The futility of comparison

Comparison is the thief of joy.”  –  Theodore Roosevelt

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“This exam has no eternal significance”

We have told anyone who would listen that the years spent in Fort Worth in seminary were some of the best of our lives.  Yes, it was life-changing that we met each other during that time, but even if it didn’t happen we would still count those days as rich and full.

Not that every single day was spent walking around campus hearing the “Hallelujah” chorus ringing in our ears, or seeing prophets of old playing racquetball in the rec center. Quite the opposite. The workload during our time at seminary was ridiculous.  A good ridiculous… but ridiculous nonetheless.  The reading assignments alone would cause your eyes to cross.

One thing I learned when I met Nikki.  She is a reader.  I am as well, but Nikki is a reading machine.  She can absorb information and spit it back out to a group of learners with ease.  Like learning algebra and explaining it in such a way as to make it seem like 1+1=2 to the student.  She is amazing in this regard.

Me on the other hand will absorb information if it is delivered through song with heavy reverb and a delay pedal.

Then there were the exams.  Professors didn’t joke around when it was time to measure recall and comprehension of theology.  Stress increased as did intake of Twinkies and Mountain Dew.  One day before an exam in Systematic Theology II, Nikki whispered something to herself that I overheard.  The phrase was repeated many times over the course of our seminary experience.  “I have prepared to the best of my ability. This exam has no eternal significance.”

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  Lean in close.  The full phrase was the following….

“No eternal significance, I don’t care if I fail.                                                                               No eternal significance, I’m not going to hell.”                                                                           (The phrase rhymes if said with a southern accent.  Try it.)

Played a bit for laughs to herself to relieve a bit of stress before an exam, but a portion of it is a phrase for life.  “This has no eternal significance….”

What was she really saying?  “This worry has no eternal significance.”  “This worry………”

Divide the things of life into two piles.

1) Eternal significance         2) No eternal significance.

Pile one should guide you.  Pile two can be thrown into the garbage.

Repeat after me, “This life is but a vapor.  This life is but a vapor.”

We spend most of our days worrying about things that will eventually burn up when the end comes.  Every single day we need to take off the ten-ton backpack loaded with worries that carry no eternal significance.

I am well into my thirties.  I don’t have the life experience to say I am an expert but I have enough miles to be able to see that worry has sidetracked me, slowed me down, and stopped me dead in my tracks.

If I were to be honest I would say I have been hampered most by one recurring worry….  if I take the steps of faith the Lord wants me to take then my world of security I’ve created will be adjusted in a way I don’t particularly like.

Until I daily divide my life into two piles, and take one to the trash, my insides will never be at peace.  (Though it could be the Twinkies….  I think it’s the worry.)

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Quick quote….

“To some people the church is their ticket to respectability, a certain bourgeois point of view, a safety net for when they go to bed. My idea of Christianity is no safety net, a scathing attack on bourgeois values, and a risk to respectability.”

— Bono, 2002


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Angel Band

One of my favorite songs about Home, Angel Band, performed by one of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine.  The song will place things in perspective every time I hear it.  The lyrics are as follows….

“The latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph is begun

O come Angel Band, come & around me stand

O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home
O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home

I know I’m near the holy ranks of friends & kindred dear
I’ve brushed the dew on Jordan’s banks, the crossing must be near

I’ve almost gained my Heavenly home, my spirit loudly sings
The Holy ones, behold they come, I hear the noise of wings

O bear my longing heart to Him who bled & died for me
Whose blood now cleanses from all sin & gives me victory”

Nikki and I speak often of the day our Lord will take us Home, and I know our marriage has been made richer because of it.

All of your trials and hurts are temporary.

This life is passing by in a blink.

“….I hear the noise of wings….”

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Well, might as well jump.

A kid down the block, Bobby, showed me his new Van Halen album.  The album was 1984. Being a pre-teen, and being trained to think all music not by Petra or a woman named Amy or Sandi was straight from Beelzebub, the cover was quite disturbing.  A baby with wings smoking a cig.  Yikes.

Bobby asked, “You like Van Halen?”  I didn’t own any of their vinyl, I didn’t own any music at the time not deemed “christian”, and once paid a dollar to take home a cassette of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” just to look at it and return it to the owner the next day during recess.  So no, at the time I didn’t “like” Van Halen so I answered honestly.  I said, “Yup, love ’em,” and went on my way.  Soon after I saw a video for their song, “Jump”.  You know the one.  David Lee Roth defies the law of …I don’t know….but some sort of law of physics with his high leg kicks.

