Snow-What it Does and Doesn’t Do

It snowed a little last night!

I love freshly fallen snow. I remember when I was younger, after a large snowstorm, I would often times go for a walk. We lived on a nice piece of property with a lake, forest and a meadow or two. I would walk back to the woods, stand on the edge of it and the meadow and just…stop. I would lift up my hat so my ears were exposed so I could listen to the silence. The only sound was the wind gently blowing through the trees. Other than that, nothing…pure silence.

If it was a wetter snow, the trees, shrubs and berry laden branches would be encased in a thin layer of ice, making it a a forest of glass. Simply beautiful when the sun was out (which didn’t happen that often in north central Ohio).

But what I loved most of all, was everything covered in the brilliant blanket of white. So perfect, so delicate, so soft. I would intentionally take the long way to the woods, following the line where the meadow met the lawn and walk the edge so that the view of the perfect blanket from our kitchen, wouldn’t be ruined by my footprints.

When our boys were really small, for two years our small family of four at the time, lived in a Russian city on the edge of Siberia. Just slightly inside of Asia, was our little apartment. It was on the first floor of a five story building, with a drive that passed the entry doors on one side and a main street on the other. However, the side with the main street had a “park” area with several trees that divided our windows from the mains street by about 120 or so feet (40 meters ish). This made it a beautiful “meadow” in the winter time. We never got large snow storms, but every morning there would be  dusting of snow. By the end of winter, it would be 2-3 feet deep.

But then would come the Spring thaw. Everything would melt and the grass would start to push through. Over the course of winter, our neighbors in the four floors above us, would throw out their trash, glass bottles, magazines, diapers, out onto this park area. We hardly noticed through out the winter as by every morning there would be an thin, untouched coating of snow. I remember one year, as it began to thaw there was a pornographic magazine that had spread open on the ground when it landed as tenants above threw it down. Not the sight I wanted to see, nor my two young boys when we looked out the window. it seems as though the “sins” of the winter became apparent in the thawing warmth of spring.

It snowed last night.

The words from Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool,” come to my mind. Isaiah doesn’t say that our sins will simply be buried under a blanket of snow or wool. Isaiah writes that they will be washed completely away with no trace. Our sins, our hurts, bad habits, will only be a memory but nothing that has to harm us anymore. They won’t be simply covered up. We are now whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7), we can give thanks for God’s incredible grace, compassion and desire for restored relationship with Him.

I do love the snow because it covers up the dry, muddy, ugly brown of the world around. It lays a beautiful blanket of white over everything. It brings a peace and stillness to the world. But, whatever lies underneath, whatever it covered up peaks it head again in the Spring. Whatever was hidden is only hidden for a time. It doesn’t hide it forever…it doesn’t clean it and wash it away forever. It’s hard for me to believe at times that God isn’t simply covering my dirt up to unleash a long list of my wrongs  someday.

It’s hard to believe that He washes us, cleans us so that we are whiter than snow. He has far more grace for us than we do for ourselves. I need to remember that-to give myself more grace, to become like Christ in that way.  We are to be open, honest about our struggles-He did make us human after all. And we also need to remember to give ourselves grace. We are whiter than snow, we just need to believe it sometimes. I just need to believe it sometimes.

I can’t wait for it to snow again.

Is it hard for you to believe God doesn’t simply cover up, but actually washes us? Do you have times where you chose to give yourself grace? What came of that decision? I’d love to hear your story and experience. it helps us all grow in our journey with Christ!

disruption

There have been some moments in my life that have caused some minor disruptions-a kid’s dirty diaper, an unexpected house guest, the power going out (no offense to my friends in Spokane at the moment:), a flat tire on the way to work. Though some are seemingly more annoying and troublesome than others, it causes a delay in whatever it was that you were doing….

An then there are disruptions that seem to be seismic crater sized rifts that don’t just delay, they tear, rip, shred, warp, twist  and crumble reality as we know it. I’m not suggesting the need to start comparing my earthquakes compared to yours, we’re all different. But, there have been some of these “destructive force” sized disruptions in my own life. At least they felt that way to me.

