Sunset

“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me…” – Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

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Sunset over Camp Grace

What is it about sunsets?

What is it about them that stirs our hearts so deeply?

Is it because they’re beautiful? I’m sure that’s part of it, but it can’t be the whole story. There’s beauty to be found in every nook and cranny of this grand old world God made.

No, there’s more to it.

I think it’s because they don’t last.

Sunsets are fleeting. In our hearts we know such beauty should stay around longer. But it doesn’t. We can’t push pause or hurry to another part of the world to see it again. It’s here and then it fades. We’re certain to see one again soon, but not the same sunset, not in the same place, not in the same way.

Last evening as I was driving home from my son’s basketball game, I saw the sun setting over a neighborhood near my house. It was beautiful. And I’m certain it was gone by the time I arrived home minutes later. But somewhere in that neighborhood beneath the glory of another setting sun, a man was at home, maybe putting the finishing touches on his Sunday morning sermon. Just as he has done thousands of other times. Probably sitting near his wife, who’s the closest thing to an angel on earth as you will ever meet. I imagine his eyes, wrinkled with age and wisdom, moving back and forth between his sermon notes and the face of the woman he’s loved all of his life.

His heart heavy and yet full to overflowing.

Not just any preacher. Not just any pastor. Not just any man.

A man who stirred my heart for local church ministry once again. A man who cared for me, understood me, mentored me, and gave me freedom to do what I’ve been called to do. A pastor who never cared who got the credit (preferring that everyone else receive it instead). A pastor who loves and lives as if Jesus really meant the things He said. A pastor who chose to lead with equal parts compassion, kindness, and wisdom. A preacher who encourages all who know him to simply do the “next right thing.” A preacher whose greatest sermon has lasted more than 2 years and continues even now by the way he lives out his faith with his body in the grip of the hideous talons of cancer.

A man who impacted not only a church but an entire community in such a profound way that an entire city would give him a day all his own.

Today is Mack Hannah Day in Dunwoody, Georgia. It’s a real thing, decreed by the Mayor and everything.

Mack Hannah is a man. Mack Hannah a preacher. Mack Hannah is a pastor.

He’s my pastor.

Today, he will retire after eleven plus years serving the people of Dunwoody Baptist Church, the city of Dunwoody, the state of Georgia, and various places all over the world. He’ll preach his last sermon, his “final thoughts.” He’ll do this in the same way he always has – delivering the gospel casually and confidently, putting you at ease. Like you’re two old friends discussing deep and profound truth over a cup of coffee.

That’s why, when I drove past Mack’s neighborhood last night and the sun was taking its final breathtaking bow, even more than usual, my heart swelled at the beauty of it all, at the same time it ached for all the things that we wish could last forever

but

just

can’t…

Beauty is fleeting on this side of things.

Breath is ephemeral.

Being is temporary.

The sun always sets on our days, on our times, on our physical lives.

But there are things that last. Ancient things. Eternal things. Things not easily recognized or quantified. Things between the edges of our existence, weaving in and out and through the hidden places of our souls. Things that make the setting sun’s glory pale in comparison.

What is it about Mack Hannah’s life that is so beautiful?

What is it about him that stirs our hearts so deeply?

In a world where almost everything is temporary, he has given us something that lasts.

His life.

His love.

His legacy.

A legacy of selflessness, kindness, openness, and hope. And legacy of integrity, laughter, stories, and joy. A legacy of authenticity, passion, leadership, and faith.

Faith that doesn’t waver, even after the sun has set and the darkness of night has crept in.

Faith in the new sun that rises each morning, bringing with it beauty once again.

And God’s mercies made new.

The age-old question

*image courtesy of freeimages.com

*image courtesy of freeimages.com

“Do you feel old?”

I get this question a lot now. Now that my son is a freshman in high school. Now that he is a half-inch taller than me. Now that he’s making game-winning baskets and wearing grown-up clothes to school dances.

“Do you feel old?”

The truth is, I don’t feel old. Not really. I mean, yes, my body feels old sometimes (okay, often) with all of the creaks and aches and pains that come from being in your early (mid?) forties. But in my heart, my soul, in my life, I feel like I’m in my twenties. Just getting started. My whole life ahead of me.

Young.

The truth is I’m not just getting started. And I’ve got a little less than half my life ahead of me.

Which is crazy.

Watching your kids grow up is a bizarre experience. You know your kids are getting older. You know they need to grow, have to grow. But as they do grow it doesn’t feel like you’re any getting older. It becomes almost like watching a movie of someone else’s life. You know these are your children, and you know what their ages are, but there’s no way you can be old enough to have kids of that age. No way. It hasn’t been that long, couldn’t have happened that fast. I used to scoff at the children in the Soap Operas my mom watched (ok, my mom and I watched) when I was a kid because they were babies one day and teenagers the next. Little did I know at the time that was the one realistic thing about those stories.

“Do you feel old?”

