Traffic Patterns and U-Turns

Traffic Patterns and U-Turns

It’s funny, living overseas, driving a car. Americans that come to visit us in the last country we lived cringed when driving down the road either with me or with others. Here, it seems to be the same. Offensive driving is the key to getting anywhere within the city. Offensive meaning you work your way through to get to where you’re going almost to the extent of no matter the cost. Though it drives me crazy (pun intended), I actually enjoy it a bit. What is painted as a two lane road, actually is five lanes. Sidewalks are used as an “express lane” of sorts. At least sometimes. To me, it’s part of learning to live outside of what I’ve always known…a learning experience. Which I like to learn. The tricky part is when back in the States (or any other Western country), remembering that that is where I am…not in a super offensive driving scene. People get tickets for that kind of thing, you know.

When all the traffic is backed up, two lanes turning into four, all going in the same direction, I often try to find another route. Open up my map on my phone and look for other roads, allies or paths to get to where I want to be and just start driving. In many cases, I actually end up dong a u turn and find a route that way,  which ends up being significantly faster than if I would have just sat in traffic. Going back to move forward. One thing that has always stumped me driving in the last four cities we’ve lived in is it seems that many other drivers on the roads don’t think this way. “If I need to go West, going East, even for a little bit, won’t get me there,” seems to be the thought.  Weird..though I’m glad because it gets me there faster!

I had a great conversation the other day with a friend of mine. We were talking about how in the Western mind, we have to constantly be advancing the Kingdom of God. Growing. The church must continue to grow. And to be honest, this make sense, right? If we want the Kingdom to advance, we have to constantly be pushing forward, clamoring and grasping at anything we can to move.

I don’t think I could be a monk. I love to read, I enjoy monasteries and I thoroughly enjoy and need solitude. That’s just how I roll (Iris has come to appreciate this side of me as I have come to appreciate that she is rejuvenated by groups of people). I don’t think I could handle as much solitude as a monk, however. The Desert Fathers and Mothers escaped the craziness of life and threats of killing in the 4th century. They escaped to the desert in Egypt hence their name. Great works of deep spiritual thought came from their time and still speak relevant truth today. They realized that they would need to grow deeper in Christ in order to help others do the same. They desired to provide a place where people could get away and focus on their inner life for a bit.

Why? To refresh. To recenter. To refocus. To retreat. They were able to see that Jesus Himself needed times of retreat in order to move forward in what the Father had planned for Him. If this is how Jesus lived His life, they believed, this is how every believer could benefit from living and modeling the same. This idea of moving “backward” in order to move “forward” is very counter-intuitive. Economies recede, countries panic. Armies retreat, everyone thinks that they have lost. Churches plateau or decline in attendance, pastors panic. Not hearing God speak, have I lost faith? When these things happen, it’s good to stop and evaluate what’s going on. But panic? Christ is the Prince of Peace, for us to panic was never His intention.

In the book “Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development,” Bruce Demarest quotes developmental  psychologist Daniel J. Levinson’s observation, “Both generativity and its opposite pole, stagnation, are vital to a man’s development. To  become generative, a man must know how it feels to stagnate-to  have the sense of not growing, of being static, stuck, drying up,  bogged down in a life full of obligation and devoid of self-fulfillment.   He must know the experience of dying, of living in the  shadow of death.’Through the dark night, then, God changes the habits of our  lives, lovingly weaning us from attachment to inordinate pleasures,   possessions and puffed-up egos.'”

In those times of silence, plateauing, or stagnation so to speak, it may feel as though we’re going backwards. And to some extent, perhaps we are. But it is only to move us forward. Retreating to grow in depth to move forward in a different, more profound way. Or perhaps, stopping enough to simply gain perspective of where you really are and who is really around you so that you may move forward more effectively, compassionately, intentionally.

For me, this has happened more times than my human mind would have liked. So many times wondering what was going on, why am I moving backwards, why am I being “held back” or “forced” to stall (I talk a little bit about that here and here). Yet every time my compassion for others has increased, my patience has grown and I am more at peace. Of course not all the time, I am a human don’t forget. But it’s just been more. Or maybe just more consistent. I know there will be more times like this, and it is hard on my heart to even admit that. But, I also hope I remember what I’m writing now…that “all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

be blessed today

And you? Have you gone through a time of moving backward, of retreating, of stepping back? Did you feel “forced” to do this? What was your experience like, and what came of it? Sharing your journey only helps us all live out ours. Thanks for reading!

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Posing, Hustling and Layering

Posing, Hustling and Layering

I was never a star athlete. I enjoyed the various sports I was in, but never broke any records or anything like that (unlike Iris who held the girls pole vault record for her high school for years-dead serious). But, I was big and that helped on the football field and in the field end of track and field. Not that I was bad in either sport, just not a star.

I did try to fit in though. I cringe now at all the groups I tried to fit into. Probably one of the worst was a “cowboy” stage/group (no offense to all of you real cowboys)…ooooooohhhhhhhh, it was bad.  My belt buckle, boots, hat, duster…my belief was if I couldn’t be the part, I could look it. This “looking the part” has always hung on me like a massive boulder, dragging it behind me from place to place, season of life to season of life. It was like one of those memes you see on social media of “This is what I think I look like while working out….this is what I actually look like,” with come goofy looking person next to a ripped body builder.

