Happy is the Breeze

There are memories that never seem to fade from the landscape of my life’s meanderings. Like an Eastern NC sand burr, they continuously catch and attach to the fabric of my wandering thoughts, requiring the painstaking chore of extraction. There is no ignoring a sand burr once you are aware of their firm attachment to your party of one.
sticker-field-sandburYears ago I was asked by my pastor, “Are you happy here?”
“I’m not clear on what you’re getting at.”, I replied.
Without relinquishing, the question was reposed, “Are you happy at (name of job I worked at the time)?”

I recall a similar question posed years before the other. “Why are you here?”, asked a deacon of the church I served at the time.
I responded similarly, “What do you mean?”
“Why are you here, right now, at (name of job I worked at the time)?”
“Because it’s my job.”, I replied slightly confused and dismissively.
“No, not good enough. What is your reason for being here today, tomorrow, and the day after, and so on?” Like the extraction of a sand burr, this line of questioning continued for a few minutes.

Over years of living days into nights into days, these particular memories of completed conversations have continued to infuse ongoing conversations. They have led me to answer the question, “Why…?”, anew, afresh, again and again.

I am grateful to my inquisitive companions for their distracting questions that subtly guided me to realize that I prefer meaningfulness over happiness. And…I have come to learn that there is a profound difference between meaningfulness and happiness. Though there is a harmonic kinship in the experience of meaningfulness and happiness, we can find ourself dreadfully misplaced if we negotiate our journey towards happiness, targeting it as the destination…the intended end. Pursuing destinations of meaningfulness or happiness have the power to become a moment’s…a day’s…a life’s purpose. Give me a path of meaning. Happy is the breeze.

ef·fer·ves·cent

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
ef·fer·ves·cent19 years old, visiting with relatives for the weekend, I was seated within the sanctuary of a large church in Durham, NC. I was taking in the scene around me: men, women, boys, girls…most singing, many clapping and swaying…some running…some speaking in languages other than English…a large choir on stage with various musicians and other singers. In spite of the frantic energy in the room, I was feeling the seconds being slowly peeled away from the unknown remainder of the service.
As I sat pining for the lunch awaiting me (the only reason I attended here), I tried to distract my focus from waiting out the unyielding worship leader on the stage and began to note the elements of the environment that frustrated me, that shouted at me, “Look over here! No, look at this! Wow…have you noticed me yet? How could you have missed this one?”
The choir and musicians swelled into a key change, foreshadowing a second wind, and the congregation responded as if they were floating atop carbonated waves….”I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain!”
The heaviness of perfumes in the air underscored the loud garish colors shouting from the dresses and hair accessories of pious women intending to present themselves in modest dress while cajoling around the room in dramatic fashion. Men in stark white dress shirts tucked within shells of dark suits shouted and cheered. Pumping their hands and fists in the air. Shiny belts, polished shoes, awkward ties. The choir whipping up the room into a frenzy of steamy fabrics, misty perfumes, and billowing hair sculptures.
Sigh…such misguided people.
Internally, I was weighing it all harshly and with much frustration bordering on anger. Externally, I smiled and kept time with my foot patting dark carpet and one hand softly tapping a knee. This was my extent of my polite participation while my physical form sat anchored to a pew by a spirit in protest. I encouraged the steadiness of my bankrupt heart with images of chicken and cornbread and mashed potatoes.
I honestly cannot provide an explanation for what happened next. It was as if a television program’s broadcast signal was abruptly disrupted causing an entire scene from the show in progress to be lost…missed…unseen…and the signal suddenly returns, the show is restored, and nothing you’re seeing makes any sense now.
My awareness of sitting in judgement was truncated and suddenly, like a slight of hand magic trick, I find myself suddenly conscious of my body fully erect, both arms sticking up as rods towards the sky, my face turned to the ceiling, eyes pinched shut, hot tears pouring, and the sound of my voice jockeying for position among the congregation singing the words, “I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain! My soul is hungry, I’ve got this aching within! I wanna be washed in the blood of the Lamb!” And I knew that I meant them. I don’t know how, but I knew that these words were, and are, my deepest-to-date plea…my sudden and unexpected surrender to a Christ with Whose story I had been immersed in and fed all of my life.
Much of the remainder of that day’s events are now a blur. I can only recall being baptized at the conclusion of the service. I recall walking out of the church with new eyes, a new mind, an unfamiliar gnawing hunger, and a zealousness for pleasing the LORD that was ef·fer·ves·cent.
That was some 22 years ago. Looking back, I am amazed and humbled by my Jesus. I was attending a college I did not desire to attend. On a scholarship that I did not want. Newly majoring in a field of study that was awkward and causing me much distress. Living a life of scathingly enduring people.
Ironically, within a year’s time of that conversion, I was called into Christian ministry…worship of all things..working with people…an occasional and residing phobia. The one thing that I sat despising in the lives of others…God destined me for it.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
‪#‎mytestimony‬ ‪#‎bornagain‬ ‪#‎spiritualrebirth‬ ‪#‎thensingsmysoul‬ ‪#‎surrender‬ ‪#‎confess‬ ‪#‎befree‬ ‪#‎loveofChrist‬ ‪#‎compassion‬

