Erosion

I spent a lot of time in my sandbox as a kid. I built cities, bridges, lakes, buildings and farms in that big tractor tire in the backyard. G.I. Joe figures were buried there, Matchbox cars drove miles and miles of sandy roads around and around, and my Transformers literally came to a grinding halt as all their joints filled with sand.

I still enjoy making sand castles at the beach. The beach we frequent here, we drive down, pull up the car, and build a fire for dinner and s’mores. This beautiful stretch of Pacific shoreline has several little creeks and mountain run offs that are spring fed, creating lots of little rivers on the beach. The kids will often build dams, or a series of them, to see  how big they can make there reservoirs before they leak. Their favorite part is right before we leave when they knock a hole in the dam and see the massive amount of water cut through the sand, down to the rocks and out to the ocean. It’s far more interesting and, in a way, much prettier to watch the water take the path of least resistance than their structured path of waterways.

My life looks so pretty and perfect in my head. My plans, dreams, hopes…they all look so clean and orderly in my thoughts as I plan and strategize how to move forward in my life. It’s anything from saving money for that motorcycle, what my kids will aspire to or what our lives will look like when we’re empty nesters. It looks clear cut. But 20 years ago, I never planned on going to university in Georgia. Nineteen years ago I never planned on marrying a girl from a different state, let alone from a “big” city. Fifteen years ago I never planned on living in Russia, let alone Mongolia. Ten years ago I never planned on drinking coffee, let alone having a specialty coffee roasterie in a foreign country, nor becoming a coffee consultant. I never planned on being a spiritual director, nor did I have any idea what that even was. Five years ago I never planned on returning back to the States as soon as we have. It was all very unexpected.

I am learning more, every day, about releasing control of my life to the power and flow of God. We are told that we don’t know where the Spirit is coming or going…that the Spirit is like the wind.

I continue to learn this. My plans and dreams, even my aspirations may have great intentions. And I do believe that some of those things will come to pass. But, I continue to learn that they may come about in a much different way than I had expected. They may look slightly different (dare I say even more vibrant) than my best imagined ideas. Looking at the landscape out my window, or around this state, I could plan a very pretty scene with creeks and rivers, lakes, plains and mountains. But it would fall short in comparison to the gouging out of a gorge by a river over the course of millennia. Looking down from a satellite, I can see the beauty of ridges, gorges, peaks, and ravines. My best laid plans would have paled greatly if stacked up next to what God has created.

The past two weeks have been weeks of expectations being capsized to the wave and gravity of the “un-nail-down-able” flow of the Spirit and the work of the Spirit in my life. It should come as no surprise because this is the way it has always been… unexpected. And, it blows me away again. I can say this- when I “let myself go” and literally throw caution to the wind in submission to that wind of the Spirit, the adventure never seems to end, and new horizons are constantly coming into view. Without people in my life helping me see them, I might just miss them. This is what happens when we give in. This is what happens when we allow the Spirit of God to erode away the plans we may have, and create something far greater than we had ever dreamed.

And I ponder now, where is the Spirit blowing from and to in your life? It may be worthy of reflection this week, as it is for me. I’d love to hear your stories, and I know others would be encouraged by them as well…

be blessed today

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Alone

Feeling alone, feeling lonely, and being by yourself. It isn’t a pleasant feeling, and one that leaves us feeling hopeless.

I’ve mentioned before that I have the privilege of working with a bunch of students in a one year residential recovery program. It is hard, very hard, working with guys who are in the midst of becoming more self aware, making amends, and trying to life live better. Last week, one of those students left the program. I’m used to that. It happens. It happens a lot- guys thinking they can do life on their own, feeling like they “got enough recovery” (which you can never have enough of) and leave after two weeks, a month, even after a year and a half in the internship program.

He left. It was sad, and a lot of the other students were sad, because he loved the Word, the scripture…Jesus. But he left. We mourned that, hoping he would come back after his mandatory 30 day out since he left.

