Full Plates and Starved Lives

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

For those of you who have ever resided with a teenager, you too may be intimately familiar with that particular declaration. It is, quite possibly, the phrase I hear spoken most often by my beloved son. I quickly came to recognize the challenges of satiating the hunger that comes with an active body, growing from a child into a man. Unless you love being in the kitchen – of which, I do not – one or two meals are all I am prepared to concoct. That leaves satisfying his hunger in-between meals entirely to him. The sequencing of events goes something like this: He declares his hunger. I offer several nutritious options; he opts for a bag of chips or other junk food, providing momentary satisfaction – but empty calories are not sustaining – leading him back to me a few hours later with further, “I’m hungry” utterances.

While I’m tempted to roll my eyes at his repeated folly, I would have to admit the landscape of my life can look much the same way. I feast on achievement. I snack on control, power, and security. I nibble on relationships, love, and praise.

If I could shed ten pounds. GULP!

If I could secure this raise.  SLURP!

If I could just get him/her to change. CHOMP!

If I could purchase….. GLUG!

I consume until my belly becomes distended. I dine until my plate is full. And then it’s God’s turn to lovingly raise His eyebrows at me when I turn towards Him and say, “I’m still hungry.” 

With each day, whether or not we are aware of it, we embark on a journey to crest the summit of abundant life. Since the creation of mankind, man has sought this zenith. What determines and defines abundant life is unique to each of us. For some, its roots are based in fulfilling relationships. Others seek to embrace the experiences and wonder this life and our world have to offer. Still, others pursue influence, in its various forms, to author and enable change. Our characterization of abundant life is as dynamic as it is distinctive. It evolves over time: as we age, obtain new experiences and knowledge, as we define and clarify our values, as our circumstances and external environment reshape our perspectives. By themselves, or in combination, these pursuits are worthy and good. So how is it that we can often feel bloated and famished at the same time?

Much like I stock our pantry, our world is filled with a bounty of tasty morsels intended for our enjoyment. When we partake without intentionality, what would have been sustenance can quickly morph into empty calories. As we stand before the storeroom of life, surveying its contents and considering our choices, our mindset will ultimately determine what we reach for; we will either be relief-focused or purpose-focused.

When we are relief-focused we are most concerned with a reprieve from pain, discomfort, and distress. We tend to reach for that which will quickly alleviate the gnawing sensation in the pit of our stomach. While we may immediately dull the ache, we fail to address and, or recognize the source of our need. In much the same way our brain triggers a hunger signal, not because we need food in our belly, but because we need nutrition in our system, our heart will alert us to aspects of life which are less than they were intended to be. When we neglect the root of our longings, our lives can become obese with broken relationships, overloaded schedules, and stretched finances.

Keep in mind, there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing a relief-focused remedy. The nature of freedom is that it gives rise to choice; we can choose relief or purpose. At times, relief is exactly what we need. When relief becomes our default, either because we don’t recognize an alternative or because we don’t know how to pursue one, we become bound to a life that is less than; forfeiting the very freedom we long for.

When we are purpose-focused we put-off immediate gratification and withstand the ache while we do the work to achieve a greater aspiration. Being purpose-focused directs our sights towards that which is beyond our immediate craving; remedying the source of our longing rather than the symptom. In doing so, we not only pursue our objectives but along the way we discover we are stronger, more courageous, and more adaptable than we had previously believed. We endure loneliness while we seek deep connection. We go back to school to broaden our horizons. We invest in healing old wounds so present relationships may flourish. We curtail our spending on frivolous purchases to reinvest in meaningful consumption. When we nourish our souls in a purpose beyond the “now,” it lifts us from our present circumstances and engages our hearts in a greater calling. Then we can dine and be satisfied.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Retire from the Self-Worth Sweatshop

Constructed between the years 1675 – 1710 St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most astounding sites in London. Among its architectural achievements, it boasts of the first triple-domed cathedral in the world. When Sir Christopher Wren embarked on erecting the dome, which stands 366 feet high and weighs approximately 66,000 tons – equivalent to 20,000 elephants – such an engineering feat had never been accomplished.

The weight of this massive dome is supported by 8 stone piers.

In the early 20th-century, city officials concerned about the integrity of these hollow piers and perceived imminent danger of collapse recommended the piers be replaced. To strengthen the structural integrity of the pillars the clergy commissioned that each of the hollow columns be filled with liquid concrete. In 1941, during WWII, a direct hit on St. Paul’s destroyed the vaulted roof over the crypt and punched a hole through the cathedral floor. Ironically, had the piers not been reinforced the triple-dome of St. Paul’s would have collapsed.

We all have hollow pillars.

They are that which we erroneously rely on to support our self-esteem. They are the titles we seek: father, wife, accountant, volunteer. They are the power we pursue: financial, intellectual, influential. They are the image we project: successful, athletic, attractive. Life has a way of seducing us into expending enormous amounts of energy erecting one pillar after another with the promise that with our self-constructed piers we will finally feel…whole. And so, we labor under a false façade, clinging to one pillar or another for stability only to find momentary footing. In our longing to be loved, valued, accepted, welcomed, we toil hoping that what we do, or what we have, will once and for all validate who we are.

