Tag Archives: Guide

Moving Upstream

The simple believe anything,
    but the prudent give thought to their steps.
Proverbs 14:15 (NIV)

My friend, Matthew, likes to say that “everyone is having a conversation with life.” He describes it as an “inner conversation with your center as external circumstances beg for a response.”

Along my journey, I’ve come to believe that the quality and depth of that inner conversation is critical to my progress in Life, health, growth, and relationships. I’ve also observed along the way those who appear to choose not to engage in that conversation. Maybe they don’t know how to have that conversation. Maybe they really don’t want to have that conversation. The result, from my perspective, are lives that seem to run on uninterrupted cycles of appetite, impulse, reaction, and habit. Tragedy and/or life becoming unmanageable become the only way a conversation with Life might possibly get jump-started.

This morning I find my heart and mind still mulling over yesterday’s post and thoughts of introspection. I’ve always been a bit introspective, but I know many who aren’t and who don’t even know where to begin. Many years ago, when I worked with young people, I always tried to teach them both to be introspective and how to have conversations about those inner conversations. The lessons I learned I now apply in my relationships with clients, team members, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.

Typically, I would start with a simple ice-breaker type of question:

  • Good/Bad: Name one good thing and one bad thing from your week?
  • Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going?
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve?
  • If you had five other lives to live, what would you do/be?

Then, I would listen to the young person’s answer and begin what I call “moving upstream.” Moving upstream is really the process of introspection, but I find that one typically learns how to do it first by being led by a parent, friend, counselor, teacher, therapist, pastor, or mentor.

You know how the mouth of a river pouring into the ocean is usually really wide (and usually not very picturesque)? That is what a general answer to a general question is. That’s where introspection begins. Conversations with Life, for those who’ve never really had one, begin with a simple ice-breaker with yourself. But the really good stuff, the scenic views, the waterfalls, the natural springs, the crystal-clear mountain stream can only be reached by paddling upriver, then up a tributary, through a few locks and dams, then up another tributary, and another, and another. There will be a portage around a rapid or three, maybe some smaller dams, and then up yet another small stream. You keep moving upstream towards the Source.

Here’s how it sounded with one of the kids in my youth group as I tried to guide them upstream:

Me: “Name one bad thing from your week.”

Them: “Um, (young people always begin with “Um”) My bad thing this week was getting grounded by my parents.

Grounded? Okay, there’s a story there. Let’s move a little further upstream and find out what it is.

Me: “Ouch! How long are you grounded?”

Them: “Two weeks.”

I keep paddling. With each answer, I move a little farther upstream by taking what’s given to me and exploring further.

Me: “Two weeks!? That sucks! What on earth earned you two weeks?”

Them: (Head is down. Eyes stare at the floor. Shoulders shrug.)

We’ve reached our first dam. Sometimes the lock to a conversational dam is humor.

Me: “What did you do? MURDER SOMEBODY?

Them: (laughs) “No.”

Me: “ROB A BANK?!

Them: “No.”

Me: “Well, being late for curfew isn’t a two week offense. So it’s got to be somewhere between getting in late and murder.”

Silence. Silence is okay, even when it’s painful. Silence is a necessary part of introspection. As my friend Matthew says, “Let silence to the heavy lifting.”

More silence. Finally…

Them: (Mumbling after a sigh) “I got caught smoking weed.”

Hey! There’s a new tributary! Let’s move up that stream and see where it leads.

Hopefully, you get where I’m going. Keep asking questions. Look at the answer to those questions and let them lead you to the next question. The strings of questions and answers are the conversation with Life. The better I’ve become at having those inner conversations about my external circumstances, the further I get towards the Source and the more rewarding the journey has become.

In the quiet this morning, I’m whispering a prayer of thanks for the many friends, family members, teachers, professors, mentors, pastors, and therapists who helped guide me upstream at different stages of my journey. They taught me how to be introspective. Over the course of 50 plus years, my conversations with them taught me how to have a conversation with myself, with Life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Hope your own conversations with Life are leading you to good places, even when the portages, paddling, and dams are a pain.

