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

Are You Going In Circles?

     It would be really nice if we could just follow everything in the Bible to a “T.”  Oh, and get a diploma or certificate at the end. Something we could look at and say “I have arrived.” No more issues, dealing with people or dealing with our self and our own stuff. Just a nice little certificate. And maybe a frame. Have a “graduation” party. Or perhaps a plaque. A glass one that looks really cool. Yes, heaven is nice and all, but wouldn’t it be nice to have something in the here and now?
     But, we don’t get a certificate, nor a plaque, not even a party. It isn’t a straight path from believing in Jesus to holiness. It just isn’t. And sometimes as we are on this path of becoming more holy, the changes in us aren’t even tangible. We can’t follow everything because we are us. We’re human. There is no “arrival.” Not in this life, anyway.
     AJ Swoboda writes “ As far as I can tell, there is no streamlined path toward arriving at holiness. Every path I can find seems to endure the same kind of bumpy circles that Israel endured. The real road to maturity is miserably slow. A to B in God’s kingdom sometimes includes lots of circles on the journey, a journey that is rarely linear. It would be nice if we were crows and flew the way they do. But God’s people never travel the way the crows do.” (AJ’s book “The Dusty Ones”)
     The lessons we learn come in the circles. They come in the times when we are trying to understand what is going on, leaning into community, into Christ. Not that we can’t learn when things are going well and God is clearly leading us, speaking to us and revealing Himself to us. But, it seems, that the times we learn and grow are the times when the vision we have isn’t clearly tangible, or at least, isn’t manifesting like we think.
     I do believe that among this circly (yes it’s a real word…that I just made up), ambiguous and sometimes seemingly un-efficient life, God teaches us in the most imaginative ways. I’ve written before about how disruption and holy distractions shake us from our hum drum, tunnel vision, going through the motions life to get our attention and create a sacred space for God to teach us. Sacred space that is created out of no where for the purpose of strengthening our faith and understanding in Him. Perhaps He uses these moments to vindicate Himself to those that mock him or to prove without a doubt who He is. Maybe. Moses is one small example. A burning bush in the middle of a normal, everyday day of shepherding sheep and suddenly the whole course of human history is completely shifted. Go fig.
     The Oh Hellos, a great band by the way, writes in their song I’ve Made Mistakes, “And the sun, it does not cause us, the sun it does not cause us to grow. It is the rain that will strengthen, the rain that will strengthen  your soul. And it will make you whole.” Yes, in those moments of what we would normally call blessings-sitting in the sun, picking daisies, everything’s going great- God is there and with us. However, there are also the other blessings, those times that are so agonizingly hard and sad that God actually does more teaching. More teaching in the Bible is from people going through hardships than in time of plenty, when everything is going well. Seriously.
     I think we forget that blessings are both. At least I know I do. It’s hard to see going through hard things as a blessing. Admitting when we were wrong and making amends with people is hard. But in that, the relationship is restored. Fear is removed. Courage and strength are given. All of those things are blessings. This in no way makes it easier. At all. And it is also something that I need to be reminded of when I am in the thick of whatever difficult situation I’m in. No matter how hard. Seeking out those who are trusted in the faith who have been through hardships and have been honest about them are great people to lean into. Hopefully for a listening ear and shoulder to cry on, but also to help us see beyond the situation we’re in. And see God’s presence has never left us. It’s all in circle.
How about you, have you had someone come alongside you and help to see God at work? Have you been there to simply be the presence of God to someone who is hurting? What did God do through you in that moment? What did He do in you?
be blessed today
photo credit: https://humancyclist.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/riding-fixed-gear-bike/

Are You Disoriented?

I always enjoyed hiking when I was younger but never really backpacked until I entered university. There, nestled in the lower Appalachian Mountains, I began to enjoy a lot of outdoor activities not really available to me in Ohio where I grew up. I live in a place now where it can happen frequently and I’m pretty excited to get out and explore more of this great place. Perhaps the Gobi this summer…..

During my Junior year of university, I went on a failed trip with my then girlfriend (now my Iris) and Mike, a really good friend of mine. We had plans of meeting up with two of our other friends as they planned on showing up later due to a soccer game. We had some plans, but not great ones and we never did meet up with them. Two injuries, lack of water and fear of where our friends were, we decided to cut the trip a day early and find a shortcut back.

