Friday, January 16, 2009

Your Presence in the Present

"When you are fully engaged in what you are doing your mind doesn't wander. You enjoy life. And you are happier and more effective. You are intent only on what is happening at that moment. And that focus and concentration leads to your success." - The Old Man, a sage in Spencer Johnson's book The Present
A friend of mine named Steve gave me this book back in April of 2005. He wrote this inscription in the front to me, and I share it now, almost 4 years later, because I long for it to be true today:
Brian - To you, my dear Brother in Christ.
To you who values the past without dwelling on it; who learns from it and humors those around you with its memories; but who refuses to live in it or be held captive by it.
To you who ponders, plans, prepares and studies for what lies ahead in the future, and yet, who wisely leaves it all up to God to direct his steps and those of his family into the future, knowing what certainly lies ahead for him and those he loves and cherishes; the ultimate reward of eternal life with the Father, the Son & Holy Spirit...all so good...
But, you, who lives with such passion for the present, because it is in that time frame of "now" that you live with such enthusiasm, joy, passion and servitude, because there is never another "now." You have discovered the power and potential of the present. Do wonders with this book as you share its meaning with others.
Full engagement in what I'm doing. Shew! What an elusive thing for me these days.
I have had moments and even season of life that I can look back on and see how this was a good description of me. And it is true, that they are the most joy-filled and productive times of my life. The funny thing is, I'm not aware of it when I'm doing it (a by-product, I think, of being fully engaged with what I'm doing), but I am hyper-aware of it when I am not.
I know, I know. Awareness is half the battle. True that. But the other half of the battle, to get back to living in the present, with whoever I am with, or with whatever I am doing, and nothing or no one else, is quite a battle indeed.
My attention on the present is viciously attacked by so many good things. For me, it's not the past that haunts me (with it's accompanying feelings of regrets, or guilt, or anger). Nor is it the future that distracts me (with it's temptation to get lost either in worry over it's uncertainty or my responsibility to plan and work towards making it better).
No, for me, the current attacks come from so many good choices that I have in which I could invest. And they come from multiple realms of priority.
* I could call a friend in need (I have plenty).
* I could call a friend not need (I have plenty of them too).
* Which friend should I call?
* Should I invest in grad school or not? If so where? What focus area would best serve God's will for my future?
* What is God's will for my future?
* Are there other alternatives to grad school (an academic track) that might be better for me (a more contemplative track)? Where would I begin discovering the options?
* I'd like to record an entry in one of my kid's journals. Which of my children's journals should I write in, and which story do I want to record?
* I could put some more time into my sermon for this week.
* Look at all the people on that prayer list...who, and how many, should I call? Visit?
* How's my wife's heart?
* Which elder should I call for lunch to see how they are doing, and how I might be able to help in their personal pursuit of our vision?
* I could always use some shepherding as well.
* Which of my co-workers could I get some time with?  
* I'm performing a wedding of a close friend soon. I'd love to dream a little for that.
* Do I take the sabbatical that is available to me this year? Do I need it? What will my focus be through it this time?
* What about the next sermon series after this one? That needs some planning and thought.
* I really should keep up with my physical exercise.
* Whoa...just remembered that my checkbook needs balancing and some bills need paid.
* It's been weeks since I took some time alone with God down in the canyon.
* I've got 3 incredibly helpful books I'm in the middle of.
* I'd like to arrange some time with one of my kids tonight after I get home.
* I've got some special company coming in to stay with us for the long weekend that I'll get to spend time with. So which value can wait to be expressed or acted upon until after they leave? Better do that now.
* I have at least 4 of these blog pieces begun and not finished in my draft box. I'd really like to see each one through.
I'm not complaining here, mind you (who could, with such a blessed 'to-do' list as that). I'm merely reporting.
And in all honesty, I'm probably writing this so that I can exercise my need to be fully present with this idea that I need to be fully present.
May God bless us with full engagement in all that we hold dear, one thing at at time.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Beauty that God Establishes - Happy Birthday, Callie.doc

“A daughter is a gift of love.” – Author Unknown

I celebrated my wife two days ago on our anniversary, and today I get to celebrate the other girl in my life on her sweet 7-year-old daughter...Callie Jakin Mashburn.

Some of you might not know that that the name "Callie" means "Beauty." Fewer still probably know that "Jakin" means "God Establishes."

That is my sweet C.J. - she is the "Beauty that God Establishes."

This morning, as she ran over next to my bed, I rose up to my elbows and asked her if I could ask her something. With that big smile, she said yes.

“Can I come have lunch with you today at school?”

Now maybe the day will come when this is THE LAST thing my daughter wants…to be seen with her dad at school (wow, I’m really looking forward to that, let me tell ya). But for now, I get to enjoy her sheer excitement about such a simple gesture of time together.

With her mouth opened wide, and an uncontrollable jumping up and down seizure, she said “yes!” interrupted abruptly with the very serious request (demand, maybe) of “I want Chic-Fil-A”.

I left the office at 11:15. Got her food, and was there a couple of minutes before her class would arrive in the cafeteria. Her big brother Shade was at a special dining table, decorated and joined by 5 other students up on the stage, with their own dining music. He had purchased this special lunch with his “Belmar Bucks” (dollars he earns at Belmar Elementary for good behavior).

