Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Who are you, and what do you do?

Who are you and what do you do?

It's a basic question, and one that you've probably answered at least a hundred times in your life. It's so basic that we don't really think much of it. However, it seems to me that in our day and our culture, we have fundamentally lost the ability to answer these questions correctly. Whenever it's asked of me, I always default into the way everyone else answers it.

"My name is Nate. I'm from North St. Paul. I have a wife and a daughter. I go to Luther Seminary, and I coach basketball."

Now this is all well and good until you realize that I've really not answered both questions asked of me. I've only told you what I do. But in our world no one seems to notice that. It happens because we've combined the questions and our own identities have become defined by what we do. To some, that may be good enough. But I'm not satisfied with that. When I answer in that way, I've told you my name, and where I spend my time. But that doesn't quite paint the full picture for you.

Instead, I'd love to tell you, "My name is Nate. I strive to be a man of high character and of deep faith. I love people and working with them in good times and in bad. That's why I'm going to seminary. I want to be classy, over being cool. I want to be known as wise rather than being smart. I work hard at the things I love to do. I am a loving father and husband, and I work every day to be better at that. I want to be the best at whatever I do. That is especially true when I coach basketball."

Now I've told you a little bit about who I am. You see, the difference in that answer is that I'm no longer defined by what I do. Instead, what I do is defined by who I am. All too often in our world, I see people who get into a career with the intention of defining it. With all the hopes and dreams of a bright future and all the wonderful things they'll be able to do. But as they get caught up in the whirlwind of the daily grind, they lose sight of who they are and the desire to define their job. Then they become a label. Perhaps we don't answer in the full way because people don't want to stand their listening to the whole thing. Perhaps it's because we don't want to brag about ourselves.

Here's the deal. I know you are much more than what you do. You, who are sitting at your computer, or reading this on your phone, who clicked some random link to get here, or maybe got this emailed to your inbox. You are much more than what you do. I know it. So let me ask you again,
Who are you, and what do you do? I really want to know.

(p.s. I have changed around some settings so that anyone can comment. So I'd love for you to actually answer that question if you'd like to!)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A little validation might be nice around here...

NOTE: There is a danger in writing a blog like this. This is in no way some sort of needy, passive way at hinting at a need of mine.

"Validation" for some reason carries a bit of a negative connotation these days. Images of past acquaintances or modern day martyrs start flying through your head of people fishing for compliments based on their inherent need for love and attention, or serving in order to be notice for how wonderful they are. Though all that can be true, and filling that need for someone may not necessarily be a bad thing, that's not really what I'm talking about.

See in those situations, there seems to be some sort of deficit that needs to be filled and the only way to do it is to validate someone's actions. However, what I want to tell you about is the power of the unexpected validation.

I have a friend who I love and respect a great deal. She has this incredible gift to not only see, but to point out the gifts and talents that someone has. And it's not just an occasional thing either. It's constantly. (and I really do mean constantly, like several times a day) No matter who this person is, what their past, present, or future look like she can find the good in them, and she tells them about it too! I must admit that I've given her a lot of crap about this, but I also have to say that you'd be hard pressed to walk away from an interaction with her feeling bad about yourself. Her unexpected validation does wonders for the people around her. She truly becomes the light of Christ and spreads it to those she meets. Incredible.

I have a mentor whom I hold in the highest regard. I am honored to call him my friend and aspire every day to model the example that he set out for me. While trading emails with him, he told me very simply "You inspire me." I have to tell you, those three words carried an immense weight for me. When your inspiration is inspired by you, boy is that ever some validation. That sort of thing can keep you going for years.

But this unexpected validation doesn't need to be some big extravagant thing. A colleague of mine ran our confirmation orientation a couple of weeks ago. She had everything laid out, she worked really hard on the hand outs, the schedule for the meeting, all of it. Watching her run this orientation was awesome. She rocked it. After that meeting, she got an email that said something to the effect of "thank you for the meeting. It was well organized and well presented. I know what's going on for this coming year and I feel ready for it." As she told our team about this, you could just see the satisfaction on her face. She reflected "That sort of thing really makes you feel like you're doing alright."

So I have been inspired by all of these things. So I decided to try a little bit of it. I was at a council meeting this past week. One of the council members stepped in to run the meeting. Before hand he talked me through a few other things that I'd need to know about this congregation and some things I needed to do for it. He ran a great meeting, and then stayed after a little bit to chat with a couple of us that lingered a bit. As I talked with him, I found out all of the other things that he does for the church and for the community. I will tell you, this man has A LOT going on. But all of the things that he does seem to be those sort of thankless jobs. So seeing this opportunity, I simply said, "I just want to say thank you. I know I'm new here, but I can see how much work you do, and I know that your work makes life easier for the rest of us. So thanks." He seemed a bit taken aback by my statement, but then a smile came across his face and he said "well, I try, and I really appreciate that." This was not a difficult thing on my part at all. I simply had to keep my eyes open and see how God is using this man. What a gift for service he has, and I have to believe that a little validation made a big difference.

So I challenge you to do the same. Open your eyes. Look at those around you. Who do you see that is doing God's work with excellence? Who makes life a little easier for you? Who inspires you? Who has amazing gifts that you can see?  Maybe it's time to let them know.

Friday, September 6, 2013

An Update from the Prairie!

So I've discovered that none of my posts thus far have really kept anyone up to date on what's happening so far. So here goes...

We moved down to Fulda on August 26th. As soon as we arrived, we had wonderful people around us to help unload and to make us feel welcomed down here. We spent the remainder of that week unpacking, though we're still living in a minor maze of cardboard boxes. The house is GREAT. It's got plenty of room for Paige and Maddie to run around, and for visitors!!! I'm sure at some point we'll post a virtual tour of the house, but that would require me taking pictures, which would require time. That seems to be lacking.

I officially started on September 1st. That was a Sunday and I attended 2 worship services. One at Evangelical Lutheran in Heron Lake and One at Amo Lutheran near Storden. In all I have 5 different congregations that I'll be working with. The two I just mentioned, plus Immanuel Lutheran in Fulda (which I live next to), First Lutheran in Dundee, and Grace Lutheran just outside of Worthington. Luckily I'm not alone. I'm the 4th pastor on staff and the rest of my team is absolutely awesome. They all differ in personality, gifts and talents, as well as many other things. I can certainly lean a lot from them.

Right now my supervising pastor and I are making the rounds through the congregations, getting me introduced to everyone. I will begin leading services on my own at the end of this month. That's awesome and terrifying at the same time. I have worked really hard so far at trying to contribute something instead of feeling like the extra weight. I'm not sure how well it's going, but I haven't even been on the job for a week yet... So maybe I'll cut myself a bit of slack.

I'm starting to feel a little more settled down here. I'm getting used to seeing corn and soy beans everywhere. The peace and quiet of this setting is really allowing me to have some peace and quiet in my mind and soul, something I guess I was lacking. I've already had some great moments where the Holy Spirit sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly gives me a kick.

But I've also found some difficulty. This past week, My dad lost his cousin who was really more like his brother. My Mom lost one of her good friends. And we all lost a good friend in my home congregation. Though those events made me sad, I found it especially difficult to not be around while all this is happening. They say a pastor is called to a church to shepherd a flock. While I am down here, I'm learning to shepherd a whole new flock, but not really sure how to help take care of my old one. Sorrow is a hard feeling, but helplessness really sucks!

Keep walking, keep praying, keep growing I guess!
God Bless!