The boots I purchased weren’t broken in (a rookie mistake) and therefore I had massive broken blisters on both my heels as well as on the ball of one of my feet. Iris, who had torn her meniscus earlier that volleyball season, was in pain with almost every step. I was slowing down and lagging behind. Mike and Iris were talking and hiking and were getting ahead of me. After a few minutes or so, I rounded a bend in the trail and they were gone. I continued on, trying to listen for their voices, and figured that I would catch up to them at some point. Then, I came to a fork in the trail. Neither this new trail nor the trail I was on was marked and I had no idea which one to take.

I paused for a minute, straining to hear their voices, but  heard nothing other than my imagination putting their voices in my head. I kept going on the slightly more well worn path and began yelling their names. About 10 minutes later, I heard them shout back and I yelled “WAIT!” I caught up to them, but out of embarrassment, never said anything to them about my fear that I was lost in the Great Smokey Mountains, thirsty and hurting. We stopped for a bit, ate some gorp and regrouped as we tried to figure out how to get out. A couple hours later, we were able to get to a store by a road and hitchhiked back to our car. It was one for the story books, but needless to say, we’re a bit more prepared now.

Walter Bruggerman has observed that we as followers of Jesus, go through three phases in our lifetimes. These three phases are cyclical and can repeat numerous times throughout our time on this earth. He writes “each  of God’s children is in transit along the flow of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation.” I’ve gone through these three a few times and am in the middle of it now. But what do they mean?

When we first come to a point of acknowledging and accepting God’s forgiveness and begin to follow Him, we are orienting our life towards Him. We begin to head in a direction, a path, towards Him and what we believe is His will for our lives. But then, if we are seriously following and submitting to Him, there will come a time of complete disorientation. Getting laid off, Him asking you to quit your job, a sudden illness, the death of a spouse or child, burnout, the acknowledgement of an addiction, retirement, the birth of a child, and the list goes on. We wonder what in the world is going on. It may feel like you are walking through the stages of hell and even wondering why God is silent. Job went through this. David, Jesus, Moses, Peter, Paul, William Carey and Elizabeth Elliot just to name a few.

It’s in the disorientation that we begin to understand a deeper meaning of grace. A deeper plane of compassion, sacrifice, wisdom, kindness and joy. It’s in these times where things are stripped away so that all we have to run to is God and nothing else. When the ice begins to thaw from the unknowing, from the harsh winter of what we thought was normality, we can begin to reorient ourselves to where God was the entire time and begin moving forward in a more right direction than we were prior. Their can be no reorientation without the disorientation. The reorientation is incredible…but the pathway of pain has to be walked in order for the peace to come.

From walking the path we thought we always would, to becoming lost and not knowing where to go, to being back in community, God has us walk this cycle as we are in transit. Ah, transit…that’s for another day. So, where are you? If it’s orientation, be ever thankful that you have found new life in Him. If in disorientation, be ever thankful because without this, you will not become the person you will be on the other side…and that is someone I would like to meet. And if in reorientation, be ever thankful for God’s enduring patience and promise to never leave you.

Have you experienced these three phases? What was your experience? Where are you right now at this moment? Sharing your journey helps in walking through the pain and encourages others to continue on. Please share your thoughts, experiences and emotions, and thanks for continuing on.

 

 

 

Waiting, Part 2

So, what if we took the Advent season as a time of becoming more aware of God’s presence in the waiting? It’s an interesting thought.

When I was young, I would put together plastic models. Mainly classic cars. I never wanted to do it as a serious hobby, just a way to pass the time. I would be all excited as I opened the $6 box of plastic parts, some covered in chrome others were the rubber tires. It didn’t take long to figure out that no matter what I did, I couldn’t make them look exactly like they were on the box cover. In order to do that you needed a hobby knife, special paints and an expensive airbrush system. It just wasn’t going to happen.

The other reason why they would never be featured in a museum was because instead of waiting an hour for the glue to dry and take hold, I would wait…five minutes. My fingers would get glue on them and then I would have glue fingerprints all over the model. Of course, I wouldn’t wait for the paint to dry either, so it would be glue and colored paint fingerprints on the windows, the sides and on the shiny chrome parts.

I’ve noticed for me that when I think life is moving too slow, when the waiting is longer then it “should” be, that is when I start to fall back into the habits that can be destructive. Controlling, manipulation, passive aggressive behavior..it all comes back. Sometimes subtly, sometimes pretty strongly. Some things really do need to be moved faster, but others don’t. I know especially when I start falling back into those habits, that I need to go back into the waiting. It comes down to a lack of control.

