Monday, September 12, 2011

The Queen - A Review

The fifth Patrick Bowers thriller, “The Queen”, by Steven James, careens through a Wisconsin winter like a snowmobile at full throttle.  James starts our protagonist on a case related to his old nemesis, Richard Basque, then changes gears as Pat Bowers is assigned to a seemingly unrelated side-case that acquaints him with a new conflicted  nemesis, Alexei Chekov.

For those who love high tech adventures and suspense, this book stands toe-to-toe with the best Clancy novels.  From Agent Bowers’ geospatial three dimensional profiling program, ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) transmission technology for submarine contact, to the behind-the-scenes experimental government technologies used by spy agencies and Eco Terrorism, this book has it all.

James does an excellent job at balancing the thrills with deep character development where we dig into Agent Bowers’ past with an introduction of his brother and sister-in-law, Sean and Amber.  Bower’s complicated relationship with his daughter Tessa creates a nice tension with an underlying question of what forgiveness and reconciliation mean.  Did Pat Bowers and his on-again, off-again love interest Lien-hua Jiang finally get around to tying the knot?  You’ll have to read the book to find out. 

Having read the past four Patrick Bowers novels, I am always expecting the unexpected twists at the end and “The Queen” didn’t disappoint.  This is required reading for adrenaline junkies!

“Available September 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I’m headed off on a retreat, a break, a sabbatical. Booked a literal cabin in the woods and I’m unplugging from daily life for a few days to sit, listen, watch for a signpost, and course-correct.

I was unsure whether to label it a retreat or sabbatical. After reading Merriam-Webster’s definition, a retreat can be:

  1. An act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.
  2. The forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or advanced position.
  3. A place of privacy or safety
  4. A period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study

As it turns out, all of these definitions apply (aside from the “group” in #4).

The definition of a sabbatical is: a break or change from a normal routine.

I was thinking the term “sabbatical” would be more religious in meaning, having the root of “Sabbath” or rest. It also applies.

Regardless of what you call it, I’m on a mission to reset and redefine my life. The issue for me comes with having to sit and listen and understand this small piece of the puzzle that I’m allowed to see in God’s plan for me. I’m impatient when someone starts a sentence or I see where a conversation is going, but it’s not coming together fast enough. I jump in, assume the end, finish it for them. My spiritual walk has been the same. God hands me a few pieces of puzzle. I snap them together, assume I see the picture and start throwing more pieces into it and then find out the picture isn’t turning out as I had hoped or that God has moved onto another picture altogether I’m supposed to be helping with.

My good friend and one of my mentors recently threw out a couple metaphors for me to consider:
“It's interesting to me how we humans think.
When we think of plans we think of complete plans.
For instance, we design a complete house with all the details before we start to build it.
God doesn't seem to work that way.
I think He likes to reveal the foundation design (sometimes after the fact) without letting us in on the rest of the plans.
He calls that "faith".
"Hey, I'm going to give you a little taste but not the whole you still trust me?"
I believe all this stuff you're going through will start to sort itself out, but one of the most important questions you can ask is "What's next?"”
And another:
“A relationship with God is often like playing chess against Him.
The early moves of the match are pretty predictable - I ask for forgiveness through Jesus and He gives it.
However, as the match goes on and He takes pieces (of your past life) from you it gets both more interesting and less predictable.
I know I always like to know the end game when I make plans, but God doesn't like to reveal His end game on earth.
Of course He revealed His ultimate end game through Jesus, but there's a lot of interesting stuff in between acceptance and human death.
The intent of this reset is to deal with the direction of my family, ministry, and work (not necessarily in that order). I need to take a more proactive approach to leading my family with one teenager and two more to follow into the teens shortly thereafter. Do I want to continue to pursue writing for my music project, poetry, a book? Should I reconsider where I fit in with my current church family? Where do I want or need to be in 5 to 10 years with my business? Heavy stuff.

Not all of my questions will get answered, but I’m hoping to get some guideposts and clues for the next steps and a fresh perspective when I return. Sitting in God’s first cathedral (the great outdoors), will be the best place to listen.

The great thing is having a wife that understands you enough to know it’s time to take action, step away, and refocus. Without her coaxing and insistence, I would be stewing in un-fulfillment for the next season of life.

Maybe this will be the first of a yearly process of getting my life re-aligned…

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Revolving Doors

People often complain about change, are inflexible, get anxious. Life being analogous to a book, how else do you separate one chapter from another? Without these breaks, stops, and starts, this narrative would be a boring run-on sentence.

This weekend I come to the end of a chapter that wasn't planned. It never entered my mind as a possibility.

A week before the big change nearly 5 months ago, my future prospects in my work (I run my own business) waned and 36 hour weeks turned to 15. Margin was created in my life and an unsettling question of security crept in. An unfortunate situation occurred that created the need for me to step into the position of interim worship leader at our church. Sure, I love to sing. I've fronted a band, led worship every so-often, but never thought it would turn into even a short-term full time gig.

The time frame for finding a new worship leader was up in the air. The position is a difficult one for a church to fill. The estimate was a couple months to a year or more. My wife and I thought and prayed about it. It meant change for our family. The extra time required to do the job perfectly fit inside that margin that got created just a week earlier. I accepted the challenge and jumped into the world of ministry. Balancing work and family time with the demands of the worship leader position [selecting the themed music for worship, walk-in, and specials, charting, transposing, scheduling, practice, rehearsal, meetings, phone calls, texts] took a month to hammer out before we got into a good groove. I set aside one day (Tuesday) for all things worship: meetings, music stuff, most correspondence.

I found the new position easier than expected but something was missing. Like water into a cup that was unable to reach the rim, there was a crack that was keeping me from being completely fulfilled. The search took off and within two months, a prospect was found. Interviews and dinners and vetting. How could this be? It seemed that God had wrapped this gift, set it down in front of me, and in the midst of peeling away the layers of satisfaction, I forgot to read the tag on the outside of the present.

It wasn't for me.

My gift was finding myself and defining my path in the midst of something close to what I love, but the provision was meant for another person or group of people. An offer was extended and an end date was in sight. In God's perfect timing, I gained a new client and my other work has picked back up to the 30+ hours per week range just before I let go of the reins. Simply amazing!

The exciting part about knowing the final paragraph is coming is that a new chapter is about to begin. I have a rough idea for the outline of this new section. I'm keeping Tuesday as a "free day" to work on music, not work. I've had a music project camping out on my bucket list for too long and I want to mark it off by the end of the year. It has been an honor and a privilege to be asked to serve and to receive the support that kept our worship going.

This roundabout in my life reminds me of a poem by Billy Collins called "I Go Back to the House for a Book". Who am I without this experience? Who would I become if this chapter continued for another year? The answer to these questions is "exactly who I'm supposed to be."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Messing with Perfection

i went out to revise the blank white canvas
that was my driveway

without consulting the Artist i picked up the brush
that was my shovel

and i walked line after line across the page removing the paint
that was the snow

the effort to restore the masterpiece brought the sweat
that caused me to go to Lowe's to buy a snowblower
that was on sale.