Then yesterday, he was found dead……overdose…..in a trashy hotel room……

…….alone

I am sad that he died when he had so much potential, head was on straight and loved Jesus. I’m sad that he overdosed falling back into his old addictions, instead of leaning on Jesus. And I am mostly sad that he died alone. That he had walked away from community that he was leaning into for support. A community that was being the body of Christ to him, walking the road of recovery together.

Alone

He is not the only one who has walked away from community. He is not the only one who has walked away from the Body of Jesus that was there to lean on in times of struggle. He is not the only one that has broken relationship because of his addiction. He is not the only one who has chosen addiction in hopes of finding something to satisfy their desires, only to end up alone. All alone.

I’ve done it. I’ve done that several times. It’s why I choose, now, to lean into community, as much as I can. It doesn’t mean that I don’t walk away at times. But it does mean that I often choose to not be alone. And when I am feeling lonely, I’ve learned to reach out to a recovery friend, my sponsor, my spiritual director, my leadership coach and others. Because when I am alone, when I’m feeling lonely, that’s when I go to my addictions for escape.

I don’t know all who read this, and I don’t know all who share this to others. But my prayer for you, for every single one of you….for me…is that we reach out, be vulnerable, find community and lean into it whenever we are struggling. As I’ve said before, we ALL have addictions. Please know you don’t have to walk this road alone. That is not the life Jesus desires for you. Reach out….and discover the family of Christ. Even if you feel you are good and don’t need anyone else, that’s a lie. Please don’t believe it…and please reach out, no matter your addiction.

be blessed today

When Reality Bites…Belief

Oh, the arrogance. Just nothing but pure pride. This may surprise you (wink wink) but I do get that way at times. Since I was the only paid pastor working with teenage students in our town, I was asked to be on a small ecumenical team trying to reach the youth of the city. The team was made up of a handful of people who were volunteer youth leaders from a variety of churches that would meet once a month to plan a big event to reach out to the students once a year. By at least a decade, I was the youngest member on the team. And, by at least a decade, I had the least amount of experience in ministry. I attended my first meeting with them, listened to their ideas, and then went home thinking, “It’s obvious they need me. So, I’ll make their event better and teach them how to do youth ministry in the process.” Me and my humble twenty-something wisdom shining brightly in that thought…

The event did go off more successfully than even I had thought, and each of the youth ministries represented at the event, saw an influx of new students immediately after. It was a huge success. In all of this, what I believed was that I was a fabulous youth pastor who simply just had a gift. And why not? The youth ministry at our church had grown tremendously over the last two years I had been there, which in turn, caused the church to grow. I realize now, in my late-thrity-something wisdom, that very little did that growth have to do with me and very little of that event going well have to do with anything “fabulous” I did. I believed I was humble. I believed I was this great teacher. But reality showed what I really was-arrogant, prideful and not very humble.

This summer, I watched Hidden Figures, a movie I believe every person in America should watch. It didn’t show the extreme racism that tends to make the news, or like we saw in Charlottesville. Nope. It showed the everyday, common, subtle (to me, a white male) racism that went on and continues to go on to this day. There is an exchange between Octavia Spencer’s character-Dorothy Vaughan, and Kirsten Dunst’s character-Vivian Michael. Michael, who is Vaughan’s boss, should prejudice toward Vaughan throughout the whole movie. Again, not in a riot-down-the-street kind of way, but in a subtle, everyday common way. Michael makes this remark “I have nothin’ against y’all.” Vaughan replies, “I know. I know you probably believe that.”

This exchange epitomizes what I believe a lot of us struggle with-the difference between what we believe and reality. Those words were incredibly convicting for me, and I’m thankful for the writers for that fact. I need to be convicted, pointed out, made aware.

I know for me, I need to constantly examine myself if what I believe I am is living up to the reality that is actually going on around me, the reality that I’m living out. I need people in my life to help me by giving me a dose of reality if what I believe about myself, how I act, my tone, my vernacular, my attitude, isn’t really the reality that I am living out to those around me. Just a simple thought, with a deep self examination that I need. Perhaps you need it to.

be blessed today

 

Picture credit: ‘The Architect’ © Erik Johansson-Source: https://www.yellowtrace.com.au/surreal-distorted-reality-by-erik-johansson/

Eyes Blinded

It was pretty easy to ignore. I mean, why not, right? I could simply just not pay attention. I could simply just not read, watch, listen….But then, what would be the point? I lived overseas, and really, could have completely turned a blind eye to the happenings in my passport country (the country I was born in). And, with everything that has happened in the last 12 years, some say that would have been wise. But would it?