What else requires waiting….ah, great waiting. There is great waiting in pregnancy. We don’t want to rush it as some major damage could come to the baby as well as the mother. Pregnancy is meant to take nine months. It is the way God designed it. If we tried to rush it, took some super pill and the next day had a baby, that could have some serious implications. And, would that baby be as cherished if it was instant gratification? In the past few years, several of my friends have adopted. Based on their experiences, it seems that adoption processes take a long time. Most take longer than a pregnancy, especially international adoptions. But as each day goes by during that process, for those parents, the longing for their future child grows by leaps and bounds. There is a determination and longing that grows by the moment.

And, let’s be honest, if the pregnancy part was instant, then we would want to find a way for the baby to grow from infant to adult overnight, right? Skip the diaper stage, maybe skip past the spilling, clumsy stage. Oh, and while we’re at it, we might as well skip the 13 going on 30 attitude stage, and just have them go straight off to college—-check that, we don’t want to pay for it, it is expensive, let’s just move them onto their first career.

If we did that, where would the memories of watching their first footsteps come from? Where would the memories be of standing before the court as they declared you the rightful parent from this point forward? Where would the memories of learning to ride a bike, walking through the pain of a friend hurting them, their first day of school, or the first time they read a book, when they learned to drive, walking through the pain of their first breakup?

There is great purpose in the waiting. We learn. We grow. We learn about ourselves, about others. There is also great pain in the waiting. Pain is just that, painful. At times we may chose to run from the pain and that only causes us to fall back into habits and hangups that we have suffered or been addicted to in the past. When we try to avoid the waiting that we need to go through, it only ends up hurting us, costing us more. Even if the waiting is painful, through it we will grow. Think about Jesus. Especially the week leading up to the crucifixion, there was great pain in knowing that He would be crucified. There was pain in the three days after his death. There was pain in the days He was on the earth before he ascended into heaven. And there is much pain now as we wait on His coming again.

But in that pain is where trust in God comes from. In the waiting is where dependence upon Him comes. In the anticipation is where we are emptied of the fallenness and layers of things put on us wrongly begin to be stripped away, albeit painfully, and become the person God is calling us to be, more and more.

Perhaps this Advent is a time where we we simply sit in the waiting. Maybe this is a time where He is inviting us into where He is working right now, in the Land of the Living among the chaos and destruction happening around us. What a joyous Christmas present-realizing and seeing where He is at this very moment! Will you join me?

I would love to hear of your experiences in the waiting-the pain and the joy, the lessons learned. Us sharing our experiences with others encourages us and grows us all. I know I would love to hear your story, please comment below. And, would you be willing to join me in the waiting?

Snow-What it Does and Doesn’t Do

It snowed a little last night!

I love freshly fallen snow. I remember when I was younger, after a large snowstorm, I would often times go for a walk. We lived on a nice piece of property with a lake, forest and a meadow or two. I would walk back to the woods, stand on the edge of it and the meadow and just…stop. I would lift up my hat so my ears were exposed so I could listen to the silence. The only sound was the wind gently blowing through the trees. Other than that, nothing…pure silence.

If it was a wetter snow, the trees, shrubs and berry laden branches would be encased in a thin layer of ice, making it a a forest of glass. Simply beautiful when the sun was out (which didn’t happen that often in north central Ohio).

But what I loved most of all, was everything covered in the brilliant blanket of white. So perfect, so delicate, so soft. I would intentionally take the long way to the woods, following the line where the meadow met the lawn and walk the edge so that the view of the perfect blanket from our kitchen, wouldn’t be ruined by my footprints.

When our boys were really small, for two years our small family of four at the time, lived in a Russian city on the edge of Siberia. Just slightly inside of Asia, was our little apartment. It was on the first floor of a five story building, with a drive that passed the entry doors on one side and a main street on the other. However, the side with the main street had a “park” area with several trees that divided our windows from the mains street by about 120 or so feet (40 meters ish). This made it a beautiful “meadow” in the winter time. We never got large snow storms, but every morning there would be  dusting of snow. By the end of winter, it would be 2-3 feet deep.

But then would come the Spring thaw. Everything would melt and the grass would start to push through. Over the course of winter, our neighbors in the four floors above us, would throw out their trash, glass bottles, magazines, diapers, out onto this park area. We hardly noticed through out the winter as by every morning there would be an thin, untouched coating of snow. I remember one year, as it began to thaw there was a pornographic magazine that had spread open on the ground when it landed as tenants above threw it down. Not the sight I wanted to see, nor my two young boys when we looked out the window. it seems as though the “sins” of the winter became apparent in the thawing warmth of spring.

