The Pit

There’s a lot of volcanic activity that happened here years and years ago. The most recent being Mount St. Helens erupting a couple decades back. The Cascade Range includes such massive mountains as Mt. Hood and volcanic wonders as Crater Lake. On the Eastern side of the Cascades, near Bend, Oregon, there are a few lava tubes. Over the years, they have collapsed creating caves you can walk in. They don’t go too far in, maybe a hundred or so feet, but enough where you need a flashlight to get to the back.

I’ve been caving before in Kentucky and Arkansas. They’re similar to the lava tubes, but on a much bigger scale. Going deep far in, you can’t see except for what is immediately around you. Or, the entrance to the cave was lost hours before as you wondered through the rocky structure. When your eyes adjust, all you can see is immediately around you, if even that.

I imagine falling into a pit is similar. Except panic starts to creep in. You can’t escape, you can’t get out, and you have no idea what is above you except for the hole, mocking you, way out of your reach. Like the tailspin of a plane I mentioned last time, I have never fallen into a pit before, especially not one I couldn’t escape from. But, I can imagine what it might feel like based on my limited caving experience. And, like the tailspin, I have felt those feelings before, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. And even sometimes physically. The feeling of no escape. And then the feeling of hopelessness.

Almost the entire first half of the book of Ecclesiastes is one depressing poem and narrative of meaninglessness. I think I could count on one hand the amount of times I have heard a sermon preached on this book. I used to wonder why the early church even allowed this book in. Song of Solomon, I get that one, but why Ecclesiastes? And then I hit a loss of control. Then came fear.

And then I hit panic.

And then, then I hit hopelessness.

A few times I have hit hopelessness in my life. Perhaps the first time I can remember only lasted an hour or so and I cried a fair amount. But with each instance, they have been much longer periods of time, each one having much greater magnitude than the last. Going from an hour to months and months and months. And going from a few tears, to uncontrollable sobs and complete disorientation. Like going from a lava tube a few feet long, to the depths of the Earth inside a cavernous maze.

I was in such a panic, that I lost all objectivity. I mentioned this in the last post, and I think it is worth mentioning again because I know I am not the only follower of Jesus who has hit this place before. I lost objectivity. There was nothing that could help me. No one that could save me. Nothing I could do, and in the end, what was the point? Everything. EVERYTHING was meaningless. EVERYTHING was hopeless. And I would never recover, so why even bother. I lost objectivity. I was lost to the subjectivity of my immediate circumstances, or in my case, the potentially-perhaps-maybe-might-cloud-be “ifs” of the future that I could not even begin to control.

I know that I am not the only follower of Jesus who has hit this place before. I am thankful I know that. And, I only know that because I have had courageous people in my life who have been so brave as to share their experiences publicly, allowing their vulnerability to bring hope to others struggling. Others like me. That is why I believe that Ecclesiastes is in the Bible we read today-because it’s reality. It’s real life struggles, real life problems and real life questions I know I’ve asked.

Those others that have been so brave, they are the ones who helped point me back to objectivity. They are the ones who helped point out where Jesus was in all of this (and it turns out He has always been there in the midst of the pit). They help bring me back to a place of objectivity each time I fall into the pit. And, I also do the same for them. It happened to Solomon in the second half of Ecclesiastes. He found objectivity again. That place of objectivity is always there, it’s where Jesus lives. It’s just sometimes we get so caught up, we can’t see it.

I know I will fall into that pit again, hopefully not as severe as before. But nonetheless, I have people who love me and are willing to sit in the pit with me. Me, them and Jesus. I hope this brings you a bit of objectivity today, if you’re in the pit getting muddy and desperate. You are not alone.

be blessed today

Tailspin

I’ve never been in a plane crash. I really don’t have any desire to. In all my flying and travels, I’ve hit rough turbulence (probably the worst was in the middle of the Pacific when our double-decker plane dropped several hundred feet in a second…in the middle of the night…yikes), but never have I been in a crash. I haven’t been in a tailspin either. Though I’ve been on some really sketchy planes, the sketchiest being when the crew at the airport had to put me on the luggage scale (along with the rest of my group) to make sure we could actually take off. Our backpacks came on a second flight.

