Creative Space: Day 6 by Jeff Tacklind

I’m both fascinated and flummoxed by inspiration.  At times it comes rushing in like a river, and other times feels bone dry.  Writers and artists have all sorts of different means of tapping into their creativity.  Some are structured and regimented, others whimsical and even superstitious.  I find myself somewhere in between. 


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Ashes: Day 2 by Jeff Tacklind

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  It is a sacrament that goes back hundreds of years in Christian tradition, but only a few years in my own faith journey.  My first experience of it was visiting St. Catherine’s, here in town, and simply participating in their beautiful service.  I found the whole thing so moving.

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Finding Our Way Home: Day One by Jeff Tacklind

This year, I’ve decided to use a metaphor that Macrina Wiederkehr employs in her beautiful book, “A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary.”  In it she talks about the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, and how the two children were cast out of their home by a wicked stepmother and left alone in the woods but would follow a trail of breadcrumbs home. She compares that voice of the stepmother to the voice inside of each one of us, that false self that drives us from our home.  That voice that tells us that we don’t belong, that we don’t measure up, and that we’ve strayed too far or have fallen behind. 

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Day 39: Good Friday by Jeff Tacklind

Today is Good Friday.  Today we walk the Via Dolorosa. The way of grief or sorrow.  It is the road Jesus walked, through Jerusalem, on his way to the crucifixion. 

It is a painful story, filled with such mockery and hatred.  It is filled with blood and dirt. 

Jesus falls, several times.  His burden is too great for him to bear. 

But another picks it up…Simon the Cyrene.  

He encounters women mourning for him, but all Jesus sees is their suffering.  His heart breaks for them.  

Jesus sees his mother.  He tells John to care for her. 

The thief next to him asks for a favor…remember me?  Jesus’s response…I will.

As we walk this road, we pause at each of these stations.  We reflect.  We examine our hearts.  Because Jesus is doing more than bearing his cross.  He is helping us to carry ours.  And as slight and as small as the sliver of cross we bear, it is somehow sharing in the sufferings of Christ.  Paul tells us that as we share in his sufferings we share in his glory.  Try to wrap your mind around that.

We pause, because otherwise we move too quickly through his pain.  And too quickly through our own.  We long for the grace of Easter morning.  But first we must contemplate the enormity of the cost.  Because when we stare into the heart of the crucifixion, we see into the very heart of the creator of the universe.  What exists there is a purity of love so deep that it would give up everything for the ones He loves.  For you.

There is a wonderful moment in John’s gospel before Jesus feeds the 5000.  “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.”

Jesus is always teaching.  Always demonstrating.  Not just walking on water Himself, but welcoming us outside of the boat. 

In Mat. 16 Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Tonight, we join Jesus on the road of suffering.  And we realize that he is doing more than bearing our burden for us.  He is teaching us how to carry our own.  And as we do, He is speaking those words of encouragement we need so desperately.  “You can do this.”  “I’m with you.”  “Just a little further.”

As we pause, we let the words sink deep into our hearts.  They transform our burdens from unbearable weight to light and momentary affliction.  And we fix our eyes ahead.  To the joy set before us.  And we carry on.

Day 38: The Skeptic by Jeff Tacklind

My friend Dave popped his head into my office the other day and said, “Super bowl Sunday coming up!”  Now, if that is confusing to you, let me explain.  This Sunday is Easter.  Hopefully that isn’t a total surprise.  And Easter, for Christians, is our big day.  It is when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It is the victory over death.  It is the sine qua non-without which nothing. As Paul says, “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”

But it is more than just the spiritual significance that gives the day its gravity.  It is one of the three big days for church attendance.  I’m not sure if it is #1, but it might be (Mother’s Day and Christmas Eve are close).  It is a day when many will concede to come to church, even if it isn’t their normal thing.  Often it is a gift to their mom.  Or maybe it is a bit of nostalgic duty. Whatever the case, there are always lots of new faces on Easter morning.

Every year, as I prepare the message for Sunday, I find myself feeling a bit anxious.  To whom do I preach?  The regular attender, there to celebrate the heart of the gospel message about Jesus?  The inquisitive guest, listening cautiously?  The reluctant and guarded ones, skeptical and needing convincing?  My heart goes out to all three.  But honestly, it goes mostly to the skeptic.