Then in came Callie. She grabbed my hand and took me right over to our own table. I tell ya, when I slow down and look in the face of my daughter, I’m just floored with awe. She is so beautiful. Inside and out. Her heart bubbles with excitement and energy. Her deep red hair is so sharp, noticed by everyone (a teacher had to stop and touch it today as she passed the table), and frames such deep eyes, and a photo frame cute smile. When I slow down and look at Callie, I’m just so honored to get to be with her.

We had a lively conversation, ranging from the sleepover b-day party she’s having tomorrow night, to what she did in class this morning, to how much she likes her teacher Mrs. Embry. And almost as if the stars are just aligned for her benefit today, her big brother descends from his high and honorable perch up on the stage just to come over and get Callie’s attention. He stands her up and gives her a big hug and says “Happy Birthday, Callie”. Wow. Big brother, 2 years older, in front of God and all his classmates, hugging his sis.

She was already glowing, but now she just sat down and slowly reached for her next chicken nugget with a quiet smile and sober radiance that made me think she was enjoying a feeling that she couldn’t put words to. The feeling of assurance…confirmation of what mom and dad try to tell her all the time…evidence that is making her believe, if only for a moment, a truth that is assaulted viciously all the time…“I must really…no, really…I must really, actually be…special.”

Yes, yes you are, Callie.

I couldn’t resist. I said, “You know you are very special, right, Callie?”

She cocked her head sideways with a coy smile and said, “Yes.”

I love you very much, Callie. Thank you for letting me accompany you on another year of adventure, growth, and love.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." - St. John


"Love is the fulfillment of the law." - St. Paul


"When you are in love you can't fall asleep because reality is better than your dreams." - Dr. Seuss


One of the ways that I learned what love is came to me over a two year period that started about 15 years ago. 


I met a beautiful girl with flowing red hair and a dynamite smile that literally sparkled and lit up the room. And it was in a very energetic room full of 100's of very loving people when I did meet her, and even in this impressive collection of human beings, her lively and loving spirit stood out. She was captivating.



I was just one of the 100's of people in the room to her, as far as I knew. But that was only as far as I knew.


Little did I know that something special was happening to me. I didn't know, because what was happening to me was happening inside of her. Stirring inside of her, without me knowing, was a pooling of all of her strength and resolve, all of her kindness, and all of her capacity to give sacrificially. All the ingredients of this powerful force for good was collecting in her heart and being directed at me, deciding to give the greatest gift that she could give, and that I could ever receive...her love…hoping, but with no strings attached.


I don't know why it happened, but she did something that to this same beautiful girl continues to do to this day. 


She chose me.


Wherever that comes from, that capacity in her to choose me, to lay down her life for me, I will always, always, always be grateful to God. 




Over the next two years she continued to choose me when I would give her no guarantee of my choosing her. She committed to love me faithfully without demanding that I know whether I would "end up" making the same commitment to loving her. When I finally did, I realized that she had been my greatest lesson ever on what loving like Christ loves looks like in the flesh.


With my love and capacity to choose now awakened, through her patience and consistence, thirteen years ago today, she legally committed to me in the covenant of marriage. She submitted to all the laws of the land and signed all the legal documents that contractually bind her to me. Lawfully, she is my partner in this thing called marriage. To some, the idea of this legal binding looks and sounds quite intimidating.


But not to her.


Her love was already so much larger, so much more committal, more was already so altogether superior in cost and risk compared to what was being demanded by the law in marriage...that she hardly noticed it. Her love continues to this day to be the fulfillment of the law...and so much more. Laws are just plain painful if they are not fulfilled in and by love.


This beautiful girl, Carrie, chooses me and the costly, dangerous, invested, non-routine sort of life that I seem to need to live every day, in so many ways, large and small (and the small ways are really the largest). She dreams big, loves large, gives fearlessly, creates purposefully and makes so many of my ideas take actual, practical shape in reality. She’s my inspiration.



Sort of because I'm a freak, I do these visualization things, where "I imagine suffering the greatest losses that I can imagine". (NOTE: I live in a life where pain, loss, change,  & tragedy are commonplace...and I (sometimes) watch people who react to it (understandably) quite poorly. Who am I to think that I am exempt from such loss? In life, that potential is always there. I’d rather be prepared for it emotionally, even over and above financially. I guess I visualize it because if any of it ever happens, I don't want it to be the first time I've considered having to deal with it.)


Whenever I'm moved to visualize the sudden loss of my beautiful Carrie, at the part when I turn to who it is I look to for comfort, understanding, compassion, support, help, challenge, inspiration, service, listening, and a "I-will-die-here-with-you-in-your-pain" kind of love...she's not there, because that person is Carrie.


It's usually at night when I engage in this spiritual work...and I always end it compelled to either 1) open my eyes and look at Carrie sleeping or 2) reach over and gently touch her cheek in the darkness, or both…grateful for the grace of God. See, while I believe in His love enough to know that I would survive, and that even through the great difficulty of her loss could even thrive, in her absence, I’m grateful to God that for yet another day He has decided to show me, once again, what love looks like through her presence.


To have a real live woman who believes in you, who sees more deeply into your heart than you do sometimes, and can see only the good, not because that is all there is, but because she chooses to…is a dream. And it is a dream that makes you become what she sees.


My life when I am awake is better than any dream I’ve ever had when asleep.



Thank you, Carrie. I love you. Happy Thirteenth Anniversary.