January 1, 2016

Live The List

I cut my toenails the other day. I don’t do it as often as I should, I guess. At least that’s what my wife tells me. I cut them out of necessity. When they start to bug me, I cut them. It creeps my wife and daughter out sometimes. But, they are my toenails, not theirs. Leave me alone.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Why does he wait?” (Maybe you aren’t. I’m hoping my story so far has you intrigued and will help you to continue reading!) The main reason is that I don’t like to bend over. I’ve been “husky” my whole life. Having to bend over to clip my toenails isn’t very enjoyable. I know. It’s sad. It’s my life. Let me live it!

As I thought about this the other day, I thought of the Guinness Book of World Records, specifically the lady who has the world’s longest fingernails. Seriously, someone has endured not cutting her finger nails and dealing with the inconvenience of it for a record. I’m sure there’s probably someone with world record toenails–I was afraid to google that one. It amazes me the things people will endure to be the best at something.

It is the same way in other things, I guess. Athletes give hours upon hours each day to be the best. I watched a PBS thing on piano players a month or two ago. As they interviewed the pianists, they all shared that they practiced at least 4 to 6 hours a day, if not more.

It makes me realize some things. One, I’m not a world record holder. Not in anything. Not, even in being lazy. I’m not committed to giving anything 4 to 6 hours a day. I guess I could give something that much time, but what else in my life would suffer from it?

Two, I should track my time. As I sit here ant think about that 4 to 6 hour commitment or wonder if I would/could ever give anything the 10,000 hours needed to become a master at it. Tracking my time would probably reveal that I am a master at wasting seconds, minutes, and hours.

Three, I am mediocre at pretty much everything. Sure, I’m good at some things, but I don’t feel I’m “great” at them. I certainly don’t push myself on any one thing. I do what I need to get by. Unfortunately, I’ve been ok with it. This is extremely scary, especially when I read Revelation 4:14-22. Hot nor cold.

Good thing it is January 1st, right? With a new year, it is time for a new me. It is time for some change. I don’t want to be a world record holder, especially of toenails. However, I do want to have discipline in my life. I want to do more than just waste time and get by.

With that being said, here are some of the things I plan to do this year. (I’m throwing them out right here in this place so that others can see. Maybe someone will also about them. I promise to answer truthfully.)

One: PBJ Every Day
PBJ is my creation. Prayer. Bible. Journal. It is what I call my devotion time. The challenge for me is doing this every day. I do well some days, but not others. Specifically, I’m going to:

Read through the Bible again this year. If there is one thing I have been decent at, its been reading through the Bible every year. At one point I was a month and a half behind-but it was important to me so I caught up. I’ll be following this plan on YouVersion this year.

I’m going to pray more. I have a prayer list that is built into my calendar. The problem is, I don’t use it as much as I should. The daily thing has to be a constant this year.

Journaling will be a part of my praying. I’ll continue to do what I do, only I’ll do it more consistently.

Two: Fasting Two Days A Month
I’ve never been good at fasting. It is a spiritual discipline that my friends have enjoyed and found much worth in. Plus, we see fasting all throughout the Bible as a way to engage with God more than normal. I am going to shoot for 2 days a month. I have a feeling this will go up. but I knew if I put down once a week I would fail.

Three: Read 26 Books
I always have the desire to read more, but never make time for it. I had to read in college and seminary, but have really gotten out of practice. So, I’m going to read a book every two weeks. I certainly have a backlog of books I’ve purchased and gotten for free (gotta love publishers putting out free ebooks from time to time)

Four: Lose 50 Pounds
Yes. This just got real. When I started my ministry at South Lansing Christian Church, I weighed around 250 pounds. I don’t weigh that anymore. The internet BMI says I should weigh 150 to 200 pounds at my height. That is laughable. I think I weighed 150 pounds in 5th grade. That is not attainable. I do believe that 250 or 260 is, though.

To do this, I need to slow my eating and accelerate my moving. Probably should quit drinking so much diet coke and drink more water, also. And, no fourth meal.

