David C. Hughes, Writer

“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” –Colossians 3:23 NABRE

Archive for the tag “Jesus Christ”

Not for Men

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  

                                                      –Colossians 3:17

 

Growing up Catholic, I had the opportunity to serve as an altar boy. My brothers and I started soon after we received our First Communion, and I served from third grade until well after high school. If the priest emerged from the sacristy with one or both of the altar boys absent, there was an obligation (and expectation) to leave the comfort of the pew, hurry to the back of the sanctuary, throw on a cassock and surplice, and join him as he opened the mass. I would have rather remained with the congregation, a mere observer and not a direct participant, but when duty called, I always answered.

Being on regular rotation meant I had to be available to serve as either the cross-bearer (and bell-ringer) or the book-bearer, not only on Sundays but during the week as well. When school was in session, mass took place at 7:00 in the evening, and during summer vacation, church started at 8:00 in the morning. Nine times out of ten we had to find our way to church on our own, traversing the one-and-a-half miles from home and back either on foot or on our bicycles. Many times one of my brothers and I hoofed it through snow, ice, and rain to make it on time to silently and respectfully (i.e., no giggling or horsing around) don our sacred vestments and queue up in front of the priest.

For the most part I didn’t mind serving. I fulfilled my duties when I was on the schedule, and I substituted when other boys didn’t fulfill theirs. For the ten or eleven years I served, however, one thing made always made me feel uncomfortable: emerging from the sacristy when the church was completely empty, accompanied only by the echoes of our swishing vestments or the squeaking of the priest’s black shoes. This seemed to happen more often in the evenings during the school year than in the mornings while on summer break.

I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but in the back of my mind I always hoped the priest would cancel mass so I could get back home and play Space Invaders or Breakout. He never did. And it seemed someone always showed up at the last minute to fill a seat or two. I don’t remember what prompted the priest one day to provide an answer to my question of why he officiated mass even when no one was in attendance, but I do remember the answer: “God is here.” And that was enough.

For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, to bring attention to myself. I remember buying a knock-off Rolex watch soon after I graduated from college and had a real, paying job. I wore that watch to my grandmother’s funeral, not missing the chance to show it off to my family and later confessing it wasn’t a real Rolex but a cheap Chinese-made copy. For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, even to the point of convincing myself that the foolish ways I sometimes handled money aligned with my own will for me to write for a living rather than carry out the duties supernaturally assigned to me by the Father. For years—decades—I did things only to serve myself, never really bothering to ask God what He had in mind for me, always assuming the burning desires of my heart and not my present reality were what God meant for me. As a consequence I lead a life of James 1:8 double-mindedness that cost me not only financially, but also relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. Lucky for me God was ready to pluck me out of the pit of failure when my way didn’t work. Again.

Thus the reason it’s been a year since I’ve written a blog post. My way didn’t work. My expectations completely misaligned with God’s desire for my life, a desire way bigger than me. But the Father, in His infinite kindness, let me barrel down the highway of selfishness, and the Father, in His infinite mercy, led me back to Himself with a soft whisper and a harsh lesson, yet another teacher gathered with all the other teachers He’s sent.

“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,” the prophet Isaiah wrote, “your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, ‘Away with you!’” (Isaiah 30:20-22, NIV®).

I tearfully, humbly, confessed to my wife, Mary, that I’d failed in this writing endeavor, and I apologized for putting us into a stressful financial situation. “You didn’t fail,” she insisted over and over. “Look what we got instead!” A paid-for fixer-upper as the chasm between income and outgo opened its jaws wide in an attempt to swallow us up monetarily. Freedom from a mortgage. Lower bills. Our own little piece of the country, our own little corner of the lake. Flexibility in work schedule, more family time. But most importantly, a lesson in perspective and alignment of expectations. What failed is doing it my way instead of God’s way. What failed is putting myself first rather than God first. What failed is the enemy’s attempts for me to serve the idol of self-sufficiency and not the God of all Providence. A realization that, as a man of God, my work is not for me or for other men, but for the Creator of man Himself. My teachers are no longer hidden, and what lessons they have taught!

So, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” (Colossians 3:23 NABRE), I am now seeking to live my life for the Lord moment-by-glorious moment. As a planner and a worrier, this is sometimes hard. As a people-pleaser cut from the Proverbs 29:25 cloth, this is sometimes painful. As a self-focused introvert, this is sometimes excruciating. And so I write this blog with no more expectations that you will find it and read it; I do it to serve the Lord as He gives me the words to share for His glory. I do it because I’ve been called to be a light to His people and a witness to His glory, enjoying my Daddy. If you benefit from it, then praise be to God, but I’m now doing it to praise God. Period. As the priest answered my question as to why he officiated mass even when no one was in attendance, his simple answer is one of those teachers Isaiah spoke of: “God is here.”

Isn’t that enough?

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by David C Hughes

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Joy for the World (2015-12-18 Daily)

 

Be joyous always, and serve God with joy.

