Rooting

I’ve always been an outdoor enthusiast. Backpacking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, hiking, rafting-things I really enjoy doing. In fact, at one point outdoor education was a minor of mine, albeit briefly. Those classes were some of my favorites as we got to experience things many people don’t. We were able to go on two trips during one of the semesters. The first trip was sea kayaking in the inter coastal waterways in the Southern U.S. The second trip was caving, also in the South. They were both fun trips, bonding with classmates I may not have bonded with otherwise.

I’ve always been fascinated by caving. The thought of these otherworldly places, entire ecosystems, deep underground that have been there, changing for millennia. Rivers cutting something as hard as rock, crystals forming some of the most beautiful creations this world possesses, life lived, from birth to death, in complete darkness. But there is a great fear that overcomes me when I’m caving. The gigatons of rock and sediment that can come crashing down on me or trapping me in a breath. It scares me, yet, I continue to be fascinated by it. Caving. Constantly moving downward…inward.

In the last post, I wrote about trying to find roots. How are roots aren’t in things. Part of finding our roots is where do we begin. And it begins with us. Connecting with people, with God, is a downward and inward journey into the very depths of our hearts and souls. To the depth that we allow ourselves to go into our  hearts, God matches that with His grace, beauty and love. As honest as we are with Him, he will be honest about Himself, with us, in return. But that journey starts with us, asking the Spirit to search our hearts, to reveal the depths of our desires and longings, of our brokenness, of our capacity to understand.

Our hearts, our souls, can be scary places. The darkness of the unknown, the pain of unmet expectations, unfulfilled desires, can be overwhelming. But there is beauty in what remains of the pain. Water carving out rock for thousands of years, that harsh cutting of stone, leaves beautiful caverns filled with crystals, gems, and stalagmites. When we allow there to be light shed on the crevices of our inner most parts, God can and will meet us there. Our hearts are searching for a place to be rooted. To shallow and we fall. But when they go deep, into the darkness and unknown, the roots are strong. And that requires the downward, inward journey. God will meet us there.

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: http://www.thekalalochlodge.com/

 

Advertisements

Roots

I used to have this great desire to work my way up the ladder. I can attribute much of that (not all) to an inward desire to be significant. Though I’m still trying to figure out why that desire is there, because it is still there, it doesn’t rear it’s head up as often as it used to. To be looked at as important, clever, needed, valued…all desires of mine that need to be met. But I looked for those needs to be met in working my way up the ladder, even though those ladders are as rickety and worn as they are.

I was trying to find roots. Something I could sink my teeth into, grab a hold of, cling onto when all else fell apart. Working your way up the ladder is ok if that is what God is leading you to. But when you are working your way up as a way of looking for security, significance or importance, then I would question whether that ladder will ever provide that for you.

Roots are needed by all of us, but what are we rooting ourselves is the tricky part. Henri Nouwen writes that it would be better if we were “rooted without being ‘settled with title, salary and prestige.'” He continues in his letter,”The solution-I think-is not in moving to another outer place but to another inner place,” (Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life; Convergent, 2016).

I wrote in my last post about the “now whats” that we ask ourselves when we are in an unforeseen transition. In my past, I was always looking towards the “now what.” The “next thing,” “bigger opportunity” or “next step” that was coming down the line. Maybe it wasn’t a physical move but it was a shift of focus. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, at least mine weren’t. But where my folly came was pinning that desire for significance, value, worth, importance on something other than what God has already given me. It may not be something that I can hang on my wall, show on a budget sheet or print on a business card. But it is something far greater than a rickety ladder made by man. It’s moving to a different inward place. Hopefully, you can start moving that way today.

be blessed today

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.public-domain-photos.com

Shouldered

So, we recently moved to Northwest Oregon and I’ve realized a few things. First, this beautiful place, for being as far north as it is, it doesn’t do snow. In the mountains and passes, yes. But in the everyday driving in the Willamette Valley and I-5 corridor…just no. I grew up in northern Ohio, have lived in Russia, Mongolia and Alaska, and snow wasn’t an issue unless we received 6 or more inches in one shot. But here, the mere threat of snow….done, closed, cancelled, out. Recently, we had a snowfall of about an inch or so. In the three mile drive from our exit to the next exit, there were two pickup trucks in the median, another flipped over on it’s side, and two cars with the front ends wrecked. Crazy. There were a few cars pulled off on the shoulder of the highway, but there didn’t appear to be anything wrong. I assume they were just not sure what to do next….move forward or simply ride it out until the storm passed. They were simply sitting on the shoulder.