But, based on the wonderful world of Hollywood and special effects, I can only imagine and assume what it may feel like. Tail spinning appears to be something that is incredibly hard to get out of if it’s not a controlled spin like at an airshow. It seems as though the only thing you may be focused on as the pilot isn’t the beautiful view from thousands of feet above the earth, but one main speck thousands of feet below that you seem to be heading towards at great speeds.

Like I said, I have never been in an actual tailspin in a plane. I’m thankful for that. But I have been in a spiritual, mental and emotional one before. And the feeling I described above, is exactly how I felt. Focused on one thing-how quickly the end is coming at me (and by “the end,” I mean the worse possible case scenario…ever). I couldn’t see beyond the horrible imagined end. There was nothing else, nothing left. That was it and it was coming fast.

This last one was a doozy. Yes, I have gotten in tailspins before. So, imagine if you will, I’m in the pilot seat. The plane is spinning around in circles. In my shock, or perhaps in my desperation, I am trying everything I can to right the plane, pull up, and level out. And I somehow can’t take my eyes off of the ground. Spinning, spinning, spinning. As my friend told me last week over coffee, I had lost all sense of objectivity. I could only see what was going on immediately around me. No job= no money=not paying bills= we will be homeless= my kids growing up deserting me= Iris leaving me= me alone with nothing.

Yep. That is a pretty clear, disastrous end. I was in a quick, out of control, downward spiral.

Here’s an important question, was any of that true? No, not even hinted at. We were all doing well. Yet, my focus was on the worst possible end, and I couldn’t see passed that. I was hyper anxious. So, what changed?

I surrendered.

I surrendered control. I surrendered control of the plane I couldn’t right. I surrendered the future that hadn’t yet happened. I surrendered the notion that I could pull myself out of it. I didn’t surrender to the situation. That is simply giving up and allowing the outside circumstances to destroy me. That is a form of escapism. No, I surrendered all this control to the the only One who has the ability to control it all. And literally, within an instant, I was righted, leveled, at peace and able to take in what was around me.

That’s not a pat-yourself-on-the-back, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps story. That’s a I-don’t-know-where-I’d-be-without-Christ kind of a story. The out of control spin was because I was trying to control it all, in my power, in my will, on my strength. Not God’s will. Not God’s strength. Not God’s power. And there is no way I could have ever done that on my own.  He is the only One who can bring peace, true peace. Peace that doesn’t make any sense to us at all because we have never experienced anything like it on earth,  kind of peace.

This is not the last tailspin I will be in in my life. I’m not naive. I know me well enough, and my Savior well enough to know that to be true. But my hope is that I won’t be so far gone as I was, nor have it last as long as it did.

Perhaps these words of journeying through, of wrestling with words in the Bible and real life experience can bring someone else hope. Perhaps it’s you. I don’t know. What I do know is that the more we are honest about real life, where faith and reality tend to collide it seems, the more we create space for healing of broken people. The more honest we are with how we’re feeling and experiencing, the more freedom we bring other people. People like me, and maybe people like you.

be blessed today

 

 

Actively Passive

When we knew God was leading us away from Russia, we began to ask “Where to?” God was silent…actually silent for awhile. There were many times I sat down with my spiritual director or a “soul friend” and lament. Lament is something we have forgotten in our North American church culture…but that’s another post. My laments were of sadness, the reality of grief of the loss of leaving somewhere we thought we’d be for a long time. And then there was the lament of frustration, the colorful language of fear, confusion and disorientation coming out. This was a calling out of God to be true to Who He said He was in His written word-a lamp shining on my feet and a light shining on my path. I forget that a torch, or an oil burning lamp doesn’t cast a very bright light…nothing like my LED backpacking headlamp does. No, a torch is just a few steps….