It snowed last night.

The words from Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool,” come to my mind. Isaiah doesn’t say that our sins will simply be buried under a blanket of snow or wool. Isaiah writes that they will be washed completely away with no trace. Our sins, our hurts, bad habits, will only be a memory but nothing that has to harm us anymore. They won’t be simply covered up. We are now whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7), we can give thanks for God’s incredible grace, compassion and desire for restored relationship with Him.

I do love the snow because it covers up the dry, muddy, ugly brown of the world around. It lays a beautiful blanket of white over everything. It brings a peace and stillness to the world. But, whatever lies underneath, whatever it covered up peaks it head again in the Spring. Whatever was hidden is only hidden for a time. It doesn’t hide it forever…it doesn’t clean it and wash it away forever. It’s hard for me to believe at times that God isn’t simply covering my dirt up to unleash a long list of my wrongs  someday.

It’s hard to believe that He washes us, cleans us so that we are whiter than snow. He has far more grace for us than we do for ourselves. I need to remember that-to give myself more grace, to become like Christ in that way.  We are to be open, honest about our struggles-He did make us human after all. And we also need to remember to give ourselves grace. We are whiter than snow, we just need to believe it sometimes. I just need to believe it sometimes.

I can’t wait for it to snow again.

Is it hard for you to believe God doesn’t simply cover up, but actually washes us? Do you have times where you chose to give yourself grace? What came of that decision? I’d love to hear your story and experience. it helps us all grow in our journey with Christ!

Still Shining

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Photo credit http://www.strangefarmer.com image 192375

    We moved from one of the cloudiest cities in the world to one of the sunniest. That’s taking some time to get used to. It’s dry here. One thing I always thought was mystical was flying in the clouds. Not just flying through them, brushing over the wings of the plane and this feeling of just being able to put your hand out the window and touch them-that alone is incredible.
     No, not that. I’m talking about the mystical phenomenon of flying through a rain storm and after a few minutes of turbulence and grey clouds, in the blink of an eye be thrust into unhindered sunlight. I’m not sure if you’ve had that experience, but it really is something that I have come to cherish. I always get a bit excited when it’s raining out on the tarmac before we take off because I know that my reward will be the bright shining sun in just a little while.
     Life is not all unicorns and rainbows and whoever tells you that is not living in reality. No matter if we are the 2% elite in the world (i.e. the USA) or in complete and utter chaos (Syrian refugees)- life is hard. Life is difficult. Life a lot of times has seasons of complete chaos and darkness that just don’t make sense. That’s just the way it is.
     Out of college I worked with high school students for a few years. I had my share of walking through kids who lost their mom unexpectedly in a car accident, or lost friends due to suicide. This not to mention with eating disorders, bullying, broken hearts and teen pregnancies. Moving into a new career path from there working with university students and older adults, it seems as though those types of issues never went away or even got worse. They just were.
     One thing I have been reminded of lately is that no matter what kind of storm is surrounding my life, no matter how dark the clouds, how often the lightening strikes or how loud the thunder is, above the clouds the sun is always shining. There is a hope, if we chose it, that lasts beyond any of the current situations we are in. It has nothing to do with powering through or positive thinking. It has everything to do with believing and trusting that things will get better and change. For me, this hope is based in faith in my God. This hoping is an active and conscious choice.
     I would love, LOVE to tell you that I’ve mastered this and no matter what, I’m always hopeful that things will get better. But, I’m not. I haven’t mastered it. I go through moments and very long dark seasons, where I’m not hopeful that things will turn around or change. So, why do I continue to hope then? Because my personal experience and what I’ve seen in my friends’ lives who have chosen to hope is that it does turn around, usually in ways we never thought it would. For me, choosing to be hopeful has left me with greater self awareness, deeper relationships and more opportunity for influence in the world around me. Choosing despair or hopelessness, has always left me with victim mentality, aimless wandering and sulking all of which equal broken relationships.
     There is always a choice. Maybe not a great choice, perhaps not a good choice, but you always have a choice. I hope you chose to recognize the sun above the clouds, still shining.
I’d love to hear your stories. Please comment where you’ve seen hope or hopelessness in your life. And, thanks for reading.