Who the heck is Franklin Pierce?

Franklin Pierce – 14th U.S. President

About a month ago I finished reading a biography on Franklin Pierce. You know – Franklin Pierce – the 14th president of the United States. Franklin Pierce – the cause of the Republican Party’s introduction into the American political landscape. Franklin Pierce – the only president from New Hampshire. The reason the Kansas-Nebraska act came to fruition. Franklin Pierce was historically one of the worst presidents the U.S. has ever had. That’s probably why he’s not ringing a bell. That’s ok, you’re not alone. The reality is that most people have no clue who Franklin Pierce was or why he was important to the political landscape leading up to the Civil War. But he was a Northerner with a Southern sympathies and his decisions regarding slavery and newly admitted states would pave the way for the disintegration of the once lively Whig party and the introduction of the newly staunch opponents of slavery – the Republican party. His poor presidency and the decisions that came out of it, would set the North and South on collision course that would finally be realized some 20 years later. Franklin Pierce, though often forgotten, was an important cog in our nation’s history, especially as it relates to slavery in the U.S..

I write all that not because I want to write about Franklin Pierce, but rather to make a point. History is important. But so often, we (myself included) fail to understand just how much our current situation is shaped by history. History matters a great deal. And whether you enjoy the study of history or not, you’ve been undoubtedly shaped greatly by it.
Learning the history of our place while overlooking downtown San Diego
This past week we (NieuCommunities apprentices) had an awesome opportunity to learn about the history of our place. We spent a couple of hours learning how San Diego came to be the San Diego we know today. We spent time looking at some of the themes that arose from that history. Themes of “Boom and Bust,” “Partnership with Tijuana,” “Manifest Destiny,” “The Spanish Mission Movement” and the “War of Water” just to name a few. And what we found is that every one of those themes plays out one way or another within the narrative of our city and can be identified today. History has impacted this city more than I think we ever could realize. We also looked specifically at the history of our neighborhood. We learned how Golden Hill started as the premiere neighborhood within San Diego and over time changed and morphed into it’s 1990’s name “Heroin Hill” and then the metamorphosis into what San Diego magazine has just named the “Best up-and-coming” neighborhood in San Diego. 
A mural in San Diego’s Chicano Park.
An important and often forgotten part of San Diego’s history.
It’s fascinating to see how history really tells you a lot about a place. As people on mission I wonder how much more of an impact we could have if we were faithfully seeking where we’ve been and how that affects where a place is going. Knowing the history of a place allows you a window of sorts into the victories, pains, and needs of a community. But learning these things takes time. Each one of us is a product of history. Whether it’s the larger narrative of your country or culture’s history, or the the smaller more personal narrative of your life; history matters. History shapes us and history tells us a lot about people. I am thankful for our time learning the history of this place we now call home. I pray that we would be able to minister in light of what has happened in our cities, communities, neighborhoods and lives recognizing that our past shapes us, but doesn’t define us. It is our prayer that through learning the history of our place we would know how to better pray for, care for and invest in our neighbors and neighborhoods.  

Birds and their love for blueberry scones

I’m prone to worry. There I said it. I know I’m not supposed to. Scripture’s pretty clear about worry, instead of worrying I’m supposed to be characterized by peace. But it often feels like there’s a perpetual battle between worry and peace playing out in my head. The truth is I worry about a lot of different things.