In college it moved to other things and even into later adult life. Trying to nail down who I really was instead of this masked person I was constantly trying to be, was something incredibly difficult to do. Thankfully, I had/have several people in my life who have helped to strip away the layers of things put on me to get to the core of who I am. That is a painful process, the stripping down. Perhaps another story for another day.

My desire to fit in, or perhaps to make myself out to be something/someone that I’m not, rears its ugly head from time to time. Convincing myself to project this persona that isn’t me, but I think it is, usually puts me in the need to hustle. Hustling is being in a constant movement to find worthiness in others eyes because I don’t feel worth for being who I am. Constantly trying to make myself look better. Constantly trying to make myself look important. Constantly trying to make it appear as though I am what I perceive everyone else thinks I am. Constantly, constantly, constantly……hustling. As Brene Brown put it “If we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and have to hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.”

I do this, and I hate it. I doubt I will ever stop doing this. But I have grown to more easily recognize when I’m doing this. That alone has been incredibly freeing.

I was reading the other day and came across this prayer:        God of true happiness, your kingdom gently subverts the illusions I live with. Who would have thought that knowing my misery would lead to joy or comfort, that admitting I don’t have it together might bring blessing? Still, I am drawn to illusions of self-sufficiency; I ask for your mercy to see my own spiritual poverty so as to know more of your rich deliverance. Amen. (A prayer on the Hedielberg Catechism 2)

I am so thankful God is gentle. My illusions can become quite extrvagant. And with those illusions comes the idea that I’m doing it all on my own, on my own strength, in my own power. Through His gentle reminders, I am always able to right myself again and see my strength is only human strength, not His supernatural strength.

Knowing my misery is simply coming to an understanding that when hustling, I’m exhausted, tired, unhappy, panicked and trying to outrun my fear and pain. Facing the pain, knowing my misery and “ripping the bandage off” so to speak, is worth it to have the freedom God gives us every single day. But that freedom cannot be seen or realized as long as I’m blinded by the hustle I feel I have to do. It is hidden by the layers I have allowed to be put on me or have put on myself.

Freedom comes when I, when we, stop trying to play the part and just be us- exactly like He made us, warts and all. No more posing, no more hustling, no more illusions. Just freedom unlike anything else.

Be blessed today.

Are you hustling? Are you trying to play a part that can never be you? Have you realized your hustle and found freedom? What was your experience in seeing it for the first time? Sharing our journey with each other shows us that we are not alone, that we are walking it-why not walk it together.

Noramality, Normalcy and Peace

I love the cold. I always have. I’m not sure why. I remember growing up on the farm in the old farmhouse. There was no heat upstairs in our bedrooms. We either used a little electric heater and huddled around it in winter coats, knit hats and gloves during the coldest days of winter, or downstairs around a kerosene heater in the living room. The old house had registers in the floor of the second story for the heat to naturally gravitate upward, but it was cold. I think I liked it…I should probably ask my brother and sister if I ever complained. Check that, better off being ignorant on that one.

College in Georgia….oh, I hate the heat when I’m not on a beach. The AC ran in our room constantly. The other guys on my hall would walk past our room and the cold draft would blast their feet as it blew out from under our door. One roommate, poor guy, I literally froze him out- wrapped up in his blankets on the top bunk, the whole bunk bed shaking from his shivering as if he was in the early stage of hypothermia. But…. I love it.

And snow, I do love snow, but I’ve mentioned that before. Perhaps the cold is also the reason why Iris and I were married in Pittsburgh in January the afternoon before a major snow storm hit the East Coast. Or perhaps why we moved to Russia…. or lived in Alaska for a year….or why we moved to Mongolia. I know, the cold isn’t the only reason, but it is a reason if just a small one.

I have a rule (Iris calls it ridiculous), but it’s one I have in my head for whatever reason. The rule is that I don’t break out my real winter coat until the temps fall below 0ºF. Well, February 2nd was the first time temps crossed upward over the 0º line since the beginning of December. Three days ago it was 10º F. I went out to run errands in a thin flannel shirt and my down vest…and I was slightly warm. Warm? The middle two weeks of January temps were around -30 during the day dipping to around -40 at night. But after going through that for several weeks, and over two months since seeing positive temps, my body had acclimated.

The cold (or extreme cold depending on your perspective), had become normal. This happened when we lived on the edge of Siberia for two years, but I had forgotten about it. It was warm outside. The pollution even looks a little better nowadays as it’s getting warmer.  I had adjusted. The cold had become a new normality. I wonder when I’ll break out my shorts.

