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 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

Over-The-Top

Oh the woes of youth. I was the tallest kid in my school. I was also hefty or let’s say “big boned” in stature, I was up there on the scales. I remember going to the all you can eat buffets as a teenager. I would pride myself in “getting my money’s worth.” And though everyone laughed, it was true. I would eat, eat and eat some more. The dessert bar was my favorite, hitting it once or twice, eating as much as I could. Similar to the American holiday of Thanksgiving where there is a large spread of food and we eat until we can’t eat anymore, that is how I would partake at those buffets. I would often feel over full, too full. But, I kept doing it. I don’t believe that is how our bodies were meant to consume food.

In Russia, there are several palaces, summer palaces, winter palaces and “cottages” that would make any normal house now-a-days look like the horses stable. The palaces there were the over-the-top gold, red velvet and inlaid everything. Everything to the max. My personal taste isn’t that, and looking at those palaces, though incredible, were, in my opinion, gaudy. Gaudy isn’t a good word. It means “excessively showy” and usually it goes by the second meaning which is “cheaply showy in an excessive way.” I know this wasn’t the intention of the kings and queens who ruled for so long, but to me it comes across this way at times.

God is a king. The King of kings we call Him. We talk about His throne, we hear about what He looks like in the best words John and others had at the time to describe Him. I do believe He desires to lavish His love on us in a way we can’t fully grasp. I truly do. Last time, I wrote about how God’s definition of scarcity and our definition might be different. That if He is really taking care of us, how does that work if we are in poverty? I mean real poverty. How can we be ok in that?

Perhaps to answer that is to ask another question- what is the opposite of “scarcity?” I used to think that the opposite was the over-the-top, gluttonous, all you can eat buffet, or the gaudy over-the-top richness that I saw in those palaces. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s something different altogether. I used to think that His definition of “I got this, I will never forsake you” was that I would always be in a over-the-top way. Meaning, He would come swooping into rescue me in this big, incredible spectacle.  And I think that isn’t the case, at least not always….but I could be wrong. It is a journey after all. And a dialogue. Let’s keep pondering and wrestling…

more to come..

be blessed today

Scarcity

How was it possible that this was it? How is it possible that it didn’t wash away? Or, perhaps blow over? How was it possible, that that many people lived there? It seemed to stretch on forever, this massive area of nothing. Well, my mindset was that it was nothing. Cardboard boxes as homes, digging through trash to find the salvageable things, living on the edge of the Ganges, both bathing and drinking from the same river that the trash and human waste runoff flows into. This shanty town of hundreds of thousands of people didn’t exist a few months prior to our arrival. There was a much larger one that was bulldozed down in an effort by the city government to control the amount of “squatters” in the area. But it didn’t matter, bulldoze one down and they all just moved to a new area and set up their small, rickety abodes. Nepal and India were my introduction to poverty, I mean true poverty. It seems like an eternity ago now, but the images, smells, tastes, sounds…that are just as powerful now as they were 17 years ago. I haven’t been back, though I have grandiose plans of returning someday.

That wasn’t just poverty, it was scarcity. Scarcity of clean water, dry homes, food, clothing, soap, work, privacy, medicine, health, safety, progress….flourishing…..living.

Scarcity of life, to the point of just trying to survive. That was true scarcity, and I had never witnessed it before. But when your eyes are opened to something, it’s hard not to see it anywhere else.

I ate lunch in a park filled with the homeless, today. I sat there and looked around at their scarcity. Granted, they had more than the Untouchable Caste I witnessed while in India, but the homeless in Portland this afternoon still lived with scarcity. Funny…”with” and “scarcity” in the same sentence……

When we sit down and listen to them, or anyone going through difficulties of any kind, and we tell them that “it will be ok,” I wonder, do we really believe that? Do we really believe that it will be ok? Do we really believe that “God’s got this” and leave it at that? Do you believe that? Do you? When you’re going through the loss of a job, the foreclosure of a home, a broken relationship from a misunderstanding, or an unexpected (or expected for that matter) death? And yet we hear “It will be ok, God’s got this.” Do you really believe that?

