On Regret, Love, and Grace

A Letter to a Friend

Hi Friend,

Hope your week is going well. I can’t get out of my head the brief conversation we had when we last spoke. You told me about how much you enjoy Pastor’s preaching, as well as his regular references to God’s grace. But you also told me that you’ve done a lot of stuff in your life that you regret. And then, our conversation was interrupted, and we never got back to it. I kept thinking this week about what I would have said if we had had more time and maybe more privacy to delve into that conversation. But I thought I’d write you to start a dialogue between us on all things regret, love, and grace.

To start, I don’t know all of the choices that you’ve made in your life that you regret. But I know a few things for sure: you are seen by God and loved by God and God is for you – just as you are, regrets and all. Jesus sacrificed himself and then conquered death three days later so that you might have life and have it to the full – no matter the ways you’ve fallen short. It is unconditional love from God. Unconditional. There are no strings attached. It’s pure acceptance. It is GRACE. To all that you are, including your regrets, God says, “Yes, you are my kid. And I love ya to death.”

God’s love and grace for us are central to the Christian faith. Christianity has a ton to say about the overwhelming, never-ending, recklesss love and grace of God – not least of which is:

“But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.” (Romans 5:20-21 MSG)

And more:

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 NIV)

Just know, from Jesus’ perspective, the love and grace that God offers all of us is like the father running to his prodigal son and welcoming him home with open arms:

“‘Quick[…] Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’” (Luke 15:22-24 MSG)

Unfortunately, some have a lot to say that is contrary to God’s unconditional love and grace for us. Don’t worry about them, as best you can. Just know: God sees you, God loves you, and God is for you – just as you are, regrets and all. And this God, the God who made you, is with you every moment of every day, cheering you on. And so are Dana and I. Love upon love upon love. Grace upon grace upon grace.

I should also add: I have regrets and failures too, especially from my 20s. And you know those well. You are not alone in your falling short. But God is a God of rebirth, of resurrection, of making all things new, of turning brokenness to beauty, of grace. Dana and the boys and our life together are proof of that for me.

This is our God: a God that is loving, caring, patient, kind, trustworthy, humble even to the cross, but powerful enough to conquer sin and death and give humanity new life – “a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.”

This is some of what I wish I had been able to say had our conversation gone further. And I’d love to hear your thoughts in reply. I hope I didn’t overstep my boundaries by writing this to you. But I hope you know that, no matter your regrets, God loves you. With everything He’s got. And so do Dana and I.

Love upon love upon love.

Grace upon grace upon grace.

-KGC

The End

June 2020

Dear Friend,

“Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning.” (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets)

June 2020 has been quite the month. COVID news seemingly getting better – but then not. Our country’s collective reckoning (again) with white supremacy, police brutality, mass incarceration, our original sin of slavery, and the reality that we must act to dismantle systemic racism in our society. And it’s Pride month – so we got to celebrate the SCOTUS’s decision about gay and transgender workers’ civil rights.

And more, the Court’s Dreamers decision. And Father’s Day. All the while: Trump is still our President, which is its own batch of crazy. Phew. What a month for this 200+ year old experiment in democracy.

June 2020 was also a month of hard work in my neck of the woods, both in my corporate role, and also with my own writing. I decided to not buy any new books this month and instead invest my “reading time” in my own book project. And so, every night, I worked on my manuscript. Editing, re-writing, cleaning up typos, and bettering the dialogue. I got through the book twice, the second time reading it aloud, and now I feel like I’ve really got something worth sharing. It’s the end of this stage of the writing process, but really just the beginning of the life of this book.

If you want to know, I’ve written a fantasy adventure book to be read by the whole family. Think The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Lord of the Rings – all of which are my book’s main fictional influences. My book tells the story of a family of four that finds a hidden world in the forest behind their house, a world that is embroiled in an ages long war between good and evil. The book addresses how safety and risk are handled when parents and kids get caught up in an adventure together, and also attempts to address Christian theology through the lens of a kid’s fantasy adventure book – hence the strong Narnia and Wrinkle in Time influences.

The goal for this book is similar to that of a Pixar movie: exciting and engaging enough to keep a child interested, but compelling and subtly mature enough to satisfy an adult – all the while giving the whole family something fun to read and discuss and enjoy together.

In July, I will take a break from my book, and get back to reading. July’s book list includes The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, to start. And then I’ll come back to my manuscript August 1st.

