure, what kind of paddles, and what you’ll pack. Where you’ll go to college, your major, your career and maybe who and when you’ll marry. But come to think of it, there may be less than ten major decisions we get to make in life. It shouldn’t be a surprise to realize we’re not quite on course when we don’t recognize the importance of our daily decisions – whether that is what we eat, how we treat our friends and family, or how we choose to spend our Friday nights. It’s easy to move. It’s not easy to move in the direction you’ve set. Small decisions add up to either clear progress in the direction you want to head, or more likely, if you’re anything like me, a realization that you are way off course and will need to drag to a stop and reorient, because you’re simply headed in the wrong direction.

The flashiest and lightest canoes won’t help an inexperienced canoeist. Jumping to a different canoe won’t solve all your problems. Technique and a dedication to small corrections and focused alignment of decisions will. Waves are always annoying, but never last forever, and some can simply be overcome with steady strokes. Others will be waited out. Recognizing the importance of daily decisions that align your heart to Christ’s not only help steady movement towards a fruitful life, but also set you up for those major life decisions. Rather than dragging to a stop, there’s a good chance those “big” decisions will be easier to make when all things have already been working towards alignment.

Maintaining direction can become more difficult when you add more passengers to your canoe. Your spouse, maybe children. You can move faster – but learning to orchestrate your strokes and move in a common direction will test all souls. Having one boat and one direction demands leadership and servantship, coordination, compromise and commitment. And there’s a good chance that even if you have figured out how to paddle your own canoe, jumping into one with another person will require you to drag and realign a number of times before you move fluidly in one direction. But master it and you might find incredible joy in sharing a common direction, and experience the power of coordinated stokes.

So go paddle a canoe…if your lake isn’t frozen. Come on, summer.

Why Write?

I think this is a pretty standard resolution for a lot of us millenials. Write, write more, write better, or start writing. Blog, share with the world. It’s easier than ever to make our opinions and thoughts in our heads known. Truthfully, I only really wanted to start a blog when I made my about.me profile that I tried to use as a little more personal attachment to my resume when I was applying for internships two years ago. I had a Facebook and LinkedIn, but nothing else to reach a little trifecta.

A quick rewind, then fast forward. I was the elementary student that was told I could be a great writer. Having graduated college with a number of friends who became teachers, I know two things. One, that compliment was a dime a dozen. But, two, some of the teaching majors I met were the best at inspiring me, even as a twenty one year old, to reach for more and reminded me I had something to give to the world.

So now I have a blog.

To be sure, I have very low expectations for the readership numbers for this stream of consciousness. I don’t intend on pushing this out to my Facebook friends, tweeting (remember, I only have Facebook and LinkedIn), or telling every stranger on the street. Not there’s anything wrong with that. Rather, RightBackPocket is a little more internal for me, a way that I can better use my time and develop my thoughts.

I consume a lot. Food, yes, but also media. Scrolling through my news feed more often than I’m proud of, searching endlessly for new songs, and opening twenty Yahoo articles at once. I’m thankful that there’s still a part of me that wants to produce – not necessarily with a need to share and publicize, but to pause long enough to contribute, or maybe just interrupt the noise. I realized this updating my news feed while driving. Thankfully I didn’t crash. Still a stupid move.

I also realize, that if by chance you end up reading this. You may not like it. You may not identify with it, it may just not click. And that’s great. There’s a million blogs out there for you to read, and one for you to start as well. Or maybe just a journal. Doesn’t matter what you choose as your medium, whether paper or keyboard, or paint or chalk. Produce something. Give that fleeting thought time enough to develop, there’s an off-chance it might turn into something meaningful to you, and just maybe, for someone else as well. I gotten really enthralled with artisan produced goods lately (wallets, reclaimed wood furniture, etc), not just because they’re really cool, but because their makers know they won’t have widespread appeal, but continue on anyway – producing. There’s a good chance you may not like what I write, or it just won’t click. But, to someone out there, it might. And it might change their day. Or life (ok, maybe getting a little carried away there). At minimum, it’s mine – a few words at a time, taking a break from consuming to produce, to give thoughts in my head more than a few seconds of my time.