I think it is because I relate.  I struggle with my own forms of doubt.  I’ve always been intellectually cautious, although curious.  I love ideas, but I take some convincing.  I withdraw when I feel the pressure of the group.  I hate being coerced.

I see you skeptics, your guard up and your game faces on.  I want you to know you’re safe.  Because I’m not going to try to get you to commit to something you don’t believe.  What good is that?  I’m also not going to try to get you to admit you’re wrong and I’m right. That usually just pushes people away.  I know it does me.

What I will do is to try to hold out to you something that I have found deeply moving and healing in my own life.  I will do my best to show you a truth I find so beautiful.  And we will follow that beauty to the goodness that it rests on.  And behind that the truth that can set us free.  In other words, we will look for transcendence.  A truth that pierces in to the darkness of this world, that exposes where we are sick, and brings healing to our hearts.

Because resurrection is what we need.  It is what our hearts long for.  It is the power that promises us what we fear to hope for, that all things are being made new.  That abundant life is the ultimate outcome.  And that, even in a world with so much brokenness and distortion, this hope is already at work. In simple acts of love and generosity. In compassion and forgiveness. In restoration.  In acts of selflessness and grace.

This is what we celebrate on Easter.  It is what gives our lives meaning and hope.  And it is there for all who believe.  Even the skeptic, who can only muster the smallest bit of faith. Because just a little bit seems to be enough.  Jesus tells the father pleading for the healing of his sick son that anything is possible to those who believe.  The father’s response… “I do believe.  Help my unbelief.” And that is adequate.  The boy is healed.  The man’s faith is confirmed. 

So, skeptic, I want you to know that this Sunday you are welcome.  You are the guest of honor.  Unbelief and all. No pressure, I promise.  And maybe, just maybe, you will receive something transcendent. Something good, and true, and beautiful. 

Day 37: Quiet by Jeff Tacklind

“Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness.” Thomas Merton

We live in a noisy world, don’t we?  Noise is like the air we breathe. It is always there, like a constant buzz. It is white noise.  Soon the chatter and disruption becomes almost soothing. We don’t even realize how overstimulated our minds have become. 

Until we are quiet, even for a moment.  And in the pause the silence overwhelms us.  We fidget.  We want it to stop.

My friend, Chris, who is also our worship leader, often pauses at the end of the final song on Sunday mornings.  He waits.  He listens.  The whole church goes silent.

And you can slowly feel the stress level rise.  “What are we supposed to be doing?”  “Why the pause?”  Sometimes people will even shout out a praise or prayer.  Nothing wrong with that…but I wonder if it is sometimes just to break the awkward silence.  To bring relief by filling the ominous void of dead space.

But the space isn’t dead.  This is where we hear the still, small voice.  And if we lean in to the silence, if we persevere through our discomfort, there are all kinds of gifts and invitations that quiet brings. 

Noise allows us to divert our attention away from emotions and anxieties that are begging to be felt and heard.  When we tune them out, they don’t disappear or even fade away.  They lurk.  They find residence within us.  And they do their best to steal our attention.  They present themselves as fear, or anger, or impatience.  They cause stress and keep us from being present.

When we enter into silence, we are invited to listen to our hearts.  We become aware of all the noise, the disruptions, the worries.  And one by one, we hold them before God.  We show him ourselves.  It is painfully vulnerable, but vulnerability miraculously destroys shame.  It allows us to be seen.  To be loved.

My favorite part of Lent has become our evening services.  Chris and I get to work with John Schreiner on the structure and content. John is an orchestrator.  He curates a service.  They are beautiful, deep, thoughtful, and quiet.  The pace slows.  His piano playing is so rich.  There is room in the service to listen and hear. It is sacred space.

Every week, I find myself wrestling with some logistical or technical  issue immediately before the service starts.  I’m sweating a bit.  I’m frustrated.  But it always comes together just before we start.  As I take the microphone and begin, I feel the pace of my heart beating too fast.  As I prepare us for a time of contemplation, I am painfully aware of just how badly I need it myself. 

These services have been wonderful times of refreshment for me.  It usually takes several readings or songs before I feel God’s presence.  But when I do…everything in me breathes a sigh of relief.  That comforting presence carries with it the assurance that all shall be well.

This last Sunday, our final Lent service for the year, was probably my favorite.  As we finished communion, I went up on stage.  I paused.  And then I closed with a blessing.  And no one moved.  Seriously.  Everyone just sat there.