Some worries are probably legitimate. Like how good of a father I’ll be to Emerson. Or, if I’m loving my wife like she needs me to. Some are, I know, ridiculous. Like worrying about the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals and which Luongo will show up (Ok, now, to be honest, if you’re a Canucks fan, some may argue that’s legitimate). Or, if that sound outside my house at 3 am is a robber trying to break into my storage shed that’s in the back yard (oh, nevermind, it’s just my dog licking himself next to my bed – heart-rate can go down any time now).
Worry for me comes out in a number of different ways. Some are pretty common. I worry about money and finances – having to raise support brought this one into a whole new light for me. If we don’t get all the support we need, how will we pay for things? How will we live? Another common worry – I worry about the future – where is God going to take us? How are we going to get there? What if “such and such” doesn’t happen? The list goes on. For me this is the kind of worry that can induce a lot of stress if I let it, it can fog my ability to think and it can even cause me to lose sight of what’s happening right in front of me. 
Some worries are more subtle. I worry about how I am perceived by others. If I say “this,” what will people think? If I do “that,” will people respect me or think I’m a wreck? This worry can cripple my ability to be vulnerable and honest; it can hinder my ability to invest and engage with people. I can still remember the times I’ve misspoken in the midst of a group of people with vivid detail and even allow that to haunt me as I interact in other settings at times. Shoot, I even struggle to start conversations with people at Starbucks sometimes because I worry about asking the right questions or saying the “right” things. Worry causes me to over think situations. Worry causes me to second guess myself. It causes a lot of anxiety in social situations. I’m insecure – I know, I have issues. It’s something that I’ve wrestled with for a long time. But most of the time it safely plays itself out in the “friendly confines” of my head – so people won’t see my struggles as lucidly. 
Now the whole reason I’m writing this is because it feels like God has really been working on my heart in this area of worry…not to mention, I know I’m not alone. A lot of us have those same insecurities, same worries – both legitimate and crazy. For whatever it’s worth, I process better by writing things down. So here it is…thanks for bearing with me.
Over the past week or so I’ve been spending a lot time at our neighborhood Starbucks. Our Starbucks is literally two blocks from our house – I know, DANGEROUS. It’s been a great place for me to spend reading, praying, and listening. This past week or so, I’ve really been thinking and praying about the transition we’ve made into NieuCommunities. Moving to a new place causes a lot of anxiety for me. I’m a routine person, I function really well when I’m in routine and my surroundings are familiar. Take me out of that rhythm and comfort zone and I really am like the cliché “fish out of water.” Change is hard. And for me, change and transition seem to only magnify my ability to worry about things. I bring up Starbucks because last Friday morning I found myself sitting outside and sipping on my iced coffee reflecting on the various things that were weighing heavily on my mind. As I sat there I was suddenly struck by a tiny little bird right underneath my table. This little bird was just content as can be; pecking away at somebody’s fallen pastry crumb. The bird stood there eating it, not even a little bit concerned about the large ominous being overlooking it peck away at the food. “Ok God, nice work, I needed to see that.” Matthew 6 came rushing to my mind: 
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26 ESV)  
Here’s the thing, I’ve quoted this verse probably a gazillion times, reflected on it, shared it with others, but seeing that bird, in those circumstances, on that morning, it struck me differently. I watched that bird for about 5 minutes as it hopped from morsel to morsel eating without a care in the world. “Wish I could function like that.” Funny thing, the Bible speaks pretty well to the reality of God’s faithfulness. I’ve experienced that reality so many times and in so many different ways. The reality that God provides, cares for, intercedes on the behalf of, and really fights for His people plays over and over again throughout the pages of the Bible. I’ve read those stories, I’ve taught those stories, I’ve experienced the truths of those stories. And yet I still struggle. But as I sat there at Starbucks that morning it hit me just how carefree that bird really was. I want that to characterize my life. I know the pat answer is Jesus, but sometimes, if I’m honest, I need help just like anyone else connecting the dots. I need to be reminded of who I am in Christ. I need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness – repeatedly. I need to be reminded that I am living in the midst of a battle, and that the enemy LOVES to play the doubt and worry card. I need to be reminded of Romans 8, of Ephesians 1, of Matthew 6. While watching that bird, I simply began to pray. “Thank you for the reminder, please Lord, keep reminding me.”  
And God in his faithfulness, has continued to remind me of all those realities. I feel like I have been reminded a lot lately. God really has used the community down here to help remind me of those truths. See, that’s the beauty of community – no one has to go it alone. If you are wrestling with something, chances are good that someone else has wrestled with it at some time or is wrestling with it now. This past Sunday evening our community spent time working through Colossians 3 together. We spent time reading through the chapter and then began to really reflect on what this passage tells us about God, about humans, and in light of those realities what does that mean for how I’m to live. Two things kind of connected for me and a couple of others too. Low and behold I was not the only one wrestling with anxiety, there were others. In the middle of Colossians 3 Paul tells the Colossians to be thankful three times in a matter of three verses. Seems like he really wanted the Colossians to be thankful; to give thanks to God. When we as a community began to talk about how this passage should lead us to live I felt God impressing upon my heart the need to be thankful in all circumstances. I need to work on having a thankful heart. I tend to be a glass half-empty kind of guy, or as I like to put it: a realist. But this past Sunday I was convicted. I am quick to look at circumstances in front of me and see the problems, the negatives, the shortcomings and completely fail to see the positives…That’s a problem…shoot, there it is again. At any rate, I recognize that a large part of worry and anxiety stems from not being able to see or at least not acknowledging and reflecting on the areas of God’s provision and faithfulness. I need to work on this. Kind of fitting, seeing as Thanksgiving is a mere two weeks away – perfect time to put this ol’ discipline into action. That evening others began to share tangible ways that they could allow this passage to be lived out in their lives as well. And there it was, there were others, wrestling with anxiety – the battle between worry and peace. As we talked about that for a bit, Philippians 4 came to mind.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

There it was, another verse I’d memorized and repeated a gazillion times. How many times have I said that verse out loud, and forgotten or mumbled over the “with thanksgiving” part. Yep. Probably too many to count. But for some reason that night God reminded me of the connection between God’s peace and the need for a thankful heart. We talked through that a little bit with others who were struggling with the same. I’m thankful for our community. I’m thankful for the people God has connected us with and their love for God, their neighbors and each other. I’m thankful that God has put people in my life to remind me of God’s truth when I need it most. I’m thankful that God hears our prayers and not only listens, but answers them. I’m thankful that God knows exactly what I need when I need it. I needed to be reminded that the answer to anxiety is God’s peace. God’s peace comes through prayer which is presented to God with a thankful heart. And there it is. Prayerful and thankful people are peaceful people. I need to be both.

This next month it is my goal to be more conscientious and thoughtful in proclaiming what I’m thankful for. God has blessed us immensely. God’s faithfulness plays out in our lives on a daily basis. God is teaching us, stretching us and changing us in this new season. For that I am thankful. Even when I struggle to fully realize and understand what God is doing in and around me God’s truth rings in my ears and eyes through others and even through little birds that eat crumbs under tables at Starbucks. For that I am thankful.