Singing a Song of Rest


IMG_4635 2When I look at this picture I see much of the depth, tension, and resolve that is presented by the poet & song writer who penned the words of in Psalm 62. The psalmist’s opening refrain declares “Only God” is the place of rest, a stronghold for refuge, and source of salvation, a refrain echoed four times in this song. This picture was taken just near a mountain peak off the shores of Lake Tahoe. The young adventurer on overlooking resting on the bench is my oldest daughter who was set on reaching the top of this mountain. The distance and elevation of the hike affected her more than either of us anticipated but she was bound and determined that she would not give up but took full advantage of each of these resting places on the way up. Psalm 62:2 says “Only God is my rock and my salvation-my stronghold!-I won’t be shaken anymore.” In the midst of the struggle to gain perspective of our surroundings we must remind ourselves to take moments of rest rest, like the psalmist and my daughter, in the one who is steady, constant, and welcoming. From a place of rest, stillness, and silence we can take stock of where we are, how far we have come, and where we have yet to go. Yet, we must continue to move forward.

“How long will all of you attack others; how long will you tear them down as if they were leaning walls or broken-down fences?” I see these words in the cement path leading away from the bench just behind my daughter, the path that led her back towards the top of the mountain. We had never done this hike before and she was determined to make it to the top yet, at times, greatly frustrated with me for how unceasingly difficult and unending the hike seemed to be. Would we ever make it to the top? Would this burning in our legs really lead us to a place where we could catch a full view of the lake, which we only could see in momentary glimpses? This is the path that beckons us to continue to move forward, to not simply stop and hide within the comfort of our rest but face those who seek our destruction because our trust is within the strength and salvation of the only God whom rest and salvation is assured.

“Human beings are nothing but a breath.” The psalmist pens these words in verse nine of Psalm 62. As I stood and took this picture of my daughter, I momentary lost my breath as I became overwhelmed with the immensity of what I was seeing. I was looking at a young girl who holds the entirety of my heart yet to see her in light of the trees, the mountain, and even the lake in the background she seems so small, simple, and, dare I say, fleeting. The forest and lake have been in residence for centuries while at our best we may fill close to a single century ourselves. To place my hope and identity in being a the father of this girl or even anything else seemed, in that moment, to be so small in comparison to the longevity of the scenery that encompassed my daughter and I. The one who created this place that has far outlived my ancestors and will long outlive me, is the one and the only God for whom I will trust because it God is the only one whom it can be said, “faithful love comes from you, my Lord” because forever is still smaller than He.

PSALM 62

Only in God do I find rest;
    my salvation comes from him.
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I won’t be shaken anymore.

How long will all of you attack others;
    how long will you tear them down
    as if they were leaning walls or broken-down fences?
The only desire of this people
    is to bring others down low;
    they delight in deception.
With their mouths they bless,
    but inside they are cursing. Selah

Oh, I must find rest in God only,
    because my hope comes from him!
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I will not be shaken.
My deliverance and glory depend on God.
    God is my strong rock.
    My refuge is in God.
All you people: Trust in him at all times!
    Pour out your hearts before him!
    God is our refuge! Selah

Human beings are nothing but a breath.
    Human beings are nothing but lies.
    They don’t even register on a scale;
    taken all together they are lighter than a breath!
Don’t trust in violence;
    don’t set false hopes in robbery.
When wealth bears fruit,
    don’t set your heart on it.
God has spoken one thing—
    make it two things—
    that I myself have heard:
    that strength belongs to God,
    and faithful love comes from you, my Lord—
    and that you will repay
    everyone according to their deeds.

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Grace When There Are No More Words To Say


The Bible tells us a story of an old priest named Zachariah. He and his wife “were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old.” Then one day an angel of the Lord appears to Zachariah and tells him they were going to have a baby. It would be easy to assume this “elevated biblical character” would have an idyllic response, one of praise, worship, and/or gratitude. Rather, in a form true to the honest portrayal of humanity within biblical texts, Zachariah’s response is, “How can I be sure of this?” The angel then says, “Because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”

I have heard this story dozens of times over the course of my life and always believed Zachariah was punished for asking his question. Zachariah gives honesty and has his voice taken from him. How is God good in this? Over the last year, I’ve been able to understand how taking away Zachariah’s voice was actually an act of goodness and grace.