What usually happens is that I am knocked out of balance. I start to lose my stability. I start to wobble. Whatever was in balance before, suddenly cannot become balanced again. It becomes a game of over compensation matched with more over compensation. This throws more things out of balance, which, in turn, brings things falling to the ground, off the cliff, tumbling from the tight rope.

For me, it is a time of uncertainty about many things. Life becomes quite undefined and this means I can no longer control it. Richard Rohr refers to this time as a “crisis of limitations.” I have hit the limits of what my uber controlled, highly concocted world has to offer and with it comes a crisis. What do I do now? Where did my stability go? How do I get back to where I was? How do I regain control again?

Those questions continue to drive my compulsivity. We all have dysfunctions that drive our compulsivity in our lives. All of us. It’s part of this fallen world we live in and were born into. When these disruptions come, they are the sign of a deeper work that is happening..if we allow it. For me, I need to surrender to the disruption, or better yet, surrender to God’s deeper work. It hurts, at times. But if I never surrender, I can never see the full fruit of God’s deeper work and I will never be released from this compulsivity that I have. My question needs to change to “Do I want to get back to where I was?”

As long as I’m compulsive, I will blow past the present, those around me, God’s deeper work and the gift that is the now. I cannot see God’s presence with me in this moment, in this place, in this situation and circumstance. Disruptions are just that-disrupting the sometimes circus that goes on that hinders me from communion with God and His active ongoing creation around me. His active, ongoing re-creation within me. I’m learning to seek to understand the disruption before automatically dismissing it.Moses did with the bush.  Joseph did in the pit and in jail. The disciples did with the crucifixion. Paul did when struck with blindness.  Perhaps I should start doing the same. Lord, give me ears to hear and eyes to see. Amen.

Have you had those kinds of disruptions in your life? Perhaps they were far more than a “disruption” to you? Where was God in that? I’d love to hear your story. It spurs us all on in our journeys with Christ.

 

 

 

Why Fear Doesn’t Motivate Me (as much) Anymore

I grew up on a farm. We owned 150 acres or so, but farmed almost 1,000 spread out amongst the county we lived in. Those acres had a few hills, a pond or two, forest and fields. I would go out most days as a kid and make a new adventure. Some of those got me in trouble like leaving the pen open so the cows got out, riding my bike through a soybean field to grandma’s house and falling into a pile of  manure the size of several swimming pools. It was adventurous and fun.

I remember being at college several years later. Iris and I had only been dating for about a year, but I was madly in love with her and knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. As she was getting ready to head back home for winter break, I was struck with this intense fear. Y2K, the infamous over-the-top hype filled, doom-and-fear-motivated craze was sweeping the country as it was only two weeks away until the world would end as we knew it. It seems like Christians I knew were the most crazed about it.

Though I couldn’t have cared less about it, there was suddenly this mass panic that set in my heart and mind. “What if this is real? If it is, how in the world will I get back to Iris??” She lived only three hours away, but if the apocalypse was really going to happen, where would I get gas to drive? How would we be together in the end? What would happen to the wonderful plan I thought God had for me?

That Christmas was the worst Christmas I had ever had. I was, and still am, not a big New Year’s party kind of guy. Sometimes I stay up to watch the fireworks (in Russia) out my window, but often as soon as they are done, I go to bed, quietly. The year f Y2K, I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what was happening to New Zealand, Australia and Japan first to see if things would be ok. And now here we are 15 years later with a new swarm of things to be afraid of…who cares about a computer glitch.

As time went on, this fear and panic would kick in from time to time. I look back on my childhood now and wonder where it came from, and still I have no idea. But I do know one thing, it’s not of God. It’s not of a loving Father, it’s not from the Prince of Peace. I knew that then, but fear still controlled me. In most cases, even in major decisions, it didn’t win out, but it would cause me to second, triple, quadruple guess myself. It would cause me to come up with backup plans. D, E and F plans in case the first three failed. Both major decisions and small would be well thought out and have many contingencies. You can imagine the amount of energy it took to keep it altogether, separated, cataloged.

