Tag Archives: process

The Way Up Is Down, Part 5: Doing the Work

The way through is down.

I really struggled writing this installment in The Way Up Is Down series. The fact is that I am IN the process of “through.” It’s also true that I’m scared as hell doing the “downward” work, yet…

To get through, we must go deep.

We all can get through, but unless we go deep and address the issues that we are facing as we go through, we’ll be back here again before too long.

When I first posted this thought experiment on Instagram back in January, a friend of mine commented, “the enemy’s gate is down…” Immediately I began to debate in my mind the meaning of down in his comment, directionally down or functionally down. Of course, it is directionally down. But you can’t take down your enemy’s gate unless you go down to do it.

My next question was, “Who is my enemy?” I knew the answer to that right away. Me! I am my enemy. To overcome your enemy, you must know what makes him tick. That means I must discover and take responsibility for the actions and decisions that got me here.

“A lot of people…have a problem being true to they self. They have a problem looking into the mirror and looking directly into their own souls. The reason I can…walk around, the reason I am who I am today is because I can look directly into my face and find my soul.”
Tupac Shakur

If I can “look into my face and find my soul,” then I will no longer be my own enemy. This takes courage. This is deep work. I may not like what I find, but unless I do the work, I will only be getting by instead of going through.

There is so much more to say, and I’ve left out a lot, but I will finish with this. Though this is personal work, it’s not solitary work. I have sought the help of friends and professionals to do this downward work. In a way, this is another aspect of going down, because it forces us to embrace humility. It’s allowing others to see our shadow side, trusting they won’t reject us, and taking their hand as they help us up.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:3 (NIV)

This is the hope of all of this. That we would find our way up. That we would rise with a new appreciation for life, love, and community, with our feet firmly grounded and our hearts centered in these realities.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
— Serenity Prayer

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Way Up Is Down, Part 4: Seeing It Through

The way out is through.

For Lent this year, I chose to do the Whole 30 eating plan. I wasn’t feeling well in the area of digestion. I never felt hungry, always a bit bloated, and quite lethargic. I knew something had to change in the way I was eating. The Whole 30 isn’t a diet, per se, rather a gastric reset. The goal isn’t weight loss, but digestive health. The Whole 30 prescribes eliminating all processed foods, added sugars, grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol. It wasn’t easy, but with the program being time bounded, 30 days, it was doable. I made it.

Even though I saw the program through, I don’t feel that I made much progress. There was more to the process than I anticipated. I think this may be true with anything we do to bring about change in our life. We start the process by implementing a program. We reach the end of the program, expecting to be done with the process, only to find out that the program was only the beginning of the process.

Programs reveal, empower, and relieve. They show us what needs to change and give us tools to make changes, which provide a sense of relief. If we are honest with ourselves, though, this is only scratching the surface of a much larger, longer, and deeper process of change.

I know that I need to revisit the Whole 30. I also know that there are a few other programs that I need to revisit in order to continue processes I previously started. This begs the question. Will I ever be done? Will there be an end to the process? I feel the answer is yes and no.

Yes. Most processes will come to an end. The process will have done its work. You will emerge in a better place, state, stage, etc. Even though the active work of the process will be done, you will continue to carry the work of the process. It will be assimilated into your life and will inform how you live your life. The work won’t feel like work, because it will just be life.

No. We will never not be in some sort of process. Life is full of destinations and arrivals. Finally arriving, in which we will never need to be in process, is not for this life. Sanctification, enlightenment, or whatever you choose to describe this arrival, has within it a recognition of incompleteness. Our completeness is found when we realize that we are a part of a larger whole. We are incomplete, and yet we make whole that which is incomplete without us. These little arrivals empower us to continue on in the process of living this life and even encourage others to begin their own process.

The way out is through.

“Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me?’ Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
John 16:19-20 (NIV)

Seeing a process through can be very difficult. From the passage above, Jesus said you will weep and mourn. It will seem like you are the only one going through your process. It will feel like others are rejoicing. They’re not. Their life will just look different than yours. There will come a time when the process will come to an end. Your grief will turn to joy.

The way out is through.

Grace and peace,
Brook

semicolon tattoo

I got this tattoo for my 45th birthday. It reminds me to stay engaged in my processes. When people ask me what it means, my short answer is, “My story is not finished.”

The Way Up Is Down, Part 3: Enacting Change

This post is a continuation of a series I started earlier this year.
The Way Up Is Down
Surveying the Terrain: The Way Up Is Down, Pt. 2

The way up is out.

You know something’s got to give
A change needs to be made
It’s not just bettering for better’s sake
It’s not sustainable anymore and without change, it will only get worse.