So even though I got to “THE END” of my manuscript, I know August 1st will be a whole new beginning for the life of my little project. Lots more to do to get this book ready for its release into the world.

So that’s been June 2020 in my world. Here’s to ends also being beginnings.

-KGC

A Letter to Hanes and Cohen

Father’s Day 2020

Dear Hanes and Cohen,

To be your dad is the greatest privilege of my life. You both have been such a blessing to me in so many ways. Hanes, golfing with you and watching you swim with such joy – while also seeing how thoughtful and caring and intelligent you are – is really the best. Co, your playfulness, your belly laugh, your toughness (you are our “Bruiser”), and your determination to keep up with your older brother is 💯. Everything about you two brings me a joy that I can’t fully describe in words. I love you both unconditionally with everything I’ve got.

But I also want to write to you today to remember the moment we’re in here on Father’s Day 2020. You might not understand some of this letter for some time, but it’s important you know what Father’s Day 2020 was like.

First, the germs that we’ve been talking to you about seem to going away somewhat. But we’re all still worried about them. Just know we will do everything in the world to protect you from harm. And we, as a family, will continue to cheer on the people on the front lines who are sacrificing so much to fight the germs. But we also have our faith in a God who is bigger than any germs, and He will be with us no matter what comes our way.

Secondly, we’re also at a moment where our Black friends need our support. Our actions need to match our beliefs. As you get older, Mommy and I will continue to teach you to fight against anything that would harm our Black friends. We will continue to teach you about our country’s good and bad history, about racism, about protest, about being an ally, and about progress – all the while exposing you to and lifting up Black voices.

Lastly, two other wonderful things happened this week that we need to celebrate. For one, it’s now a law that nobody can be treated badly at work because of who they are or who they love. That means, Hanes and Co, that no matter who you grow up to be or who you grow up to love, you will be treated fairly at work. What an amazing blessing for your future!

The second wonderful thing that happened relates to a special group of kids. These special kids were born outside our country, and then their parents brought them to this country when they were young like you. For a long time, we didn’t know if these special kids would get to stay in our country. Now it’s official that these special kids are welcome to stay here, grow up, work hard, and enjoy a great life here in the U.S. What a great blessing for these special kids, and for all of us.

Like I said at the beginning of this letter, you two won’t fully understand this letter for some time. But I want to do my best to raise you to be aware of the present moment, to have faith amidst hard times, to be an ally to our Black friends, and to celebrate when our country takes big steps toward progress.

Love you both with everything I’ve got,

Dad

Some Thoughts on Black Lives Matter

6.13.20

I am woefully unqualified to speak on the topic of race in America. But to my small, private Instagram community: the reality is that silence is complicity. It is not enough to not be a racist. We must fight systemic racism in our myriad ways. We must be anti-racist. So here’s my feeble attempt at a post.

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George Floyd

Breonna Taylor

Ahmaud Arbery

Rayshard Brooks

Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells

#blacklivesmatter

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One of Hanes’ best friends is black. His life matters. We love him and his family with everything we’ve got.

#blacklivesmatter

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The NAACP Legal Defense Fund

#blacklivesmatter

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The words of Martin Luther King, Jr, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Colson Whitehead, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In addition, Frederick Douglass, Malcom X, Ibram X Kendi, Sherrilyn Ifill, Yara Shahidi, @theconsciouskid, and Latasha Morrison – and more to come. A steady diet everyday, even when the 24-hour news cycle moves on.

#blacklivesmatter

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Jesus’ parable of the shepherd leaving the 99 to find the 1. It’s not that the 99 don’t matter to the shepherd; it’s just that the 1 is in mortal danger. Therefore, the shepherd goes after the 1. (Luke 15)

#blacklivesmatter

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I have friends and family that are cops. And they’re good people. But systemic racism carried out by the military police complex via violence and mass incarceration is undeniable.

#blacklivesmatter

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I have benefited from white privilege, and I’ve enjoyed that privilege while not caring enough about the realities of the black men and women in my life, in my workplace, in my community, and in this country. Lord, forgive me. Then, Lord, be relentless to holding me accountable to real action, not just social media posts.

#blacklivesmatter

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Black Lives Matter.

Books May 2020

Here are my books from May 2020.

