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New Rhythms

I have never been accused of having rhythm. Ever. It’s just not a thing that I have. That scene in Hitch where Will Smith is teaching Kevin James how to dance, and he tells him “this is where you live,” yeah, that’s about the extent of what I have when it comes to rhythm. If I’m clapping along with a song, I’m the dude who’s watching whoever is leading the song to make sure I’m on beat.

Merriam-Webster has multiple definitions for “rhythm.” Two really stand out to me:

  1. an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech

  2. movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements

When I read those 2 definitions, some words and phrases really jump out at me:


strong and weak elements

(natural) flow

related elements

I haven’t written a blog post in a long, long time. So why write one now? And why make it about rhythm?

Because of how much the rhythm of life has changed over the last few weeks. Words like “ordered” and “regular” found in the definitions of rhythm above have completely different meanings now than they did two months ago. Quick – what day is it? See what I mean?

The “natural flows” of life right now are so different from the “regular recurrences” that marked life just a few weeks ago. The rhythms have completely changed.

I see this in my daughters’ sleeping habits. Without the “regular recurrence” of me waking them up before the sun comes up to get ready for school, the natural flow of their sleep patterns has led them to sleep until well into the morning every day. (It’s almost like school starting so early contradicts kids natural sleep schedules, but that’s a discussion for another day.) I hate that when in-person school begins again I’ll have to interrupt their peaceful slumber.

I see it in my social media usage. A couple weeks ago, I realized I needed a break from Facebook. Since then, I get on in the morning to check for any notifications and to see if there’s a cute pic of my girls in Memories that I’d like to share. That’s it, and I have to say that I haven’t missed it. At all. To the point that I’ve decided that’s my new Facebook usage. Whenever life gets back to normal, I’m making that my new normal for Facebook.

And that really is the motivation for dusting off the blog. The new normal that I am in right now looks nothing like what normal looked like several weeks ago. The new normal does not include waking up when it’s still dark outside. The new normal does not include shoes for most of the day and for all of the day most days. The new normal does include helping my girls with their school work during the day. I’m reading with my first-grader and dusted off my math teacher skills to help my sixth-grader. The new normal includes a lot of sitting in my driveway watching my girls color with chalk or ride their bikes. The new normal includes sitting peacefully on my front porch watching the wind blow in the trees while having a phone conversation.

At some point, we’ll all go back to work and school, but when we say things we’ll get back to normal, what we mean is that we’ll all start a new normal. Let’s be honest, many of us will never wash our hands like we used to. I started a while ago saying The Lord’s Prayer while I wash my hands to make sure I was doing it for at least 20 seconds. That’s not going to change. That’s a new rhythm of life that I have begun to lean into and will continue leaning into (and maybe “leaning on” is a good way of viewing it also) even when I’m out and about the way I once was.

Take some time to be introspective enough to look at some new rhythms of life that have become part of your new normal, and then ask yourself which ones of those rhythms you don’t want to let go of. Notice I didn’t say which ones you have time to keep once this season is over; I said which ones you want to keep. If we’ll make these rhythms of life part of life now, we’ll want to keep them later.

And I think we’ll be better for it.

I have learned that taking a break from work to help my girls with schoolwork is tremendously refreshing for me. When I do some math with one or read with the other and then go back to my work, I am more productive. Taking a break without putting my brain into hibernation by doing nothing mentally has actually proven to be more refreshing for me. I will remember that when my office is actually my office again.

I have learned that the discipline of gratitude is something that brightens my day. Acknowledging the things that I am thankful for keeps a smile on my face. Seeing other people express their gratitude (CCF has a Gratitude groupme) has been a very uplifting thing to be a part of. I will continue to lean in to this rhythm of gratitude even when I can be thankful for going out to eat again.

I have prayed more for health care professionals than ever in my life over the last several weeks. I have already determined that the first time I am at a restaurant and see someone with a hospital/medical ID, I am going to pay for their meal. I hope and pray that as we showed appreciation for service men and women after 9/11 that we will show appreciation for all the heroes that are so important to the health of all of us now.

I am being more present than I have ever been recently. When my girls “interrupt” me, I try to stop what I’m doing and give them my undivided attention. I know that it is not the case for everyone, but my life is moving at a much slower pace right now. I am leaning into that by just trying to be where my feet are instead of looking ahead. And I have no plans to jump on a treadmill that’s set at 10mph when this season is over.

So what rhythms of life are you establishing or can you establish during this season that you can make part of your new normal during this season and when we get to the next new normal?

I’m not saying everybody should learn a new language, organize every square foot of their home, or learn the secrets to French cuisine. That idea, that everyone should achieve the same, or that you’re less of a person if you don’t achieve what other people are achieving is the reason so many of us hate standardized tests, but that too is a discussion for another day.

You do you.

I heard a song earlier today that had the lines, “If all you ever do is the best you can, then you did it man. That’s something to be proud of. That’s a life you can hang your hat on.”

“Hang your hat.” That’s what you do when it’s time to relax. When it’s time slow down. That can be a recurrent flow – a rhythm – if we let it. And we can do that during this new normal and in the new normal that follows this one.

We all have new rhythms right now. May we find the ones that we can lean into and lean on during this new normal and carry them over into the next new normal.

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What were you doing ten years ago today? Chances are most of us don’t have a specific idea, but maybe a vague recollection of what we were doing. I can tell you that it was a Wednesday. 3652 days (there have been two leap years) ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. That’s what happens with life-transforming days.

