When I was seventeen, I never thought I would make it as an adult. I was reckless. I drank a lot, smoked a lot, and drove way too fast. But my greatest thrill more than anything, was to win the affection of my friends, because deep down I had very little affection for myself.
At twenty, I thought I was a big shot. I had “reclaimed my life” and was a legendary (read: self righteous) follower of Jesus. My drug of choice was the respect and affirmation I won from people for my “good behavior”. I tricked myself into believing that my performance determined my value.
People responded when I performed well in ministry and in my family. Winning this game meant survival for me, because I really believed them more than I believed myself. If they liked me, I liked me. If they didn’t like me, well, I had to try harder until they did. And worst of all, I attributed this type of transactional love to God. Good behavior meant love.
By my thirties, the life of facades and performance had absolutely exhausted me. I began to find it way easier to let God love me in my mess than to perform for the love of other people. I felt as if I was inching toward that freedom that Jesus promised. I'm so grateful for the spiritual mentors and friends who show me the love of Christ by accepting me for who I am and not simply because of how I perform for them. Honesty among these peers began to give birth to freedom. And freedom opened up opportunities for growth in humility.
I’m not sure if it’s aging wisdom, but now in my forties I do have a couple of things to say about all of this. 1) God really does love me regardless of how I perform. 2) A few real and honest relationships are better than thousands of affirming people.
The mess of our life shouldn't cause us to perform for others or to get stuck in shame, it should remind us of our need for God and His grace. I believe in a God who loves me as I am and not as I should be. The greatest thing I can do for myself is to rest in that love.
"My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it."
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
And the greatest thing we can offer the world is that same kind of love. Today, I want to love people more than they hate themselves, so that they don’t have to perform like I did for so many years, so that they quit the act, receive healing found in authenticity, and accept that in the midst of all of their sh*t, they are loved beyond imagination by a forever God.
Hear me; don’t wait as long as I did to love yourself. God loves you and you can too.
He was 40 years old or so when I was born, so I had the unique experience of a young “in his prime” kind of grandfather. I was spoiled rotten with his attention.
Those who knew my Granpa would agree, Shelly Stapleton was a part of what’s called a “dying breed” of man. Half cowboy, half saint, a bright star, whose light was cast further than most, terrifying to behold and yet comforting when standing in it’s warmth. He was a wall, a rock, a man who knew the line of decency and justice and was uncompromising when it came to defending it. Cross him and you’d be crossing a bear. Ask him for help and he’d go above and beyond with a big ol’ grin. And Granpa’s hands told the story. The calluses were born out of selfless service to his country, his wife, and his family.
He was the servant of everyone he encountered. Unless of course he didn’t like you. And if Shelly didn’t like you... you must be up to no good. I never saw him associate with those who weren’t honest and true to their word. Shelly could not be bought or sold. He knew a fair deal and demanded that others respect him as much as he respected them. He made companions for life this way and it made a great impact on me and my brothers. He was a student of people. He watched, listened and read them well. As you might expect, he also won some money at cards.
The day we buried him, I met Billy Baldwin, Granpa’s best friend since second grade. This dear old man teared up when he told me story after story of the two of them getting into mischief on the Houston ship channel in the 1940s and 50s.
“If anyone ever said it couldn’t be done, Shelly would glance over at me and I would say to him, ‘ya hear that Shell?’ and Shelly would look back to me and say ‘Well. I guess we are gonna have to show them, aren’t we?’”
Billy said my Granpa was never afraid to try anything. If he didn’t know how to do it, he would make his best guess at it until he figured it out. Of course, I already knew this about my grandfather. It was always that way. Granpa knew everything about everything. Or at least one very important or interesting thing about everything (that made him seem like he knew everything).
There was literally nothing he wouldn’t try and learn. It was that way with fishing, hunting, construction, history, literature, golf, woodworking, pecan harvesting, horse racing, cattle, rope swings and chocolate cakes. He was a conversationalist, a humorist, and a prophet. God and His creation were a constant marvel to him and he lived grateful. Granpa had a boyish curiosity about the way things worked and he got a kick out of creating things with his hands. My grandfather was also playful as he was intimidating. He always had a “Shellyism” to break the ice among friends and family. These smart quibs were like dad jokes, except way more intelligent and funny. Shelly had a way of making you think for a second or two and then bust out laughing. If a stranger didn’t understand a joke, that was alright with him. He’d figure out a way to make them laugh later on. He was very comfortable in his own skin.
If someone asked “How ya doing Shelly?” he’d reply “I feel more like myself today than I ever have.”