I had a brief moment of panic.  Maybe I wasn’t clear.  “You are dismissed.”  Still no one moved.  And it finally dawned on me…no one wants to leave.  When God’s presence falls like that, it is so moving.  I could see tears in many people’s eyes.  I could see the calm on each face.  God is here.

I love that statement of Jacob… “Surely God was here and I knew it not.”  Which is why we must pause.  Otherwise we miss it.It is why we need moments where all the sound and words have ceased.  Where we listen.  Where our hearts are seen.  By us and by God.  I’ve treasured these times where I’ve experienced the quiet presence of God in my Lenten journey this year.  To be in that presence is such a wonderful gift.

 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)


Day 36: Sparring by Jeff Tacklind

So, yesterday I got kicked in the face.  It was my first time.  I didn’t see it coming.  I did block two punches, but the third move got me.  I can’t believe Master Mark can even get his foot that high.  Thankfully I had a padded helmet on.  Otherwise I might have lost a tooth.

Sparring is a whole different level of training.  Much of our time and energy in Hapkido goes into form and memorization; step back block, front kick, double punch.  Again…and again.

This is how we learn.  Wax on, wax off.  As we do, the moves feel more and more natural.  We don’t have to be told to straighten our fingers when we elbow someone in the ribs.  It just happens.  And our fingers close quickly into a fist when we block a kick.  Because when we don’t, and our fingers get kicked, it hurts really, really bad.

But practice of this kind can only take us so far.  And I’ve noticed, when the sparring gear is on, my mind tends to go blank.  What move are we practicing?  Are we doing kicks or punches?  This way of thinking doesn’t apply to sparring.  It causes us to overthink and freeze up.  Sparring isn’t the time to refine technique.  It is the time to fight.

And as we do, we find ourselves discovering a whole different level of meaning.  Master Mark reminds me over and over to get my front hand up.  But I like it a bit more low and tucked, boxer like.  He pulls my fist out and up.  This is proper form.  And I keep it up there for a bit.  But a couple moves later, my hand is back where I like it.  This feels more natural to me.

Except that my lowered fist is like a huge invitation to hit me in the face.  I want to put my effort into strikes, into kicks, into moves.  But this is getting ahead of myself.  We must first build a strong, impenetrable foundation, and then go from there.  We can then add to it.  Because if we are too focused on our punch, we miss our block.  And the punch becomes irrelevant.  That missed block can leave our head ringing.

Lila loves to spar.  She comes at you like a spider monkey.  She is fearless.  She is all attack. As we walked to the car afterwards, a lady asked us how class was.  Lila said, “It was great!  I kicked everyone’s butts.”  The lady smiled.  “That’s as it should be.”  It was a sweet ‘girl power’ moment for the two of them.

I, personally, have more trepidation when sparring.  I prefer the safety of the classroom.  I like the theory.  I like the controlled environment of technique and form.  But that, ultimately, isn’t the point.  All that training is simply the structure for the real thing.

And the real thing is the dance.  We learn so we can truly live.  We practice so that we can come alive.  The work and discipline matter.  But we must get in the ring.  We must engage.  This is where it all comes together.  The arena is where it counts.

Day 35: Crooked Crosses by Jeff Tacklind

For the past few years, on Palm Sunday I’ve led my church in folding palm crosses.  It is a longstanding church tradition, but a fairly recent one for Church by the Sea.  Each year I’ve had at least one of my kids help me with the demonstration.  This year Lila and her good friend Eva helped me out.  I usually have to twist my older kids arms to get them on stage, but when I mentioned it to Lila she said, “oh, that sounds like so much fun!”

Every year I get a little teased for doing the crosses.  I realize it can feel a bit like arts and crafts time, but I think we can use more of that in church.  It is good for us to use our hands, not just our minds and mouths.  But more than anything, I love the symbolism.  The deep meaning it brings to an otherwise awkward day of celebration.

Palm Sunday was Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The palm branches symbolize the cheers of victory as the new king rode into town.  But the praises would be short lived.  The hosannas would turn to jeers and cries of anger in less than a week.  Selfish motives would be exposed.  It is shocking how quickly our allegiance can turn when our expectations go unmet.

Palm Sunday begins Christ’s journey towards the cross.  And so we take the palm leaves and bend them and bruise them and twist them until they are formed into the symbol of sacrificial love.  Because that is actually where true hope lies.  Not in conquest, but in pouring our lives out for the sake of others.