When we depend upon hollow pillars to bear the weight of our self-worth, they will sustain us for a while, eventually however, our self-esteem can become so frail that we ourselves begin to feel vacant. Somewhere along the way life twisted the message. We came to believe our value had everything to do with what we brought to the table, rather than our presence at the table. We bound our worth to our pursuits and have been left wanting.

Having spent a lifetime “doing” to purportedly earn my place at the table, I can attest to the exhaustive and unfulfilling cycle which keeps one perpetually offering more while never feeling enough.

But…

What if our worth comes not from that which we pursue but from who we already are?

What if finding wholeness is not about stretching outward but looking inward?

Within each of us is a heart uniquely cast with distinctive traits, personality, interests, abilities, and purpose. Interwoven within these inherent characteristics are the experiences we’ve obtained, the knowledge we’ve acquired, and the insight we’ve gleaned. These combined attributes make up an entirely rare and irreplaceable individual. You. Me. Us. To be absolutely clear, who we are is not the pristine, unblemished version of ourselves; that person doesn’t exist. We’re talking reality, my friends! Us, in all our glorious brokenness, mess, flaws, and imperfections.

Ironically, one of the greatest obstacles to finding rest in who we are is ourselves. Having bought into the propaganda that our good is lovable but not our bad or our ugly, we hide and cover the undesirable parts of our heart through performance, perpetuating the cycle. We need to remember that our insight comes from having learned hard lessons. Our grace for others from having first experienced it ourselves. Our knowledge on how to stand firm, from having fallen flat on our face. Everything that makes us perceptive, relevant, and relatable is not where we have remained flawless but where we have broken.

When we learn to rest in who we are we can retire from who the world tells us we should be. Contentment with ourselves empowers us to reorder and reprioritize all that we dedicate ourselves too. Our heart becomes the filter through which we sift our motivations. Our pursuits – PTA volunteer, parent, athlete, educator – are offered from that which we long to give, not from a response we hope to receive. From that vantage point, filled with the knowledge of who we are, we too can weather the external forces which seek to besiege us.

Photo by Aditya Siva on Unsplash

Embrace The Ick

It’s dinnertime and my then-seven-year-old is running around the kitchen, gleefully keeping a bouncing ball away from his younger sister. “Cade, put the ball away and get ready for dinner, please.” It was simple request; one sentence with two fairly direct instructions. I had forgotten however, that when their little pleasure receptors are in high gear, children lose their ability to understand grown-up talk. You didn’t think the adults in Charlie Brown spoke in unintelligible wah-wah-wahs just for comedic effect, did you? Silly rabbit – it’s all about the neuroscience. My words, lost in translation, don’t make it to his language pathways and the game ensues.

I try shortening the command, hoping to slip it into the width of his attention span. “Cade, put the ball away.” Translation: wah-wah-wah. Ugh! “Cade. Ball. Away. NOW.”

Then the inevitable happens, Cade trips and falls flat on his face at my feet. In my best mommy voice, I peer down at him and say “See, if you had put the ball away when I asked that wouldn’t have happened.” Feeling a sense of superiority of having been right, I awaited his apology for his failure to attend.

Cade, collecting himself from the floor, dusts himself off and in a respectful, but firm, tone says, “YOU should be more concerned about whether I am okay, and less about whether or not I listened to you in the first place.” From the mouth of babes! He was right! But, not willing to give him the satisfaction, I sent him off with a parental glare. Another great mommy moment for the history books.

I love God and my children fiercely! Ironically, I seem to fail them frequently. I don’t intend to, but seemingly out of nowhere, my unsightly side leaks out. God in His kindness has seen fit to use my children to show me my heart. EEEEK!  It’s not always a pleasant sight, and occasionally leaves me and my kiddos looking at the mess thinking, “Wow, that’s……gross.”

Relational blunders are par for course. In God’s sovereignty, He allows everything first for His heavenly purposes, and secondly for our benefit. What else can teach us most about His heart, and our own, then our most intimate of relationships; our spouses and our children. God’s teachable moments, those everyday interactions with those to whom we have pledged ourselves, can reveal our heart’s messiest of places. Confronted with those messy places we can run from them, conceal them, pretend they don’t exist, or we can hold them under a microscope, dissect them, and ask, “Eeeew! What was that?”

Every mess, every less than glorious interaction with those whom we fail to love well, reveals something about our heart that God longs to redeem! His intention is not to shame us into obedience or burden us with guilt, but to invite us towards greater rest, love, and freedom.

Love would have extended a hand and asked Cade if he were okay, without the admonishment.

Rest would have cast-off the timetable and relentless evening schedule to enter his joy. 

Freedom would have summoned me to join the game and embrace all-too-fleeting childhood moments.

That evening’s incident said far more about my heart than it did about Cade’s. I had intended to impart the lesson that there is wisdom in obedience. Instead, my ego took over and taught him that I valued being right over his well-being; a lesson which took far longer to uproot from his heart than it did to plant. Each glimpse of our heart comes with an invitation to enter the ick and consider what we find there. We can dismiss the ick because its unpleasant, or we can embrace it and allow it to lead us towards a greater understanding of that which prevents us from offering ourselves fully. Why did my ego need to feel powerful over a seven-year-old? Ick! Those are hard questions, but stepping towards it, is how we find our way through it.