If he liked your cooking, he’d say “I better not get any on my forehead, my tongue would beat my brains out trying to get to it.”
If he wanted a cigar, he’d say “I’m fixing to smoke all over myself.”
If you said “It was good to see you Shelly!” He’d say “It was good to be seen!”
And if you were saying goodbye, he’d say “See ya wallago!”
I love you Granpa. I miss you already. Thanks for continuing to teach me.
See ya wallago.
A few weeks ago, a dear friend (kind of out of the blue) asked my forgiveness. I was shocked, because I was the one who needed to ask for his. It wasn’t a huge offense, nothing that was capable of ruining our friendship. I just needed to apologize for assuming some things and letting our friendship drift a bit. And there HE was asking mercy of me. In that moment, Christ’s presence was truly thick in our midst. Two dad dudes standing there forgiving each other and saying I’m sorry, like grown ups, like men, like disciples of Jesus. It was perhaps, miraculous.
It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that we live in a culture of blame. Social media and greed has thrown us into a frenzy of tribalism, where only others are to blame for our issues. To take any responsibility is to admit defeat and weakness. To admit wrong, even a teeny tiny bit of wrong, means now we are THE responsible party. But this isn’t true at all.
What if my friend AND I were both responsible for some wrongdoing? And what if we weren’t the only ones either? What if there were others involved? Could I have not realized I was injuring my friend because of something from my own formation? Who’s responsible here?
I’m coming to believe that evil in the world cannot be blamed on a single person, ideology, circumstance or group. There is an enemy of God that no one likes to talk about. And his main mission is to divide us.
Who’s to blame? All of us and none of us. But in Christ, we are free forever from that yoke. He suffered to redeem us and we are free indeed.
After a good tight bro hug and some encouraging words, both my friend and I walked away lighter, happier, more free. If you were at Encounter Texas and you thought God did some great work through Cana and I and the others, know that the vessel He used for a lot of that was my dear friend. His boldness was infectious. It spread through me and others, the ministry team, the staff. That conference was not only beautiful on the outside, there was a whole lot of healing mercy going on behind the scenes too.
I think I’ve heard my father in law say “when you point a finger at someone, you are really pointing four more back at yourself.” The funny thing about wrongdoing, is everyone can always admit to some imperfection and some fault. So I’m here to say in blog form today (and I hope we can connect soon), if I’ve ever pointed a finger in your direction, I’m truly sorry. If I’ve ever hurt you or disappointed you, I’m sorry for that too. Please forgive me.
Peace and Good!
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is about our decision to host our open porch weekly: “How do you do it, EVERY WEEK? Isn’t it exhausting to have your house “guest ready” that often?”
This is such a great question, and one with a complex answer. Of course, yes, in some ways it is exhausting. I won’t pretend there’s not hard work involved in prepping large meals, and making sure we’re well stocked on toilet paper, plates, cups, etc. And certainly, there’s always a substantial amount of clean-up involved, either that evening or the following morning. But Ennie and I, (and now our kids) have discovered that the work is truly worth it. It’s worth the couple of hours necessary to prepare our home to receive our guests every week, and clean up after them when they’ve gone home -- because we are honestly, so blessed by their presence each week. It’s like most disciplines in following Jesus. They always seem difficult at first, but once you are doing it, they become a gift and a joy.
In addition to the work being worth it, my idea of what “guest ready” is, has evolved dramatically. I say this because early on in our marriage, I remember preparing for an event (a baby shower, I think) that was to take place in our home. I took an entire week to make sure that every part of my house would be gleaming. My oldest children were small then, but I practically ignored them in order to focus on preparing my home to have guests. I went so far as to vacuum the front room meticulously just before my guests arrived, and then (this is so embarrassing) purposefully walked carefully over the vacuum lines with clean shoes so that my guests wouldn’t know I had just vacuumed. I wanted them to believe that my house was just always this perfectly spotless! THAT, is WEIRD. THAT is what I now call “living inside other people’s heads”, thinking so much about what others are thinking, that I’m no longer free to be me. In that instance, my house was guest ready, but my heart certainly was not.
Thankfully, I’ve let that neurotic behavior go. Nowadays making my house “guest ready” is certainly not perfection, but it has its roots in respect. Out of respect for our guests we make sure our house is neat and tidy. Out of respect for our guests we try to hang a clean hand-towel in the bathroom, for example. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t pulled directly out of the dryer, or that there aren’t three loads of dirty laundry waiting to be cycled through behind it. Out of respect for ourselves we’re willing to be vulnerable and let our guests recognize that human beings live here, and that life with seven children can be messy, and even so, that they are invited into that reality. Imperfections and “mistakes” in hospitality are sometimes the best parts of our open porch, because life IS truly messy, it’s imperfect, and when others are invited into that reality, they are somehow more free to be themselves, vulnerable and real.