Over a year and a half ago the life Christina and I had known started to fall apart. From January – April of 2016 I found myself wrestling with the darkness and loneliness of depression. It became harder and harder to believe I could be honest about my own life and journey while being a pastor in full-time ministry. During this time, years of “deferred maintenance” on our marriage caught up to us and Christina and I spent the better part of six weeks living together but not speaking to each other. We realized for the first time how healthy marriages slowly find their way to divorce. With tears in our eyes, deep hurts, uncertainty, and trepidation in our hearts, we made a commitment to not give up on each other or the life that we were building together.

We began asking friends to have faith with and for us as we desperately prayed for clarity in how God would restore all that was broken and hurt. Through months of prayer and conversation we believed with our whole hearts God was “inviting us into a space he had created for us”. We moved without the certainty of future success but believed it was time to practice what we had always told others to do, trust God with your whole life. We were believing the space God was inviting us into would be a healing place where all our troubles would find their resolution.

What we experienced upon moving was not so much a year of rest and rejuvenation but a year defined by an onslaught of unmet expectations. We quickly discovered that our expectations of a restful and restorative transition were unrealistic. We realized we had put the idea of life near family on an unattainable pedestal. We discovered how much of our life was intrinsically connected to identities such as “pastor”, “doula”, “full-time mom”, “financial provider”, “California/Bay Area resident”, and even “church people”. All of these identities were taken away from us in one way or another and we were left with insecurities, continued bouts of depression, and fear that we had thrown our life in California away for nothing. Yet, anchored in the depths of our hearts were the words, “God has invited you into this space”. But these words seemed to ring out as an indictment against the goodness of God and we continually asked, “How can we be sure of this?

I reached a point early on in our move where I felt my voice no longer carried the legitimacy or influence I had always been sure it had. I felt that God had quieted my voice as well as so hidden my identity as a pastor, teacher, leader, influencer, husband, father, and son. Over the last year I haven’t so much as prepared a sermon, let alone taught in any formal or informal context. I essentially stopped all social media postings because it all seemed like pretense. For the majority of the past year, I have only prayed in earnest a handful of times as any words I can think of seem to be hallow or disingenuous. All that was left was to do has been to listen.

From this place, I found new perspective in the old story of Zachariah. I see now a particular type of grace that was given Zachariah whose voice was taken from him. There is grace in having to simply listen to what God will say, when he will say it and look for God to do what he said he will do when he will do it, particularly when that which God will say or do seems audacious and impossible. Christina and I have had some of our most treasured faith assumptions called into question or deconstructed. We are now rebuilding what we hope is a richer, deeper, more authentic, and a more fruitful faith rooted in fresh readings of scripture and experience. Slowly, I am finding my voice. Along with Christina, I am learning to see that “blessings” and “grace” are not defined simply by the extent of our immediate comfort and abundance. Rather “blessings” and “grace” are the ways in which God chooses to lead us into deeper and more genuine understandings and experiences of his grace and love. From this renewed perspective, the space God has invited us into has been a place of blessing and grace on his terms, revealed in his ways, so that we may be able to know him as he would like us to know him. I am grateful for the blessing of this past year that has given me new ways of speaking of grace as we begin our second year in the place God has invited us to be.

 

Silent Night – a Father’s lullaby


This song has always baffled me. I have always felt the writer of this song clearly lacked two pivotal experiential points of reference prior to writing this candle lit hymn: being in a barn full of animals and attending a birth. In my experience, I haven’t come close to using “silent” as a. This song must then simple be fictional idealization of a birth to further portray Jesus’ life as “sunshine & roses” even from the moment he entered this world. There had to be chaos, noise, stink, panic, worry, and poop. Lots of poop! Honestly people, there were barn animals and a newborn, poop would haven a central decor piece. To believe it was actually a “silent night” is either outright naive or a staunch defense of adding poop to the nativity scene on your mantel.

What if, though, this isn’t a historical retelling of Jesus’ birth? What if this is lullaby? What if? We know Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, didn’t write this song, but if we listen closely, it sure does sound like the words of a proud papa. Let’s look at a few phrases from this divine love song.

Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.” The moment Joseph would have seen Mary getting her first chance at sleep with his son in her arms, yes…there must have been a deep sense of heavenly peace!

Shepherds quake at the sight…” Joseph would remember that raggedy gang of misfits and outcasts approach the stable, full of mixed emotion…mostly fear! He remembers what they had told him about their encounter with more angels than any human had seen prior and now were in the presence of Israel’s Messiah and a baby to boot! That’s enough to rattle even the bravest and most callous night dwellers.