Or

Even though things are good, better is coming sooner than later.
Things are going so well, that space needs to be made for the real growth that is happening.
Like a child outgrowing her shoes or a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, the way up is forcing its way out.

road leading out into the desert

Stress and pressure are powerful motivators for change. Even though stress and pressure are uncomfortable, and even painful, it is not all bad either. The above examples are two ends of a spectrum. These ends represent the need for change due to negative or positive stimuli. Moving toward the middle, the stimuli reduces. It has been said that the only constant in life is change. Even in the middle of the spectrum where motivating stimuli is minimal, change is inevitable.

We all find ourselves somewhere along this spectrum. The thing to do is to get a bird’s eye view of your situation. Where are you along this spectrum? And, if you find yourself somewhere around the middle, are you experiencing a respite, the doldrums, or are you like the frog in the pot, unaware that the temperature is slowly rising?

With last weekend being Easter, I’m reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples during his last supper with them before his passion. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  John 16:7 (NASB)  In this Jesus reveals that in order for his disciples to make the greatest impact, he would need to step aside and let them follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, just as he himself had done.

Where do you identify in this story? With Jesus, realizing that he was the bottleneck for his followers’ development as leaders? Or, with the disciples, understanding that growth only comes when we push our limits, explore other paths, and follow the Spirit’s lead (John 16:13)? The way up is out.

As a personal example, my attention to this blog has been intermittent at best. I have been preoccupied, and at times even overwhelmed, by other more pressing things. This has led to a lack of output, which leads to a sense of stagnation. Yet, not a day goes by where I feel I have got to write something. I miss this. I miss writing for you and for me. My heart tells me that in order to get beyond this stuck, plateaued, and stagnate feeling, I need to put myself out there, start writing again, and open myself again to the flow of thought, creativity, composition, and correspondence. The way up is out.

Of course, this is only one of many areas in my life that need me to be brave and find the way out that leads up.

Enacting change doesn’t have to be drastic. The idea I’m trying to share is to be proactive. Evaluate, make a plan, and start. Start small, but start. The key is that the change we make takes us out of our old patterns that weren’t working and onto a new path with new goals and new outcomes. We can allow change to happen to us, or we can gain a bit of perspective and enact the change for ourselves. It’s all up to you, and it’s all unto me. My hope is that as we examine our situation, we find the areas that need change and the pathway out that will eventually lead up.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Surveying the Terrain: The Way Up Is Down, Pt. 2

In this post I would like to expand the thought process I shared last week. This will be a high-level approach, with not much detail. I hope with this that it will provide an overview that will lead to more in depth exploration and discussion.

The way up is out
The way out is through
The way through is down

Looking out over the Silicon Valley

The way up is out.

Progress. Improvement. Development. Increase.
Not an exhaustive list, but enough to point out that as a species, humans are upwardly focused. This is all good, except when we try to go up with sheer effort. It’s no secret that the greatest gains and largest strides of improvement happen when we think outside of the box or take an outside perspective. To do this involves appreciatively setting aside our accomplishments and trusting the process, even when out looks nothing like up.

The way out is through.

Stepping out is probably the most difficult aspect of this process. It goes against everything in our nature. For the most part, our survival depends on security. Moving outside of our comfort zone challenges the very notion of security. For this very reason, we need to go through this process in order to see security for what it is, what it does, and what it hinders us from doing. Walking through will bring us face to face with our values, passions, commitments, and messages. This will be painful. It may feel like it will never end. Our demons will scream louder than our angels. You may even die to things you never thought we an issue. Just when you think you can’t go through any further, you will find out that you are not alone in this process. The community gained on the journey will make the pain of the process worth every tear.

Looking up at a trail descending to a rocky stream

The way through is down.

We relate the negative with going down, negative thoughts, actions, relationships, and events. The reality, though, is that no one is immune from negativity. The negative provides the opportunity for us to ask questions that can give us a deeper understanding of ourselves, our relationships, and our world. This depth of understanding gives us the foundation to realize a depth of living we never thought possible. Few would say that personal and interpersonal depth is negative or down, rather positive and the source of life’s highlights.

This thought process has come full circle. It gives us a view of the terrain ahead. Having walked through this process a time or two, I don’t wish it upon anyone, but discovering its benefits, I do encourage all who are not willing to settle with whatever the world gives you to embrace this process.

I would appreciate your thoughts.

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Long Road to Christmas

Advent Greetings!
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was written about the days of celebration following Christmas, and not Advent, the days leading up to Christmas. This means that the entire Christmas observance could last about six and a half weeks. That’s a long time!

The length of the season seems fitting since the Christmas story contains many journeys and periods of waiting. If we consider Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, they traveled just over 100 miles.