So write. Produce. (Trifecta.)

Twenty – Twenty

A procrastination habit and lack of inspiration has delayed this one’s New Year’s resolution for just a few days. Thirty-thousand feet in the air somewhere between Oregon and Minnesota provides the time needed to reflect on the last few days and the last year. I spent the last few days of 2013 and the first few of 2014 with a beautiful woman I’m lucky enough to call my girlfriend. Some quick facts to prove this to any skeptics out there might include: One, her home page is ESPN. Two, she likes shopping no more than I do (which varies based on the day and how decent my hair looks). Three, she loves to bake and is fully aware of my brownie addiction. And four, most importantly – she follows Christ more than she follows me and inspires me to do the same. Those four facts and a host of other nuances and facial expressions make up the woman I was blessed to spend the last few days with, an incredible little stretch that interrupted our long distance dating. In those days she forced (encouraged) me, both actively and passively, to reflect upon this past year, the change, and the opportunities that came and went, and was interruption to life’s motion long enough to reorient my direction just a little bit.

My oversimplified conclusion is this: Twenty – Twenty. Not the score of a football game with two bad kickers, and far, far, (far) from the strength of my eyes, but rather something a little more simple, at least on paper. Twenty minutes, twenty minutes. Over the past few years, I’ve realized I’m a person of momentum. Once I get going on something, the energy and motivation is there to sustain it. But starting things is difficult, and getting off a bad path is even more so. And for me, and maybe for you, those things needing momentum tend to come in pairs (or more, but for the sake of progress, let’s be oblivious for a second). For me, it is faith and fitness.

Since finding Christ two years ago and moving from a baby Christian to a kind of teenage Christian (22 in real life, if you’re wondering), surviving the sort of Christian puberty, that time when you can finally move from realizing God likes (loves) you, and you learn to walk through life in a different way that includes as many stumbles as a middle school slow dance. Even with  surviving the first few hardships and challenges in life that showed me what it would be like when I trusted God to handle things when it all hit the fan, I’ve continued my habit of being a person of momentum. Real life puberty and hitting the gym like many guys do at that age was the same way. Gym four days a week for a month, followed by three months where a push up only happened when I tripped up the steps. For me, these things, faith and fitness tended to run parallel once Christ crashed my world as a sophomore in college. I’m guilty of running on fumes more than anything.

So here’s my challenge to myself. And you can steal it too, if it sounds good. Twenty – Twenty. Twenty minutes of faith and twenty minutes of fitness. Since graduating from college and starting a full time job, I’ve let my schedule become a mess but also haven’t quite figured out what an adult schedule is supposed to look like. I know this – that everyone is “busy.” But twenty minutes of each sound reasonable to me. My twenty minutes of faith will be me opening the Bible, reading it and reflecting on it, not just looking for a good sounding verse that works well to feed my love for motivational clichés. My twenty minutes of fitness will probably vary, but will include push-ups, pull-ups, and probably some jogs. Maybe some stretching (could 2014 be the year I finally can touch my toes? Stay tuned). What the individual activities are that make up the twenty minutes aren’t necessarily as important as ensuring they are focused on the themes above. It could be twenty minutes of reading, watching a sermon, listening to worship music, whatever works best for you. Take what is most comfortable and start there. Aspire to go one step further in February.

If you’re as guilty as running on fumes as me, I invite you to go Twenty – Twenty with me. Faith and fitness. Faith and whatever. Pick the thing in your life that helps you build discipline and character, fitness or otherwise. Go Twenty – Twenty. Twenty in the morning and twenty at night, or twenty at lunch and twenty after work. Whatever it is, write those two things down on a small piece of paper under the caption of “Twenty – Twenty” and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day. Then do it.

I’m excited to see what will happen. Hope you are too.