Short shorts, Emus, and Gelflings

Here is a younger Vince Lanier wearing China’s version of “Daisy Dukes” 🙂VinceandJo

This photo is of her and  her friend, Jo Fan, visiting somewhere in China. Seeing this photo this morning reminded me of a treasured memory of a day from my honeymoon.
I remember well, while on our honeymoon, Vince and I were visiting Disney World (of course!). It was my very first visit to the happiest place on earth. Vince was wearing some really short shorts on this particular day. (I should mention that I’m the one who actually cut these shorts for her. I can’t recall why I did this…but I was probably a little more depraved in my thinking back then…and it WAS my honeymoon, afterall!). As it was my first visit to Disney World, and I was always an avid Disney fan growing up, you can imagine the overwhelming sensations of walking through the gate into the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA. 1-main-street

I was so overwhelmed with the swirling and alluring flood of vibrant sights, sounds…and of Vince standing before me in Daisy Dukes with Cinderella’s Castle on the horizon…that I had to sit down on a bench just across from the candy store.
Vince said, “Why are you already sitting down? We JUST got here!!!”
I said, “Baby, I need to sit down. It’s a guy thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
Vince retorted, “What?!?! What does sitting down have to do with being a guy? Let’s go! We’re already late.” (Always rushing me…still to this day. Curiously, she is never in a rush while at home. But on vacation…it’s always time to pound the pavement and go go go!)
“Honey, just let me sit a little while. It’s your shorts. You’re not going to be able to walk in front of me today. Stay beside me…or, like a good Asian bride, walk 3-feet behind.” smile emoticon (I still ask her to do this today…just to get her goat.)
During exchanges like this…those in which I am talking in veiled indirect facetious codes in response to Vince’s prodding demands…Vince consistently displays a look that is strongly reminiscent of the cold hard stare of the emu.emu
The emu reminds me of the Skeksis from “The Dark Crystal”. My first experience with an emu was at Lazy 5 Ranch. I was seated in a truck’s open-air bed, looking forward to this expedition as a first-timer, holding a bucket that apparently exudes a siren’s call to all animals in the park, and an emu suddenly appeared, gliding into my personal space and stood solid, still, and close. It’s dark, pinched and impressive sized cranium framed an expression that starts with the full canvas of the face and draws you to the cold hard expressive eyes that say, “Fool, you are in imminent danger should you decide to not comply with my reasonable request and submit to the obviousness before you that I possess the ability to do memorable harm to you.” I threw the bucket of food at the bird who was unmoved by either surprise or gratitude. The bird simply released me from the stare and descended like a rain cloud on my scattered food pellets.
Looking up at Vince from my park bench into that foreboding expression, I complied with a slightly more direct response.
“I have to sit here for a little while longer until my biological reaction to the view of your Daisy Dukes framed in Disney subsides, abates, diminishes.”
skeksisShe cocked her head with the cool precision of a mounted weapon while maintaining that Skesis-like glare. Suddenly, my condition that I was attempting to politely describe to her, dawned upon Vince. And with slightly less disdain than a Skesis holds for a Gelfling, Vince said, “You’re an idiot.”dark-crystal-jen
She joined me on the park bench. We sat, together, taking in the sights and sounds of Main Street USA in Disney World…and I was a happily married man in the happiest place on earth.
(For the record, Vince never wore the Daisy Dukes again…much to my dismay.)