Fast forward 25 years.  The song was in my head the day we needed to somehow pay for health insurance with possible maternity.  Roth keeps telling me, “Ah, might as well jump.”  I’m going to sound really whiny here…..what if I don’t wanna?

God continually leads all of us to take leaps that are completely contradictory to what well meaning people would choose.  “Get a good job with benefits for once.  You’re moving backwards!”

The battle in my brain between temporal desires and eternal opportunity is constant. The foil of my brain is taut and ready to burst with too many questions for my Savior.  I am the human Jiffy Pop popper.  But when we get to the end of our rope our Lord always gives encouragement.  Every time.  Without fail.  Isn’t He patient?

Yesterday we met with our insurance agent, who is also a caring friend.  He informed us that a bill for several hundred would be due within ten days if we wanted to pursue health insurance with maternity for the just in case baby scenario.  We informed him that we didn’t have the money but to sign us up because God was leading us to do it.  I told him point blank, “Jim Bob (name changed to protect the innocent), God is going to provide it.  Sign us up.”

I said it without bravado.  My voice probably quivered.  I said it because I didn’t know what else to say.  We had prayed about it.  I had peace, my gut had peace.  So we acted. Simple as that.

Today we got home and found two checks in the mail from people who were oblivious to our circumstance.  The money will pay for the bill due in ten days, plus five months worth of health insurance.  Shaking my head in disbelief seems a bit small.  God is our rock.

Tonight we were at a Bible study where three different languages and four cultures were represented.  We had no idea what two of the attendees were praying for during our prayer time.  Couldn’t comprehend a word yet we understood everything that was said.

Crying out to the Lord in any language is understood.  Three of our international brothers and sisters have families in other countries in varying degrees of real danger and we’re worried about cash.

I’m rambling.  We want to encourage you to take the leap.  Whatever it is.

I know some would say we serve a God who is only concerned with us having a smile on our face, but sometimes you gotta roll through some difficulty to experience the peace.  You don’t get there without moving.

This culture, our “Christian” culture included, teaches we are to go after the warm blanket of comfort and security, and if we have anything left over (time, money, etc.) simply slide some God’s way. But God asks us to be the warmth.  We are His vessels. Whatever way He chooses.  We were never meant to simply pursue and live in a bubble of temporal security.  We were created for so much more.  Eternal things.

I don’t know how this life is supposed to work.  I just know the alternative is to attempt to make the best of it on my own by making “logical” and “safe” choices in order to help my temporal self feel secure.  It never seems to work.  My gut never feels right. This is a time in our life where we have the least amount of money coming in and the greatest amount of peace.

Sooo….go ahead and jump?  Just be careful with those high leg kicks.

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Move forward as if the need will be met.

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Time To Fess Up

The day of our wedding was a blur.  I assume most married men and women would say the same.  I remember bits and pieces like fanning through a photo album. You see all the pictures but only a few seem to stick.  One particular memory is the moment when my father in law picked up the microphone to give a toast.  He said many things but what I remember is when he said, “Be ready, it’s gonna be an adventure.” Maybe we have all heard those words a thousand times, but for whatever reason we repeat the line to each other quite a lot.  Maybe some view it as a generic grouping of words, but if either of us says it out loud we know exactly the who, the where, and the when of that sentence.

We are often at the place where we think, “If this adventure is supposed to be some sort of ride I’m ready to exit this seat.”

Over the past few months we have been moving forward with two tasks we know are from the Lord and at the same time have known that the very pursuit meant the death of a dream for us, or at the very least a large alteration.  A dream we both had years before we met, in which we took great risk, invested hours of time and prayer, and moved halfway across the country to pursue.  We will never regret the step and where it led, but one day it was as if the Lord said, “Temporal or Eternal pursuits…. what’s it gonna be?”  (I’m sure He said it with much more eloquence.)

We are thankful for His direction and see the next stop on our missionary journey as rich and meaningful and it has given us a real kick in the pants, but we have come to realize something about ourselves during this time.  Time to fess up.  Ask either one of us and we will tell you the same……..we are a couple of wimps.

Please hear us.  This is not a false humility plea where the orator is hoping someone will stop him mid-sentence and say, “No Mr. Orator, you’re not a wimp. You’re great!  Chin up!  Rainbows and lollipops!”  Nope.  We’re fessing up.  When it comes to this Christian walk Mr. & Mrs. Akridge are wimps.

There is a song by U2 called, “Acrobat”, and it’s one of my favorites.  The song says,

“To take the cup, to fill it up, to drink it slow, I can’t let You go, but I must be an acrobat, to talk like this and act like that.”