Anyway, my frustration led me to do what I know how to do…actively seek out where it is, hoping something would stick. Not quite throwing a wet noodle on a wall to see if it would stick, but close enough. I am a big believer in throwing things to the wind and seeing what happens. You don’t know unless you try is my philosophy, and so I did. Cold calls to churches in Canada, emails to churches in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Sweden. Conversations with friends and friends of friends in Paris, the States and other places. And yet, nothing took. My active seeking out was becoming fruitless. As much as I am this active way, Iris is just as much the other way. Waiting to see what drops in our laps and then follow through on it is more her way of seeing where it is God is leading.

In these two seemingly very opposite approaches, you might imagine a massive amount of conflict. And, yes, that would make logical sense. But for us it is tension. Not tension in that we’re at odds and we need to walk on eggshells all the time. No, I mean good tension. Tension  like that of a keel and the sail of a sail boat. The sail catches the wind which pushes the boat. The keel however, catches the water and uses it as a ballast to keep not only the boat upright, but also to keep the boat from being blown all over the place by the wind. This way, the sail and keel work together to harness the wind to move it forward in the most effective and efficient way possible. They work in tension at all times. And both of them are completely utterly passive. They simply are there, at tension with one another, and allowing the wind to move them.

Last time I wrote about being passively active, the idea that we can be constantly active without even realizing it. This can mean coming to God with an agenda of our own when we make time for Him, and/or it can mean that we are living out our agenda all the time, simply asking God to bless it. I asked Iris the other day if she could sum up how she approaches God’s leading and she said it like this, “It’s watching for where He’s leading and then walking towards that, as opposed to going after every avenue and waiting for Him to close doors.” That latter part, that’s me. I’ve learned to follow my gut, and usually that works for me. However, there are times that I’ve learned I need to become actively passive. That is, simply wait on God and see what falls in my lap. Sure I earnestly seek Him in certain areas, but I’ve come to a point where I usually come to Him expecting…..expecting Him, and nothing else. Since I started living this way simply being, and I don’t do it all the time, but since I started approaching life this way, there have been far more unexpected experiences, lessons, encounters and Truths I’ve been met with than I would have ever expected. It’s the active decision to just be. There is an incredible amount of peace in that, that surrender and release. Believe me, I continue to experience it.

Perhaps today is a day you need to become actively passive, stop the doing and and just be. I know it’s super hard, but what would happen if you tried that today, asking for awareness of God’s presence and allowed Him to do what He does?

be blessed today

Passively Active

‘“You’re right,” Violet said {to Klaus} with a sigh, ….. “Maybe we should be passive for a while. Being active hasn’t helped us much.”’  -Lemony Snickets, A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book  the 11th, The Grim Grotto

I was always a go getter. I don’t mean that in any boastful way.  I simply mean that if I felt something was important, I’d do what I could to get that thing done. This is not in everything, mind you, but in some. For example, I remember one summer during college, I was debating on which denomination I wanted to go overseas with. I debated back and forth between the one I grew up with and another one. I won’t tell you the reasons why (I’m a bit embarrassed at my 20 year old values), but it was a big debate in my head. So, I did what any rational, determined, curious college student would do. I called the vice president of the organization and talked to him. His assistant actually transferred my call over to him, and he actually took 45 minutes of his day to talk to me-completely unscheduled. Someone I had never heard of two days prior, nor ever spoken with. It didn’t surprise me at the time. Even though I continue to do these sorts of things today (I might as well talk to the people who will have the answers I need, right?),  I realize now that this is not a normal practice for most people.  After I  met Iris, she informed me that is not usual behavior. Good to know, I’ll take note.

Most of my life has been lived this way. I’ve actively pursued the paths and places I believe I am to go. And, for the most part, it has gone well. God has led us on some incredible paths, adventures, experiences, and places we never expected. This wasn’t just me following, but Iris and I following together. And it usually was an active pursuit. Always doing, moving, seeking, searching, looking. Active.

But passive, on the other hand, is something much different indeed. Passive is allowing things to take place. I always looked at people being passive about life instead of taking it by the horns, as just being lazy. No, I wasn’t judgemental…well, maybe a little. Actually, ya, I was pretty judgemental. I thought my way was the only “right” way. And though I do believe we are to be actively seeking out God, I also believe that there are also times we need to be passive.