We Are Home OWNERS!…but not really.

My wife, Vince, recently shared some very big news regarding our family. WE PAID OFF OUR HOUSE THIS WEEK! After nearly 15 years in this home, our first home, we made our final mortgage payment this very week.
Pulling into my driveway this week has been more satisfying than my normal “home again, home again, jiggity jog” elation that arises once I have completed a full day of living outside my home and in my community. I am thankful and grateful that my wife and I have accomplished this milestone together. I am thankful for our gracious God who led us here (yes, He led us to this property one seemingly random day as we drove, nearly lost, in Mecklenburg County) and, after almost 15 years in this structure…serving God, living for God, believing in and holding to God…a lot of life has happened. Marital strife, financial roller coasters, family drama, love, birthday parties, Christmases, tears, fights; you name it…this house has seen it. When a man loves a woman, and they work at becoming ONE…well, it’s a force of nature and an act of God. Marriage is not about my sexual attraction to or emotional enjoyment of Vince. Those things are simply what sparked the intrigue of the concept. And here we are, 20 years later, going strong and paying off our house.

But despite the really cool feeling of knowing that I don’t have a mortgage payment to make anymore, instead of wondering, “what’s next?”, I remember and savor the following experience.
Shortly after moving into our new home on Branthurst Drive; the structure, the door frame, the occupants were prayed over and anointed by Dr. MA Thomas. He was a great missionary, visionary humanitarian, and the inspirational founder of Hope Givers.
I considered it a distinct privilege to have Dr. MA Thomas in my home and praying because he had left a memorable imprint on my life a few years prior to this moment when he had stayed with Vince and I in our Cornelius apartment for a weekend while visiting North Carolina. I remember having to almost fight for the right to host him because there was another family at my church (a wildly financially successful family) that wished to host him, as well. Their position on the matter was, “We cannot host this great man of God in an apartment when he can stay in our lakeside home.” In my immaturity, I despised the comparison and the desire to have Dr. MA Thomas in my home became more of a competition than an offer of hospitality.
In God’s sovereignty, not through my efforts (as I thought then), Dr. MA Thomas stayed with Vince and me and that visit was instrumental in shaping my growing faith. While with us, he would spend 2 to 3 hours per morning in our guest room…praying. He would be on the floor, facedown, seeking God and praying. I thought, “how in the world does he have that much time or that much stuff to pray?”
Fast forward to the prayer over our present home; I remember that as he was praying and anointing our home with oil, he authoritatively asked God that our home be set apart and that, by His power, it be found useful and effective in the ministry and mission work of God.
Back to his stay in our apartment:
During his stay with us in our apartment, I had asked Dr. Thomas about my observations regarding his prayer life and the time that he spent praying and meditating. He said, “Allow me to start with an observation of my own.” (People from India and England always sound so poetic and wise…I feel like a bumpkin when talking with most of them) He shared that, on his visits to the US, he was always struck by American’homeownerships appetite for and relationship with their houses, yards, wealth. He said that he did not understand why they could not see how much time that their houses and their possessions required of them. When staying with gracious hosts, he would note how much time was spent by his hosts in maintaining yards, maintaining cars, keeping rooms cleaned, picked up, dusted, organized, etc. From his observations, he sensed that one would never reach a place of inner contentment because they would always be seeking more to own which would result in more to do.
I have never forgotten that conversation. I have never forgotten the vision of him praying in my apartment for what seemed like an excruciating amount of time. I have never forgotten his mighty request of God regarding my home and my family. It was as if I was living the Mary and Martha story of Scripture.
So when I pull into my driveway of my fully paid for home, I remember that it is set apart. And though Bank of America no longer owns it with Vince and me, we do not own it either.
It has been a place where much ministry and mission has been accomplished and birthed.
In closing, I must add that my wife, who is a financial genius, has managed our finances well. She is the closest thing to a Proverbs 31 I will ever know and see. She gave up her culture, her family, her “identity”, to become Mrs. Lanier. You’ve done good, baby. You’ve done real good.