Silent night, all is calm, all is bright…” In a literal sense, was the night of Jesus’ birth silent, calm, and bright, surely not. I imagine though, Joseph, in his core, needed to believe that in the midst of so much unmet expectation, there was something beautiful taking place. There are times when we must harken our deepest trust in God’s plan, look into the heart of chaos, and with a brave holy imagination, use words to create room for a present reality that seemingly doesn’t fit in the moment we find ourselves. There was a season where on of my daughters would awake in the middle of the night crying almost every night for a couple months. I did not whisper in her ear, “This is terrifying, dark, and hopeless. I am fearful with you and am uncertain there will be resolution.” Rather I take a deep breath and began dreaming a new dream aloud, “Sweet girl, all is good. Jesus is here and stronger than your fear. There is great light in this room and angels abound. Shhh, all is well. I love you and there is not place I would rather be than here, with you.” I needed these words as much or more than my sweet girl did, I needed to see a brighter, holier, and more silent night than the one I was experiencing.

Jesus, Lord at they birth…Christ, the Savior is born” Joseph, the step-father of a boy whose identity would be question for the entirety of his life, refrains who he knows his son to be. There is power in a father speaking specific words of identity over his children.

To all the fathers who may be reading this, Christmas is a crazy season full of insane expectations to live up to and manage. Bank accounts, family members, vacations, traditions, Christmas lists, Christmas parties, and end of the year charity write-offs bring us to a place where we are strangely akin to the feeling of raising a family in a chaotic barn. Fathers, let’s take moments to sing songs, tell stories, and imagine adventure with our children and wives that create space for the realities of God. In this season, may we speak words that strengthen our children’s identity and have our attitudes and actions be marked by gentleness. I’m grateful for this song and reminder this Christmas season.

“Will You Dance With Me?”


ImageOver the last year and a half, give or take, our oldest daughter has LOVED playing with, reading, dressing up as, or reenacting anything that is remotely closely tied to princesses. This is a new thing for me. I grew up in a home with two boys, no sisters, and no real close girl cousins. The onslaught of pink was one thing, but princesses are an entirely different thing all together. No the princess obsession has provided for some heart melting moments in the reenacting (“Good night my prince!”) and for some Gospel/justice interpretations in the story times. (“Just like Cinderella, there are so many girls who are not allowed to leave homes because of mean people. Can we pray for those girls?”) Yet, a few days ago I realized a great draw back to this love of princesses.

Brylie was insisting that Christina dance with her, a normal thing, but there was something new twist in her logic for us to dance with her. She said,

 “Dance with me! Dance with me! I’m wearing a pretty dress! Come dance with me!”

This made me sad because I realized soon after that one of the songs in her newest princess book sings these exact words. I don’t want her believing that Christina or I, and particularly any boy, need any other reason to dance with her other than her simply being Brylie.

It’s fun seeing little girls get dressed up and pretend to be princesses and royalty. I think one of the reasons why it’s so intoxicating for us as adults to drink in the joy girls exude while they are lost in the “princess wonderland” is that for those moments they actually believe they are all the things princesses represent. Royalty, beauty, lovable, valued.

As adults we’ve long been callused to the belief that we are beautiful, worthy. Long ago we gave up on the idea that we could ever be considered royalty. So we live vicariously through these girls’ joy-filled props that set are often setting stage for much of the same disillusion we fell victim to when we realized the humanity behind the princess stories. Humanity that shows us that Cinderella found her beauty after a dramatic makeover, Ariel fought for plastic surgery reconstruction to save her from her perceived flaws, and Belle, the most educated of all princesses, traded her books for ball gowns.

Here’s the thing. Before my daughters were born, and ever since, they were and will be royalty. They are daughters of not just “a” king but THE KING. Their King and Father is the God has reigned for all generations has sealed the truth of their beauty, strength, worth, and value in them before they were born and reveals these realities in fuller ways with each passing day. For this reason, I will work hard to raise my daughters to confidently believe that when they say, “Will you dance with me?” there are no other qualifications needed with that request.

I’m sorry, I forgot you love me


It’s not an uncommon scene. Tantrums, fits, yelling, crying, hiding under tables, running away when being called for, refusing to listen because emotions are running way too high. No, I’m not describing my almost-three-year-old, I’m realizing this is an embarrassing truth about my own walk of faith.