Losing 5 pounds a month would put me under my goal by this time next year. That doesn’t sound too bad.

Five: Plan and Track My Time
I read a lot on productivity. Funny thing, reading hasn’t translated into action. What I’ve learned is that there are many, many ways to be productive. The amount of tools, apps, books, methods, and what not is mind boggling. None of it matters if you don’t use it.

This year I’ll be planning my week with specific times for what I’m going to do. I used to just keep a list. It worked ok, but not as well as I want it to.

Most important, once I set aside time for things, I need to use that time to do what I said I would. Pray that I have the discipline to do this. I’ll be using Sunrise Calendar and Toggl to do this. When I’ve been disciplined, I’ve actually been productive. Discipline is the key.

Looking at the list above, it doesn’t seem too bad. I believe I can do it. I am going to do it. What about you? What are your aspirations for the new year? I would guess that while you don’t aspire for the world’s longest toenails, there are things you want to be better at in your life. Take some time to reflect and pray today. Use whatever medium works for you (paper, pen, phone, computer, stone & chisel) and make a list.

Once you make the list, you need to live the list. I’m going to live mine. If you want accountability, send me your list. We can create an email group or something to encourage one another. Come on…lets go!

November 25, 2015

The Parking Lot

Every day we drive my wife and I drive our daughter to and from school. Plus, I completely enjoy the car time with my daughter. Sometimes we are silly as we drive. Other times we study spelling words. And other times, we are simply quiet, taking in the sunshine and newness of the day while trying to wake up. When we get to school, she runs off to the unorganized mob of 5th and 6th graders waiting for the bell.

In the morning, the school parking lot is a bit chaotic. Everyone jostling for the prime place to deliver their pre-teen cargo to the school yard. Impatience reigns supreme. No rule is left pure. One example is the bus lane. At the beginning of the year and almost weekly, the principal states that parents dropping off and picking up students need to stay out of the bus lane. It is for buses. That’s why it is called the bus lane. Not very difficult to grasp, in my opinion. Yet, nearly every day a parent flies down the lane at light speed so they can drop off their kid and avoid the long lines in the designated drop off areas. It is a microcosm of how messed up I think we really are as a people–thinking we deserve something more than the rules and order provides, trying to beat out the next person with selfish efficiency.

I do what I can to avoid the chaos in the parking lot. I proceed with caution to one of the lesser congested areas and pull in a spot next to a teacher’s truck that is always poorly parked. To make things easy, this is also where I pick up Hannah. She knows that if I’m the driver, I’ll be somewhere in that section where I dropped her off. If her mother is picking her up, she’ll be across the way. Its a good system.

Unfortunately, that system failed today. I was in my normal area. I was a few parking spots east of where I normally am, but I was in the appropriate section like normal. However, there was no Hannah.

Understand, that with every eleven year old girl, there is a routine. It goes like this–the bell rings releasing the Kraken to escape the bowels of the school. They spread like ravenous beasts to the buses and their parents cars. Then, the parental units and guardians of said beasts race out of the lot like there is a zombie apocalypse. In the matter of 5 minutes, over 400 students and teachers vanish into suburbia. As all of this is going on around us, my daughter and her friend Zoe leisurely exit the school. They connect at their lockers following the last bell. They walk out together chattering along the way as they proceed to the space of chaos where Zoe’s mom parks. (She’s brave–she goes to the main entrance.) This process easily takes up to 5 minutes, if not more.

Today, however, Hannah didn’t show up. I looked in my rearview mirror to the abyss that normally holds Zoe’s family minivan wondering if they were standing there laughing and giggling. At this point, I am not too concerned. They are pre-teen girls. Slowness compounded by girl talk equals what seems like an eternity.

After a few more moments of sidewalk scanning, the freakout meter in my brain began to work. It was time for me to to get out of the car and go looking for her. Normally that is a no-no. To keep the cool/under the radar factor in place, I must stay in the car, lest we make pick up time be like primary school and force unwanted attention onto our offspring. I was beginning to be concerned, so the cool dad bit was tossed.