I didn’t want to forget about my family and friends who were still there. I didn’t want to forget that that was the country that I was from. And, I didn’t want to get rid of that part of my identity. It was part of who I was and am today. Just like being a son, husband and father. It’s a part of my story. So, I made my homepage a news feed that collected stories from all over the world, making the world headlines the top of the page, the States-my passport country- second and then onto other headlines, science, sports, entertainment, etc. It continues to be my homepage. I stay on top of not only the news internationally, but cultural changes and shifts here in the States. Even though we have moved back, I desire to stay abreast as to what’s going on.

My desire is for my world to get bigger, as I mentioned in the last post.  It’s no secret that racism is alive and growing here in the States. Since Charlottesville, I have read social media posts as they flurried about, watched reactions, listened to interviews, etc. Though there were several of the people I interacted with that were willing to take what has been  happening head on and engage with it, there have been as many people that wanted to stop reading, hearing and watching about all the “bad news” and “negativity” that was going on.

Yet when negative and bad and hard are the reality, what do we do? We could turn a blind eye toward it, never talk about it, stopping our conversations with the weather and never engage passed that. We could. We could say “it isn’t that bad” or “it’s just the media going crazy” and pretend like it is no big deal. And, our world and perspective of Christ can remain small. But why?

Admitting that it is hard, that what is happening is chaotic, that the racial tension and divide is bad, is not allowing that reality to govern us or even have power over us. It is admitting that there is massive brokenness in this world, dark sin, incredible hurt, and pain. Lots of pain. We are allowing ourselves to not only see, but to also feel. We are allowing the realities of the brokenness of this world effect us. And yes, in many cases it won’t feel good, nice, pleasant or even comfortable. Pain isn’t comfortable. And yet, neither is love. With love comes pain. Letting our guard down, opening our eyes and seeing, isn’t just about seeing all the pain, it’s also allowing others to feel for us, love us,  Jesus to love us. It’s allowing  Jesus to care for our deepest wounds, and for us to show love by caring for someone else’s deepest wounds as well.

There are mammoth wounds and hurt in this world, and we cannot become part of the solution unless we are willing to face those realities.  We cannot entertain others love without also entertaining their pain. Henri Nouwen once wrote that our hearts need to have the room to show hospitality to others. That our hearts should be living rooms, welcoming other people with their stories of joy and loss, happiness and woundedness. This is, after all, what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. He didn’t ignore me, and I am so very thankful. Perhaps when we open our blinded eyes to the world and allow ourselves to see the pain, only then can we truly love. Perhaps when we see and address the anguish God sees with race against race or rich against poor, can we then show the love Jesus had for us as well. Perhaps the first step, is removing the blinders.

be blessed today

 

Heads Buried

When I was a youth pastor, I cast the vision and mission of the youth ministry as “Developing students into mature disciples who are passionately pursuing their world for Christ.” I thought it was pretty savvy for a twenty something youth pastor who thought he knew it all. I think I saw then, in that Millennial group, that they were a force to be reckoned with and desired to see them be world changers. And they are.

“Their world” was defined as their school, group of friends, family, community, etc. It was theirs. If at some point their world was broadened on a mission trip to another state or another country, then the mission still stood. It’s just that their world grew on those trips. Or, if it was diving into their broken homes, families and relationships and realizing that there was a hope outside of that dysfunction, then their world grew. It was about growing their world and empowering them with the courage to change it for the better.

Skip ahead a few years, a few cities, countries and continents, and here I am in Oregon. My commute is 45 minutes to Portland every morning. At my exit, there are homeless communities on either side of the exit ramp. They have tents, tarps, carts and what not to survive. They hold up signs as I wait for the light to turn left and head towards my street. Once there, the amount of homeless, pushers, dealers, prostitutes and what not continue, up and down the street where I work. I often find a few homeless sleeping under the awning of my building. I am more aware now of what goes on in the shadows, in the sunlight and in the back alleys of this world than I was 15 years ago. And so are my children.