We were created for community, and before we make our house “guest ready” we must make our hearts “guest ready”. When we are willing to make room in our hearts for people, neighbors, friends, enemies, hospitality takes on new meaning. Community is built in vulnerability and presence to one another. We can vacuum all we want, but unless we are willing to share ourselves, our true selves, we will never find true community.
Cana and I didn’t plan on having a bunch of kids. We also didn’t plan on having just a few kids. The truth is, we didn’t plan at all. When I’m asked about it, I usually say something along the lines of “I just love my wife” and for a laugh maybe I’ll add a “frequently”. It’s no secret that Cana and I love each other intensely. And to me, there is no more noble mission on the planet than becoming an expert at loving and serving my spouse. It’s my first apostolate, my vocation and my highest call. She’s my most immediate neighbor and Jesus said that I’m supposed to love my neighbors. The result and the rest of our story has been pretty serendipitous, meaning we haven’t really planned too far beyond that.
Webster’s dictionary defines serendipity this way; a faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. So in simpler words, serendipity, in my opinion, is finding awesome things accidentally. I like this concept a lot. I like it because as I look back over my life and the story that God and I have written together, I find so much of the really awesome stuff to be the "accidental" stuff, and not even a part of my plan at all.
God's plan is way better than mine.
His will is perfect and He loves me.
He is making me better in the shut doors and also the opportunities, in the loneliness and the consolation. This is His grace, it’s alive and tangible right here in the present moment.
If we over-plan and over-discern our paths, we can easily stifle this grace and the ways that God is leading us.
Be present to your present moment, trust that you are right where you are supposed to be, love those around you and find some valuable things accidentally together. God oftentimes fulfills dreams that we didn’t even know we had. A few of ours worth noting are named Madeline, Dominic, Sophia, Avila, Lucia, Quinn, Zelie (Fatima, Michael, and Thomas, our babes in heaven).
Peace and Good!
Theoden: "So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?" Aragorn: "Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them."
Allow me to nerd out for a second. Two minutes to be exact.
If you've read the book (or seen the film), I hope you remember this emotional moment in the exchange above from J.R.R.Tolkien's, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Theoden the king, utters those words with the enemy fast approaching. He is having to admit that they have in fact been beaten that day at Helm’s Deep. The king is recalling that their enemy, the uruk-hai, don't care who they kill. They kill because they simply hate. They have been pillaging, killing innocents and scorching villages throughout Rohan for months, and now the race of men is entirely finished. They are at the door of his keep. He is hopeless.
Aragorn, the heir, then responds with crazed and inspiring hope. He calls his band not to retreat but to "ride out" into battle with him. In both the movie and the book, the inspired riders ride their beasts into the battle, swords drawn and (spoiler) defeat Sauron’s entire force with the help of Gandalf the white and some good magic.
I cry real tears every time I watch this moving scene.
Scenes like that are moving to us because we believe them to be true and possible. We are inspired by the fictional riders because we were actually made to ride out like that, to hope like that, to act and do justice like that. You and I are capable of fearlessly riding out and meeting hatred with love.
In the last few days, we've been trying to process all the hate that is happening in the country (and state) that we love so dearly. We are confused and we are grieving with our brothers and sisters in California, Texas and Ohio. Like most of the nation, we continue to mourn the loss of more and more innocent life, born and unborn.
Hatred and fear is so loud in our ears right now. It's all around us and we are beginning to lose hope that it will get quieter anytime soon.
We are all mourning in our different ways. But the truth is, the mass shootings over the weekend cannot be blamed on any one person, institution, or viewpoint. There is an enemy of God and he is a tricky sumbitch. The shootings are horrific symptoms of a deeply flawed culture that prioritizes things over people, earthly riches and pleasure over the "things that are above." We are blaming each other and hatred is growing. The enemy has divided us.
Will you ride out with us?
Will you cross the street to meet your neighbors?
Cana and I started Del Rey Collective because we believe that in order to counter division and hate in our world, Christian people are called to love all the more, to double down on being the Church of Acts, by rooting ourselves in the Holy Spirit and loving our neighbors boldly.
Social media and on-demand content, has informed us, but at a very high cost, the loss of true human connection. We believe that small communities of neighbors on Open Porches has the potential to be a healing moment, a place of hope for the hopeless, and a concrete way for Christians to love their (actual) neighbors as themselves.