I got this question again on Saturday night. It was the occasion of my son’s first homecoming dance. My wife and daughter and I were there to take pictures beforehand. He looked so handsome in his navy sport coat and my Carolina blue tie. I was as proud of him as ever. But I was subdued as I watched him interact with his peers, as I snapped the occasional picture with my iPhone, as the combination of excitement and a bit of awkwardness buzzed in the air. One of my son’s friends observed that I seemed quiet. And I guess I was. I think it was because it felt like I was watching this whole experience happen to someone else. An older version of me with an older version of my son that I almost didn’t recognize because I was seeing him in this setting for the very first time.

“Do you feel old?”

Not really.

But I do feel odd.

I feel odd looking up (even ever-so-slightly) at my son. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled he’s taller than me. I hope he grows a few more inches and I won’t have to pay for college (basketball scholarship). But this is the same human I held in the crook of my arm, the same one who fell asleep on my chest.

I remember when my son was born, he wouldn’t eat for the first few days – a hangover from some of the medicine my wife was given during delivery, we supposed.  So we had to leave him at the hospital even after the insurance company kicked us out. Late that first night back home, not able to sleep worrying about him, I sat straight up in the bed. My wife, exhausted from the whole birthing ordeal, was asleep next to me. I got up, got dressed, and drove back up to the hospital. I went to the nurses station and told them I wanted to try once again to get my son to eat. They brought him out to me and gave me a four-ounce bottle of formula. Trying to wake him from his lethargy, hoping it would make him want to take the bottle, I began trying to tickle him, gently rubbing the tip of my finger along his ribs.

So tiny he was, my index finger as long as his rib cage.

That night he ate, for the first time on his own.

Now he’s doing most everything on his own. And he’ll never be called “tiny” again.

It feels odd. Almost like it’s happening to someone else and I’m just looking on.

“Do you feel old?”

I’m not sure.

The other night, my son and I played basketball together in a church league game. The two of us combined for 51 of our team’s 69 points in an 8-point victory. I scored (humble brag alert) 23 points. He scored 28. It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball.

Now that was no movie. That was the real me.

No, that was us. Father and son, together as always. Now making things happen side by side.

“Do you feel old?”

I feel good. And, yes, maybe I do feel a little old.

I guess that makes this the good/old days.

Rejection

Last week I was listening to a man talk about rejection. His name is Jia Jiang. He has a blog where he documents putting himself through what he calls 100 days of rejection therapy to try to inoculate himself against the pain and disappointment of rejection. As part of his talk, he told us J.K. Rowling was rejected by all 14 publishers she submitted her first Harry Potter manuscript to. All 14! He explained the only reason she got picked up was because one of the publisher’s grandkids started reading the manuscript and couldn’t put it down.

His point: rejection happens to everyone. Don’t fear it. Expect it. Don’t take it personally. “Rejection is really nothing more than peoples’ preferences and opinions and yet we take them as some sort of personal indictment,” Jia told us.

And of course he’s right.

Until it happens to you. And then all of the truth and nice sayings disappear under the soul-crushing disappointment.

If you didn’t already know it, I’m nearing the final stages of a years-long process of writing a book.

I wrote a book of fiction because I believe in story, and because the market is already saturated with evangelical non-fiction work. I wrote a book because I was fed up with preachy and unimaginative Christian art. I wrote a book as a tribute to my best friend, who was murdered at age 18. I wrote a book to help people going through devastating loss. I wrote a book that poses the question, “what if you could get rid of your most painful memory?”

It’s a story. And I believe in it. I believe it has the chance to help people in the way only story can.

Part of this process requires asking for help. I have hundreds of amazing people in my life who care about me and believe in me. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for every single one of them. Unfortunately, none of them are literary agents.

So I’m in need of help.

Recently, I asked a well-known writer and blogger, whom I helped several years ago when he was releasing his first book, to use his considerable knowledge and influence to help me.

He graciously and politely declined, offering some positive feedback and encouragement in the process.

I expected this result, absolutely knew it was coming.

I thought I was prepared for it.

And yet it crushed me. Kind of like this:

Even though he told me he had read a couple of chapters and felt my writing was strong, and despite the fact that earlier in the day I had received an encouraging email from my father about my writing that I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life, I stood in the shower and fought to hold back tears. Rejection was all I could see.

I managed to make it through the shower without falling apart. Then I got out and made the following mental list…

People who are the worst at handling rejection, all time: 

2b. Marty McFly

2a. George McFly

1. Me

I’m terrible at it. Doesn’t matter how many positive comments and feedback I get. Doesn’t matter how many people express their belief in me. Doesn’t matter that it’s not rational or that my conclusions about the rejection are not remotely based in reality. I’ll hold onto the rejection and believe what I think it’s saying about me.

Every time.

I bet I’m not the only one who does this. I bet there are many others in this neurotic club I lead.

But I have hope.

Because I’m part of a tribe of faith who follow a savior and leader who was rejected by His own people, and continues to be rejected by large portions of humanity.

Because there has to be a reason I heard Jia Jiang talk about rejection last week.

Because I also happen to top another list..

Most stubborn creatures, all time:

2b. Politicians

2a. Mules

1. Me

I won’t give up. I’ll feel the pain, collect those rejection letters, and keep fighting to get my story heard. And one day I’ll use that collection of rejection letters as kindling for the bonfire celebrating my breakthrough.

Because J.K. Rowling eventually got her book published.

And so did George McFly.