Late February was contract-renewal time at the school where I was teaching back in 2009. I had been teaching 6th graders math and science for seven years, and every previous contract-renewal meeting had been the same. “Donnie, we know you really want to teach just math, but we need you to teach science for another year because the school’s not ready to add a 4th section to sixth grade.” I had heard that for several years, but this year was going to be different. The Board of Trustees had already determined that the 6th grade was going to expand, so I knew that the phrase “6th Grade Science” was not going to appear on my contract, just “6th Grade Math”. This meeting was going to be different than all the others.

I had no clue how different.

When the associate headmaster walked past me as I waited and went into the principal’s office, I thought, “Huh, that’s weird. I bet this meeting is about to get rescheduled because there must be something going on.” But then the principal came out of her office and welcomed me in. Uh-oh.

“I cannot recommend that you receive a contract for next year.”

I was not expecting to hear that. Now, let me say that I am not going to claim to have been a perfect teacher. I am also not going to use this blogpost to rant against anyone at my past job. No point in that. It took me some time, but I did get past the initial anger and bitterness that I felt as a result of being let go. That’s not what this post is about.

You may think you know what’s coming next. Maybe you expect me to reference Romans 8;28 (“God works all things for the good …”) or Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you …”). And if I did that, it would be a quality blogpost that references God’s care for us.

But that’s not where we’re going. If you’ve been around CCF Dinner and a Message the last couple weeks, that would be a good “grace and kind” blogpost, but this one is going to be more of a “truth and good” blogpost.

You see, I had made that job – teaching kids math at that school – an idol. No question about it. That was what I had always wanted to do. When I started my studies in math ed at UGA, it was so I could teach there one day. That was the goal, the dream. Now there is nothing wrong with having goals and dreams, but you have to be careful that they don’t turn into idols.

The problem with idols is that the most dangerous ones aren’t bad things; they are morally neutral or even good things. The three most dangerous idols in my life are Beth, Lexie, and Kerrington. They are tremendous gifts that God has given me, but if I elevate them to a place that they do not belong, I have turned them into an idol. Even though they are good things in my life, they can be idols.

As for how morally neutral things become idols, I present UGA football. There is nothing good or bad about UGA football, but if you don’t think it can be an idol, I would suggest that it might be one for you.

If the word “idol” doesn’t sit well with you, you can think about it as a misplaced priority. It’s making something more important than it should be. It’s putting something on a pedestal that it has no place being on. It’s making a good thing an ultimate thing.

That job could have been a good thing, but I had turned it into an ultimate thing. Honestly, it scares me a bit to think about what might have happened had I had the chance to have my idol. I wonder how having that job would have changed me, what I may have been willing to do to keep it.

So here’s the challenge for each of us:

If you’re not really into the whole prayer thing, I would encourage you to take some time to think about your priorities, your goals, your dreams. Make sure you haven’t put something on a pedestal where it shouldn’t be. Make sure to keep the main thing the main thing.

If you are the praying kind, ask God to show you the things in your life that you have or are close to elevating to idol status. Ask Him to show you the things that you have put in a place where only He belongs. Fair warning – if you ask, He will show you. And you may not like what He points out, but I promise you that if you’ll pay attention to what He shows you and ask Him to either remove the idols Himself (which He did in my case ten years ago) or help you to put them in their proper place, He will respond. Then, while it may take some time, you’ll see that His way is much better!

How can I be so sure? Because I typed this at my desk at this big blue house on Milledge that I probably never would have walked into if that meeting 10 years ago would have gone how I wanted, and now this big blue house is home.

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A few months ago, I saw this tweet.

And I have to say that initially I really didn’t like it at all.

Before I tell you why, a quick explanatory note for the non-baseball folks reading this. A “walk-off home run” is when a batter hits a home run that ends a game. This only happens in the bottom of the last inning. The home run drives in the game winning run, and since it’s the last inning, there is no need for the game to progress. It’s called a “walk-off” because as the jubilant victorious team rushes the field in celebration, the defeated team walks off the field. I’ve been on both sides, and for completely different reasons, there’s nothing like either one.

So back to the tweet. I didn’t like it because when I read “hitters rounding third base,” the picture I had in my mind was something like this.

And I just didn’t like that as “an image of heaven.” Sure, the player is excited and happy, but the idea of the lone baserunner just didn’t sit well with me as “an image of heaven.”

Then I clicked the link to the picture embedded in the tweet. (Yes, I had my initial thought, but I reserved further judgment until I had clicked the link, read the whole article, etc., but that’s a discussion for another day.) When I did, this picture popped up.

And then I got it. Then the tweet made sense, and then I have to say I teared up a bit because this is “an image of heaven.” I mean, look at everything that is going on. The jubilant home run hitter can’t wait to get home to his teammates! His coach is thrilled and so proud of him. The team is losing their minds waiting to greet their brother. Then look in the stands. Look as an entire community rejoices! Arms raised in triumph, smiles, hugs, probably some tears and no doubt high-fives exchanged by complete strangers. A joyous community welcoming an individual home.

Yep, that’s heaven.

But you don’t have to wait until you pass from this life to experience it. Heaven is Heaven because it’s where God is and it’s where His people gather in His presence. This happens in churches every Sunday. It happens in campus ministries throughout the week. It happens in small group Bible studies, house-churches, and impromptu prayer gatherings. At CCF it happens on Thursdays at 6:45. If you’re a college student in Athens, I hope you’ll join us this semester at the big blue house on Milledge.

Regardless of where you are, I hope you will find a Christian community. I community that will welcome you like you just hit a walk-off homer – a community that will be home.

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