The past few years have been an incredible journey of growth for me. Part of that was starting down the road of recovery and doing a fear inventory. Getting to the root of why I have fear, where it comes from and the truth that it is because I cannot control every aspect of every place and situation in my life. I can make decisions for myself. However, I cannot control what my child does, what Iris says, what the person in the car in front of me does, nor the strength of the cable holding up the elevator I’m in. I have no way of controlling most things in my life. I am not God.

And I guess, that is where the painful rub comes.

I am not God.

I am an addict of control. That took me a long time to admit. When I lose control, I become fearful of what might be. As an addict to alcohol loses that “safe” drink, the fear of facing the pain they have been trying to drown begins to start. Recovery is a road worth walking. But it is a road. Some days my fear is subsided and I don’t have any. I am at peace (my breath prayer for years now). But other days, my fear starts to gain foot holds in my life. I need to pause and recognize the truth that it is ok. All is well.

I so enjoy the Christian Mystics. Julian of Norwich was one who spoke to me much as I read of her life and what God had done in her. She said this, “ It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

The truth is all is well. All shall be well. I am His and He is mine. Fear has no place, no life giving sustenance for my soul. Only peace. My prayer for us all in these very uncertain times, is that we all claim the truth that all is well, shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

What fears drive you? Have you ever done an fear inventory? What has become of allowing your fears reign and what has become  of allowing peace to reign? I would love to hear your stories, please feel free to dialogue!

Disruption from the Compulsive

I am very thankful that I have a community that I have  surrounded myself with. It’s amazing to me, at times, to look back and see the people who were in my path that have helped guide me, as questions to help me reflect on where I had been and where I was heading, to simply help me be aware of who was in my presence and how the present had much to teach me.

I am thankful, also, for my growing self awareness. I hope and pray that each passing day I become more aware of how I am experienced by others. That I am seeing more clearly the wake I am leaving behind me as I engage with those around me. What I have come to understand about myself and, from what I can tell, everyone else around me, is that we are compulsive.

Each of us has our own compulsive behaviors that we have. Some call them habits, some call them defense mechanisms, some call them addictions. Whatever they are called, they are there, feeding on our lack of desire to engage pain and hurt. This compulsivity to numb whatever feelings we are feeling drives us to react in ways that, oddly enough, causes us more pain. My addictions-hurts, hangups and habits- are many. But one is the constant desire to move forward without ever looking back. To “progress” without reflecting on what happened, why it happened and what I felt during the process.

Grief and mourning have never been friends of mine. Moving forward allows me to ignore those feelings….for awhile.

Then comes a disruption. A disruption can be something small-getting a cold for example. A disruption can be something massive-someone dying or a major decision to be made changing life as you know it. It simply depends. I would assume over the course of my life there have been several thousand disruptions. Who knows. But it wasn’t until the past few years that I began to take notice of when those disruptions came about.

Usually for me, it’s when major things happen, I’m noticing that things are a little off or have this compulsive desire to move on but can’t. That’s when, again thankful for the community I’ve surrounded myself with, I lean into them and they are able to point out what I’m missing. They are able to help me see where I’m not engaging in the present and what’s to learn from it instead of moving onto something else and missing the truth found here first.

As my spiritual director put it last month, God is doing a deeper work in me. I need to allow space for the disruption and surrender myself to God’s deeper work. Only then can I be released from my compulsivity and engage with what God is doing. I hope this for us all.

When we stop and acknowledge whatever hurts, habits or hang ups we have in our lives, we begin the process of surrendering that compulsivity that allows them to keep numbing and hiding what God is doing. My prayer is that we all do that, continually. It is a journey this gift we call life.

Have you come to a place of disruption? What kind of impact came about from it? I’d love to  hear your story.

Trying Too Hard….

