The Hard

It’s been hot here. It was forecast to hit 110 Fahrenheit a few weeks ago (not normal), but smoke from wildfires across the state as well as up into Canada, helped keep the sun’s heat down to a mere 108. We escaped to the coast. Down to the southern corner in a little cove of, well, serenity. We went camping. Iris and I where avid backpackers in college, but that wasn’t possible in Russia. And in Mongolia, we did a fair bit of camping in yurts. All of our backpacking gear we left here, and we have been slowly upgrading it to newer items. We’ve also been exploring this whole world of car camping. It’s been a lot of fun, and hopefully, I’ll get to take the kids backpacking soon, maybe next Spring.

I digress.

This little cove of serenity I was talking about… The tide went in and out over 8 and  half feet at some points. We found “hidden” coves where we had to use a rope to climb down to the momentarily exposed beaches (perhaps a kayak or two are needed in the future). One morning, early, when the fog hadn’t fully left the inlet, and the kids and Iris were asleep, I took my coffee and went for a walk to the beach. The water was out a good 100 meters or so as it was the point of lowest tide. I explored. I explored tree trunks that had been there for years, slowly succumbing to the sea. I saw mollusks, crabs and other creatures that were exposed for such a brief time.

And then  I saw veins of hard rock that ran straight up the cliffs and the whole width of the bay. These veins of hard rock were anywhere from a few inches to 2-3 feet high, creating ridges, like you would see in driftwood. The softer, porous rock had eroded away much sooner, and mollusks had attached themselves to these hardened veins. It was…incredible. I so enjoy the early morning thoughts and reflections that come…just like Jesus was standing next to me, drinking a cup of coffee and just waiting there, patiently with me.

This bay was scarred. Scarred and marked from centuries, maybe millennia, of continual thrashing by the waves. The pic above is my oldest walking in one of those scars.And yet, those scars are one of the most beautiful things about that cove. In some of these pocks and holes made by erosion, are where the hermit crabs hid, the anemones, starfish and sea urchins had attached themselves. It’s where the cove really came to life to be honest.

This season that Iris and I have been walking through, we have posed the question “why does it always have to be the hard things?” I’m not sure if you have ever felt that way, but it seems as though we are constantly doing the hard. I know that’s not true. One thing I’ve learned is that when I start using extreme terms (like always, never, every time, constantly, etc.), that is a sign I’m not seeing things objectively. I am caught in a rut and can’t see out to see the bigger picture of it all.

And, another thing I have learned, is that in the hard, that is when we are formed and molded the most. That’s where I learn, that’s where I give pause, reflect, lean into community, lean into Christ….pray…the most. Yes, those things also happen in times of great rejoicing and in times of great calm. But, they most often happen when I’m being tossed and turned by the waves and situations of life. It sucks. I won’t sugar coat it. And for those of you who have gone through it, I think you would agree. And each time, it takes me a while, to finally come to a point of allowing it to happen and allowing God to show me why, as opposed to me trying to figure it out like it was some trigonometry math problem.

I’m not sure where you are in that process, but perhaps this brings you hope. Perhaps it lets you know that you are not alone and you’re not the only person to walk this road. Or, maybe it brought a bit of perspective. Either way, one take away for me…..the beauty is in the scars.

be blessed today

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

Settling- The Killer of Intimacy

I miss Mongolia. I really do. There are the people, friends and co-workers that we miss. There is the true sense of adventure and being completely and literally in the middle of nowhere. The darkness and seeing so many stars. Being off the beaten path that can happen within a few miles of leaving the capital. The culture, deep and rich, that we miss. Lots of things, which brings me sadness and also joy.

Chinggis Khaan (yes, correctly pronounced “chen-gis” not the Ghengis we all learned in school) was a brutal warrior. He was the one that through his brutality, was the first one to unify all the tribes of Mongolia. But, as much as he was brutal, he was also just as much a genius. Traditionally, the Mongolian people are nomadic. There homes known as Gers (like “Bears” but a “G” instead of a “B”), otherwise known as yurts, are meant to be taken down and set up, relatively quickly. Part of Chinggis’ genius came into play when they would attack other tribes or nations. Instead of simply attacking, defeating and leaving, the entire Mongolian nation would attack, and then set up camp and live for a short bit before moving and attacking another place. They were used to living off the land and being nomadic, so if he attacked a nation that had settled, a nation that was used to their crops, growing seasons, etc., they didn’t know what to do when Chinggis would attack.

His philosophy was that if the Mongol empire ever settled, that would be the end of their nation. Meaning, if they ever settled in, built cities to be defended, became more dependent on single water sources, crops that needed to be tended to instead of the virtually all meat diet they were accustomed to with their nomadic herds, they would then suddenly and constantly be on the defensive, not the offensive. And this would be the downfall. Though this is true, their weakness of being spread too thin is what ultimately led to their defeat.