Cade and I both fell on our face that night. Much like his ball, my own brokenness can distract me from His voice. In fact, I frequently find myself tripping and falling face-down at the feet of my Savior, but I am endlessly in awe of how well He loves me there. Thankfully, God is a perfect Father. When we fall down, He cares outrageously more about whether we are okay than whether we listened to Him in the first place.

Photo by Andre Guerra on Unsplash

Authentic Life Begins with Facing Your Roosters

It was 2006 when I began to notice them. The little buggers were everywhere. I don’t know how they had escaped my attention for so long, but now I couldn’t not see them. Everywhere I turned – at home, at work, at the grocery store – there they were; staring at me with those dark, accusing eyes. As if stumbling over them right and left wasn’t bad enough, it seemed particularly cruel that they would reveal themselves at my worst of moments. They were there when I yelled at my kids, when I expressed passive-aggressive contempt for a colleague, when I patted myself on the back for being a good person. I would have launched them across the room, any number of times, with a swift kick in the derriere if they hadn’t been so darn elusive! They followed me around like my shadow; my ego, my anger, my resentment, my vanity – had taken a form.

Despite my endless, desperate, and sometimes even genius attempts to ignore or hide them, the evidence of their infestation was obvious. They were tenacious; pecking away at my relationships bit by bit. It seemed that whatever had worked for me in the past, was not going to be allowed any longer. I was going to have to face my roosters.

One of the most infamous accounts in the Bible is that of Peter’s startling denial of Jesus after His arrest (Mathew 26:31-35). Just hours before, at the Last Supper, Jesus makes the sobering announcement that not only will one of the twelve betray Him, but that they will all fall away and abandon Him as well. Peter, self-assured and in his impetuous way, declares “I never will!” Yet Jesus assures him that before the rooster crows Peter will have denied Him not once, but three times.

The rooster is pivotal in Peter’s story. Metaphorically, it’s pivotal in our own.

Our hearts bear the imprint of our nature; our genetics, personality, and unique abilities and talents, but they also bear the imprint of our experiences and our pain. Part of the mess of our hearts is that they don’t realize what a mess they are. “The heart is deceitful above all things.” (Jeremiah 17:9a). Much like Peter, it is difficult for us to recognize our own woundedness. In His unyielding affection for us, God will always lead us into and towards our broken places. He loves us too much to allow our hearts to remain unavailable to Himself and one another. It is God’s kindness to orchestrate the events of our lives which give rise to our own roosters. And in each recognition is the opportunity to run towards Him and discover an overwhelming Love.

Our roosters reveal our woundedness. And that my friends, begat the name of our blog – The Wounded Rooster.

As we began to conceptualize our blog, we knew a fundamental element would be the picture we chose to represent us. Imagery has a way of conveying meaning more quickly and comprehensively than a narrative. An image invites the observer to enter a story which begins with the perspective of the architect but is ultimately augmented by the interpretation viewer. There is an unassailable truth in the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But what does a picture of a rooster communicate? Thus, began our search for the perfect representation.

Do you know how many rooster pictures are available on the internet? Thousands. I looked at more rooster pictures than I thought possible: cartoon roosters, graffiti roosters, drawings of roosters, rooster sculptures, rooster tattoos, toy roosters, real roosters, roosters on farms, roosters in the wild. If you can draw it, painting it, sculpt it, photograph it, or conceptualize it – it’s out there. After mind-numbing hours of scrolling through rooster images, I came across a photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash.com. I’ll admit my initial glance left me wondering if the out-of-focus picture was purposeful or a result of tired-head. It was that slight double-take however, the need to lean into my screen with a furrowed brow and ask the question “Is that seriously a rooster?” that affirmed we’d found our representation!  I think we can safely say Jairo Alzate is a genius! Who else would think to take an ultra-close-up of a rooster? I wondered for about half a second if the photo wasn’t too “in your face” and dismissed it entirely because the fact that it was “in your face” is what made it sublime!

The Wounded Rooster blog is about recognizing our wounds and in particular, how those wounds have shaped us and created stumbling blocks to loving God, ourselves, and others well. We love, but with a mere shadow of the unabandoned fervor for which we were intended. Woven into our belief systems, our wounds reverberate throughout the melody of our lives. They are expressed subtly and audaciously within the undertones of our relationship patterns and choices. They play out in every interaction; in that which we offer and that which we withhold.  They are in many ways, “in our face”, but they become so indistinctly characteristic of who we are that we tend to lose sight of them. While they remain in our field of vision, they are hazy, vague, and out of focus.

In the upcoming blog posts, we will share our perspectives, our knowledge and experiences, our mess and our failures, and the Truth we’ve discovered along the way. We invite you to lean in with us; to pause for a closer look, to focus your lens and ask the hard questions. In doing so, your own “roosters” will begin to emerge into view. With those sightings comes the freedom to choose your patterns of relating, and with choice, comes unceasing opportunities to experience and offer an indescribable love.

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash