Recently, I was asked by someone I don’t know well if I would do them a favor. It was a time-consuming and stress-inducing favor. I said, “Yes,” and my stomach tightened.

This month, my daughter has been in need of rides — at night, late —  to get home from events she has gone to. I’ve said, “Yes,” every time. “I’ll go get her,”  and when I have gotten back home after an hour and a-half of driving in traffic, I’ve often wished that I hadn’t had to do that.

Done. Cooked.

Favor fatigued.

Last week, I set up a process where I am going to help someone fund raise. Meetings are required. My own money will get involved. I’m taking a bit of a risk with this. I’m wondering how it will go.  But I want this person funded. They do a lot of good.

So it seems, on reflection that I have said, “Yes,” a lot lately to doing favors, for others, not basing this on what they have or haven’t done for me, but simply on being kind, helpful, gracious, giving.

And as the favors have complicated —  and favors do complicate, often morphing beyond the original expectation or request — I have felt the duress, the tiredness, the time-consuming, mid-stomach tightening of them.

It’s interesting.

To be gracious, to do favors, to give grace —  to do what you don’t get anything back from but instead give something up for just because someone else needs it, or asks  — it isn’t always easy.

Someone criticized me last week. I put it aside. I won’t hold it against them. I will favor them. I will give them grace. The truth can be raspy; grace quite ghastly.

Grace or giving grace or giving favor — when we think of it in Biblical, Pauline, God-given sense — is often defined as “unmerited favor,” as if it is a kind of letting someone off the hook, like saying, “Oh, it’s okay what you did that was wrong you still get a star” a sort of stepping back with a hand out, a kind of not bringing punishment, a not bringing consequences, a sort of mind-trick that badges those who didn’t earn a badge.

That is far too passive a definition.

Grace isn’t a step back, a step away, a kind of giving up on bringing consequences,  something merely in the mind, an attitude adjustment, a quick and easy hand out, a dime.  Grace is a step forward, right into the middle of mess. To give grace is to thrust oneself smack into the middle of the action — and stay there.

Grace takes guts; grace takes agency; grace take work; grace takes a type of forbearance that bears forward, that bears gift.  Graces costs — plenty.  The one receiving grace may relaxed, may feel relief, may feel suddenly special; the giver won’t necessarily. The giver of favor and favors, of grace and graciousness, that giver gives, and in doing so runs out, and doing so holds back, on doing something easier — not giving, not helping, not forgiving — in order to do something harder.

When God gave grace to us in Christ, God worked his tail off. He suffered the giving. He didn’t do what would come easiest and quickest, something like saying “Solve your own problems! You created them.” He gave up his life to give his grace.

Grace — this stuff is expensive, and yet that is precisely why it is worth giving, and receiving. Grace is akin to diamonds, gold, big bucks. Grace costs a lot, because grace does a lot.

I’m rethinking the favors I’ve committed to. I’m turning away from any feelings of being used, of wanting out. I’m committing again to just do them, to just follow through, to suck it up and put out, even when I don’t feel like it, because grace is not a feeling; it’s a behavior, an action and an agency that changes the world for good.

Of course, my being gracious to others will be hard work. Of course doing favors will involve stress. Of course forgiving will exhaust me. And of course — it will be worth it.  Grace will retain and add value — it always does; it always will — a ton of it.

Grace has often been called a work, “a work of grace,” because it is work, that changes lives.

It has and is changing mine.

One constant in life has been well noted — change. You can count on change; you can build on change; you can take change to the bank.

Everything changes.

Last year my mom died, I moved. My daughter got married. She moved. I initiated a succession plan at work — for my own position. The staff team I have spent years gathering and nurturing  —  they are moving on to new things. A lot has changed.

Change, for me, has worn several faces.

The first face of change — it’s scary. That long, looming, lonely look that Father Change throws my way is lined with fear and with anxiety and with grief.  I grieve. I’m losing something; there it goes. I’ve lost it.  What will life be like now? What will life be like without my mom? Without the house. Without work? Without my team? The water I just jumped into feels a bit cold. Did I jump, or was I thrown — a bit of both.

Life throws us as we jump.


The second face change wears is the face of curiosity, the less fearful face of “this-is-interesting, maybe-this-will-be-okay, well, fine then!”

During my move into the new zip code, the new change zone, I find that I adjust, I get used to new feelings, new realities, I ask questions, I gather information, I get excited, I make new choices, I form new relationships. I let go, I adapt. I step in.

Lately, I have been mentoring my replacement at work, the new leader, the new nonprofit CEO. I like it. I like empowering new leaders.  I always have always liked that thing where you give someone an opportunity, you bring out the best in them, and you watch them thrive.

I leave a whole string of empowered people in my wake. I like that.

And lately, and lastly, as I approach my own retirement — it’s coming with the spring this year — I find myself more reflective, more calm, quiet, kind to others, kind to myself.. I am content with what has happened, with the then and the now.  I sit in the past; I soak in the present, I grow porous toward the future. I find myself grateful — extremely grateful — for my life.

The third face of change — it has a calm, quiet contented face. Life here doesn’t feel transitional. I’ve arrived somewhere new; it’s good. I have moved from discomfort to acceptance. I am incorporating new realities into my daily life; the surrounding water is warm, the new — it is becoming the  familiar.

Did someone change the ambient temperature of my life?

No, I adjusted.

What to think of all this?

Well, again, change —  it’s certain.

It will happen again, and again and again. Change stutters.

A couple of thoughts.

When I lose — and I will lose more things ahead —  I will sit with my losses, I will feel them, I will know them and I will befriend them.

And as new things enter my life, I will communicate, communicate and then communicate — with my inner circle, with my loves, with my precious ones. I will apply the talking cure — to myself. I will talk out my feelings of discomfort. I will talk out my fears; I will talk about my excitement, and I will talk my way through my lovely changes.

And lastly, I will commit to remaining flexible, plastic, stretchable, open, exploratory, positive, curious —  fascinated!

I will change, within the changes that reside deep within the changing changes, of my constantly changing life.

The devil is in the details; so is the divine.

In other words, microcosmic stuff matters — atoms, quarks, corners, specks, chips, flakes.

It must; it’s everywhere, the particulate.

Recently, we installed dark hardwood floors in our home. Suddenly we notice tiny bits of white stuff — flakes, chips, particles — on the floor, everyday! Was the wood magnetized? Was it sucking white stuff out of the air?

Nope, it was always there, the small pieces  — tracked in from the outside, falling off our shoes, the litter from things dropped in the kitchen, the tiny residuals from snacks eaten in the family room  —  we just didn’t see it in the former, light carpet.


What to do? Vacuum more, sweep more, dust more; otherwise, we are living in a trash dump.

I’m currently building a wall at the front of the house. Millimeters matter. If the first course of block isn’t level, the next course won’t be and the error will worsens as I go up.

But, fortunately, this think concerning detail all works in the opposite direction too. Sweep everyday, adjust the level constantly, pay attention to detail and we then live with the good, clean, safe, healthy and beautiful — constantly.

I recently had to have a potentially hurtful conversation with someone. I suffered — for several weeks — as I literally extruded the right words from my brain, finessed the right tones out of the air and perfected a perfectly efficacious linguistic and proxemic  demeanor.

It worked, the conversation; it went well; it had the desired result, because I had paid attention to detail.

Today, I’ll bring to exact level some decomposed granite in the backyard to prep for some beautiful wedge shaped stone pavers that will make up a new circular patio. Tomorrow I’ll order eleven new double paned windows for the house, measured to an eighth inch, for a precise, weather tight fit. And then in two months, I’ll do a bigger thing — I’ll retire from a profession I’ve practiced for thirty years.

And when I retire, I’ll do that carefully too. I’ll handle my people carefully, my precious people carefully, with finely measured responses and with finely tuned and bubble-leveled affirmations —  as I have learned to do with everything.

The molecular matters.

Slivers and morsels and smithereens and iotas matter — especially when it come to each other.

“Everybody lies,” he said and laughed.

Cynical, I thought. Too much time working in the Social Security Fraud department.

Now I don’t, disagree.

They do — lie.

We do. I do. We lie first to ourselves. We don’t and even can’t tell ourselves the whole truth about ourselves.

The truth about myself?

Recently, my wife reminded me that I tend to be dominant. It’s true. So does she, thus we make a great match —  two really strong people not easily told what to do. It works for us. We don’t — and can’t — run over each other very much. And so we allow for a fair degree of autonomy and independence in the relationship and we talk a lot, process a lot, keep everything current — criticism and praise. That is how we can tell we love — we’re honest.

But when other people tell me the truth about myself, sometime I deny it. Why? I’m not sure they love me, know me, care for me, and I fear motivated feedback, manipulative feedback, especially the negative stuff, but even sometime the positive. What are they trying to get from me with their frothy compliments?  Such guardedness, such suspicion,  closes me up to others,  but sometimes others —  even strangers and casual friends —  know me better than I know myself.

Simine Vazire, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, has discovered that we are better at assessing our “own internal, or neurotic traits, such as anxiety, while friends are better barometers of intellect-related traits, such as intelligence and creativity.”

Cornell University social psychologist David Dunning, PhD has found that, “People overestimate themselves.” The least competent performers inflate their abilities the most,” seemingly based on ignorance of their own abilities.

This seems to be in part a cultural phenomena. Americans tend to overrate themselves; East Asians tend to underrate themselves. Sounds about right. In American, everybody gets a star in school.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for American overconfidence lies in our tendency to avoid giving each other feedback. Many of us are really quite closed when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. We tend to hide our assessments of other and ourselves — particularly negative assessments  — to gain a surface and veneered aura of public peace and acceptance.

We seem too much afraid of each other, and not skilled at delicate, nuance conversations that can promote deep bonds. We hold back, then gush, then attack, then hide; we are passive and aggressive, and we spoil things.

I can tell this is happening because people are always telling my something about someone else that they won’t tell that person. Triangulation seems rampant in our society. It is because we are chicken! And because we simply won’t face and do what works. Honesty works. Dishonesty — it doesn’t.

My bother told me a while back he thought I was a bit of an elitist about food and technology and material stuff. It stung, I considered it; then I told him. “You’re right, I am.  Sorry I offended you with that. I’ll work on it.” I am, working on it. We are closer now.

Can we do this with each other?

We can.

I’ve finding more and more that it is best to “go there,” and let other go there too, to bring up the issues that lie between us, to invite conflict, to gently talk about difference, early, before they inflate. It is best to be honest. It is best to be open. It is best to realize that I need others to properly assess myself. If I include them, then I can can get better at important stuff — at truth, at love.

Lies don’t work. Ignorance doesn’t work.

What works is gentle, safe, loving, ongoing dialogues about what is true — that works.

It’s hard to tell if you have done a thing.

Well, not always.

Yesterday, I trashed one of my Christmas angels. I knew I’d done it because I could see it. Unscrewing the motor that ran her wings,  pulling the bulbs off her trumpet,  stuffing her head first into a dumpster — it was fairly definitive.

I told her, “You’ve served well honey, but you’re done. Rest in peace — in the dump.”

Then I put the body parts I had harvested from her in a drawer in the garage — ready if needed — to patch up my other angel, the one lighting up my driveway these Christmas nights.

It’s done, the body’s gone.

Not every body is like that.

Forgiveness is not like that. You do it, you dismember the offender in your mind, you dump the body in the river Lithe, and then it floats to the surface again, bloated and horrible in the backwaters of your mind

“What? I just can’t get rid of this guy!”

That is because forgiveness can’t erase the past. It was what it was and forgiving someone doesn’t dispense with the memory or emotion of their offense — the attendant regret, the sadness, the anger.

Forgiveness is no eraser.

Then what is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is keyboard, a keyboard that can write the present and also write the future.

Forgiveness is the agency that allows us to positively address the issues of the present without being controlled by a residue of anger and resentment from the past.

Forgiveness is the ability to love again.

Sometimes we think we haven’t forgiven because we haven’t been able to dismember the bodies and tossed them in the River Lethe. But getting rid of the bodies is not forgiveness.  They won’t go. We will lug our heaviest offenders to our graves with us.

Forgiving is not forgetting; it is thriving, while not forgetting. We know we have forgiven when we find ourselves harvesting a special awareness and sensitivity from what we have learned from our past wounds and bringing that into the present to love and care for others again.

Forgiveness is the freedom to enter the present with fresh eyes and an open heart and ready hands.

Sometimes you can tell you are doing a thing when you are doing it without thinking of the things that could keep you from doing it.

With divine assistance, choosing to exist existentially and exponentially within the forgiveness available to you, forgive the dark angels and the even darker humans of the past; do this by taking loving care of the bright ones of your present.

Up and running.




It was the REFINERY Church — last Saturday morning  — and it was humming. The place was literally swarming with activity.

Walking through the site that morning, I realized that a vision had been realized. Ten years ago we set out to take an under-utilized and physically neglected church and turn it into Google. Google is a place where people can go and do what they need to do — find information, accomplish something, better their lives.

REFINERY Church —  the same. Ten years ago, when we began to cleanup, remodeled, up-date the church, we also decided to functionalize it. And as we improved the site, we also turned it into a platform for our community to come to and do good. We  gave the church away by allowing other non-profits with the same vision — a vision to empower people —  to come here and do their thing.

And now it hums.

Sometimes we now tease that everybody has keys to the church. Who are all these people in all these rooms?  We barely know! Over 20 non-profit groups now use the church. Over six hundred people per week pass thorough the site for some kind of benefit to their lives — recovery groups, mental health groups, foster care groups, family groups, study groups. We offer counseling. We give away food twice each week to hundreds of people. REFINERY is a venue for voting, parties, area school events, worship services and weddings.

Last Saturday reflected this state of affairs.In the sanctuary a band from one of our partnering churches was practicing for Sunday worship.

In the courtyard a team of young church families was digging out an area of sod to create a space for a new, larger play structure for children.

In the Gallery — a midsized meeting room —  a team from an partnering church was huddled around a table planning a holiday meal for homeless friends.

Another team from a partnering church readied the same room for an afternoon baby shower.

In one of the classrooms, Grossmont College was holding a class to train foster parents.

In the Counseling Center a Center For Enriching Relationship’s therapist (CER is a partnering nonprofit Christian counseling group) was meeting with a client.

In the basement a team was prepping to give out food from a fresh rescue program to families who are food challenged.

Out front, along E Street a team — led by the REFINERY gardener — a team of volunteers was trimming lantana and wiring up a new drip irrigation system.

That’s site empowerment, that’s healthy, that’s good, that’s the kind of good God wants for his church.

Good is when we open to teaming with other; good is when we give away what has been given to us; good is when we allow others to have the opportunity to do what they need to do to be empowered.

Good is God reaching out to our community though us.

“You don’t have to decide anything yet,” I told her in the car.

She was quiet.

I had noticed that she was a bit shut down at the picnic. “Were you afraid?”

“I felt insecure. I felt a little lost.”

“That’s okay,” I reassured her. “We’ll go out for the Christmas party and see how things go then. That will be fun.”

“I want to get a drink,” she said.


“Hot chocolate.”

“Oh, at the Christmas party, okay.”

We had just left a Sunday afternoon picnic at a live-in community for people with disabilities where my daughter was a guest. We’ve applied for her to live there. She isn’t sure. We aren’t either.

“One of the things that scared me is that some people were crying. One girl just started screaming. It was random. Then another one. It kind of freaked me out.”

“Yeah, I said, I get that.”

She lives in two worlds, one disabled, one abled —  or somewhat abled — seeing none of us are without issue, without compromise, not the norm in some way. This creates a dilemma. Where does she fit?

In both; in neither. She is marginalized. She is disabled, but able, high-functioning, crossing back and forth between two communities of people.

It’s tough, but, in a way, we all have some of this, a bit of marginalization, a bit of fitting and not fitting, the need to find our people, not being able to do that, the need to find where we belong, feeling uncomfortable in the search.

Finding community can be tough. I’ve thought about it lately. Mostly in life, I’ve made the people I got my people. I think many of us have done this. We make friends with the people at hand. Who else is there?

We chose to befriend the people at work, next door, at the store, at church, at the temple, in school, because they are the ones there.

It’s actuality, this is the normal way in which community works. We make a neighbor, our neighbor,  a community our community, by choice, at least at first, because they are near.

It’s not alway easy, or comfortable, or secure, community building, but it’s something beautiful and special, choosing what you get, choosing the option most in front of you, not because it’s a perfect fit, but because you make it fit.

Some wise people, thinking about exactly this, have called this love.

“I try not to ascribe motivations to people,” my brother said to me. It tried to go past me, the nonjudgmentalism of his reticence. Quiet responses often do.

I love to attribute motive, quickly, with not much information — many of us do.

“We don’t know what they are thinking,” our realtor said to my wife and I. Our realtor was talking about the buyer we were trying to sell our house to. Our realtor was right. We didn’t know the buyers frame of mind. We didn’t know his aesthetic, his price point, his cash on hand, his shopping culture, his end game.

I’ve heard this a lot lately, people admitting what they don’t know about other people.

“We don’t know his people skills.”

“We don’t know what triggered this.”

“We don’t know why she did that.”

The truth is, when it comes to each other we are often in the dark, and the light we shine on each other with our “take,”  our sense of them, our labels — these often miss the mark.

“Oh, yeah, she is a conservative,” someone says, as if that explains her.

“He’s left wing, she’s hurt, he’s an addict, she’s stuck, he’s jealous, she’s angry” — we just can’t stop assigning motives, explain away each other, attaching labels, as if then we have them, in our grasp, “the little rats,” and can disagree with them, or fight them, or dismiss them.

Am I saying we shouldn’t?

I’m saying we do, a lot.

We judge — even if we are told not to. And there is not much hope for us not judging.

It’s just that we might do well to realize that figuring someone out isn’t the same as assigning a label, and it is often much more complicated than their one “screwed up” thing.  Motives are complicated, even sometimes contradictory. Motives are convoluted, multi-pronged, obfuscated by so much smoke, so many mirrors.

