I’m spending Easter in a hospital bed this year. It’s a strange place to celebrate resurrection, because there’s not much new life around here today. Colored eggs and Easter lilies have been replaced with the constant droning of blood pressure machines and IV drips. Honestly, it feels the opposite of alive.

Throwing HIPAA to the wind, I’ll give you a little insight into what’s landed me here. I’ve apparently won the lottery of medical conditions as only 1.5 in 100,000 adults develop CVT (or blood clots in the veins in their head) each year. And we hear the underlying blood condition that formed these clots is even rarer. It’s possible this caused my seizure last month, and the poor flow of blood through my body has also driven my blood pressure to uncomfortable levels.

My cardiologist buddy says you want to bore the doctors with your symptoms, but my docs are giddy with the exhilaration of an explorer on the verge of a unique discovery. They want to bring medical students by my room to quiz me on my condition. I was even told my strange story could be a potential writeup for a medical journal. This is not how you want to become famous.

The symptoms are treatable, and the prognosis is ultimately for a long and normal life. But in the mean time, I’m spending this beautiful Sunday Facetime-ing my way into the family Easter dinner from the second floor of IU West.

hospital

Up until six weeks ago, I would’ve told you I trust God. After all, trust is central to faith. It’s been part of the fabric of my belief system since I was old enough to sing Sunday School songs about it and quote verses like Proverbs 3:5. But let’s face it, it’s easier to trust God when you don’t have to.

And yet here I sit. Full of fear. Full of questions. Forced to trust.

But maybe, just maybe, that’s not so far away from what Easter is all about after all. If you read the Easter account in Scripture, there was plenty of sorrow and despair to go around. Jerusalem was somber, the disciples were in hiding, women were weeping. Their dreams had been shattered. Their dreams. Their picture of life. Their image of Jesus, who He was, and what He was there to do.

That first Easter morning they were undoubtedly swimming in sorrow, confessing their frustration, and fears, and confusion, and complete inability to control anything that had been so important to them. And from that place of complete loss…

Resurrection.

I followed Pastor Glenn Packiam’s Easter sermon via Twitter from my hospital bed this morning, and I think He said it quite beautifully:

“Resurrection life begins when we say, ‘I give up.’ It’s self reliance that leads to death.”
-@gpackiam

I woke up this morning with zero confidence in me. I’ve got nothing left. No control, only trust. I give up.

Perhaps that makes this hospital room the perfect place to celebrate Easter. If resurrection begins where self-reliance ends, I’ve never been more alive.

My son’s overactive imagination has been getting the best of him lately. He’s a creative little guy, and that gift has been betraying him. Especially at bedtime. And so each night, I find myself sitting on the edge of his bed, brushing his hair back with my calloused fingers, conjuring up well-known words of fatherly encouragement and perspective as he slowly drifts off to sleep.

It’s alright buddy, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Daddy’s right around the corner. You’re not alone, I’m right here.

Stop dreaming up things to worry about, use your creativity to imagine beautiful things.

You’re gonna be fine kiddo. Close your eyes and think about how much you’re loved.

And then I walk across the hall, put on my pajamas, brush my teeth, climb under my covers, and stare at the ceiling while my own overactive imagination produces a neverending parade of potential trouble, crisis, and worst case scenarios.

Am I lying to my son or just ignoring my own advice?

Don’t be afraid. 

You’re not alone.

Your Father is right here with you.

Don’t worry,

Let your mind dream of beautiful things.

Close your eyes and think about how much you’re loved.

If it’s true for him, it’s true for me, too. Maybe it’s time to listen…

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
–Philipians 4:8 MSG

The last thing I remember was telling my daughter to repeat the first line of her new song. We still had a few minutes to practice before we left for her school concert, and she was finally making some progress on her new piano piece. My wife was upstairs getting ready, and I wanted to take advantage of the time.

And then, just like that, I was in the back of an ambulance.

Confused.

Terrified.

Excruciating pain in my lower back.

Zero recollection of the previous 20 minutes.

Out of nowhere, at age 39, I suffered a grand mal seizure. Lost consciousness. Stopped breathing. My wife and kids thought I was dead. And if that wasn’t traumatic enough, I also fractured three vertabrae on my not so graceful tumble to the ground. I can suggest better ways to spend a Tuesday evening.

AB14979

I’ve had plenty of downtime over the last week to think, to worry, to be afraid, to feel guilty for my self-pity in light of other’s much darker plights, to be angry at my four decade old body for not bouncing back as fast as I think it should. But of all the pending plot lines, one story seems to be rising above the rest.