If you've read this far, would you consider joining the Open Porch Community?
In times like this we worship and we doubt. We want to hide and we feel called to act. However, there is only one true and Christian response to hatred, and that is love. Love in all it's shapes and forms. Receiving Love from on high, ordinary loving acts, and everything in between.
The Gospel demands it, our country needs it, God's got this!
Peace and Good!
Ennie and Cana
Going from city to city, youth conference to youth conference, camp and back again is not always as glamorous as it seems. Lack of sleep and inadequate nutrition, sleeping apart from my wife and missing lazy pool days with my kids are huge bummers. But, I'm also coming to realize that my family and I have been immensely blessed by my summer job/calling (or whatever you want to call it).
First of all, the heroic friends that I get to work with and glean wisdom from have not only inspired me to be more bold in my proclamation of the Gospel through the years, but have also inspired me to be a better human being, husband and father. I have the greatest friends who love me (for me) and are constantly cheering me on to holiness and wholeness. Secondly, on the road I get a lot of contemplation time. I almost feel guilty talking about it, but there is a lot more silence for me there. Whether it's while driving or flying (layovers too), travel affords me some good time with my thoughts, and good locations for listening to God's voice. Thirdly, I have the opportunity to dream some dreams, to learn and to experiment with new movements of evangelization and discipleship. Camp and conference culture is oftentimes a lab for the new evangelization in America, a place where some of the brightest and most selfless leaders get to share new ideas and models. I like this part a lot. But I also think it's dangerous if we are the only ones doing it. I think dreaming is for everyone.
All believing Christians should participate in the necessary exercise of "What's working? What's not working? How can we do this better?".
Over the years, I've become increasingly convinced that one of the greatest tragedies of modern Christianity is that we've lost our sense of creativity, our ability to captivate people's hearts with the radical beauty of the Gospel.
So, I wanted to ask you...
What's working? What's not working? How can we better share our faith and captivate hearts with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Are more conferences the answer? Better liturgy? What's your dream?
Cana and I have our thoughts and opinions and we might share them tonight on the Live Q and A. But we want to know what you are thinking.
Comment below or send us an email. We'd love to hear your voice.
"And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions."
Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17
Peace and Good!
God's gift of time, we try and schedule it, but ultimately it keeps ticking away. We can't stop it and we can't even slow it down. Last month I turned 40 years old. If I live to 80, mathematically, half of my time here is gone. Woah! I'm not feeling sorry for myself and neither should you. It's just that this "weird" fact (along with all the grey hairs on my head) have caused me to think more critically about where and how I spend my time. You could say I am way more intentional with it, I care more about it. I don't have all the answers, but I often find myself frustrated when I have "time to kill", when I'm not being productive with it.
Currently, our family is stranded in Flagstaff, Arizona. The transmission in our "Catholic Limo", the 12 passenger Nissan van, has blown up and it's held us up for three extra days while the mechanic rebuilds one for us. Even though northern Arizona isn't the worst place to be stranded, I find myself really frustrated. I had a game plan, time allotted, and now I'm stuck, killing time, waiting to get going again.
Or perhaps, I don't know the art of killing time yet. It seems to me that much of ordinary life is waiting. And much of the spiritual journey involves patient hopeful waiting. And patience is one of those strange virtues that can only be built like a muscle is built in the body. We have to exercise it, in order to grow it. When faced with a moment of frustrating waiting, it is our intentional pursuit of patience that brings us peace, and there grace abounds.
"Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." - James 1: 2-4
Jesus never tires of growing us into the disciples He wants us to be. If we try and eliminate moments that grow our patience we will most likely miss the most important lessons that He has to offer.
Is there something I could be learning from my current experience? Yes.
Could I use this time to form deeper connection with my wife and kids? Of course.
Should I stop complaining and go to the Grand Canyon instead? Great idea!
How do you "kill time" when you are stuck waiting? Do you have a tip or trick? We'd love to hear how you spend your God-given "waiting" moments.
Leave a comment below.
Peace and Good!
Like all of my human family, my perception of what is true, good, and beautiful has been tainted by sin. In fact, only recently am I realizing how far I have to go to rid myself of all the twists that have shaped my view of even just the concept of beauty. When I gave up on the world’s version of beauty all those many years ago, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t given up some ideal of the “perfect image” in my head. And I’m not only talking about a perfect body, although I held loosely to the idea that such a thing is possible too. I’m talking about wanting to in some way, be perceived as perfect. To put it another way, I’ve always wanted others to think I’m getting it right. This is, I believe, a form of perfectionism. It’s a foolish concept, really, but one I’ve struggled with my whole life, especially with regard to the way I’m perceived. It is ironic, (and quite shameful) that I often care more about whether other people think I’m good, than actually being good. There are countless examples of how this plays out in my life. How many of my littlest decisions are motivated simply by wanting to be perceived in the best possible light. The tape in my head is often shouting, “but what will people think?!”