In an earlier post, I wrote about reflecting on where you’ve been by re-reading things you may have written in your journal.  I did this and found something that was coming at a point I was shouldered (well, one of the times I have been shouldered). I want to pull out one bit that I journaled about on February 9th, 2015. It has to do with that of “liminal space.” Richard Rohr defines liminal space as “the  place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have let the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.” He goes onto say that we begin to ask the question of “now what?” which isn’t bad, but gives the idea that there is one perfect utopian thing on the other side of this space that will fix all our “problems.” And, if we don’t find it, we’ll be in this place forever. I must say, I don’t believe this is true. At least, I no longer believe this is true.

I used to believe that there was ONE soulmate, ONE calling on my life forever, ONE perfect set of choices in this life and if just one of those were “wrong” then my whole life would be wasted. I also used to believe that if there was pain as a result of a choice I made, that that was a “wrong” choice. How incredibly legalistic, bleak, dismal, disheartening and oppressive that is. That is quite the opposite of living a life of freedom, isn’t it? Are their consequences for our actions? Yes, absolutely. And sometimes there are painful consequences for doing the right thing or living our lives for Jesus.

There is no one perfect utopian thing on the other side of transition. Why? As Rohr suggests, it’s because “change doesn’t exist in a box.” Just like our God. People have free will, and therefore, change will constantly exist and not be able to be contained, regulated or predicted. And again, neither can God.

So what are we to do with this time and space? Run? Sure, we can run. In fact, that’s what we often do-we escape. If we run, then we will most likely be caught up in this place again, trying to figure out what to do next. We miss the moment to learn what God is doing in that moment, what he’s doing in us. Believe me, I am notorious for moving on too quickly and not really taking the time to look around at what God has for me in the moments of my day or in these liminal moments of my life. Grief is a huge one that many have a hard time sitting in and with. Or when it comes to a relational issue we run by either trying to fix the issue or escape it completely instead of trying as much as we can to reconcile it. This transition place is just like one of those moments-God having something for us, we just need to allow to sit in the space for awhile. But, my word, it is so incredibly hard to not run for the hills with whatever we have left in tow.

These could be part of what St. John of the Cross coined a “dark night of the soul.” Or, what others have called a “desert.” But a liminal space is it’s own place of unknowing. God may be speaking clearly to you, perhaps clearer than ever before. He may also seem incredibly close to you. But this space is simply one of not knowing the life that is coming down the pike, nor what direction to head in, nor whether to simply sit in it and for how long.

So, I sit.  Shouldered in another liminal space. Just like a car that simply quit and the driver has no idea why. It simply won’t work. I can’t go forward or backward, but sit on the shoulder and figure out what I need to do next. I was in one the spring of 2015, and here I sit in yet another one. I am worried, concerned and fearful, yes. I would be lying and, dare I say, not a human being if I wasn’t. But I learned before that He is here and He will not let me be destroyed. And I know this from reflecting on my past. I have learned that it is imperative to have a separate set of eyes (or five) as I walk through this time. A coach, spiritual director, soul friend, mentor, sponsor or any other person who is sensitive to the Spirit that can listen for His guiding alongside me is so very important. They are far more objective than I am as they are removed from whatever fog I’m in.

A good portion of what is written on this blog is from times I was in the desert, liminal space, dealing with a time of fog. It seems as though I’ve been in those places almost as much as not these past 12 years or so. Sure there are things that are current, the now, what will be. But my responses and thoughts on those things are from these spaces I’ve walked through. I think it is in these times that our other senses are fine tuned. Hopefully what is written here will do the same for you…allow the Spirit to finely tune in those other senses. Especially when you’re shouldered.

be blessed today

 

 

Reflecting On A Life Once Lived

I have this really old looking journal. It’s new, well, at least it was new when I bought it a few years ago, but it looks really old. Like antique old, which gives it character. Not sure what I’ll buy to replace it when it gets full…maybe I can find something that is actually old. One thing I’ve never been good at is going back through what I’ve written before. I’ve never gone back and read to see what has changed since I penned those words weeks, months are years before. It’s the same with books, sadly. I am always looking for books I haven’t read before, trying to find out what new things I can glean. And often times, it’s nothing earth shatteringly new…it’s just stated in a way that speaks to me at the moment. I never take time to go back and read books or articles that were meeting me at moments where I most needed them. Just like my journal.

A friend of mine told me the other day that though he also loves to read new books, this year might be a year of going back and rereading books he already had before. And, I thought this was also a good idea. When I read the Bible now a days, it’s nothing earth shattering, but there are things, truths, that I either don’t remember from before, or that are hitting me in a way that speaks to me more than any other time….perhaps when I  need the most.