Do I?

The man who is homeless who loves Jesus is “ok.” So is the person who is sick and/or physically impoverished. We can still “be ok” and become a refugee, or succumb to the power of another country, or have our economy decimated. And in the end of all that, as we walk the road alone being spat on, or running for our lives, do we think that is also what it means when we say “God’s got this?”

To say that “it will be ok, God’s got this” means that there is an understanding that you or I could end up in one of the situations above, and hold to that same belief that “God’s got it.” God’s definition of scarcity is very different than what ours might be. And if that’s the case, what does God give us if his definition is different? How will we be ok if that’s true? Food for thought as I wrestle with this one currently.

….more to come

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

Time To Tear Down The Walls

Oh those moments of panic. The plane drops 100 feet in altitude, the car spits and sputters while you’re in the middle of nowhere, your cell phone dies when you don’t know where you are, your child gets lost in a crowded subway stop, mall or venue…these are the times it seems that our dependence on God spikes to 200% more than it did in the moment prior. I’ve been there…actually in all of those situations, and I start silently saying prayers of safety, uttering my dependence on God, crying out for help.

Yep. I get it.

In those times when we’re lost, confused, there’s a loss of control, not sure what to do next, feeling powerless because, well, we are. Completely. Totally.

And then, sadly, when things become more clear, more stable, it seems that I have less time and dependence on God. At least in my life, that’s the cycle that I go through, instead of just simply being dependent on Him all the time.

I’ve been talking about dependency on and intimacy with God the past couple of posts (starting with this one here). I posed the question last time, asking, “what if the idea of having a church building wasn’t God’s intention for us.” This isn’t my idea, but something I’ve been exploring. I’m beginning to believe that the Temple of Solomon was actually never what God wanted. God describes in great detail how the tabernacle, the moveable tent that was continually filled with the presence of God, was to be made. In fact, God speaks and Moses records chapters of minute detail. But when it comes to the temple, it appears to be David’s idea. David has this time of feeling bad that he lives in a palace and beacause of this, has a desire to build a temple. God even says to David that He never asked anyone to build a temple. As in Romans 1 where God gives men over to their selfish desires, it appears that God does the same with David. But says, “well, if you’re going to do what you want to do, ok, but you will not build it, your son will” (1 Chronicles 17:4) And even in this, David ignores and makes the plans, funding and even gives the word to build it, not Solomon.

Just like in those times where we have an utter loss of control and are thrust into situations where we make the choice to lean into God, give him total control and become dependent on Him, Israel was the same way those 40 years in the wilderness and as they entered the Promised Land. Wandering, walking, traveling, journeying, that’s what they did non stop. They were guided day in and day out by a pillar of fire and a pillar of clouds. Water came from rocks, bread from heaven, the crumbling of fortified cities with the simple blast of trumpets, and the continual presence of God.

But then things stabilized, the decision to build a temple was made, and that continual dependence on God was replaced with Pharisaical law, rote liturgical practices, and the belief that God is only present in the temple…not anywhere else. This is opposite from what God had intended. His intention was Eden, of course, strolling through the orchard, in between the vines of grapes. And the wilderness was similar, walking together, being together, talking together.

Today, we have grand temples, built for kings. We have buildings that are being well used, but the belief that that is the only place where ministry can happen or the only place where God is present, still remains. We “go to church” dismissing the Truth that we are a part of the church in the world, meant to be the hands and feet of Christ…maybe before we are the mouthpiece of Him. We put great belief in our liturgy-and yes EVERY church has liturgy, not just the Catholic or Orthodox faith traditions-that if we do it this way, we are good for another week.  We have replaced intimacy with structure, dependence on God with our isolation.

Today, I hope we begin to mentally tear down the walls of our temples that are imprisoning us from being the Church to those around us. I  hope we begin to see passed the walls, that we can look at our neighbors through the Church, look at those around us through scripture, and look at Christ beyond our liturgy that may bar us away from intimacy. That is my prayer for the Church and the American church.

be blessed today

 

 

Photo credit: http://www.designmom.com