The last few posts have been about intimacy, living out our own desires apart from what God’s desires are for us, and in this we ended up building temples and church buildings that God never intended. In the history of Chinggis Khaan, we see some truth of what God was intending for us-that we would never settle. That we would never settle on intimacy with Him being shaped and confined to a building. That we would never settle on worshiping in a simple man made place, to a set of rote actions or to man’s language. And yet, as I look at the church as a whole, specifically the American Church, it has become very much that. Settling. So much so that we have taken on more a far more defensive mentality than God had intended. We have become comfortable in our isolation from the rest of the world. We have become quite happy in our superiority complex that we tend to view the rest of the world through. We’ve grown too accustomed to the world as it is, instead of the imaginative Eden we were created in.

We have settled. This is not the intimacy God desires to have with us. This is not the intimacy He created us for. This is not intimacy. This is settling for second…or third best. Let’s move beyond the walls of our churches and engage the world. Let’s tear down the confines of what we think God is like. Let’s rid ourselves of the defensive mentality and become willing to go where and how God leads us. Let’s get back to our wandering ways like in Egypt, ….I think in that we will find the promised land we’ve forgotten and left to dreams.

be blessed today

Independently Dependent

Oh the frustrating and rewarding times of being the parent of a tweener. It doesn’t help that our oldest is six feet tall at only 11 years of age. But he has the desire to be his own person. Well, he has the desire to be an adult part of the time-NOT when it comes to hygiene, cooking his own food, doing his own laundry, etc. I get it. You probably do as well. We were all there once, trying to figure out our way through this world. Trying to figure out which group of friends to spend more time with;  what activities, if any, are we going to be a part of; what are our interests; wanting to tackle things on our own without mom and dad’s help; but still wanting to be in the family, taken care of and catered to. And it’s just awkward.

For me as a day, it to is a struggle. I want to continue to parent how I always have because I don’t want to see him hurt, disappointed, made fun of or friendless. And yet, I also know that I need for him to grow his own wings, fall down and figure out how to get back up, make friends on his own terms and figure out who he is. It’s all part of life. But, he has a desire to become independent, just like I was starting to at his age.

Last week I started a several post series. I wrote about how we have the freedom to chose what we want to do. And, at times, God gives us over to those desires. But at a cost. The cost of relationship. And here, we can see that break happen in our relationship.

Independence helps build our self confidence, self esteem, helps us to grow thicker skin and mature. But we have a very mixed definition of independence, especially here in America. It seems to me that we have equated independence with isolation. We’ve built walls around us (metaphorically) that keep people from getting too close so that we won’t get hurt again. And we call that independence. But it’s not. It’s isolationism. And it’s not what God had ever intended.

God desires dependence. Sure, He has created us each uniquely, yet in His image. He empowers us with His Spirit to use the gifts He’s given us for His glory. But He doesn’t want us to go it alone, and definitely doesn’t want us to isolate ourselves. He is the God of Adam and Eve, woman and man, the Body of Christ, the Church. He desires us to be dependent on each other. And at the center of that dependence, is God. He desires that we are dependent on Him.

Being confident in ourselves is not the opposite of dependence on Christ. Being confident in ourselves is having confidence in how God made us, how God has wired us and that God can work through us. We can be self confident and God dependent in the same moment. And we can also be independent of the way of the world and the way the world works. None of these equal isolation, yet we so quickly go there.  My hope and prayer is that we become more dependent on Him each day, more confident in who we are in Him, more independent of the things that hold us to this world and less isolated from everyone.

be blessed today

 

That Numb Feeling

I like the cold. I like to play in the snow, hike in the snow, be in the snow. And I do like it when my hands get so cold, I can barely feel them. You know what I hate? Pins and needles. I hate that feeling. Like constantly hitting your funny bone and it’s this awkward hurting yet annoying pain all at the same time. At my desk, sitting in a seminar or lecture, my leg will go to sleep and then I have to go through the annoying process of waking it up. Then there is the weird feeling of trying to walk when my foot is asleep…so weird. Like this rubber attached thing to my body that i know is there, I just can’t feel it.

And so it is with our feelings. Yes, feelings, I am talking about feelings again. I to, have had my ups and downs, days that I wish I was number to not feel the pain and hurt. And, days I was numb unable to feel, or at least unable to feel anything nice and enjoyable. Yet, there are times where I think feeling numb would feel better than what it feels like at that moment.

Thankfully, I have enough people around me to help me not go numb; to not let my heart or my head go to sleep, but to feel what is actually going on around me. Even if that means I feel the “negative” or “bad” emotions that much more intensely. To go completely numb is to not feel even the “good” and “positive.”