So I decided to flip through the pages. This one starts on September 5th, 2014. The months that would follow would be the worst 9 months of my adult life. I’ve written about being formed in the fire and cauldron before. I’ve shared about living in complete fog and uncertainty and feeling like the world was against me. And though not all of what I shared has come from this period of time, a lot has.

As I flipped through the pages, the words leaped from lament to praise, to lament again. It could have been similar to reading in the Psalms like David going from a wonderful song of praise to God, to the doleful and dispiriting lyrics of feeling as if death would be better than what he was experiencing. “May you bring me to a point of humility and brokenness,” I wrote. “I desire to live righteously,” a paragraph later. “I feel as though there is a war rising against me, give me victory.” And a moment later, “My desire is to lead my family in ways that are true, wise, gracious, empathetic, merciful.” “I’m feeling alone and wandering again…Afraid….Lord, calm my heart, calm my mind, let me be an agent of Peace….I don’t like what I’m feeling and I don’t like the situation we’re in, but I accept it for now as this is where you are leading us.”

And then there was a point in time when the praises became louder. They were penned more and more. The laments have never ceased, but the praises became more so, many times more than the laments and woes. It also didn’t happen overnight. There was a gradual increase of praise, adoration and thankfulness among the cries for help.

So, why share all of this? I’ll admit, there is some fear in writing this as it is a pretty vulnerable thing to do. Journaling is writing the real autobiography. The one where you write your deepest thoughts that not even a ghost writer would have the privilege of knowing. So ya, it’s a little scary. But I share it because it is a story of a life once lived. A life that was lived and survived. One that I learned from and I hope others can as well.

Chances are this same scenario will happen again. The place, situation, even people may be different, but a complete loss of navigation will happen again. A dense fog will settle and my dependence on God will be challenged again. Why? Because we are human and because this is life. Growth comes when standing in the sunshine but growth also needs the rain and darkness of night.  And, my hopes are that in this small bit of vulnerability others will be empowered to share their stories as well. I also share it as a word of encouragement to journal and then go back and reflect on what you wrote…a life once lived and survived. Sharing our stories helps us each grow.

So, what is your story? What storms have you lived through? As you reflect, what surprises you?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Ryan Couldrey-here

What’s More Lasting Than a Resolution?

My family and I celebrated New Year’s Eve in the States for the first time in a couple years. It was a fun night surrounded by friends, playing games, talking, and more importantly, laughing together. It’s been a long time since I laughed like that. I’m not a huge celebrator on New Year’s Eve as I hate staying up that late to watch a ball drop, or to go light fireworks….the years of youth ministry full of all nighters have kind of killed it for me. But being up with friends is well worth the cost the next day of being tired. We were headed back home at 12:10 a.m. and we were all in bed by 12:25 🙂

You hear it as soon as Christmas is over…. the talk of resolutions, the plans for the new year and the list of things people hope to get accomplished. Setting goals is important. I a big proponent of setting goals. For me, if I don’t have goals to reach, I squander my time, run around aimlessly and become a slave to the things of the “urgent” instead of engaging in things of the meaningful. But part of the meaningful things is calling on our lives as followers of Jesus to simply be. Being doesn’t require any doing. And God often times asks us to stop the doing ….and just be.

The burning bush, the small still voice, being in a garden praying, retreating away from the crowd, getting up early before the sun, being away and fed by ravens, not having to prepare meals but simply collect manna from heaven……all of these stories and verses encourage us to stop the doing and simply focus on being. Accepting that we are in the presence of God, begin the inward journey of accepting who we are in Christ, start to understand how God has made us, see the world that is actually around us not just what we want to see.

With the sometimes lengthy lists of resolutions I’ve had, my experience has been that I get focused on accomplishing that list and less about sitting in God’s presence. If things on that list start to control me, I am no longer being a being-I am pushing my being aside to do. And sometimes I’m doing things just to do them. I am a get-things-done kind of guy. And I also know that me being is far more important than me doing. If I have little understanding of who I am in Christ or God’s presence, how can I help others dive into the deeper life?

Moses takes time to stop and just be in God’s presence in the form of a burning bush…but empowers him to lead all the Hebrew out of Egypt and crushing Pharaoh; David, getting up before sunrise, was a warrior king-the greatest in Israel’s history; collecting manna allowed the Hebrews to see God will always provide for them….though there were times when we are asked to quite ourselves and just be, this often times leads to God using us in deeper ways than we had ever hoped.

As we are now three days into 2017, I want to encourage all of us to hold our great list of resolutions and goals very loosely. To not get so caught up in doing that we lose sight of the One who created us. To spend time just being in His presence and starting down an inward journey of  you are in Christ. In that, I believe you will be able to connect with people on a much deeper level and become leaders of others on a similar journey.

Happy New Year

be blessed