After the services I go through the pews and gather the remains.  Twisted palms, bent and broken. As I gather them, these crooked crosses, I can see the intentions of the ones that did the folding.  They tried, but couldn’t quite get it.  I can sense their frustration as I see their discarded failed attempts.  I gather them, and I save them.  And eventually, I burn them.  Along with all the others left behind.  I’ll wait almost a year, and then my son and I will take them all out to our barbeque and set them aflame.

Afterwards we’ll gather the ash, and on the following Ash Wednesday, I’ll apply the ash to the foreheads of the ones that gather in church for a time of confession and repentance.  “From dust you have come and to dust you will return.”

These crooked crosses have become dear to me.  They are beautiful in their own way.  To me, they symbolize the incredible grace of God that beams with joy in our failed and frustrated attempts to do good.  Like a loving parent cheering their kid on as they swing and miss the ball.  “Good try!”

In one of my favorite prayers, Thomas Merton writes,

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Isn’t that so good!  “the desire to please you does in fact please you.”  Thank God for that!  Because sometimes that is all we have. On Palm Sunday, we are reminded that the only victory we can cling to is God’s grace.  In all our twisted motives and misguided prayers, that is ultimately, the only thing we can depend on.

At our Lent service last night, my friend John’s wife, Cathy, started refolding the broken palms.  I hadn’t seen crosses like that…loops instead of tight edges.  They were beautiful.  The frayed edges and dry cracks smoothed and reshaped.  It was so redemptive.

And maybe this is what God does.  He takes our crooked crosses, our broken Hallelujahs, and refolds them, patiently, into something more.  Or He gathers the remains and savors the attempts and smiles.  All of them, ultimately returning to dust.  A reminder to us that our lives are over so quickly, and yet are extremely precious to God.

Day 34: Seventeen Years by Jeff Tacklind

Today is our anniversary, babe!  Can you believe it?  We’re seventeen, which means our marriage is almost old enough to vote.

I look at that picture from our wedding day and can’t believe how young we were!  We were just kids!  Our whole lives were before us.  Everything was just beginning.  We were only just getting started.

I remember, in those days, we were both discovering so many new things about ourselves.  So much of my life was centered around leadership and ministry.  So much of yours around spirituality and new identity.  In many ways, we fell in love with each other’s potential.  How could we not?  We were changing and growing every day.  And together we just continued in that stream, redefining who we were, and shaping where we wanted to go.

Laguna Beach instead of L.A.  Small church over large.  The decision to have a family.  You deciding to stay home and figuring out how to be a mom.  Me juggling work and family and learning how to be a dad.  So many changes have happened between now and then.  And yet, somehow, things are still very much the same.

At middle age, we are both still discovering new things about ourselves.  But one of the main ones is the discovery that we haven’t really changed as much as we thought.  The minister’s wife/stay at home mom is still actually the cheerleader/athlete who loves to dance and perform, and is a phenomenal coach!  And me, well, I’m still that nerdy kid that loved books and D&D.  All the surfing, guitar playing, and good music in my life never seem to alter the fact that I’m still a geek at heart.

Which means our life is very much like a John Hugh’s movie, and I’m the awkward Michael Anthony Hall character who somehow, someway, ends up with the gorgeous Molly Ringwald.  How in the world did I get so lucky?

When you first choose your spouse, it is for all the reasons they are the perfect fit.  At least that is what we think.  But that is just the small part of ourselves we’re consciously aware of.  The things we find immediately attractive, as opposed to the deeper questions of what we really need.  When you get to midlife, that top ten list is no longer front and center.  In fact, it is probably buried away somewhere in a drawer.

What we have instead is so much reality.  Who we truly are.  All the ways we fit, yes, but also all the ways we don’t.  But both of those lists have become practically irrelevant.  Because what we have is seventeen years.  Seventeen years of intimacy, vulnerability, struggles, frustrations, dreams, defeats, victories, losses, embarrassments, and moments of glory.  And we have three little ones that aren’t so little anymore, who have added all their complexities to the mix. 

Who I am and who you are has become inseparable.  We really are one.  And as you continue to grow, and flourish, and become more of who you are, then so do I.  And I love who you are becoming and therefore, who we are becoming.  It is so familiar, and yet so brand new.  It includes more of who we were, and yet continues to expand into new territory. 

