A weekly blog about relationships, belief, and personal growth, written from a position of hope.
When you read this I’ll hopefully be driving through the countryside of Ireland. As I write, Lacie and I are sitting in the airport waiting to leave. There’s something about public places, particularly where people are waiting, that fascinate me. Like the hospital a few weeks ago, I’m surrounded by so many stories.
There is a Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart version) looking character eating a bag of Skittles a few seats down. Something on his phone is making him smile. Maybe it’s a picture of his grandkids who he hasn’t seen in months, and he’s now one flight away.
The guy sitting closest to me is taking an online course. His hair is cut like he’s in the military, and his build and posture suggests that might be the case. I wonder where he might be stationed next, what war he might be called to, what pain he might one day experience—or just what career he’s studying to pursue.
The man who just walked up is arguing with someone on the phone. Apparently he’s not putting up with their fecal matter anymore. The more I listen the more I realize he’s probably just a talker. You know those people that sound like they’re mad but it’s just how they communicate?
One woman walks up to the counter and asks, “Am I in the right place? I honestly haven’t flown in thirty-seven years. Do you think I have time to go grab some coffee?”
It’s refreshing to pay attention and realize there are a million intricate lives all around you, serving as a backdrop to the one narrative we call our own life. I’m so often reminded of a word I’ve written about before--sonder.
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
So look up every once in a while. Life has a surplus of simple delights if we are willing to pay attention. And who knows, you may go from being the extra in the background to a new character in another’s story, as lives entwine and become even more vivid and complex.
Do you ever have moments throughout the day where you feel like you’re waking up, like you’re seeing more clearly, colors are more vivid, emotions more rich? You’re acutely aware that everything matters. The line between the ordinary and extraordinary, heaven and earth, is harder to recognize.
You want to bottle up the experience, but so often the awareness fades as distraction takes over, obligations and schedules regain their control, and we refocus on the task at hand, our never ending to-do list, the monotony of our productivity.
We go through spells where we feel far from God. That divine hum we once felt doesn’t vibrate in our hearts like it did before. We know intellectually how we think about God, but experientially we wonder if someone broke the antenna off our spiritual receiver.
And then it happens again...
In a sunrise. In a song. In a moment of quiet peace. In the face of someone we love. In the way someone encourages us. In a story, scripture, testimony. In the arms of our lover. In a moment of forgiveness. In an act of service. In a sacrifice for another.
The hum turns back on. The scales fall off our eyes. The heart warms. Our senses are enlivened. Our soul is refreshed again.
There is a necessary posture for this experience. It’s not something easily itemized and measured, like an effective workout and diet to yield certain physical gains. It’s a matter of the soul, a rendering of the heart, a vigilance that allows us to recognize what’s happening around us.
Simply put, it’s prayer.
“Pray without ceasing,” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. When most people think of prayer they imagine a bowed head, closed eyes, and clear dialogue. I don’t think that’s what Paul meant practically.
Instead, I think he’s talking about a continuous posture of the heart. It’s an enduring willingness. It’s an acceptance of what is. It’s being present, grateful, open. It’s acknowledging the momentary affliction but holding on to hope. It’s seeing all people and circumstances through a lens of grace. It’s second-by-second surrender.
It’s been referred to as the contemplative mind in some traditions, and I believe it’s a necessary component of a life lived richly in the Spirit. Without it, the wandering periods and the dry spells will continue to drain the spiritual vitality from our souls.
And we will miss what’s always happening, the spiritual flow that undergirds our reality. It’s all around us, flowing through us, beckoning us out of darkness, inviting us to truly live, showing us the way—and I don’t want to miss it.
Most people I know are busy, have more than one thing they’re juggling, and are simultaneously carrying some form of pain, regret, trauma, or sadness. We are complicated people living in a world that’s like a busy restaurant line during rush hour—hurry and keep moving forward.
Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to slow down, to not strong-arm our way through the mess, to process what’s happening inside of us. Too often we think moving to the next thing will make the hard thing go away—and it doesn’t. So today I want to offer a few simple statements I hope serve as the permission you need but won’t give yourself.
We live in the wake of a society shaped by patriarchy and capitalism, where power and prosperity have been core principles. With that comes an expectation, particularly for men—don’t show weakness in the pursuit of success. Achieve the American Dream, at any given cost, and then you’ll be happy and fulfilled.
I propose this is a lie, and this lie is yielding tragic consequences.
Did you know 7 out of 10 suicides in the United States every year are white males, the majority of which are middle-aged? In general, men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women.* I don’t believe the stereotypes men are given are coincidental to this statistic.
We all live under these unspoken rules, these bogus terms of agreement, that might grow our GDP a little but deteriorate our hearts and families. So to both men and women, give yourself permission to break the contract none of us knew we were signing, and admit it when you’re not okay. It’s the only way to find healing.
My normal Saturday morning routine is to wake up around 7am, start a pot of coffee, light our gas logs in the living room, and settle into the couch to write. It’s one of my favorite times of the week—a peaceful bookend to working. I’m writing this Saturday morning from a CICU waiting room.