So, I promised myself I wouldn’t, but it is just so very tempting. It’s tempting to go over and hit the “Stats” button on my blog’s dashboard. It makes me feel really good when I see that people have been reading and/or commenting on what I’ve been writing. What I’ve noticed over the past couple weeks is that if there is a dip in the numbers, I feel compelled to write something just to boost them back up again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love interact with you and hearing your stories. Your experiences grow my view of the world, humanity and my view of God. We learn from each other. I feel as though I am simply sharing my experiences with you so that if you find something useful, helpful or encouraging, great. If not, well, hopefully it was a good read. BUT, when I start writing for the results or the numbers to feed my ego or self worth, well, then I’ve replaced God with those numbers. Not cool.

I need to stop trying too hard and just, as very close friend of mine, Paul McCartney (ya right), would say….Let It Be.

So, on that note…..I love finishing books. Be they big or small, it gives me a great sense of completion. Something I’ve done for a few years now is transfer my clippings and highlights from my Kindle to my computer. Then, put them in a Pages doc and save them by book in a file by author. From time to time I go back and reflect on them. It’s super helpful. If they are printed books (get ready for the anality of this), I hand type all my notes, page numbers, etc., and do the same saving as the other. It sounds absurd, but when you’ve moved as many times as I have, you need to make sure your notes at least come with you!

I just finished two books this past week. In case you’re interested, they are both insightful and helpful and if you have the time, I’d encourage you to read them.

The first is fairly short-“The Gift of Being Yourself: The sacred call to self discovery” by David Benner. Great book and one that helps in furthering self differentiation, identity in Christ and the difference between vocation and career.

The Second is a little longer but by my favorite author. “Discernment: Reading the signs of daily life” by Henri Nouwen. Another great read and one that deals simply with being more aware of the world around you.

No doubt you’ll reading more about these two books in future posts, but thought I would share what’s been on my mind. The next two books are going to be pretty powerful and I’m pretty excited to dive into them…but more on that later!

If you’ve read either of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them as well as how you interacted with them!

A Day of Perspective

I sadly admit that this doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I won’t say “as much as it should” because “should” can become a shaming word pretty quickly, and blind me from the grace I receive from Christ. However, I admit that I don’t always look at each day as a day of opportunity. There are some days where I am so beat down or defeated, that I’ve already lost the day. No matter what happens that day, it’s all bad, negative, horrible or frustrating.

There are seasons that I go through. Some seem so incredibly fruitful, effective or transformational. Other seasons seem as though I’m just spinning my wheels, wasting my time or just plain hard. Though those times should be evaluated to see if I am wasting my time, usually it’s because I don’t see what may be going on under the surface within and around me. With the transition that we’ve gone through from Russia to here, I have found myself often wondering “why?”

About a month or so ago, I finished reading through a book by Warren Wiersbe entitled “The Bumps Are What You Climb On.” Great little daily read. He was expounding on the last part of Revelation 19:6, “Alleluia: The Lord God omnipotent reigns.” His main point in this particular chapter is that God’s wrath can be poured out at any given moment. Natural disasters, terminal illnesses, mass killings, war, all of these things are part of the fallen world in which we live. If God really wanted to fully pour out His wrath, such as on the people as God shut the door on the ark with Noah’s family safely inside, He simply has to think or speak the wrath into existence. In the book of Revelation, we see the judgement of God being poured out. Let’s face it, I’m sure worse could be done than what we are told about.

Yet…and this is where the hope comes in…Yet, He hasn’t poured out His wrath today. He hasn’t poured out the wrath that we read about in Revelation just yet. Wiersbe’s encouragement is that if today isn’t a day of wrath, then the opposite is true.Today is a day of salvation. If today is not a day of hopelessness- His wrath already being poured out, then today is a day of grace-compassion-blessing-filled opportunity. Today is a day of SALVATION! John, records seeing this great multitude in heaven, knowing full well the power of God and his wrath…..AND they are saying Alleluia, The omnipotent Lord God reigns.” These are a people who understand what a day of wrath is and what a day of salvation is.

