The Pit

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

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

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

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

And then I hit panic.

And then, then I hit hopelessness.

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

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

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

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

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

be blessed today

Tailspin

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

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

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

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

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

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

I surrendered.

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

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

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

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

be blessed today

 

 

Actively Passive

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

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

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

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

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

be blessed today

Passively Active

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

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

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

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

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

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

be blessed today

 

 

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

How Surrendering This One Thing Might Change Your Life

Last month, we decided to take a trip out West. What was to be a six hour drive on paved roads, ended up being about 10 hours, taking an accidental wrong turn and driving 125 miles off road. At the end of the day, I realized our rear tire was low, so I ran over to a tire repair place to have it fixed after we arrived at the guest house we were staying that night. They fixed the tire, but he next morning before we departed, I noticed it was low again, so I took it back and had them replace it. They ended up putting a cheap tube in it and sent us on our way. Three hours down the road, we hit a pot hole hard enough that it pinched the tube and air started to escape quickly. I got out, jacked up the car and began to remove the lug nuts from the bolts on the wheel.And that’s when the real problems started.

When the tire repair put the wheel on that morning, they cross threaded not one, not two, but three of the wheel lug bolts which ended up breaking off when I went to remove the wheel. Please keep in mind AAA doesn’t exist here, our Mongolian is nowhere near fluent and there was no cell reception. Not to mention we were an hour, easily, from any type of village/town/city. After a brief moment of me losing it (some words we shall not mention and a few punches of the tire of which I’m not proud of), we were able to call an expat friend of ours at the guest house who sent out a mechanic. Several hours later, we were on our way to continuing our vacation.

Reading that, I’m assuming some of you could feel the tension and frustration and may have reacted similarly. But why?

Very generally speaking, North Americans are pretty planned out people. I know I am. I’m not to the extent as some people (funny how I automatically disassociate myself from extremes :), but I still do like to plan. Planning in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s good. It’s when the plan begins to dictate everything that it becomes a problem. For example, I used to be the kind of guy who could never relax on any vacation we went on. Why, you may ask? Because I was too busy planning our next vacation.

Sad, I know.

Planning is great to create strategies, business goals, budgeting and saving for future things. When it begins to power over relationship, or potentially, whatever God has for us in that moment though, we begin to no longer engage with what is going on in the present. We’re too focused on what it “should” be and not seeing what  it “is.” As I often say, “it’s not good to ‘should’ all over yourself.” We can get buried in the law of “should.”

It’s not good to ‘should’ all over yourself

I’ve grown in this area, not because of any great thing I’ve done, but simply because I’ve lived in two separate cultures that are far more event oriented than time oriented. Being from a time oriented culture (time rules the day), it really messes with you and can cause some great frustration if you move to an event oriented culture (more about the event no matter when it “should” start or how long it “should” go on). Why? Because if you are used to people being on time and ending on time and move to a culture where things may start 30 minutes to an hour later, it can cause impatience. The reason- it messes with my plan. In the simplest form, that’s it. It fluctuates, changes, challenges my plan.

I wish this simply applied to the start of work, a meeting or even a date. But it doesn’t. It applies to many aspects of my life. What I’m going to do next week, month, year or even a decade from now…if it messes up my plans, I react. And usually, not in a good way. To me, it is a small (or big) form of control. And control is only a thing reserved for God.

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day. We were talking about recovery, what was going on in our lives and how we can’t control what will happen no matter how hard we try. Then he said “I’m simply trying to surrender what I think tomorrow will look like.” That thought stuck with me. The idea of surrendering my idea, my “design” of what tomorrow will be with all of it’s nuances and intricacies. Huh, what a novel idea.

“I’m simply trying to surrender what I think tomorrow will look like.”

If I am able to surrender what I think my tomorrow will look like for the sake of relationship, I can begin to see how my life would be lived much differently. If I can surrender what my tomorrow should look like for the sake of being present with where I am, who I’m with and where God is in all of it, what a more colorful life I could be living. I am not saying give in and have no boundaries. God also desires that we have healthy boundaries in place for our physical, emotional and spiritual health. But boundaries are much different than holding to a plan above everything else.

Pause for a moment and wonder how your life might change if you began to live in such a way to be present where you are. Surrendering that bit of control may bring awareness of God and awareness of self like you’ve never encountered before. And it’s here we begin to see the world with God’s eyes.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: https://garyunderwood.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/