—Chaim Kramer, Crossing the Narrow Bridge

 

I looked down at the gray LCD display on the elliptical’s control panel. 15 minutes had passed. 15 minutes I still had to go. I shifted my eyes to the odometer: 0.9 miles. My goal for the morning was to hit the 2 mile mark, something I hadn’t done in, gosh, years. Sweat gathered on my forehead and led a charge down my cheeks. It beaded on the backs of my hands and slicked up the elliptical’s metal handles. It rolled off my face and dripped on the floor. My heart pounded to the rhythm of my stride. My breath ebbed and flowed in strong and even measures. My legs no longer ached, warmed by the 4.1 mile-per-hour pace. I was loving it!

Yes, this morning I woke up actually looking forward to my every-other-day flagellation on my Horizon EX-56. After a slow buildup that had started weeks ago, I was close to reaching the 30 minute climax of my fitness goals. The agony had long passed; I now felt one with the elliptical, my body a well-oiled machine pounding away on a not-so-well-oiled one. As I pedaled the squeaky piece of exercise equipment, I tore my eyes from the odometer and fixed them on the wall hangings mounted behind my desk: posters of two of my books, Melted Clowns and The Epiphany of Joy. I smiled. The emotion washing over me at the moment was endorphine-fed bliss, but undergirding that elation lay a growing foundation of pure joy, one not based on current circumstances but on the One Who allows me to experience these circumstances for my benefit and His Glory. “You make known to me the path of life,” King David wrote in Psalm 16, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, /  with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11 NIV®).

I looked at the butterfly on the cover of The Epiphany of Joy—a Question Mark perched on a pale violet lilac bloom against a defocused green foliage background—and realized I’d never fully shared the story of how that butterfly had gotten there. I figured it was about time . . . .

Three years ago, as I was turning the crank on the book’s manuscript, I hadn’t given much thought to the cover until I received an email from my sister, Linda. My sister, a spiritual person who’s in tune with the unseen as much as she is with the seen, had written about a dream she’d had. In her dream, a beautiful woman, perhaps her guardian angel, stood before her with hands closed. The woman smiled, spread her arms, and opened her hands. “Butterflies!” she declared. Books fell from her hands and landed on the ground in front of her.

“I’ve read some information about the symbolism of butterflies, and it’s amazing,” she’d written in her email. “You need to look it up.” So I did, and besides the obvious symbolism of transformation, the butterfly is also a symbol for . . . JOY! I asked Linda for her blessing to use a butterfly on the book, and she eagerly agreed. Then the cover’s wings began to unfold right in front of my mind’s eye.

The butterfly I picked to represent joy is the Question Mark, chosen because of the pearly white question mark prominently displayed on the underside of each hindwing, and because the book is a compilation of my three-year search for joy (What is joy, exactly question mark, question mark, question mark). I pictured a white cover featuring the butterfly in profile perching on a limb. Since the underside of the Question Mark is a drab brown, I wanted to use this angle to represent not only my questioning, but also my uncertainty about joy—what it is, how we achieve it, how we live it. For much of my life, joy was elusive, until I discovered I’d possessed it all along.

I’d also planned to use a drawing of a Question Mark butterfly with wings spread open on the back cover, illustrating my newfound understanding and reception of joy in the upper wing’s vibrant red-orange spotted in black. I commissioned my niece, Emilie L. Hughes, to create these drawings, and she met my expectations. Problem was, my publisher had a different vision for the cover.

Talk about a struggle! I held on tightly to my concept, proud of all the symbolism I’d incorporated into both the front and back covers. When my publisher strongly suggested I use a much more vibrant stock photo of a Question Mark butterfly instead of the purposefully drab illustration, I pushed back. “It’s a book about joy,” she explained. “The cover needs to be bright and colorful. It needs to call out joy! What reader is going to want to pick up a book about joy if the cover doesn’t reflect it?”

I understood her position but felt I would be compromising my vision (and Linda’s) if I gave into it. I discussed it with Mary. I put on my grumpy face. I pondered and thought and contemplated. Finally I relented and okayed the change, feeling somewhat like I’d sold out just to move the project forward. However, when the publisher asked me to select a photo from two stock pictures she’d sent, I knew we’d all made the right decision. The book cover exudes joy, reaching out to the reader with its vivacious colors while still featuring a Question Mark butterfly. Inside, my niece’s illustrations adorned the flyleaf and the crown of each chapter.

Life’s trials and challenges, even the small ones like finalizing a book cover or building up to my goal of running for 30 minutes on the elliptical, make joy all that much more delicious. “Without experiencing sorrow and mourning, there’s no way for us to appreciate its opposite,” says Chaim Kramer in Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. “We have nothing with which to compare our happiness. Therefore, we must experience suffering. Only then can we know the true taste of joy.”[1]

As I suffered in bliss for the last five minutes of my morning run, finally hitting both the 30 minute mark and my 2 mile goal, I remembered that joy is available to everyone who would receive it. And as we again prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, our ultimate Joy—Jesus Christ—stands at the door and knocks, offering His presence and His promise of eternal joy. All we need to do is answer.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

[1] Kramer, Chaim. Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute, 1989. 27.

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