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin was an amazing read, with tons of really applicable lessons from four of our most important Presidents.  My first N.T. Wright book Surprised by Hope was good but a bit too dense theologically.  The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a must read novel – especially with the current conversations and protests focused on racial inequalities in America.  The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday is a phenomenal cliff notes to Stoicism, and super applicable to this COVID season.  And Big Magic by one of my favorite authors and thinkers Elizabeth Gilbert, was exactly what I’d hoped for: a how-to guide to living a creative life.  It got me thinking creatively about my work in Corporate America as well as got me back to working on my own book.

Reviews are below. Hope you find some good books to add to your list!

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3 Question I’m Asking in the New Normal of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended a lot in its steep climb to the forefront of our every day lives. The economic, social, financial, physical, and emotional tole the virus has taken on us all is significant, and the loss of all that we knew in pre-COVID life is stark. If anyone is like me – as someone who’s self-worth is often wrapped up in what I’m able to achieve and/or produce – this season is one where the pre-COVID ways of performing at home and at work might not be as applicable to a new normal that demands a whole different set of skills and maybe even a whole new outlook on everyday life.

This new normal brings me face to face with 3 questions that cut to heart of my achiever mentality: How do I succeed in this season, a season filled with so much loss? How do I handle the uncertainty of the weeks and months to come? And maybe most importantly: in this new season, who am I, and what are my priorities and values going to be? I thought I’d share my thoughts on these questions as a way to begin a conversation with you all, my Instagram community – as a way to bring structure to my own internal dialogue, and see what you are thinking as well. So here goes.

1. How do I succeed in this season, a season filled with so much loss?

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” (Abraham Lincoln)

The answer to this question is: I don’t succeed in this season – at least not in the ways I succeeded at home and at work in my pre-COVID life. Too much has changed. And that is both a loss and a gift. The loss is the grieving of everything that was upended by the virus as we feared for our health, shut down our economy, and quarantined ourselves. The gift is that the trauma of COVID has catapulted me and my family into a new narrative, or as Katherine Wolf (@HopeHeals) said at church (@RollHillChurch) this past Sunday, “It’s not the end of the story, but it’s simply the new beginning of another story.” The truth is, as my sister Kendra (@KendraZierau) says, “Things will never go back to the way they were.”

So some success might return. But those successes will be utterly new, something set apart – brought about by new external realities and internalized with new personal routines, practices, and strategies. Success for me in this new normal can look like more empathy, love, and support for my wife, or more fun, patience, and presence with my two young boys. It can mean more prayers, texts, and DM’s for my family and community. It can also mean new normals at work as this Market demands a different kind of work day and new partnerships with colleagues. Success in this season will be as novel as the coronavirus itself, or as the Christian faith teaches: new wine skins for a new reality.

2. How do I handle the uncertainty of the weeks and months to come?

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” (FDR)

The answer for me to this second question is all about meditation, prayer, and practice – i.e. building a structure that allows for growth and progress instead of the paralysis of fear. Can I build new routines that keep me focused on what I can control, that keep me mentally and physically healthy, and remind me that, ultimately, God is in control and I am not?

Some of the mediations I’m practicing currently are:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (King David, in his Psalms)
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (The Jewish prophet Jeremiah amidst Israel’s 70-year Babylonian captivity)
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear)
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” (John Wooden)

A new normal requires new meditations, new prayers, and new practices, to give structure to the chaos that drastic change can often bring. Whether that be these meditations, or committing to a physical workout regime, structure amidst uncertainty is bringing me a bit of calm amidst the COVID storm.

3. In this new season, who am I, and what are my priorities and values going to be?

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” (Marcus Aurelius)

I am not who I was pre-COVID. None of us are. We have been radically remade by this pandemic – whether we like it or not. The obstacle is now the way. Professional realities have changed. Our personal lives are super different, to say the least, with quarantine and social distancing and masks and the uncertain realities of reopening. Our economy and our finances are battered and rearranged. I am a brand new version of me in this new normal, forever changed by the far reaching tentacles of the pandemic. As already mentioned, COVID has launched my family and I into new narrative – the new beginning of a new story – so I have to allow a new me to emerge in this season.

And that new narrative leads me to an examination of my priorities and values. COVID sucked the comfortable out of everyday life. That space can either be filled with healthy things that will build up my family and my community and my workplace, or be filled with unhealthy things that will be a detriment to myself and those that are close to me. Priorities and values take center stage in this new normal: Do I value wealth or generosity? performance or honesty? control or faith? pride or humility? escape or acceptance? numbness or vulnerability?