I’m watching a scene that exists every week while I sit at home during this time. I’m surrounded by people who are tired, emotionally drained, devastated, worried, and hopeless. As I scan the room I see traces of suffering in every direction.
I see a woman who has her head buried into her hands. I don’t know if she’s asleep or trying to disappear from whatever tragedy she’s currently grieving. She has a hospital blanket draped over her and a bag of random items you would likely carry if you knew you would be spending the night at the hospital.
The man across from me was here last night when we finally left to go home. He’s in the same red sweatshirt. He looks exhausted. His phone rings, and in a muffled voice he explains something to the person on the other end. I can’t hear the words, but I get the impression it’s something along the lines of, “We are still waiting for an answer.”
In the far corner is an inflatable mattress. Surrounding it is what looks like a makeshift living room. This family has obviously been here for some time now. A “God is bigger” coffee table decoration sits on the waiting room footrest.
The television on the far wall plays a commercial about the latest, greatest car. The beautiful actors and scenic highways make an unspoken promise of youth and vitality. It’s empty, white noise to those who are sitting here grappling with the biggest questions in life.
There is an outdoor courtyard area behind me. It’s filled with benches and plants. I’m guessing it was purposefully placed where it is to offer relief from the waiting room’s fluorescent lights and burnt coffee smell.
Every day some variation of what I’m seeing right now is happening. While I’m sitting at home enjoying my coffee and writing, someone sits in this waiting room chair and wonders if life will be the same for them again.
This is perspective you wish upon no one but appreciate, nonetheless. It’s been a harrowing twenty-four hours, as we’ve dealt with the uncertainty of an open heart surgery gone wrong. We are one of the fortunate ones, though. We get to go home from this place with good news. Many will not.
So the next time I’m taking part in my normal routine, when I’m sitting in my living room on a Saturday morning, I will stop and close my eyes and remember someone is still sitting in this waiting room, wishing life would just go back to normal. In quiet prayer, I’ll express my gratitude and ask for peace for those who are still in the midst of it.
Do you know those phone calls you dread to receive? The person on the other end tells you your worst fear has come true, your loved one has passed, your company is shutting the doors. A pit opens in your stomach, and you feel yourself falling into the black hole of despair.
I will never forget one of the stupidest things I did as a teenager that resulted in my parents receiving one of those phone calls. “Mr. Butler, this is the Hoover Police [long, unnecessary pause for dramatic effect]. I have your son, Chase, here with me now.”
I was fourteen or fifteen at the time. I had great group of friends in the sense that they were reliable, mostly moral, and didn’t offer me drugs, but we still had a mischievous streak in us, nonetheless. In our youthful enthusiasm, we thought bringing air horns into a movie theatre would be great entertainment.
We strategically went to the theatre nearest the rear exit of the building. We would wait until a pause in the dialogue or soundtrack and blast our horns at 130 decibels to the annoyance of the patrons who were just trying to enjoy the movie.
As soon as someone came to apprehend us, we snuck out the back to escape to the neighborhood behind the theatre. As we exited, we were greeted by the police officer who had been tipped off to what we were doing. Air horns were confiscated, and we were led to the manager’s office. Each of our parents were called by the officer.
I can’t imagine the way my parents felt at the end of the phrase, “Mr. Butler, this is the Hoover Police.” There are innumerable possibilities of terrible things that could have happened while their teenage son was out. Fortunately, it was a stupid prank, but for a second the not knowing was crippling, I’m sure.
I’ve received three extreme phone calls since we’ve had our dogs, Eleanor and Theodore. They’re skilled escape artists and have nearly gotten themselves killed on more than occasion.
The craziest of the three calls was from a woman who saw them running in the road amidst traffic. Lacie and I were thirty minutes outside of town when she called. As she explained the situation, horns blared and she screamed in terror. On my end, my only thought was, “They’ve just been killed.”
She finally calmed down and told us Eleanor had almost been hit but was okay. She said she would continue to try to catch them then hung up. We couldn’t help, and we didn’t know what would happen. In a moment, in one phone call, we went from thinking they were safe inside the fence to them nearly being gone forever.
We can’t avoid the tragic. Sure, we can lock the gate, reinforce the fence, microchip the dogs, know who the kids are hanging out with, buy insurance, drive the speed limit, get an alarm system, invest conservatively—the reality is that if the phone call hasn’t come, it likely will at some point. Few escape this world without loss, regardless of our precautions and planning.
It’s the double-edged beauty of living. It’s the risk-reward of choosing to engage this life completely. It’s the sunburn you get for deciding a day at the beach is better than locking yourself inside. It’s deciding to start a family while knowing you might lose a piece of it one day.
You just do it, anyway. You expose yourself to everything this life has to offer, because it’s worth it. Even with the suffering, the failures, the losses, the phone calls announcing our demise—it’s truly worth it.
You haven't missed your calling
From where I sit in this hospital waiting room
Accept the invitation to live
The lighted window
It was worth it
The subtle sounds of a life together
Made for the now-what
When holidays are hard
Sharing in our suffering
To my doubting friend
Ten years down the road
How long, Lord?
A season of doubt