I, much like my friends Klaus, Sunny and Violet above, had come to a realization that I was being too active. And it wasn’t just in looking for new opportunities, creating new ministries and finding new places to live. It was also in my times with God. I’m not talking about a “quiet time” or a “devotion.” I’m talking about a conversation with Jesus. A time where I am sitting in a chair, legs crossed, coffee in hand, and He is sitting right across from me, intently listening and I stopping my monologue to listen to Him. Active didn’t quite work for this. I had to learn to stop coming to my coffee time with Him with an agenda, a list to check, a schedule to keep and my self disciplined will getting in the way.

Perhaps you can identify with how I felt. How I felt feel when I come to times, moments with Him just like this, list in hand, only to walk away angry at myself for being to preoccupied with the list, or frustrated that God didn’t join me that day. Perhaps you to can identify with being Passively Active, that is, being too active and yet not realizing it. Let’s walk down this one together….more to come…

be blessed today

 

 

Calling-The Truth

Before caller ID, cell phones and any way of predicting who was calling me, I didn’t know who was calling until I picked up the phone.  When I would, there were certain people that in an instant, I knew who they were simply by the sound of their voice.  Maybe it was the influx of their voice, the intonation in the “Hi,” or it was the way they said my name. My parents each have a unique way of saying “hello” that I can identify in a second. My siblings do as well. So do incredibly close friends of mine.

Iris has a certain way she says my name, and it is something that commands my attention, demands pause from what I may be thinking about and brings focus to what she is about to say. Many times in the past, and especially these past difficult months, that voice, those words, my name as she says it, have brought me calm, comfort and peace. It’s what happens when two people are in such true love and bound so tightly to each other and to a redemptive God. At least that’s what they say, whoever “they” are. I’m not a romantic. But if I was, that would sound romantic to me. At least I think it would. But romanticism or not, it is true what I say of the power of our love, her voice and the voices of those who love me.

Though it’s not a perfect example because we are all imperfect humans after all, it is still an example of God’s calling on us. Or to be more precise, God calling us to Himself. God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are constants. They are unchangeable, immovable and stable. Last time, I wrote about the seemingly to me, ridiculous amount of emphasis we put on our “calling” in the Church here in North America. The questions of “are you called to this church, this people group, this country, this organization” are asked as if to further prove without a doubt that you are doing what God wants. Though you may desire to do something, go somewhere, minister to a certain people- that desire isn’t good enough. Though you may be gifted, skilled and have learned or God given abilities to effectively minister to them, that’s not good enough either. You must be “called.” As opposed to simply praying and discerning, even through group discernment, that perhaps your desires and God’s are aligned.

But in my searching the scriptures the past several years, trying to gain footing when it seemed like my “calling” was wrong, I found something astonishing. Actually, it’s what I didn’t find that was so astonishing. What I didn’t find was God calling anyone to anywhere, any one group, any church or organization. Instead, what I only found was that God called people to Himself. Called them to relationship. Called them to deeper intimacy. Called them to greater trust in Him and greater understanding of how powerless we really are (Step 1). Calling us, each and everyone of us, to the ONLY stable, constant, immovable thing (in this case a person)….God Himself.

What He does do is lead us to different places, groups, ministries, churches, jobs, organizations, states, countries, etc. Those leadings can change anytime, anyplace. And in many cases, those leadings can seem incredibly foolish when we apply our mere human logic to it. But His calling us to Himself…..it’s like that voice that calls my name, that demands my energy to listen and commands my attention. The only person we are ever called to. That voice of God, that calling of Him into a deeper relationship with Him full of Truth, full of Love, full of Peace…that calling never, never, never changes.

Never….no not ever.

be blessed today

 

 

 

Are You Called?

Filling out applications, having phone interviews, talking with those designated to protect the way of the local church has been an interesting experience. It’s changed a bit since I last did this. Some of the questions I’ve been asked have been humorous and at times, perplexing, as to why a group of people searching for a pastor would what to know the answer to this question or that question. This is not every place, of course, but there has been a large handful that I have wondered “what are they reacting to that would cause them to ask that?”