Perhaps it would help to just work on figuring ourselves out, or at least leave the “helping” or figuring out others to doctors and professional therapists.  Perhaps it would help me, and most of us really, to simply turn more away from critiquing others  and focus on our own motives, spend time on our own confabulations. This is probably the only route to real change — when change is needed —  the intimate, personal “Aha,” the “Wow, so that’s going on with me,” some interior, existential epiphany that is so needed.

“What’s driving me?” or “Why did I do that?” or “What am I getting out of this?” — these are good questions and figuring such things out can be quite empowering and healing. And understanding ourselves better can point toward some new stuff, new adventures and even perhaps new and better understandings of others.

But assigning motives to others, I’d personally like to move away from that more and more.

I’ve been learning from some of  my trusted friends that attributing motives to others — that is a bit of a fool’s errand.

The item number was wrong. The bin location was wrong. The website section for checking stock availablity was down, and the phone center wasn’t taking calls “due to high volume.”

When I spoke to the employee behind the info desk at the store about these issues, I said, “Wow, everything seems so organized here. All the nice stacks and rows and numbers, but I couldn’t call or web you to get answers.

“It’s all a beautiful facade,” he quipped.

We laughed.

It is.

IKEA is a beautiful facade

I know.

Last week, when I bolted and screwed the black dinning room table we bought from IKEA together I noted that it all worked well, the screws went in tight, the bolts grabbed nicely, but the surfaces were thin. A micro layer of pretty black paint covered the  Swedish and Russian pine; a thin layer of Ash was glued over the particle board legs.

IKEA is one of the largest furniture companies on Earth. It uses about one percent of the world’s total supply of lumber and sells something like 100 million pieces of furniture a year.

It specializes in veneers and paint. Lots of beautiful facades. Like life.

One could be cynical.

Our new, glossy table won’t be passed down to children or grandchildren. When we move we’ll either give it away, or toss it in the trash.

And yet, and yet veneer — it is at the core of beauty. Beauty is always a surface — a thin soft layer of skin, a sheen on hair, gloss on lips, a momentary sheer of kindness.

What beautiful thing isn’t limned, surfaced, textured, smeared, glazed, laminated or plated?

Virtue, character, principle, integrity — all pieces, all sheen, yet all gorgeous, even if only for the moment, in the instant, for the season.

Are we too denigrate everything because it isn’t an heirloom, perpetual, solid, through and though? Really? Even hard substances are made of particles; the whole shebang is atomistic.

When we moved recently, we gave away our solid oak antiques. We were tired of the tired, old, solid look. And the kids didn’t ‘t want them. Shoot, you could barely sell them on Ebay.

Life has an MDF kind of quality to it anyway; it’s a particle board universe. It’s a hundred million pieces. Even the galaxy is bits and pieces, here and there; solid then fragged again, it’s best look is perhaps the one seen from a great distance.

I love life!

I love the not solid. I love the facade!

It’s the nature of the shinny beast!

IKEA world, here we come!

I’m selling a house and remodeling another one that I’m moving into. This has put me out in the market place, doing business.

Everybody wants their cut. That’s one way to see it. The business dealings seem impersonal, often out of control, with people I don’t know, people who are taking my money. The price is what someone else says it is, for the termites, for the repairs, for the Escrow, for the new flooring, for the countertop fabrication.

The other day my wife met the buyer of our property as she was coming out of our house with her agent. My wife coming home to her soon-to-be not-home. You are not supposed to meet the buyer. You deal with them through your paid representative, your agents. They remain invisible behind the paper, offering and counter offering through intermediaries.

But my wife met the buyer, they exchanged pleasantries, she is a person, a nice person. She too is selling a property, and buying one at the same time. She too is just trying to wisely make her way through this deal.

The market place can feel simply contractual. It’s really personal. Our buyer has her own anxieties, perhaps about paying too much, perhaps about dealing with the needed repairs. In her new home she may not be able to afford new hardwood floors like we can.

This week I met our countertop estimator. He drives an older car. He is not the owner of the counter top company; he too has needs, a schedule, a family. He may not have granite in his kitchen.

What posture might I strike as I do business with him, with everyone I sign contracts with? I am tempted to only be concerned about myself, my money, the best deal I can get, my time, my schedule. But I am dealing with people, people just like me. They have the same needs that I do. Many of them have more needs than I do.

What to do?

I am learning to see contracts differently. They are relationships. I am moving toward wanting the good of the other, not simply myself, to pay what is asked, to pray for the person on the other side of the table, sometimes to even give more than asked, bonuses, tips.

Life isn’t just business. It’s people. It a people business.