Fortunately, as soon as I stepped out of the car, I spotted my daughter on the sidewalk with a teacher. From a distance, I could tell she was crying. Trying to keep my dad awkwardness on the down low, I shouted and waived at her so she would see me. Unfortunately, there was no relief or joy when she saw me. She continued to cry as she walked towards me. As she got closer, she began to sob. For a dad, it was heart wrenching. I’m the dad. I must solve everything!!! I hugged her for a moment then asked what was wrong. Through the sobs, she shared that she thought I had forgotten her or that I had been in an accident because I wasn’t there, even though I was. She’d been waiting for me, while I was there all along.

It took almost the whole car ride home for her to calm down. Even in my presence, relief and peace were slow to come. Even as I assured her that I am the most trustworthy thing ever besides Jesus in her life, there was no relief.

Later this evening, while we were driving to Ohio for the holiday, my mind played back over the scene at the school. How could she not have seen me there? To add to the mess of that moment, Hannah didn’t realize that she had left her clarinet at the school till we had driven all the way home. That led to more frustration and more tears. It simply wasn’t a good afternoon.

Here is the humbling/learning part of it all. Like my daughter, I’ve had rough couple of days in my life. Things simply aren’t playing out the way I would want them to play out in a few areas of my life. Its nothing that I have control of, yet have to deal with the consequences of. In those moments, life is weighty. So weighty, that it kept me up on Monday night–thinking, praying, and journaling. In those late hours, I had an aha moment where everything seemed to finally make sense–where peace was able to reign in my soul again.

Tonight as I drove, my mind connected the two. All too often, we as Christians stand on the sidewalk of life, completely overwhelmed because we don’t think our God has shown up. For whatever reason we cannot see him. He’s not there in the parking lot like we think he is supposed to be. Yet, He is.

Hannah thought she had looked all over and didn’t see me. Yet, I was right there, a few spaces up from the bad parking teacher. Even when she saw me, there was little relief.

How similar we are. In my life I can continually be looking for God, wondering if he will ever show up in the things that matter to me. All too often, I find myself asking rather franticly, “Where are you?” Those are not good places to be. Even more, in the process, we freak out, losing ourselves in the fear of emptiness that we feel.

What is the point? We are no different than overly emotional pre-teens? Maybe. I think there is a little more to it.

My daughter has been learning her whole life about how steadfast and trustworthy her dad really is. I do everything I can. I will do everything I can to be perfection for the girl so she learns to trust in me. I want her to rely on me, on the good that I strive to be in her life. The way she learns that is by being around me, engaging with me, and having moments like today.

How are we learning about the perfection of God’s steadfast and trustworthiness? Do we only rely on him and lean in when there is a crisis? When else should we be learning? Are we making time to study Him and learn about his nature in the easy times, when we can see that he is there in the car in the lot, right where he is supposed to be?

Every day I am Hannah’s father, I come to realize there is more that I don’t know and more that I need to learn so I can be the best for her. She is my child. She deserves the best. I want the best for her. I will give everything I am so she can have it, just like God the Father does for us.

Let us never stop learning about who God is. Let us continually lean on His perfection.

October 5, 2015

The Apple Barrel

Right now I’m sitting on the couch in front of my fireplace. It is the first fire of the season in the Lowman household. I enjoy fires in the fireplace. The smell of the burning wood, the warmth of the fire, and crackle and popping sounds that ring out are all nostalgic to me.

When I was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for my family to get a call from Aunt Kay and Uncle Claude stating that there was a fire going in the fireplace. We would pile in the car for the 10 minute drive and hang out for the evening. Those evenings were so enjoyable. We would laugh with one another, cook hot dogs over the fire, roast marshmallows. Those were the days…days when life seemed much more simple and slow.

With the fire tonight, I am having a cup of hot cider, if you want to call it that. The cider is not that good. I have never really found a cider that matches up the cider I helped make when I was in high school. My first real job was at Varian Orchards in East Canton, Ohio. I started right at the beginning of my junior year of high school. It was a cool job. That fall I picked apples every day after school till it got dark–all the way to the top of a wooden 16’ ladder leaned up against the red delicious apple trees. It is a wonder I didn’t die….