Jesus felt. He felt sad, shame, anger, lonely and glad. To push back the hard ones causes a dulling so that the welcomed feelings can’t be felt either. And sometimes they came together at the same moment. So,  he embraced them. He felt every one.

Many of these feelings, these emotions come from grief and loss. Loss of stability, reputation, identity, loss of the way things once were, loss of a loved one, loss of expectations, etc. Grief and loss are powerful. And they are feelings we need to feel. Jeremiah was feeling loss and grief so much that he wrote an entire book in the Bible about it. Yet, I cannot, for the life of me, remember ever hearing a sermon straight from Lamentations. Never. Why? Because we hate feeling this way and feeling has been shamed in our culture.

Feeling our feelings and allowing ourselves to feel, allows us to connect with our inner most beings in a deeper way, allows us to connect with others in a deeper way,  and allows us to connect with the Creator in a far deeper way than we had ever imagined. This is part of being human, the good part of being human, the part of being a human that God created-relationship. This allows connection with God on a level so deep, many don’t dare to travel. This is real relationship. I pray we all connect with him on that level ever deeper today.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: writerscafe.org

And Round and Round We Go

I decided to run it this time. I had been here to this place three or four times and simply loved it. Looking out over the Mediterranean from our hotel room was just incredible at sunset. But he view from the mountain across the street was far better. I’ve walked to the top several times, but this time…this time I was going to run it. A radio tower sat at the top and the road up had two switchbacks and then spiraled up to the top. The run up was hard…very hard. It didn’t help that it was below freezing when I left my home a few days before and flew here,  a few miles from the Biblical town of Ephesus it was pushing 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

But. That. View.

As I went round and round, I would get the feeling like I had been in that spot before. Mainly, because I had, five minutes before when I was on this side of the mountain. Only five minutes ago, I was about 50 or vertical feet lower than I was at that moment. But I was getting closer to the middle center of the mountain, and I was getting closer to the top.

When we decide to live our lives with Christ, our lives are a lot like this spiral upward. Last time, I mentioned how as we live our lives, God is constantly removing layers of sin, dysfunction, untruths and our fallen nature. And that’s true. As we move upward towards Christ, we are also moving inward, closer to the center of our souls. It’s like running up that mountain. Things I thought were long and over, are back again. It seems that way. But it is God inviting us to move upward towards Him and in return we are also moving deeper into our souls, into our own hearts, deeper into our sinful nature and dysfunction. Which means, it may seem like we’re dealing with a particular issue again, when we’re actually working deeper at the roots of that issue.

A constant journey of inward and upward. I dare say we cannot move upward, at least not fully, unless we’re also willing to move inward. Move deeper into the scary parts, the dark parts of our hearts. Why scary? Because the deeper we go, the less room there is to hide from God. It’s scary being exposed, vulnerable, totally out there. And what may be scarier about this place than exposing ourselves to God, is that we are exposing ourselves to…well, ourselves. But it is the place where God desires we go….with Him.

Are you willing to move not just upward, but inward as well? What is holding you back? Are you willing to bring what’s holding you back before God?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: http://www.bradjgoldberg.com/photography/italy/

Meeting Each Other

I really have good people in my life. There are good people that have surrounded my family and I. Encouraging, supporting, willing to call me out on my stuff when I start blaming or throwing myself a pity party. Yep, those kind of good people. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have them. I would probably be living out of my own woundedness and dysfunction more than I already do, that’s for sure.

One of the hardest things for me when I started down my road of recovery was both sharing my own junk freely and letting that float in the air in the room. The listeners were quiet, none of them trying to break up how uncomfortable they felt with handing me a tissue or saying “it’s ok.” Another hard thing was sitting there when someone was sharing their junk and me not trying to make myself feel better by smiling, talking, adjusting my posture in my seat, etc. We all just sat. Quietly.

My first experience with this sitting in silence was in one of the dark times in my life. I wanted God to speak, clearly, as to what He wanted me to do. I was desperately searching for direction. But He was silent. Very silent. And the more I strained to hear anything, the more piercing the silence was. I finally unloaded about this in a  group meeting of other leaders as we went around the circle sharing what God had done in us that week in the San Bernardino mountains. But all I could share through tears was my frustration…and fear. And there it was again, silence….silence from the other 30 people in the room. But this time it felt inviting. It seemed that God was doing, even though He wasn’t saying. I say this in no light terms….it was holy ground.

Henri Nouwen, who knew loneliness and pain, wrote, ” I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the midst of our limited abilities to help each other. “

When we hit the wall and the bottom, we feel it. If we lean into it, and consequently God, we come out changed for the better. More grace, understanding, compassion, trust, joy…the list goes on. Jesus meets us in our pain. And, we can meet others in theirs. Who will you meet in their pain today? Who will you allow to meet you in yours?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Shutterstock