I’m a broken human being. Quite literally broken. I’ve got the MRI and CT Scans to prove it. And that’s incredibly frustrating.

At this stage of my life, I need to be stronger. I need to be wiser. I need to be the kind of leader, and father, and husband, and friend that people can lean back into without my spine (actually) crumbling under the weight. In fact, that’s what I’ve been begging God for over the past few months – to make me stronger! And yet here I am, having never felt more weak. I pray for one noble thing, for the power to steward the growing responsibilities being placed on me, and I get the exact opposite. What kind of promise is that?

And then He whispers…

“‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” –2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT

Sometimes God gives us exactly what we ask for, even when we don’t understand what we’re asking for. Sometimes the most empowering gift we can receive is learning that we’re not the One in power. Sometimes the strength we long for requires us to embrace our weakness.

I don’t know what you’re facing today. It might be much more catastrophic than an unclassified seizure or a fractured back. All I can tell you is that it’s ok to be feeble, to be broken, to be weak. Real strength is found in the most counterintuitive places.

When I left my job in full-time ministry, I thought my pastoring days were behind me. I was trading coffee shop counseling sessions for board room strategy sessions, Oswald Chambers for the Wall Street Journal, pulpits for P&L’s. Who needs a pastor in key leadership of a money-making enterprise? It was time to let go of the identity I had fostered for 12 years of vocational service to the church. It just wasn’t needed anymore.

Boy was I wrong.

I don’t preach on Sundays (unless I’m filling in for a friend) and my paycheck no longer comes from a church, but other than that not much has changed about who I am and what I do every day.

Waiting2

David Lindsey, owner and CEO of Defender Direct here in Indy, likes to say “businesses don’t grow, people do.” As people get healthy, as they embrace their identity, learn to communicate honestly, face their fears, connect to one another, and mobilize around a vision greater than themselves, the trajectory of the business tends to get healthier, too. If this is true, I think more businesses could use a pastor (or twelve).

Some of you have the gifts of a pastor but find yourself in the business world. Don’t wait for a church gig, you’re needed where you are.

Don’t get frustrated by budgets and sales calls, maintenance requests, customer complaints, that overbearing supervisor, or the stress of another major deadline. (Honestly, that stuff is just part of life). Look at the people. Serve the people. They desperately need what you can add to their lives and to the culture of the organization. Breathe life. Bring hope.

Your gifts as a pastor aren’t locked up in your job description or in the “sanctity” of your company’s business model. Your business needs you be the pastor that you are, right where you are, right now (not when your church staff finally has an opening).

Will you do it?

NOTE: When I say pastor, I don’t mean condescending proselytizer, I mean lover of people. Leave room for the Gospel to do its work.

I’m giving up self-righteousness for Lent.

I don’t even know if you can do that. Does that qualify? I don’t come from a faith tradition that regularly observes the church seasons, but I see all my Facebook friends giving up sugar, or television, or even Facebook itself, and I think “that’s good….wow, that’s gonna be tough….I hope they can pull it off.”

What’s something I hold onto more tightly than anything? What’s something I could lay down as a sacrifice during this Lenten season?

My self-righteousness.

I know, I know. It sounds all existential doesn’t it? But the last few years have reminded me of something incredibly important.

I’m a broken mess.

Now you wouldn’t really know it to look at me. I’m not a heroin addict. I don’t run around on my wife. I’ve got a good job, live in a respectable neighborhood, do my best to love my kids and give my life to those around me. The addiction I migrate back to isn’t going to land me in any rehab I know of. It’s socially acceptable. In fact, it’s socially admired.

It’s my belief in me.

I want to fix myself. I want to earn my way. I want to be admired and respected. I want you to think I’m more than I am. I want my good deeds to outweigh my bad. I want to control my own destiny. I want to be my own Savior.

And even though I fail every single time, I crawl right back and try again.

I need the Gospel. I need Jesus. The only One who can really fix what’s wrong with me. The only one who can redeem the power and potential that’s inside of me.

I can’t. But He did.

Jesus did.

And so this Lenten season I’m laying down my self-salvation projects. And if it’s all the same to you, with God’s help, I’m not going to pick them back up again.

If you begin recognizing Lent today, don’t allow the ritual to lose its meaning. Let it point you to Jesus. He’s the only place righteousness can be found.