I love you, not because you somehow complete me.  I love you because you and I no longer come apart.  I love us.  As both of us step into new areas filled with new fears and insecurities, you are the one I want to go there with.  I love you so much!  Can’t wait for the next seventeen.

Day 33: Meaningful Rituals by Jeff Tacklind

This morning was delightful!  Mia and I have been having breakfast on Fridays for years now.  She and I are breakfast people.  It is both of our favorite meal of the day.  We’ve been exploring all of Laguna’s spots on a quest for the very best poached eggs and cinnamon rolls.  There are plenty to choose from.  Zinc, Heidelberg, Penguin, Urth, Shirley’s…Laguna is filled with a great variety of little breakfast nooks.

But our most favorite of all is Orange Inn, and that’s where we went today.  This place has so much soul!  The rafters are filled with old Brewer and Dewey Webber longboards…not well persevered, but dinged up, yellowed, and well surfed.  We love the window seat with the words “Best Coffee in Town” decaled on it.  (We usually make some Elf reference.)  The muffins are fantastic. The soup is great.  They even have a fabulous tuna sandwich.  But we come for the eggs and the cinnamon rolls.  Every time.  Because it is our ritual.  It is what we do.

This morning, Mia was commenting on the different smells.  They are so familiar.  John, the owner, comes out and greets us, checks in on us, calls me “padre.”  We feel known.  We belong here.

We finish up breakfast and walk down to the end of the street and down the steps to the beach at Cleo.  There’s a bench down there, close to the water, where we like to sit and watch the waves and surfers before school.  That, too, is our spot.  It is our bench.  We laugh about different stories and memories over the years.  That one time we watched a random sandal being sucked out to see and then thrown back by the waves, over and over.  We just sit and giggle. 

These moments, these glimpses, are solidified in the ritual.  They take on a certain permanence.  They have shaped us.  These experiences are now a part of who we are.  And because of that, they are sacred.

I love my daughter.  I love the way she comes alive when it is just the two of us.  She and I move through life at the same pace.  We’ve always just sort of understood one another.  Ever since she was little, we’d find ourselves on trips or at parties, retreating to a corner and hanging out quietly. 

We get each other, and that is such a gift.  I love our rituals, not for the formality or structure, but for the deep peace they bring.  We are the same.

This morning, as Mia finished her cinnamon roll, she had worked it all the way down until just the center was left.  Because the center is the very best part (did you know that?).  It is the gooiest, sugariest bite of the whole thing. Every time we split it.  We savor it.  And we give thanks.  For good breakfast. For our friendship.  For the beauty of our ritual.  But most of all, for the sweet gift of each other. 

Day 32: Perseverance by Jeff Tacklind

“[Hope is] the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.”  Chesterton

Today I’m straining my eyes, looking for the finish line.  Day 32 feels like an adequate duration for Lent, right?  What is so sacred about 40 days, anyways?  I’m ¾ of the way there, which should qualify as close enough.  At least that is what I am tempted to tell myself.

When I began this Lenten season with the idea of writing a glimpse a day, I knew I was getting in over my head.  And a part of me really likes that feeling.  I love how challenges draw out of me more than I realized was in there.  As I began, I had in mind already, a sense of the satisfaction that would come upon completing the assignment.  I looked forward to what I would learn, about myself and about God.

But that satisfaction has always been a fleeting emotion.  It is like the excitement at the beginning of a semester, which disappears the moment you’re handed the syllabus and realize just how much reading lies ahead.  What have I gotten myself into?

Because today I’m tired of writing.  The sentences come out slower.  I press the delete key more than the spacebar.  Sentences appear and then disappear with a frown.  Writing is so much work!

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s book on writing, and, in a chapter called ‘Short Assignments’, she gives an illustration from which the book derives its name.  Her brother has put off an assignment for the last 3 months that is due the next day.  It is a paper on birds and he is sitting at the table with his head in his arms, surrounded by open books, completely overwhelmed.  His father enters the room and says to him, “Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”

Or, in my case, “blog by blog.” 

Today, I realize that the end is in sight, and yet far enough away that I cannot slow my pace. Nor can I begin to celebrate the finish without jeopardizing my ability to complete this last lap.  I must continue step by step, one foot after the other. 