So now we are mortgage free and I know that, in part, it is because God honored Dr. MA Thomas’ prayer that day. But I also know this: In the eyes of Heaven, I am not entirely debt free. No, I owe Him. All to Him; I owe everything. So, as for me and my house…we will continue to serve the LORD.

“What’s/Whose Your…?” Thoughtless Questions & Thoughtful Answers

ocean waters“What’s your biggest fear?” I was asked recently. The question has stayed in the halls of my mind. It was not the first time I was asked this question or had heard it or read it. It’s like the elusive, “Who is your hero?” question. Or the, “What is your biggest regret?” question. I do have PEZ answers; those answers that stand at the ready when they are necessary supplements for pushing past an inevitable crash from the depleting pressure I can feel when expected to sustain and to effectively participate in socially engaging & polite dialogue. But real answers do not immediately come to my mind. And if they did, the kind of answer that truly meet every qualification of the words that build the questions, would I share them?
These questions are of the sort that are deeply anchored far beneath our life’s surface waters. To mine for the answers to these questions would require a thoughtful and honest appraisal of self. It would require reflection, discovery, and exploration that would take a person somewhere beyond the comfortable reach of the primary senses, beyond easily accessible “within reach” memories, beyond what others have told us about ourselves (and that we pick-and-choose to believe), and into the massive dark and nearly alien waters of self-awareness.
As I approach birthdays, I can feel the weight of the questions waiting. I think others feel them, too. Otherwise, why ask the questions? There are times that we cloak our desire to know more about ourselves by posing questions that express a desire to know others. Maybe their answers will help us to form our own answers. Then again, maybe we ask the questions as an avoidance of some type. Or maybe we rush to be the first to pose the question because that’s the easier and more dominating role within social interaction.
I believe that I have come to know this: There is an inner self with which we either daily brutally fight or that we daily heavily disguise…or both. I guess that’s another question to add to the list. ‪#‎birthday‬ ‪#‎melancholy‬ ‪#‎nostalgia‬

Mama’s Story

3385_4783739844795_1899185606_nToday my Mama turns 59 years old. In another 22 days, I will turn 40.

I was probably 14 years old when I calculated the years between my mother’s birthday and my own. The realization that there were only 19 years between her birthday and my birthday intrigued me. So, being a rather fundamental Baptist kid at that time in my life, I decided to calculate the amount of time between my parents’ wedding anniversary and my birthday.
Let’s see…November ’74 and May ’75…
[counting on my hand]: December-1, January-2, February-3, March-4, April-5, May-6…6 months? No, not 6 months.
How could I have been born just 6 months after my parents were married?

During a visit to my grandparent’s home, I recalled the troubling mathematical path. So I asked an aunt, “Was I a premature baby?”
Looking back on the memory, I realize how clever her initial response to me was.
My aunt responds, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, there’s only 6 months between my parents’ anniversary and my birthday. There should be 9 months. So that’s why I’m curious if I was a premature baby.”
“Yes. Yes, you were.”

Fascinating. How had I missed this piece of my life’s story? Why had I not seen the pictures of life-sustaining tubes and incubators? This was good stuff. I was born after only 6-months in the womb. That’s church testimony stuff right there!

One evening, after coming inside from finishing the daily list of chores that my mother always had for my brother, sister, and me to complete, standing in the kitchen, I asked my mother,
“Mama? Why haven’t you ever told me that I was a premature baby?”
My mother, back turned to me as she stood at the stove in her simple and practical floral-print house coat, responded without hesitation, “You were not a premature baby. I was pregnant with you before I married your daddy.”