And yet, though I can see those things, there are others who I have spoken with, others who live in Portland, have traveled those roads and streets, and yet have never seen those tents. They’ve never seen the tarps, carts, barefooted prostitutes walking with her pimp and dealer down the street to get a coke at McDonald’s. They have never seen those people and situations, though they’ve lived in Portland most of their lives. And I ask, “How? How can others not see?” And, before I put myself on too high a pedestal, Jesus puts me in my place and clearly asks me,  “How is it you can’t see more?

I write a lot about awareness, self awareness, awareness of God around us, awareness of others, and just being aware. The reason is because when we allow ourselves to become more aware of the hurt and pain in our own souls, the hurt and pain and suffering of others around us, aware that we are different than others and others have different perspectives than we do, aware of our own actions and their affects both positive and negative….this is when we grow. This is when our worlds become bigger. This is when we can begin to see Jesus in others and the need for Jesus in our world. Our worlds become…bigger, richer, fuller, more painful, more beautiful and larger than our imaginations. With that comes great reward. With that comes great responsibility. But it all starts with humility in allowing our eyes to see what is right in front of us. Allowing, in humility, to let our guard down, tear down our walls to see what is on the other side. The answer may be more death and decay. It may be. And, simultaneously,  the answer will always be more Jesus.

more to come

be blessed today

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

When We Stop To Listen…

I enjoy hearing stories. They may not have the happy ending where everything is tied up in a nice little bow. They may be painful, hard, even uncomfortable to listen to sometimes. But stories, people’s stories, are fascinating to me. And everybody has one. It doesn’t matter how dull or boring you think your life has been, you still have a story. A narrative that runs from your family history, your earliest memories all through the course of time until this moment we’re in.

One of the most interesting parts of this, is that often times as I am listening to someone’s story, it’s as if I become more and more engaged. I learn things about them that allow me to make connections. Cognitive connections of thought in regards to why they live in a certain place, have a certain kind of job, even why they have a certain color of hair. But there are also emotional and human connections where I can identify with parts of their story-similar situations, similar feelings, similar memories-that make them more, well, human.

We’ve all been there. It’s the reason why we like to watch comedies (what’s funny is we can identify with the comedian in a certain way) and/or dramas (same reason). And when we make that connection, we feel valued, heard, acknowledged, respected, not alone. Maybe even loved.

Last week a friend from college was passing through Portland. I was able to contact her and make a plan to get lunch. It’s been, oh, I don’t know, 16 years or so, but thought it would be great to catch up since we’ve been overseas for so long. We met, got lunch and we walked around the college campus she used to work at. We talked about culture, politics, Jesus, Portland, faith and memories of college so long ago. It was good, really good. And, amazingly, I learned something. Her job, at a different campus, deals with sex crimes, seeking  where there is wrong doing and passionately pursuing respect and reconciliation. I listened. I learned. I learned about issues and fears that I don’t have being a white American male. I learned about issues we push for but in the end end up hurting so many people. I learned about how we think we are being Jesus to those around us, but end up doing more harm than good. And I learned about her story as well. There were things I never knew about her 16 years ago, but now, I see why some of these things are such great passions of hers. And, I learned a little more about myself in how I act, relate and engage with different demographics of people.

The guys I work with who are in recovery, giving up a life they knew and taking on fairly humbling jobs to get their life in order, teach me things everyday. So do the mentally disabled, current drug addicts and homeless people that walk into my store everyday. There are those around us on a daily basis who may not even know Jesus, but have so much to teach us if we are willing to learn. When we stop, acknowledge who they are, and hear their story, it’s amazing how much we can learn about life, ourselves…and yes, how much we can learn about Jesus from someone who doesn’t even believe in Him.  I pray we all learn more about Jesus and ourselves this day.

…more to come…

be blessed today

 

take posture of learner, I learned something, humility, etc