A new sort of hope surfaces at moments like these.  As uncomfortable as it is to feel dependent on fresh glimpses from God, an expectancy begins to rise to the surface. In order to finish, God is going to have to show up.  And isn’t that the point, after all?  Not writing, or fasting, or self-discipline.  Because Lent is about encountering God in the desert.  And, as He said to Jeremiah, in the wilderness we will find favor and rest.

In many ways, today is the day that my true Lenten journey begins.  The supplies and resources I’ve snuck in with me are now gone.  All my initial ideas that I jotted down have been used up.  But my eyes are open and my ears are listening.  I’m not giving up.  So here is the blog for day 32.  From here til 40 I’ll be taking it blog by blog.  I’m excited to see where the last lap leads me. 

Day 31: The Arena by Jeff Tacklind

A number of you, in the comments, have mentioned Roosevelt’s "The Man in the Arena" speech.  It is one of my favorites as well.  For those of you that haven’t read it, here it is…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I read it the first time in Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and have picked the book up again per your recommendations (and a little nudge from the library angel), and have been rereading favorite sections.  Brené writes the book in response to her nagging question, “how do people live wholehearted lives?”.  Her findings are that they possess two distinct elements; they embrace vulnerability and they carry in themselves a sense of their own worthiness.

I find this so helpful!  First, as I’ve already mentioned, I find vulnerability agonizing.  So do most of us.  It is inherently difficult.  It is painful to be seen, warts and all. To feel exposed and naked.  Learning to embrace vulnerability takes immense courage and a good deal of resilience.  It is a learned skill.

Worthiness, however, I find equally challenging, but in the opposite direction.  As much as vulnerability can mistakenly feel like weakness, worthiness can feel like arrogance.  I know what unrestrained ego looks like, and it is ugly.  Honestly, I’d prefer to look weak than to look arrogant. The times in my life I most regret are the times when my pride has taken control.  Whenever I’ve thrown sensitivity to the wind, my unrestrained words are almost always regrettable. 

To counteract my prideful ego, I choose a more self-deprecating path. I choose meekness.  I become timid. I stay out of the spotlight.  I sit in the back of the class.  I hide.  This strategy can even come across as virtuous.  “Blessed are the meek…”

But as I withdraw, my self-doubt grows.  I haven’t attained humility.  I’ve only channeled my ego down a road of insecurity. Even though I’m in the shadows, I’m still consumed with myself.  I’m simultaneously hoping to be seen and not seen.  What a mess!

Vulnerability refuses to be insecure.  Instead it allows itself to be seen honestly and truthfully.  And similarly, worthiness refuses to be vain.  Instead, worthiness is a form of self-forgetfulness.  It isn’t plagued by all the concerns of who is thinking what.  It doesn’t need to beat anyone to win.

What I notice about people in my life that are comfortable with their worthiness is that they are at peace.  There is a calm in them and a lack of anxiety.  They know who they are. And they know who they aren’t.

And this natural ease is powerful.  They are the ones who inspire, not just impress.  They are not to be copied or imitated.  Instead, they motivate us to find our own freedom, and thereby our own greatness.  Not greatness in a self-congratulatory sense.  Greatness, as in brilliance.  When we shine like this, it is glorious.

My friend, Rob, once told me, “God is going to insist on your greatness.”  At first I struggled with that word.  But as a father, I get it now.  It is the thing I want to see in my kids.  God is after my “Jeffness”.  He wants more and more of it.  Not some attractive talent of mine that I do my best to exploit.  It is about my essence.  The thing that God sees in me.  And that isn’t just great, it is sacred.

Brené writes, “I believe that owning our worthiness is the act of acknowledging that we are sacred. Perhaps embracing vulnerability and overcoming numbing is ultimately about the care and feeding of our spirits.” 

Which is why encouragement is so important.  We call these qualities out in each other.  As we do, as we learn to accept our worthiness, we gain the freedom to let that light shine.  It is a light that is both glorious and selfless. It is simultaneously vulnerable and worthy. 

When we live like this, daring greatly, we strive valiantly.  We spend ourselves on a worthy cause.  Even when we fail, our lives are triumphant. 

Day 30: Humbling Encouragement by Jeff Tacklind

I learned something about myself last week. I am only comfortable with vulnerability when it doesn’t threaten my appearance of self-sufficiency.  In other words, I want to be truthful without coming across as needy.  I have no problem admitting to a struggle I used to have.  But admitting to one that I am still struggling with…that’s a whole different thing.  I can point to my scars with confidence, but still find it unbearable to expose my open wounds.