You know those scenes in movies when an actor experiences something that causes the entire environment to suddenly telescope into a blur of bright light? When the camera angle suddenly and abruptly rushes towards the face and expression of the actor all while a sound like oxygen being noisily and quickly sucked from the room occurs? That’s how I replay this memory in my mind. In that moment, I experienced a crisis of sorts and I was given new sight.
I wonder if the transformational experience I felt in that moment was similar to the one that Adam and Eve experienced when their lips parted and their teeth broke the flesh of the forbidden fruit taken from the Tree of Knowledge? It kind of makes sense that it would. After all, this knowledge I had just received brought an awareness to my 14-year old existence that I had not possessed prior to that day. And it was a formative awareness that my mother was a human, not some automated and perfect presence in my life. My mother had a story; one that preceded and transcends the story that I felt I already knew.

There was no more discussion of the matter after my mother gave me her answer. She continued, uninterrupted, preparing our family’s meal, as she did nearly every night of the week and I continued to stand there surveying her. With new eyes. With new questions. With new awareness.

Autobiography: an account of a person’s life written by that person.
Mom: the person most likely to write an autobiography and never mention herself.

If I had to know my mom’s story only by what she said about herself, I would know very little of my mom’s story. She doesn’t talk much about herself. She talks…goodness does she talk. But it’s never talk about how she wishes to be perceived. It’s never talk about circumstances that she hopes will help her gain that excusing sympathy from a listener that we feel relinquishes us from all personal responsibility. It’s never talk rooted in self-love or in self-loathing. Instead, it’s talk that is an outflow of a life shared with others, of experiences, of lessons learned, and sometimes of people who have scored a place on her, “I want to drag them into the woods and bury them” list.

For me, my mom’s story is a reel of personal vivid memories, mysteriously preserved in the mind’s eye of a son and rich with insight anytime I revisit them or they revisit me.

One day, I plan to share a narrative of Mama’s story. I will craft it from the memories she indelibly left within me. I will preserve it with carefully selected words that will still fall short of capturing who she is. And I will ensure that it is passed along in an attempt to achieve the impossible:  to share a story, poorly reflected through words, that is told best through action.

Happy birthday, Mama. As you prepare for your big backpacking trip on the Uwharrie Trail, I hope that you enjoy respite, refreshment, and happiness. And I want you to know, as you trek out, that your life, though composed of challenges, sacrifices, hurts, pains, and self-denial, tells a story of humanity that is largely drowned out by those shouting their own stories that they want the world to hear, but that serves as a beacon and a raft that quietly leads and carries those fortunate enough to share life with you.

Your son,
Jason

Defy Gravity

YOU MUST NOT ENABLE PEOPLE TO DISABLE YOU

Social media is a marketplace of diversity & variety.  It is a cacophony of emotions, opinions, impulses, and useful/insightful/trivial/rich information.
I love it…and I’m betting you do, too!

But as you wade into it, or interact with it,
remember this:

Don’t allow anyone’s words to thoughtlessly bully or distract you from what you believe is your life’s mission/purpose/destiny.

Consider the source.  “Consider the Source” means — only take opinions seriously that are informed. Uninformed opinions are only statements about the psychological state of the opinion holder — which may be important in some contexts.

Most of us desire, or are conditioned, to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We may know that the wise thing is to “consider the source” when encountering an action or opinion, but we often hesitate to be too judgemental or critical in our consideration of someone else.  Instead of considering the source, we will, instead, allow insidious self-doubt to creep into our minds and turn our passions and ambitions into insipid memories.  In other words, we can needlessly allow the gravitational pull of others’ words to weigh in our spirits pulling us down, becoming de-winged, and we sit on the bench.

Know this:
There are a lot of unhappy & hurt people all around you; online and otherwise. Henry Thoreau wrote, and I believe, that most of the folks that you and I know are living their lives in “quiet desperation”…and they will leak their despair.

Looking over the horizon

There is great truth to “hurt people hurt people”!  Whether intentional or not, words are a salve or a dart! YOU MUST NOT ENABLE PEOPLE TO DISABLE YOU. Instead, remain salt & light. Honor the Lord, love people, & keep your eye on your horizon.

20 years ago, God lifted me from the miry clay & He put a new song in my mouth. Sometimes I sing that song loud and clear…other times it gets a little pitchy due to my flesh and nature. I try to remember and live by Proverbs 3:3.  It states, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.”

As you pursue your course, #defygravity#seekwisdom#liveabundantly, and keep on interacting with people!  You may be the breath of fresh air that their soul needs.