The other night, my oldest daughter, our almost three year old, was having a grade-A breakdown. It was a long day with no nap and I was coming off a day that left me equaling her levels of fatigue. At the climatic moment when her face was a mess of hair, tears, and snot and I was a steaming pile of frustration on the floor grabbing after her, I heard the wisdom of God coming through my own words. There are moments like these. When the Holy Spirit commandeers my words to bring truth, correction, grace, or wisdom to me. These are divine moments that catch me off guard 100% of the time.

In this moment, as my daughter and I wrapped up in a mess of frustration, anger, confusion, and desperation, I put my hands on Brylie’s shoulders and said, “Brylie, do you know that I love you?” to which she sniffled out a reply of, “phhh, phhh, yeea-yeaah…phhhphh….” then I asked this question which stopped me in my tracks. I asked,

“Brylie, did you forget that I love you?”

She looked at me with her beautifully tear soaked eyes and said, “”phhh, phhh, yeea-yeaah…phhhphh….”

Things calmed down after that and we got her to bed. I was now a whole new kind of mess. I realized that the interaction I was just apart of was God revealing a tangible manifestation of my relationships with him. Before we go any further, I’m not presuming that I am the God figure in my house who is all gracious, wise, loving, and powerful. What I am saying, is that in that moment – God showed me what I look and sound like when I refuse to obey, choose to complain, and steadfastly run from His word. I look childish. And the root cause for this “terrible-twos-faith-tantrum”? Forgetting that my Father loves me. Forgetting that behind all things that he’s asked me to do, all places he’s asked me to go, and all times he’s asked me to be present in, stands his unquestionable love for me.

That night  I took time to take a deep breath and say to my loving Father, “I’m sorry. I forgot you loved me.” That night, and my days since, have been full of more grace and trust and less fits and tantrums. I’m learning the need to continue to give up my childish ways of faith and remember my Dad loves me!

The Story of Nasia


(This is written by my amazing wife, Christina Kolding. I am humbled and inspired to be married to such a woman as this.)

In February of 2012 we learned our pregnancy was likely to end tragically in a way that we would never be able to see or share life with our expected girl. Shock and brokenness ambushed our hearts at this discovery. Before the end of our pregnancy I was searching through name websites and came across the name “Nasiah” which means “Miracle of God”. I broke at the sight of this name. Oh, how I desperately, desperately wanted my child to be a miracle story. I longed for her name to declare what it was that everyone would be able to witness. I pleaded and cried with the Lord to allow this girl’s circumstances to change, for a miracle of God to take place. In that sobering place of desperation, brokenness, and vulnerability I heard my God quietly and gently whisper, “Not this time, but Nasiah will be a child you see.”

Of course that wasn’t what I wanted to hear at that time but there was some piece of me, deep down, that was comforted as I was wrecked with dispair. The constant thoughts of this possibly being my last opportunity to have a child led me to struggle with a lot of “what if” scenarios.

“What if I wasn’t able to get pregnant again or my body couldn’t carry again?”
“What if this was my only other child and I wasn’t going to be able to meet her?!”

But the promise I had heard from God quieted my fears and slowly restored my hope!

“What if I really heard that right?”
“What if God would allow me to carry, deliver, and parent a girl named Nasiah!?

A few months later we discovered we were pregnant again. I was skeptical for sure.
I quickly checked what our due date would be if this was actually going to be a life I would see born. I was not ready for what I was about to see. I saw that our baby would be due: February 8th, 2013.

That is same day that we had discovered our girl wasn’t going to make it last year. The exact day our hearts entered into a situation we never imagined being in.

Right away I remembered my moment with God last February when I was praying over my lost pregnancy. Nasiah. This was my miracle.

Nasiah May was born this past Friday, on her due date. February 8th is now a day to forever anticipate because it is a day God was forever going to redeem! She will remind us and show others how miraculous God’s design is in bringing life to earth and breath to lungs!

It is no small thing.

IMG00685-20130208-1736

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:1-3

Thank You Hallmark


Thank You Hallmark

I have a lot I can say about my annoyance with guys who are quick to write off Valentine’s Day or who dutifully meet a status quo “Flowers, Chocolates, & Card scribbled on drive home” gift giving expectation. But it’s moments like these that I love being able to creatively (and cheaply!) model for my daughter what love looks, feels, tastes, sounds, and smells like. Thank You Hallmark for making love a holiday!