Wealth | Generosity

Performance | Honesty

Control | Faith

Pride | Humility

Escape | Acceptance

Numbness | Vulnerability

This is my mental battleground in this new season: the column on the left, or the column on the right. Deciding to act or not act on these priorities and values will define how this COVID season rounds out.

In all, these are the 3 questions I’m asking myself currently. Hopefully some of my questions and thoughts are similar to yours as we all navigate this new normal. I love sharing life with you all, and look forward to your thoughts in response. Not that I’ve arrived in any way, but I can at least strive toward what I know is good – and hope that COVID shapes me, and us all, for the better.

Meditations 5.16.20

Some quotes for this COVID-19 season.

 

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” (Marcus Aurelius)

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“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.” (The Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, MSG version)

 

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“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” (Abraham Lincoln)

 

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“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” (FDR)

 

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“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear)

 

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“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” (John Wooden)

 

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“Things will never go back to the way they were [pre-COVID]… Practice being comfortable in the uncomfortable.” (Kendra Zierau)

 

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These are some quotes I’ve been meditating on/praying over/practicing these last couple weeks. Hopefully you’ll find something in these words that’s helpful to you as well.

Meditation 4.25.20

“There’s a grace when the heart is under fire / Another way when the walls are closing in / And when I look at the space between / Where I used to be and this reckoning / I know I will never be alone.” (“Another in the Fire,” Hillsong UNITED)

This song and these lyrics have been fresh in my mind the last couple days. Really good reminder that, during this COVID season, God is intimately with us and for us.

Easter 2020

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

I keep thinking about the early followers of Jesus, who had put their whole hope and trust in this rabbi from Nazareth – who now had to face the prospect of life without Him after His brutal death on the cross on Good Friday. Heartbreak. Devastation. Ridicule from others who probably said “I told you so” for trusting so intensely in this teacher.

Then I keep trying imagine how they were feeling when they started hearing rumors on Sunday that Jesus, who had been killed, was alive again. That somehow, miraculously, He had defeated His own death.

I can’t imagine the mental roller coaster His early followers must have been on. The horrific scene of His crucifixion – His body bloodied and broken – fresh in their minds. His body buried in a tomb. Those images just a few days old.

More rumors that He had defeated all that. That He had come back to life. That He had risen again.

It would be too much for me to take. Too good to be true. I would be like Thomas and write those rumors off. No way they could be true.

But then I try to put myself in their shoes as the rumors start becoming fact. More and more people start seeing Jesus in the flesh. More and more people claim that Jesus is alive. Even Thomas moves from doubt to belief as he sticks his own hands in Jesus’ wounded sides. The Christ. Alive. Living grace. Risen forgiveness. Resurrected hope.

If I were in their shoes, I would then say, “Ok. This is it. The new kingdom is now coming to earth. I don’t have to worry anymore about persecution from the religious authorities or occupation by the Romans. Jesus is going to overthrow all that.” But I’d be wrong. Christians, as this new community was starting to be called, would be intensely persecuted in the Roman Empire for 300 years before Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. 300 years of Christian martyrdom. Clearly, the early years of my faith tradition do not proclaim a prosperity gospel. Quite the opposite.

Paul’s writings in Romans make clear the plight of early followers:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8, NIV)

Yes, Jesus conquered death – but early Christians faced horrific consequences for their belief in Him. Which gives me solace in this COVID-19 season because, even though we in the Christian faith celebrate today that Jesus is alive, we are keenly aware that Jesus’ resurrection does not magically stop the heartache of our present moment.

So what exactly does Jesus’ resurrection accomplish then? If not a new earthly kingdom without persecution or pain or disease, then what? If not a coronavirus fix, then what?

Jesus’ resurrection means that we now have unfettered access to God Himself. That the gap between humanity and its Creator has been forever bridged. That amidst physical or psychological or financial ruin, God is with us – intimately, eternally. That there is no virus that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV).

This is the Gospel, the Good News of my faith tradition. We are no longer separated from God – no matter our current reality. This is the salvation provided by Jesus through His death and resurrection: that Jesus voided any alienation that we might feel between ourselves and God. God is intimately and eternally with us. Through health and sickness. Through prosperity and poverty. Through good times and bad. Through any and every pandemic. He is with us and for us.

He is with us and for us.

God is with us and for us.

He is risen. He is risen indeed.