One such question has been “Are you called to X Church” or “What are you called to?” That question is a bit of a conundrum for me to be honest. Early on my high school days, the idea of calling became new to me. Friends of mine began to share that they were called into full time ministry. In college, as I studied the Bible, culture, theology and, well, backpacking, that idea was in no less imperative in the making of a person for ministry than when I was in high school. As Iris and I prepared to go overseas, the leaders of our denomination asked us over and over, pressing really, as to whether or not we were called overseas, called to a group of people, called to a particular place. Calling, calling, calling has became such a massive part of the litmus test of whether ministry is really what God wanted for someone, that it is hard to ignore (which I never was fully able to do).

I answered those questions with an energetic “YES!” and continued on my merry way. I never thought anything of it…at least not too much. In recent years, I’ve watched many people move overseas with their hopes and dreams all folded and packed tight in their baggage called “Calling.” They arrived, lived, ministered, served…..and then left. They left to go back to their home countries because of a medical need, visa issue, family crisis, or the “door shutting” on what they were “called” to do. And many of them were completely uncertain, heart broken, disoriented and confused as to why.

Now I stand in the same situation. We hadn’t planned on moving back to the States permanently, at least not this soon. It came as a complete surprise to us. I’ll admit, I’ve gone through the same questions that they no doubt also have asked. Was I wrong? Did I misunderstand God? Did I fail, yet again, in hearing God? Was I never really called in the first place? Was I called somewhere else?

Because God started working on my heart in regards to calling a few years ago, my whole world didn’t come shattering down. Not saying it isn’t hard. Man is it, just read my last post. Maybe I was more free and unbound to this concept than some of those who had been in the same situation. Why, you may ask? Because I was never called to a place or a people or a city or a ministry.  What if we were never called to anything? What if “calling to something” was only our interpretation? What if we are only ever called to God? How would this change things?

Let’s wrestle in the mud through this one…more to come.

be blessed today

 

The Opposite of Scarcity

I’m going to be honest, looking for a job when you’ve been gone overseas for a while, is hard. It’s hard to not take a “no” personally. It’s hard to not be discouraged. It’s hard to live in peace and confidence that God will work this all out, and to not give into fear. It’s hard to not live on a constant plane of anxiety or stress. And it’s hard to not continue to think of the “what ifs” that plague my mind.

The last two posts I have been talking about scarcity. Wrestling through what it means when we say “God’s got this, it will be ok.” And, wondering if that is really true. In the end, I do believe it is true. But I must be willing (and “willingness” is a huge word) to accept that what rock bottom or scarcity may mean to God may be much different than what I think. I must willing to accept that rock bottom may mean much more than losing a job or even becoming homeless. Becoming a refugee in the harshest sense, like Abraham or the Israelites under the direction of Moses or like the Christians under Nero, etc. Losing all that I hold dear…just like Job.

Brene Brown, whose work on shame is powerful, said “For me, the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough…” We have a warped sense, at least in North America, that when we have scarcity God will come in and provide for us in an over the top, extreme way- the typical American rags to riches stories we so love. I do believe that happens, and God can chose to do what he desires. But what if His plan is to simply give us enough. Enough to know we are loved. Enough to know we are taken care of. Enough to be “ok” and to know that it is true that “God’s got this.” I have been the recipient of God doing off the wall crazy over the top things. And, I was reminded yesterday, that God also gives what I always need- enough.

Like I mentioned above, this process has been hard, difficult and stretching me beyond what I thought my capacity for trust was. Yesterday was a bad, crappy day. Thankfully, I was scheduled to go hang out with people I love and cherish. My good friend and I sat on his porch and talked. And though there was no job offer, though there was no “here’s a million dollars I had tucked away for you” type of gifts, what he said were words of peace and truth. What he said was enough. It was enough to re-center me to God’s truths and peace….and joy. It wasn’t over the top, but it was enough.

I wonder where God is providing enough for you today and maybe where you can’t see it because you’re waiting for the lavish indulgence. Let’s see where He is enough for us both today, together.

be blessed today