At Varians, Saturday was cider day. We would make a couple hundred gallons or more. The process was this. Put apples into the hopper. A machine chopped and pummeled them into bits. Down below the chopper, workers would smooth the apple pummel into wool blankets that were placed on slats. After each blanket was filled, a new slat was placed on top and the process was repeated until there was a stack high enough to barely fit under the hydraulic press, which is where the magic happened.

In this whole process, my job was simple–put apples into the hopper at the top and empty the pummel rags after each pressing. Mr. Varian was very particular about the apples going into the hopper. We started with 3 crates of one type of apple, 3 of the next type, and then 3 of another type–all of which I don’t remember. We would continue that cycle till the stainless steel tank was 3/4 of the way full. At that point, Mr. Varian would taste it. From there the recipe would be altered to achieve the exact same desired taste.

Week after week after week, it was the same process. The result was amazing apple cider that always had the same taste. Not too much of one apple or too much of another. An added bonus when one of the other workers would bring donuts. Fresh, incredible cider and donuts? Yes, please?!

The only downfall of the whole process was emptying the pummel rags. I had to shake them onto a cart that was half rotten because its only purpose was to hold the leftovers from the apple cider making process. As the temps got colder, the deck of the cart got more slippery. The worst of all was the fact that all the apple juice would turn my hands brown for a day or two (picture how an apple browns when left to the open air. Now apply that to hands).

I learned a lot in my 9 or 10 months of work at Varians. I learned there there were many varieties of apples. I learned that raking acorns and leaves from 4 giant oak trees was a horrible experience. I learned how to prune fruit trees in the dead of winter. I got to see the beauty of 1000s of apple trees in full bloom.

Most of all, I learned about hard work and doing what you were told. I had my first experience with not fully doing my job–wire brushing the cider slats. The next time I saw Mr. Varian was not an enjoyable experience. It was the first time someone other than family leaned into me verbally. Man, he was angry! Luckily, my inability to follow directions and finish a job didn’t result in the place being shut down.

Thank you, Mr. Varian, for helping me begin to learn what hard work was, what it should be.

April 3, 2015

The Night Before

How long into the night did the betrayal of Jesus go? Was everything over by now? Are the disciples still reclining in the upper room uneasy about all the Jesus has been saying and his action of washing their feet. Do they get it yet? Maybe they are asleep in the garden right now?

If all has been said and done, how is Peter feeling right now? Has he denied Jesus yet, or is he simply stewing in his over the top personality, frustrated that Jesus said he would deny him three times. “It isn’t going to happen! I have Jesus’ back!”

And then there is the guard who got whacked in the ear with the sword. How does he handle the night? Does he know of the Jesus before being sent into the dark to get him? How angry is he when he takes a sword to the head? Is he happy that Peter has bad aim? Even more, what does he do when Jesus heals his ear? I know what my reaction would be: “I’M OUT!!! DID YOU SEE WHAT HE JUST DID? I’M NOT TYING HIS HANDS UP!”

Or, if we want to go really dark, what are the teachers of the law and the priests feeling right know? Do they have the eager stomach butterflies that you get when you are on the edge of something big? Are they confident in their actions? Are they prideful? I think they are probably a bit skeptical. They’ve been in the place before when they almost had Jesus. He’s a slippery one, always getting away. Are they simply waiting until he’s finally dead to relax?

As I have mulled over the Scriptures and stories for today, one thing in all of these stories grips me. Every one of the people in the story has no idea how upside down life will be in a few days. They have expectations of what could happen and of what they want to happen, but they have no idea…

Here’s the question that has haunted me the most today. I know the end of the story. I know what happens. How am I allowing that to change me? Do I have any expectations?

Stop and chew on those two questions for awhile. Shut the music off and close the tab for Facebook and Twitter. Be still for a few moments and reflect on the Cross of Christ and ask those two questions: How am I allowing that to change me? Do I have any expectations?

How are you allowing the Light to penetrate your life? How are you, in turn, being the Light to others?