So, yesterday I chose to believe and live as if it were a day of salvation. I chose to live as if everything put in my path was an opportunity to show grace, love, compassion encouragement and blessing. Though I didn’t chose it in every moment, I think I did more than usual. And it was a blessing.

That thought, the very notion that today is a day of salvation…whoa, how powerful is that? A day He has given to show His beauty, and glory, and delight and joy. It puts things a bit more into perspective. Hopefully, I’ll be able to chose to do the same tomorrow. How about you?

Have you ever chosen to live a day or moment as a time of salvation? What happened? How did you feel? What did you learn? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear your story!

Honor Is More Than Medals and Applause

A few days ago we had a “Countryside Day.” A day we packed up the kids and headed out to see what adventure awaited us. It snowed recently and though it wasn’t much, most of it was still on the ground. Just south of UB is the oldest national park in the world. Bogdkhan Uul National Park predates Yellowstone by over 100 years dating back to the Ming Dynasty. We roasted hot dogs, played hide and go seek in the snow, explored, hung with some cows and ended it with playing down by an icy river. In St. Pete, we could get out of the city, but there wasn’t the nature there that there is here. There wasn’t the pristine wilderness or the remoteness there that we have the opportunity to take in here. We take advantage of going out to the country side because it’s good for our bodies. It’s good for our family. It’s good for our souls.

I’m a big fan of Brene Brown. I’ve mentioned her here several times. Reading her second book, Daring Greatly and watching her first TED Talk both came at a point right before I started my journey in recovery. I believe they both helped me get to a point to have the courage to take the first steps of the 12 Steps. Her latest book, Rising Strong, is next on my list! In Daring Greatly, she makes one interesting observation that struck me off guard when I read it. She said “When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.” I didn’t quite understand what she meant. I went into the other room and asked Iris. “What does this mean?”

Two and a half years ago, Iris’ oldest sister, Autumn, suddenly passed away. She had been struggling with many physical issues but still, at the age of 37, no one expected it. In response to my question, Iris explained it this way. “When you honor your sister, Steph, you are in a sense, honoring me in my loss of Autumn. In honoring your older sister who is still physically with us, you are honoring me in my love of Autumn.”

And there it was. Words put with feelings and ideas I have long held, but could never fully express. It made sense. Honor is more than receiving applause or medals. It’s more than highlighting the good things that have happened or great accomplishments. It’s humanizing those around us. It’s acknowledging reality and events that really did take place, people and seasons that are now gone, and admitting the pain involved.

For those of us who have things that others don’t, be it from loss or that they were never given the opportunity, if we never enjoy and use those things for their intended purposes, we are in a sense, not honoring the loss of those who don’t have them. If we have two perfectly good legs, yet don’t use them to walk or run, we are not honoring the loss of those who have no legs or the loss of not being able to use them. For those of us who have children but never spend time with them or see them as a nuisance, we are not honoring the loss of those who have never had the ability to have them. On a softer side, if we have the ability to go and explore the countryside, yet never make time to enjoy that aspect of God’s creation, then we, in a sense, are not honoring the loss of those who never have the opportunity or ability to bask in the beauty He created for our pleasure and His glory.

Life is full of loss. When we don’t honor the losses in our lives, we can never fully engage them to the point that we reach the joy that comes on the other side. Joy comes on the other end of sadness, mourning and grief. Though I still have a hard time honoring my own losses, I was reminded that day as I ran in the snow, through the forest with my wife and kids, to take a moment and enjoy what was going on around me. Not only was it honoring my kids and family, it was honoring those who don’t have the opportunity-those of you who don’t have those kinds of opportunities. Honoring by being present.

This, I believe, brings joy to God. These are the things, I believe, God watches and says “that’s why they are the apple of my eye. They honor one another in joy and pain.”

What are your experiences with loss, joy and honoring? What are some opportunities and experiences you have taken advantage of, that have brought you joy? Our understanding of God grows as we share our experiences with one another, I’d love to hear your story!