The song goes on to speak to the notion that we talk a good game but when trouble comes we get twisted like a pretzel into something we barely recognize.  “…and I must be some sort of acrobat to talk like this and then act like that.”

What has the challenge been?  What confirmed we’re wimps?  Simply….God meeting our needs.  Good grief.  We must be the children of Israel.  Things get tough….we freak out….God provides… we say thanks….things get tough…..we freak out….God provides….we say thanks….things get tough….lather-rinse-repeat.

It’s not a big secret.  We’re not sitting on a pile of money.  When we started moving in faith God didn’t provide a bag of silver coins, He simply provided His promise to provide along the way.  We were down to beans and our bills this week added up to beans and sprouts.  We had the beans, not the sprouts.  Then we learned we didn’t owe car insurance for this month.  Sprouts!  (there’s a “hill of beans” joke in here somewhere….)

We’re day to day my friends.  I’m not talking about the money.  I’m talking about our faith.

God peels back a layer of the onion in our lives and when we think He has arrived at the core He peels off another.

Do we have faith that Jesus is our Savior?  Yup.

Do we believe that He is God, the Creator of heaven and earth?  Yeah, no problem.

Are we prepared to follow Him at the cost of our earthly comforts and feelings of temporal “security”?  Mmm, let me get back to you on that one.  We get shaky.

Some days we are walking boldly in faith and have a peace that passes all understanding, and the other days we are ready to put our master’s degrees to work for us and make some real money and begin storing up our treasures on earth.  But the Lord won’t let us off the hook, and our spirits are thankful even if our flesh is sometimes weak.

If God has called you to take a leap of faith and you have a peace that makes zero sense, the leap is scary and takes no account of earthly security and may look ridiculous to others, Christians included, then you may be on the right track.  God doesn’t deal in safe leaps.

As the years go by and we remember the words “….it’s going to be an adventure” we are learning more and more we know less and less about our Lord and the way He works. Whenever we think we have Him figured we realize even more He is the calculus to our 1+1.

Since the day of our wedding it has been an adventure.  Living in different places, dealing with different experiences, learning more than we ever thought possible, but God continues to provide and fill up our photo album even when we act like the children of Israel.

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He fell face down and laughed

I laughed as I read the information.  I shook my head with a look of “What are you gonna do?” on my face.

You know those statements you receive from the Social Security Administration that tell you about your “Estimated Benefits” and give you a reminder of how much money you’ve made over the last decade?  I got one in the mail a few days ago.  If my perspective is in disarray it is a guarantee that I will NOT enjoy reading the information.  Why?  Because I know the statement will show I made more money ten years ago.  It will show a man “on his way up” and then his salary drop, like a watermelon being thrown off a roof onto a concrete slab.  Splat.

When God told me to go to seminary back in 2001 He was not just telling me to go to seminary.  He was telling me that my dreams of being a successful marketing whiz would now be destroyed.  My goal of “retiring” early would now have something in common with being able to fly… would be wicked cool but really it’s just make-believe.

Another thing happened when I felt God was telling me to move to Texas and go to seminary.  I fell face down and laughed.  Me in seminary?  Yeah, right.  In Genesis 17:17, God has finished telling Abraham he would indeed become a daddio at the ripe old age of triple digits with a woman not much younger.  Abraham fell face down and laughed.  It made zero sense to me to go to seminary when I was in my prime “earning” years.

Little did I know I would go to the dust bowl that is Texas, reach new heights of wheezing due to asthma, and meet my bestest friend who would be the perfect partner to navigate this road.  They were the bestestest years of my life.

We’ve been married for 5 1/2 years and we have had several moments of falling face down and laughing at the steps God has called us to take.  We continually shake our heads, sometimes in the “NO” direction, at God leading us to do the exact opposite of what we would rather do and all we can do is laugh.

It is comforting to know that God understands the laughter, but I need to remember He will always be more interested in the obedience.  Regardless of what the Social Security Administration tells me.

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Sore feet…sore ego….totally worth it

“Come on, Nikki.  You can make it.  Only one more mile……or so.”

Last year to celebrate my birthday Nikki and I decided to take a trip to Chicago to see U2 in concert.  Very few things exist that would make for a better birthday celebration than seeing my favorite band with my favorite lady.   I purchased tickets for the concert many months in advance and as is my lot I obsessed over the hotel room.  One of the many imperfections in my armor is my inability to make quick decisions when it comes to the purchase of something that has a cost in excess of fifty bucks.  So it was a cause for celebration when a co-worker heard of our trip and immediately called his sister-in-law, who lives in Chicago, to ask if it would be possible for us to use her apartment during our stay.  She quickly agreed to the request.  On the surface one would think that the victory was the monetary savings, but let me assure you this was not the reason for our elation.  Ask my wife about my decision-making abilities when it comes to hotel rooms and finding the best rate.  Picture in your mind a man staring at the <enter>  key on his keyboard, really wanting to press the key, dying to press the key yet wondering, “Should I maybe check one more website?  I may save fifty cents.”  Enough said?  Enough said.