Have a great day, my friend. Thank you for reading along with me on this journey.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Closer than I Realize

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.
Deuteronomy 30:11 (NRSV)

There were often times when the girls were quite small that I would quietly be present observing and watching over them. They were oblivious to my presence, their attention drawn to shiny things, new things, and the struggle to stand and walk. Their eyes and hearts were fixed on the exploration of the world that existed just 0-24 inches from the ground. There I hovered, quietly watching and wordlessly removing dangerous objects from their path before they got there. I was intent on their growth, their maturity, and their well-being. In the moment, they had no idea.

I remember the early days of my faith journey. I had decided to follow Jesus and it all seemed so new and unexpected. At the same time, I began to look back with unveiled eyes and to realize all of the ways that my Heavenly Father had been there all along. I could, in retrospect, see how things had been ordered to bring me to this place without my even knowing it.

In today’s chapter, Moses reminds God’s people that the things of God are “not too hard” nor are they “too far away.” So often I, like a small child, allow my eyes and heart to be captivated by shiny things, new things, and those things which exists just 0-72 inches from the ground. My Heavenly Father, crowded out of my vision and consciousness, is ever-present and intent upon my protection, my growth, and my maturity, even when I am oblivious in the moment.

Today, I am thankful that God, and all that God has to offer, is closer and more easily accessible than I perceive or believe in the moment.

chapter a day banner 2015

I Haven’t Arrived, but I’ve Got a Good Set of Directions

source:  Cornelia Kopp via Flickr
source: Cornelia Kopp via Flickr

until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:13 (NIV)

I so regularly use the word picture of “journey” because it captures so perfectly for me the reality of movement, progress, and destination in this life.

When I was a young man I felt a compulsion to be and to appear perfect. I didn’t want others to see or honestly know me with all my human failures. My sense shame and the appearances I put on to mask it only weighed me down and hampered my progress. Somewhere along the way, however, I came to realize that while entering a relationship with Jesus immediately changed my eternal reality, here on Earth I was still the same bozo on the bus that I’d always been still trying to find my way home.

Following Jesus didn’t result in me getting immediately teleported to my destination. I still have to slog through the journey day-by-day like everybody else. The real difference is that now I have a trustworthy Guide and a great set of directions. Honestly accepting this truth allowed me to have a little more grace with myself and with others. I haven’t arrived, and neither has that guy who pisses me off or the lady over there who irritates the crap out of me. I haven’t reached fullness, wholeness, or maturity and neither have they. We’re all bozos on the bus together, and I’ve got to have realistic expectations of myself and others. I know I’m pointed in the right direction, I’m following Jesus, and I’m making progress.

Just keep moving. It’s not a sprint, it’s more like an Iron Man marathon.

Slow and steady wins the race.

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Chapter-a-Day Amos 6

infomercial
Image by Marilyn M via Flickr

Woe to those addicted to feeling good—life without pain! those obsessed with looking good—life without wrinkles! They could not care less about their country going to ruin. Amos 6:6 (MSG)

Flipping through the channel guide on television this morning, here are the titles I saw:

  • Step & Lose weight
  • Get Luscious Hair!
  • Carve Abs in Bed!
  • Look Younger
  • Anti-Aging Secrets
  • Easy Hair Removal!
  • Weight Loss Breakthrough!
  • Millionaire’s Secrets
  • Sexy Swimsuit Body
  • Summer Sexy Abs
  • Microwave Grilling!
  • eBay Riches!
  • Get Sexier in 90 Days!
  • Look Younger in 14 Days!
  • Body Gospel
  • Look Younger Instantly
  • Food Lovers Fat Loss
  • Overcoming Anxiety

Was Amos talking to Israel, or to us?

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 43

Danger. "Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're mine. When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end— Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43: 1b-3a (MSG)

I'm in over my head…because I chose to jump in the deep end.

I'm in rough waters…because I dismissed the dark clouds on the far horizon.

I'm between a rock and a hard place…because I just had to check out what was over the edge of the cliff.

Despite my willfulness, in spite of my foolishness, undeterred by my senseless choices, God is there to protect, to save, and to guide.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and squeakywheel