The Long Journey to Bethlehem, Luke 2:1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Luke 2:1-7, CEB

The beauty of the Christmas story is that it’s rooted in the reality of human experience. We can look at the journey Joseph and Mary took and find some parallel in our personal lives. For me, I have been on a long journey with depression. God has helped me to experience the high places and met me in the lowest valleys. Even though I deal with depression daily, the Lord has filled my heart with hope that one day I will walk truly free. The key for me is keeping my heart open, along with my hands and mind, to see Jesus, the promised deliverer, present in my situation through people and practice, family and faithfulness, community and commitment.

The encouragement I have received from the Christmas story and want to share with you is that God is no stranger to our humanity and is not adverse to meeting us where we are right now. Emmanuel, God with us. This is God’s gift to me this Christmas. I pray it is yours as well.

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Gift of Waiting

Advent Greetings!
Last Sunday, November 27, was the first Sunday of Advent. For us who live in the US, Thanksgiving and Christmas overlap, which, if we’re mindful, is a good thing. Gratitude provides us with the capacity, the ability, and endurance to wait.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son into the world.
Galatians 4:4, GW

Galatians 4:4, rainy autumn day with sparse leaves on a tree

In the case of Advent, we wait for Messiah. We wait to celebrate the birth of God’s son. We wait for the earthly beginning of a life that ultimately was given for us. We wait in hope that this Advent (which means arrival) will bring about change in us, for us, and around us, which includes all that are close to us.

My encouragement is this, practice gratitude, embrace the waiting, and allow the hope of Advent to fill the voids that really only God can fill.

Grace and peace,
Brook

In All Things

Recently I have been watching prior seasons of the reality show Survivor. One scenario that is in the back of everyone’s mind, both contestant and viewer, is the blindside. A blindside is where contestants work together to get a player voted off the island, except the targeted player is usually clueless of what’s coming. From the recipient’s perspective, blindsides are never good, unless God is orchestrating the blindside. Let me briefly share my “God blindside” that happened this morning.

My day probably couldn’t have started any more off than it did, outside of some major tragedy. When I came into the office, a faithful friend and co-worker, sensed I wasn’t doing well, so he asked if I was ok. All I could verbalize was that I wasn’t ok. He gave me a gentle encouragement to trust that God is at work in whatever is going on.

I sat with that encouragement as I started work for the day. An email from a friend regarding this Sunday’s worship gathering at VLC was also a source of encouragement. Her proposed theme comes from 2 Peter 1:2-8. Soon after that, God reminded me of Romans 8:28.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Sunset through distant trees as tall grass waves in foreground

What I referred to as a “God blindside” is nothing more than being surprised by God’s proactive lovingkindness on my behalf. God’s benevolence intersected my path and drew me into the present moment, where God’s presence fully dwells and the only place where God’s love can be fully recognized and experienced.

As I reflected on the passage above, the phrase that stood out to me was “in all things.” I realized that up until this point, I was asking “why” questions regarding my situation. This passage helped me to see that I needed to be asking “how” and “what” questions. For instance, “How can I participate with God not only for my benefit, but for the benefit and benevolence of those who are walking with me in these painful times.” (You can read “for my benefit” as submitting myself to God’s presence to learn and grow with openness, graciousness, and love.) Another question is, “What can I do to become and remain mindful of God’s active presence in all things, moment by moment?” These are the questions that came to me as I reflected on God at work in all things.

If you are questioning, struggling, or needing an encouragement of God’s love for you and yours, please know that God is at work in all things, and that we can trust that God has our best at heart.

May the promise of God’s active presence and lovingkindness lead you to the experience and trust of God’s goodness and love.

Grace and peace,
Brook

A God with Dirty Knees

In preparation for and ever since our worship gathering last Sunday at Valley Life Church, I have not been able to stop thinking about the first line of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This passage has never really meant much to me besides a sappy, “Christianese” sentiment, but this week it came alive to me.

'Shepherd and Sheep' by Anton Mauve

‘Shepherd and Sheep’ by Anton Mauve

To start out with, this is a Psalm of David, who was raised to be a shepherd. Those in his family that cared for him were shepherds. To him a shepherd was one that cares for others, human and animal, with a sense of deep commitment and personal investment. A shepherd uses more that his staff. He uses his hands, knees, back, and head (his smarts) to make sure that the ones under his charge we well cared for and protected.

In the ancient world, a shepherd was looked down upon as an unfortunate profession. It was a necessary role, but not a sought after career path. In fact, shepherds were not able to worship God where everyone else gathered, because they were deemed unclean. It is interesting, though, that the major spiritual leaders in the Bible were shepherds. It is likewise noteworthy that God is revealed to God’s people as a shepherd, their shepherd.

