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

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

 

 

The Beginning of the Cycle

History tends to repeat itself. At least that’s how the saying goes. I have seen this in politics, family decisions and behaviors and even in “new” innovations. I think it’s true. We may not do exactly what has been done before, but it is usually something similar. It’s cyclical and different aspects of our lives have cycles to them.

I was talking with a good friend, Brenda, a few years ago and was lamenting about how in my walk with Christ, it seems that things I thought were done and forgiven continue to keep coming back up in my life. A struggle with this or a temptation to that. I was frustrated because I felt like I couldn’t ever get ahead. I was frustrated because it seemed like once I had victory over it, at some point it would come back. She asked more and more questions, simply allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me in my moment of frustration. For whatever reason, the picture of an onion is what came to my mind.

An onion (I wish there was something better than an onion). Like peeling an onion, God desires to continually uncover the depths of our fallen nature. In revealing them to us, we have a choice, either lean into God more or stop and stay at this level of dysfunction. If we do stop, it is usually because it’s either too hard to go any deeper or we’re too scared of the unknown of going deeper. Or both. However, in removing these layers and by moving inward, we are not only seeing the depths of our sin, we are also seeing the depths of God’s love, grace, mercy and holiness. Learning more about ourselves allows us in turn to learn more about God. Becoming more intimate with ourselves, allows us to become more intimate with Him.

When we have a community of people that is open and honest with each other about God removing their layers, we can also have intimacy with each other. But often times we’re too guarded, afraid of what others may think or say.  Intimacy with God requires intimacy with ourselves. I’ve met several people over the years who aren’t comfortable in their own skin and are afraid to go deep in the recesses of their hearts. Freedom comes when we dare to go to the darkest places and walk through the pain. Those dark recesses are no different than the seemingly open valleys of the shadow of death David writes about in Psalms. God will be present with us there as well as in those darkest places in our hearts.

Will you allow Him to shed light on them?

be blessed today

The Other Side Of The Wall

We can never, never, fully experience everything another person in this world experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re the same age, race, gender, nationality, social class….you can never experience everything because you are a different person than they are. Different family history, family structure, personality, talents, etc.

But, you can experience the same feelings. In the last post I wrote about watching loved ones getting ready to hit the wall. I wrote that it’s like watching them in slow motion as they are about to hit rock bottom, and there’s nothing you can do. And it’s extremely hard to watch. However, there is a gift that comes from going through pain. Actually, I believe there are a few gifts that come from going through the pain of anything including hitting the wall. One of those is being able to experience the emotions and feelings going through that painful experience. God created us. He created us in His image. He has feelings and emotions. It is clear in scripture that God experiences anger. His wrath is an expression of that. He has compassion. We see that in a few places, such as growing a plant to shade Jonah from the sun, even though Jonah is living in his own dysfunction. He delights in (or is joyful over ) us. Spend a few minutes reading and you will find many more examples of God and His emotions.

One of the gifts I believe we have through pain is being able to relate to those who are feeling the same emotions we did. If you’ve ever hit the wall, rock bottom, a crisis of limitations, you know how painful it is to watch others head down that road. A similar road, perhaps, you have been down before. It is painful to watch, to receive the rejection at times, from their dismissal of your warning. It’s hard to see people you love go through something that may, may, have been avoided.

God has us go through painful times to learn many lessons. Those lessons are usually about either Him or us. Coming out on the other side, we have a better understanding of who we are, who He is, and who we are in Him. And, those same emotions we felt during that crisis, during that pain, enable us to relate to others. They enable us to come alongside others who are going through similar crises.

Those times are not moments for “I told you so; I tried to warn you but you wouldn’t listen.” No, no shame. Those times are for sitting with the person hurting, confused, lost, in the fog, defeated…broken. Sitting with them. Listening. And empathizing with them. Meeting them in the emotions. That, that sitting, that is a gift. Jesus does that with us when we come to Him in those same times. When we are confused, lost, sitting in the forest unclear where to go next.

Paul sat in a time of confusion, instantly blinded and thrust into full dependence on the people he tried to kill, thrust into total dependence on the Body of Christ. God listened to Moses in those moments as well, allowing him to feel, to speak to God openly. That is a gift. To be that deeply engaged with someone and connect on that level, is something that is beautiful, priceless, holy. And being able to connect on that level with the Creator, the Builder of the universe and time, it’s a gift worth accepting and acting upon.

Will you sit in that with Him? Allow yourself to be open and honest with Him? Will you sit with someone who has hit the bottom? Will you use your gift-your experience to be Jesus to someone else? There is great healing and power in that act.

be blessed today

In Slow Motion

Iris and I were able to go on a date the other night. A great newer restaurant in Portland that our friends own. A long drive for dinner, but well worth the company and food. As it normally does here in the Pacific Northwest, it rained. Hard. Down poured actually. I like to consider myself a good driver. Snow, ice, rain, fog…I think I handle them well, no matter what type of vehicle I drive. I think it’s my upbringing in the Midwest, and my adolescence on the farm. Or maybe not.

As we were heading home, late, on that very rainy night, we began to notice something strange. Most of the other cars on the road where in one lane, not spread out among the four lanes that were available. And, they were almost on the bumper of each other. We watched as one tapped their brakes, the others would slam on theirs. Then, almost as instantly, they would all speed back up again.

You know, as well as I do, what was about to happen.

An accident was more than likely that night. Thankfully, we made it home safe and sound. It was a good night. But I kept thinking about those cars. Why were they all in one lane? Why didn’t they give themselves more room in between each other? Why were they constantly slamming on their brakes?

I can’t predict the future and I’m not sure if given the opportunity I would even want to. But based on our past experiences, there are times we can look at what might be coming down the path, those things that are in the future if we continue to make these choices, good or bad. Occasionally we can see what’s to come in our own lives, but more often, we can see it in the lives of those we love. And as we look, analyze and become fearful, we want to do anything to stop it from happening. We want those we love to see it as well. We want them to stop the way they’re heading, what they’re doing. So, we begin to talk to them, tell them, show them what they are heading into. It is so painful to watch. It’s like watching an accident in slow motion.

We can see it because many of us have experienced it before. To the degree we engaged hitting the wall, engaged smashing into the bottom, varies between each of us. But it happened. And sometimes, even though we’ve warned our loved ones, we can do nothing else but simply pray for them and be ready for them when they hit it. Not to fix, but to simply just be. Jesus did this. He warned the disciples what was about to happen, that what they were putting faith in (a very man made, finite, limited king), was not who they should have been. And how did they react?

The disciples denied it. Then their world came crashing down.

And I did to, in many ways, at many times. And Jesus sat with me.

What about you? Did He sit with you? Did you engage with Him? What was that like?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: zfnews

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