We arrived in Chicago on the day of the concert and were excited we were only a bus ride away from Soldier Field.  When the time came we made our way to the street corner with tickets in hand and a serious case of anticipation.  We hopped on the bus and off we went.

When I had asked for directions I had in mind how we were to arrive at Soldier Field.  We enjoyed our ride, saw many interesting characters, and if I remember correctly I was offered a piece of cabbage by a fellow rider, though I may have had a vision of this happening due to the bus fumes.

We arrived and proceeded to exit the bus, watch it drive away, walk over to a map, and realize we were still several blocks (miles) away from Soldier Field.  We should have stayed on the bus for several more stops.  I guess I did not listen closely enough when told that once the bus arrives then begin to look for signs for Soldier Field.

We had exact change for the bus ride to and from, so boarding another bus would throw off my laminated cash disbursement spreadsheet.  It was a nice day, there was a buzz on the streets, so we decided to walk the few miles to Soldier Field.  We had plenty of time and wanted to eat before the show so it made sense to simply enjoy an adventure.

We learned something valuable early on.  “Adventure” and “shoes minus arch support” were never meant to be travel companions.  We walked…and walked….and walked.  Every restaurant was offering seventeen dollar burgers or twenty-four dollar items of food that we could neither stomach nor spell.  I asked Nikki if she wanted me to try to find the lady who offered me the cabbage.  She gave me the “wife glare”.  (Men, you know of what I speak).  So I said what I thought would be encouraging….

“Come on, Nikki.  You can make it.  Only one more mile……or so.”

Needless to say we were becoming very frustrated.  We stopped in a Walgreens to see if we could locate some sort of sock, hose, or wrap that would prevent one’s feet from going numb.  I suggested a jumbo pack of Peeps.  Fluffy, fun to look at, and when finished we would have a delicious snack.  To this suggestion I received wife glare #2. (or was it #37?) Ballerina slippers do not give the sort of comfort and support one needs when walking five miles down a busy Chicago street.  At least Nikki was smart enough to wear tennis shoes.  (kidding….they never have the slippers in my color.)

We were frustrated, hungry, and tired, and the thought of the U2 show and being among thousands of great fellow fans failed to bring much comfort.  It was at that moment a funny thing happened that gave a healthy dose of perspective.  Off in the distance between the many buildings, power lines, and clouds we saw it….. the tip of a corner of Soldier Field.  Just a corner.  Nothing else.  We could not see any other part of the stadium, what was in the stadium, who was in the stadium, just the smallest glimpse of a corner of the stadium.

We continued on still frustrated and hungry, but now we had caught a glimpse of the goal. It made all the difference.  The frustration did not necessarily leave and it actually increased, but as our frustration increased so did our sense of anticipation as we would see a bit more of our destination.

We eventually found the cross street to Soldier Field, found some reasonably priced grubbage and sat down to take it all in.


As the moment grew closer our anticipation increased.  All the U2 songs we had blasted through speakers, yelled at the top of our lungs, ran through our minds on those lazy days, were now going to be fully experienced and with 65,000 other people with the same passion from every walk of life you could imagine.   All in one place for the same reason.

The concert began and thus we began destroying our voices as we sang and screamed at the top of our lungs.  Funny that when the concert started Nikki and I didn’t seem to remember the trial that was our journey to this point.  As we jumped up and down with so many of our closest friends we simply got lost in the joy of it all.  Once the show began and we had arrived at our destination we realized why the journey was worth every little pain and frustration.

If you look real close… yup….Nikki is stage diving.

As Nikki and I try to stay a step ahead of complacency, when we get frustrated when at times a step of faith seems to be a step backward in this life, God always seems to give us a glimpse of our destination.  Perhaps through a new perspective of a Bible verse we have read a thousand times, an encouraging note, a meaningful phone call, a Spirit-led email, or so many other things (if we would just open our eyes and look) to show us why we are on this earth.  Many times it is just a glimpse, but a glimpse is so much better than the scraps this world has to offer.

I cannot wait for the day when we have all crossed over to the other side, our petty differences in the rearview mirror, and we jump up and down in celebration lost in the joy of it all as we arrive at our eternal home.  (Oh yeah, the music is gonna be good, too.)

“Come on……  You can make it.  Only one more mile…..or so.”

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