Life changes seem to either be super planned or catch us completely off guard, don’t they? It’s almost like there is no happy medium. When that shift happens, we are trying to constantly stabilize, search for solid footing and looking for any scrap for normalcy we can find. Perhaps that’s why the song “Oceans” is so moving to me- because we are asking God to take us beyond a point where our normality, our stability, is being stripped away. Willingly.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? We put our faith or hope in stability. Or, we put our hope for stability in earthly things. I do this far too often. If I have enough money, or security, or education, or a house, or, or, or……..the list is endless. Constantly groping for those things I think will finally, finally bring me the stability that I crave.

What I am learning, probably for the rest of my life, is that stability most likely will never fully come on this earth. I just won’t ever have it. But peace on the other hand, peace I have been given if I trust that what Christ says is true. My normalcy comes from Christ. If I am at peace, no matter what chaos is going on around me, I will be ok. Just because there is chaos around me, be it a particular situation or people who are chaotic, doesn’t mean that I must also become chaotic. We are amazing creatures, you and I. We are able, if we allow God to work, to adapt to anything that comes our way.

Not that I have mastered this, nor will I before this life ends. But, in trying and allowing God more control, my life has become more peaceful and will continue to do so. Allow yourself to find it’s new normal…in Christ.

Have you found normalcy in Christ? How has that journey gone? Are you struggling for peace among the chaos around you? What makes it so hard?

 

 

 

Feeling Trampled?

Both of my grandfathers were farmers…. legitimately or at least at heart. My grandfather on my mom’s side, Papa Bach, had about an acre of land in the small city he lived in. Little did he know then that he probably set the present day trend for having chickens inside city limits, not that he was into the trend setting thing. Behind the garage and chicken coop, was a decent sized orchard filled with apple trees and a small parcel for growing vegetables before it brushed up against the neighbor’s property on the next street over. It was his native German mentality that kept that place in tip top shape while he was mentally and physically able to do so. Like a typical German, everyone had a small piece of land to “farm” and he was very particular about what to do around the plants (don’t trample on them) and very particular about the chicken coop (don’t leave the gate open). I enjoyed spending time at his house. He’d always have a story from back home at the foot of the Black Forest where he grew up.

My other grandfather, Grandpa Hecock, actually was a farmer. He had a small farm in the then small town he lived in. It was more of a side thing as he had worked a few jobs, one of them selling seed to farmers. After my parents were married and bought the farm that I would eventually grow up on, he and grandma built a house on the northwest corner so they could continue farming vicariously through my parents. He had many years of experience an it was important that I listened and obeyed. Small choices during planting season could have big effects when it came time for harvest. For example, if I ran out in the field and while playing trampled on the seedlings of wheat or corn or soybeans, it could kill the plant and then there would be nothing to harvest when it came time. It was a big deal. And, I was a kid. Needless to say, I eventually learned my lesson after grandpa  had a talk with me. He was a rough guy, but a good one.

The dean of women at my college gave a talk during the first weeks of my Freshman year. I would come to learn that she gave this same talk every year. Me getting to college, let alone this particular one was a bit of a journey in and of itself…perhaps for another post for another day. She gave a talk about this one significant verse that had spoken to her many years in her past, and she thought it was still relevant today. David says in Psalm 17:8 that we are the apple of God’s eye. The apple of your eye is the reflection of an object in your eye. In this case, David is implying that we are the apple of God’s eye as He stares at us with great affection and love. We are of great value to Him.

To trample on something is to beaten it to the ground. Things that are trampled are usually distorted, a blurred image of what they once were, never to return to it’s former state. I think of flowers that have been trampled (while I was a kid, you know…don’t tell my mother), and how their stems were broken and bruised, the petals crushed, almost instantly turning brown. They would wither up, look ugly before they finally became one with the soil again. I was driving the other day through the countryside coming from another city. There’s very little snow here and even scarcer vegetation. These are nomadic peoples and herdsman. There were cattle tracks everywhere throughout the valleys I crossed through, all the snow trampled down mixed with what little vegetation was left from a harsh drought…and dust…lots of red dust. To trample something is to crush, beat down, flatten.

Bruce Demarest, in his book “Seasons of the Soul,” writes “We trample on God’s  grace when we refuse to forgive ourselves  after He has forgiven us. C. S.  Lewis observed that when we fail to  forgive ourselves after Christ has  forgiven us, we establish ourselves as a higher judge than God himself-which cannot be.”

I know what trampling does. I also know how incredibly hard it is for me to give myself grace. Part of me accepting my dysfunctions is also accepting God’s grace that He gives to me every moment. It’s actually easier for me to give other people grace than it is to give it to myself. Go figure…crazy how distorted one can be.

I also know that I have no desire to be a judge, especially a higher one than God. But to think that when I trample on His grace, I am claiming that things He has said are true aren’t. I’m claiming that I know better than He does, He who knit me together.

Something as beautiful as the flowers He created are not beautiful when they are crushed and beat into the ground. Think of how much more beautiful you are to Him than a flower. I’m not good at it, and I fail often, but when I have the courage to accept His grace, it is something nothing short of beyond my imagination.

You are worth it. You are valued. You are loved. You are the Apple of His Eye. I pray you accept that as the truth that it is.

Do you have a hard time accepting God’s grace over you? When you do, what is it like? Thanks for journeying with me!