Please tell me you can relate.
I bring all this up, because at this moment in history, with the widespread use of social media, we’ve each been afforded a unique opportunity to showcase in a public way the images we want to portray about our lives, and indeed, about who we are. We have the ability to project whatever kind of image we want to project, regardless of whether it’s authentic, and to become “known” to strangers we may never even meet. That is, if we have enough filters...and passwords.
As social media has made its way into my life, I have tried hard to portray an authentic and accurate picture of my own life. I’ve also sought to temper my use of social media with ‘real life’, in-person, flesh and blood relationships that reveal my most authentic self. But even so, I’ve also noticed a definite temptation to an over-analysis of other people’s online lives. On the one hand I’m grateful to be invited into people’s personal daily lives. In countless ways my life has been positively impacted because of profound and even vulnerable things people have shared on spaces like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. But at other times, it has also felt like a sort of voyeuristic peek into friends lives -- sometimes they are total strangers even. There have been times when I have managed to get caught up in the fantasy of ‘what their life must be like’, and it can leave me feeling ashamed and lacking.
These feelings have opened up questions in my heart, and have me struggling to decipher if there’s a best (agh...more perfectionism) way to incorporate social media into not only my own life, but even our ministry. I feel like I have a thousand questions, but so far I’m working with these:
Is it possible that by using the lens of what I am willing to share on social media, I’ve been guilty of depicting a fantasy-like image? Could our public sharing of some of the most beautiful, attractive, and well-curated snippets of our lives, actually have the unintended effect of leading another to believe that the gifts God has given them are somehow inferior to the ones He’s given us? And does the responsibility for this fallacy fall more on the person projecting the image, or the person taking the image in? Is my life actually enriched by participation in social media platforms to which I subscribe? Does my use of social media enrich other people’s lives? What even counts as social media?
I don’t have many answers, but even the pondering of these has led me to significantly cut back on my own personal social media engagement, and to focus on the here and now, and love even more freely those people with whom I am currently sharing oxygen.
For now, I do know this much: if our private lives don’t match our ‘public face’ we have room to grow in the proper use of social media. Similarly, if our interior life doesn’t match our exterior social media life, we aren’t on the right path either. The rest is murky, at best, and I’m probably going to have to resign myself to the fact that there’s probably not a way to get it right.
In January, my career sort of went off script. Right away, I scrambled to find the original copy. But it's been useless, it's gone. The script has changed. Lately, my most authentic and desperate prayers have sounded something like, "Jesus, can you just show me a little bit of how this is all going to play out? What should my next step be? Jesus, in your mercy, a little bit of light here on the path could really help!" But, apparently that's just not how He rolls. Jesus... wants it all, He wants all my trust.
"Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." John 14:5-6
I can relate to Thomas the Apostle. Not having the script is hard.
When we ask for maps and He says "follow me".
When we ask for practical instructions for our mission, He says "love your neighbor."
When we want to know the most important part of being a disciple, He simply says "abide in me."
As frustratingly dim as the path sometimes is, I'm slowly learning to unclench my fists, and trust the true author of the script. If we want to make a difference in the world, we are going to have to be different in the world. Sometimes the enemy uses the world to script our lives out, to show us the step by step plan of a false fulfillment. But it's not the real thing. Jesus offers us the real thing. Those who follow Him, must trust, not only in the long term big stuff, but also in the smaller things of daily bread. They trust and love in the everyday and in the ordinary, even when it's not part of their original plan.
Going off script is hard. But in order to live a life of joy, we must learn to be interruptible and flexible. A neighbor in need, an unexpected guest, an unforeseen blessing will always interrupt the script. You and I must be willing to be present to it, abiding in Him, and trusting in His ultimate plan, not our own.
I used to complain about all the interruptions to my work until I realized that these interruptions were my work. - Henri Nouwen
God wants my heart more than anything else. When I trust Him with the script, He gets all the Glory.
If you have doubts about your mission, discerning a new mission, or just want to chat about God's plan for your life, we can relate and we want to support you! You can always leave us a message here and tell us all about it. Be encouraged today! God's got this!
peace and good!