What this speaks to me is that if the Lord is our shepherd, then our God has dirty knees. God is not put out with the fact that we need help, real help, the kind of help that gets messy. The Lord is not only willing, but already knee deep in it with us. What more could you ask for? The God of the universe caring and dwelling with us, wherever we find ourselves, and with the strength and love to help and save us.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. (John 10:11)  He fulfilled in the flesh the promise received in Psalm 23, and continues to do so until the end of the age. “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” (Revelation 21:3-4, CEB)

So, when I remember that the Lord is my shepherd, it’s no longer a sentimental trope. It is an affirmation of the life surrendering and life giving love of God through Jesus Christ. I am confident that my God has dirty knees and that my God loves me. I am confident of the same for you.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Walking Through Friday with Hope for Sunday

I am writing this on Good Friday and have been reflecting on the trajectory of Holy Week. Resurrection Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week. We can’t get to Sunday without walking through Friday. Resurrection is not possible without first dying.

The alley of shadows at dusk...

Jesus’ death and resurrection provide for us more than I can adequately give account for here, the primary of which is the forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Christ. Following Jesus as he walked through this last week of his earthly life reveals another aspect of his death and resurrection that is worth our attention.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3, God’s Word Translation

At some point in our lives, we will walk through the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, hoping and praying for Easter Sunday to come, so that we can get the relief from our sufferings that we so earnestly long for. What we often forget is that on mid-day of Friday, as Jesus died, so we must die too. For us it is an internal dying, letting go of anything and everything that would keep us from living in the fullness of life that God has planned for us. This life is full union with God in Christ. As a friend shared with me recently, we must continue to let go until we find that place of “It is enough, just God and I.”

This union was the hope and goal of all the saints in the great cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)  It is also a life long process, with episodes that greatly resemble the Holy Week that Jesus exampled for us. The beauty of this process is that it concludes with resurrection and new life.

I write this as I am walking through my own Good Friday experience. I have people I trust who have been telling me to “trust the process,” and “You will make it through, just keep your eyes on Jesus.” They have been a lifeline to me. I pray that wherever you find yourself this Holy Week, that you would be encouraged just as I have been by this passage and the good words of loving friends.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Auld Lang Syne for the New Year!

You may be like me, curious about the song we hear sung just after the stroke of midnight of New Year’s Day – Auld Lang Syne. When I was a kid I thought the words were “Old Anxine,” and that people were singing about not having anxiety anymore about what happened last year. Once I learned what the words actually were, I just said to myself, “Oops!” and didn’t give it much thought, except on New Year’s Eve.

Sunset at Half Moon Bay, CA

Sunset at Half Moon Bay, CA

Recently, I read an article explaining what Auld Lang Syne meant. Here is the definition according to the article.

“Auld Lang Syne” was originally a Scottish poem that was later set to music. The phrase “auld lang syne” translates literally to “old long since” in English and means something akin to “times gone by.”

The song refrains that, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” I feel that it is generally agreed upon that taking or lifting a cup, as in a toast, is for the purpose of remembering. Since we actually only sing the first verse and chorus on New Year’s, the song for us is about remembering old friends and times gone by.

I think it is noteworthy that this song is sung at New Year’s celebrations, because the new year is synonymous with “Out with the old, and in with the new!” at least in western cultures. So, what would an appropriate response be as the calendar date turns from 2015 to 2016, and how shall we treat the previous year?

First of all, we let go. There is nothing we can do to change the past. Second, we remember. How has the previous year shaped us, for good or not, through experiences, and by people and God? Remembering is important, because it helps us to take stock of what we learned, how we’ve grown, who we loved, and who loved us. Lastly, we move on. Here we choose what we take with us into the new year (new season, new day, next moment). By this, I mean, “What do we choose to focus on?” “What do we let fall to the wayside?” and “How do we walk with those who are closest to us?” *

This can all seem quite overwhelming, but it reminds me of what Jesus told his disciples during his last evening with them.

“The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.”
(John 14:26, CEB)

As they were edge of a new season, Jesus comforted them and reminded them that God, through the Holy Spirit, will help them move on into the new day before them and as the people they have become by spending the last three years with Jesus.

As we step into the new year of 2016, I pray that we have hearts to listen to the Holy Spirit as we seek to let go, remember, and move on into the new day that God has created for us to enjoy. And we can also sing with confidence the traditional song, Auld Lang Syne, knowing that remembering is a part of living life to the fullest for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

  • In all reality, nothing is ever left behind. Everything we have experienced has brought us to who we are and where we are in life. It is our choice, though, what we do and how we live now, so that we become our best for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.