When I wrote a blog on criticism (this is the last time I’ll mention it, I promise), it was met with a flood of kindness and affirmation.  And also a bit of concern and worry for me.  It was the concern that I struggled with.  It was hard enough to write the blog I’d written, but to then be helped…that opened up a whole new level of vulnerability. 

My knee jerk response was to go back online to reassure you all that I was fine.  But the subtext of that, the thing behind the thing, is that I felt embarrassed by your affirmations.  They exposed the vulnerabilities that I was refusing to admit to myself.  Those truths that everyone else sees and we don’t, like a bad comb over.  I needed you.  And I hate to feel needy.

As I read through the responses, not only were the words so affirming, but they revealed to me where I was bleeding.  I had a choice…self-sufficiency or healing.  And that is a really difficult choice for me, because self-sufficiency is like nicotine.  I crave it.

I want to be the encourager, not the encouraged.  I want to lend an arm, but not have to take one.  When I’m sick, I just want to disappear.  When I feel blemished, I want to hide, until the blemish is gone and I look presentable once more.

Truth is light.  It exposes us.  And it sets us free.  If we’ll only come out of the shadows.  Which is why encouragement is so necessary.  Because those soft words allow us to inch out of our shells.  Little by little, until we can see ourselves the way God sees us. 

Encouragement is humbling.  And the humility it brings is so freeing.  It breaks the false myth that vulnerability is weakness.  We know this so confidently when we encourage others.  It is in receiving encouragement that our lie is exposed.

And that’s what you all did for me.  You showed me my false belief that to be helped is weak.  And I stand condemned, in the best way.  If you thought I had this all figured out, which you didn’t, I’m here to say I don’t.  To me.  And to say thank you.  I’ve said before that I love you guys.  Now I’m saying I need you.  Thank you, my friends, for the healing and humbling light of your tender encouragements. 

Day 29: Aging Well by Jeff Tacklind

I’m 45, which, in my mind, puts me right smack in the middle of my life.  Statistically, that is probably way off.  Most likely I left the halfway point back in the dust a few years ago.  But reality aside, this year has been a good one for me in reflecting on where I’ve come from and what lies ahead.  The realization that the memories bucket is heavier than the future possibilities bucket is a bit sobering.  But I’m slowly understanding that the feeling of sobriety is a gift.  There is a freedom in it.

I’m writing a book.  I’ve already told some of you that.  I’ve always wanted to, and now it has gone from mere intention to a firm deadline.  It isn’t just a possibility, it is a responsibility.  In other words, I’ve sold the unfinished product, and I’ve got to make good on the deal.  That isn’t a bad thing.  In fact, it is how I work best. This is why I’ve loved education so much.  Fixed deadlines are just what this procrastinator needs to get the job done.

But I’ve always looked at writing a book as a sort of arrival.  It is an achievement that gives life its weight or meaning.  You’ve left a contribution behind to be remembered by.  Your life has produced a treasure that will remain after you’re gone.  After the years of your life have expired, a part of you remains.

But at 45, with this book becoming a reality, I’m realizing that this whole premise will, once again, let me down.  There is no lasting satisfaction in a master’s degree, or a doctorate, or a senior pastor position, or…gulp…a book.  All we do is push the bar just a little further beyond our reach.  This is a good thing, in a way, because it keeps us moving, growing, pushing for more.  As long as we don’t make the mistake of thinking that this life offers us any sort of arrival.  If the book does well, then what about the next one?

I just read a letter from C.S. Lewis to his friend, Warfield Firor, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins.  In it he shares the fact that he is being compulsorily ‘retired’ from Oxford and would not be receiving the chair position he’d always dreamed of attaining.  In this heartbreaking moment, he realizes that this disappointment, in a way, is a mercy. 

He writes, “I am therefore trying to profit by this new realization of my mortality.  To begin to die, to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus-world has fastened on one.”

In the letter he imagines a world here without aging and death.  What if we lived forever in this world without true fulfillment?  How many of us would have the courage to choose our real destiny elsewhere?  Aging then becomes our companion in unhitching our dreams from this life where ultimate fulfillment eludes us, to our next where our deep appetites are ultimately satisfied.

And therefore, aging is a gift, a mercy.  Even in the sorrows of leaving behind our unrealized dreams, or saying goodbye to friends we love, or parting from a life we’ve found beautiful and dear.  By embracing aging, we free ourselves from, as Lewis puts it, the tentacles, that seek to wring out of life more than it can give.  To turn the momentary pleasures into possessions that ultimately break our hearts. 

But as the tentacles come loose, as we let go of this world, we receive it back for what it truly is.  The momentary pleasures can be savored and then released.  The sunset can be enjoyed without having to possess the view.

Lewis writes, “One ought not to need the gloomy moments of life for beginning detachment, nor be re-entangled by the bright ones.  One ought to be able to enjoy the bright ones to the full and at the very moment have the perfect readiness to leave them, confident that what calls one away is better…”

I’m writing a book.  Not to cling to some notion of ultimate meaning, nor to exist in this world beyond death, nor to give my kids something to fight over when I die.  I’m writing a book, at the midpoint of my life, to celebrate what a gift this life has been.  Beyond that, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Day 28: Authenticity by Jeff Tacklind

A goal of mine, while blogging during Lent, has been to write more authentically.  This is trickier than it sounds, because I’m constantly editing.  And truth be told, that isn’t always a bad thing.  There have definitely been times wisdom has had the final word, by a hair, and prevented me from saying the wrong thing, or even the right thing for the wrong reason.

But authenticity isn’t just a lack of editing.  It is a lack of BS (see there, I just edited.)  And that can be really difficult since we are always trying to project an ideal image of ourselves.  At least, I am. What that ideal might be varies incredibly from person to person, but we all have our strategies.  Even humility can be used to market oneself. 

As I’ve been blogging, I’ve been doing my best to walk that line between what is meaningful and what is simply true.  What is interesting and what is actual.  Writing every day helps.  If something crashes in loudly, it is hard to pick up my pen and write about something else that is easier, or more pithy. 

The other day I wrote a blog about criticism triggered by a letter of complaint I’d received.  I didn’t want to write about it, but I didn’t have a choice.  Either I did it, or I skipped writing that day…which would mean breaking a Lenten commitment, which has dire consequences.  (not really. I just said that for effect.)

And all of you responded so brilliantly with such encouraging words!  I am going to write a separate blog about encouragement, because that alone really worked me, and also did something deep in my heart. But today is about authenticity. 

Writing about that letter of criticism awakened some deep anxiety that is always lurking down there in the bottom of my heart.  It has become my old friend.  The anxiety hit me just after I pushed the ‘save and post’ button.  What have I done?  That was too much!  I’ve overshared.

Why?  Because I feel vulnerable.  I feel exposed.  And now my whole body hurts.  I feel jumpy, worried, weak.  Most of all I feel weak.

Brené Brown writes about telling her counselor that vulnerability feels excruciating and her counselor replies that it is an exquisite emotion.  Her whole premise is that vulnerability is the key to living a whole-hearted life.  Somehow, we must learn to savor the feeling.  To appreciate its exquisiteness.

I can imagine what that must be like.  After all, I hated my first sip of coffee, and now I can’t live without it.  Coffee was too bitter, and now that bitterness is all I want first thing in the morning.

Or the pain of a hard workout.  Who, honestly, wants to feel their legs or arms ache?  But if I pushed through some workout that I wasn’t sure I could survive (Insanity) and made it…well, that pain is almost the reward.  It is the reassurance that I’ve done something I can be proud of.

So here’s my little epiphany for the day.  That the excruciating feeling of vulnerability is the texture of courage.  So many of you responded to me with just that word of encouragement.  When I feel vulnerable, it means I have completed an emotional workout I wasn’t sure I was ready for. 

This doesn’t mean I’m going to go out of my way to write something painful each day, but I’m also not going to run from those feelings when they come.  When they do, I will try my best to associate them with the after effects of bravery.  And do my best to savor the feeling. 

Who knows, I might learn to like it.  Maybe I’ll learn to crave it, like coffee.  Maybe if I’m not vulnerable, by the afternoon, I’ll have a headache.  Either way, thank you all for teaching me a bit more about why authenticity is worth it.  I sure love you guys!

Day 27: Sick Days by Jeff Tacklind

Well...I went home early from work today with a fever.  Lila had it first and then Mia.  I was hoping I'd dodged the bullet, but no such luck.  I'm going to lay low, skip Hapkido, and try not to move.  Just me and A Man Called Ove.  I'll give you a report later. thank you, my friends.  See you tomorrow.