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

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So Here I Am Again

After being away from what you know or grew up with (like us living overseas), you have these expectations of what things will be like when you return. Some of these are serious and heavy expectations, realistic or not, like how you will interact with your family, old friends,  or even the Church. Some of these are far more light such as driving down the main street in your hometown, going past an old hang out joint, or even what the  Chicken Vino Bianco at Olive Garden tastes like (it’s no longer on the menu, but I can usually persuade the chef to make it with my “overseas, haven’t had this in years, it’s my favorite” story). These things are familiar. They are known. Like riding a bike, we have eaten these things, done these things or were a part of these things for so long, we can recognize them with a smell, the viewpoint of a certain tree or curve in the road.

I’ve been writing about the inward, upward path that God seems to lead us on as we follow him. Part of this, at least from my experience, has been having those moments of no clarity or those times of really having no clue what comes next. In my life, these moments have been crisis due to medical things, personal conflict feeling the world is against me, a major bombshell leaving no idea what happened to my plan, or God leading me away from something but not leading me to anything, at least not yet. I’ve had a lot of them. As I’ve mentioned before in these posts, we have an incredible support system of people in our lives that are constantly speaking Truth in and over us. Even, at times, we I don’t want to hear it. I have learned over time, and this is a hard lesson I continue to learn, that when this starts to happen, to lean into community and Christ even greater.

And yet, here I am again. I have come so used to my crisis cycle, that I can pinpoint exactly where I am. In a very small nutshell, when whatever happens happens, I first start my becoming more of an information seeker and more introspective. I try to figure out with all my human resources, what is going on…and why. As the fog starts to settle, I become more desperate and reach out to Christ, to my support system. This can go on for a while. but eventually, I become more at home with where I am. And that means more accepting of where God has me. Eventually, the fog lifts, and I can start to see the next step or two in front of me on my path. God may or may not speak to me during these times. But He is ever present. I can say that now. I haven’t always been able to. But like I said, I’ve become more comfortable in the fog than I used to be. I’m learning to be present with my feelings and emotions in the fog.  I’m learning to be more vulnerable in the fog. God continues to build trust into me. And if you lean into Him, I believe He will do the same for you.

So what about you? Are you becoming more comfortable in the fog God has us in from time to time? And when you lean into Him through it, what is the result? Do you have a support system? When will you start to build one? Your vulnerability brings hope.

be blessed today

And Round and Round We Go

I decided to run it this time. I had been here to this place three or four times and simply loved it. Looking out over the Mediterranean from our hotel room was just incredible at sunset. But he view from the mountain across the street was far better. I’ve walked to the top several times, but this time…this time I was going to run it. A radio tower sat at the top and the road up had two switchbacks and then spiraled up to the top. The run up was hard…very hard. It didn’t help that it was below freezing when I left my home a few days before and flew here,  a few miles from the Biblical town of Ephesus it was pushing 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

But. That. View.

As I went round and round, I would get the feeling like I had been in that spot before. Mainly, because I had, five minutes before when I was on this side of the mountain. Only five minutes ago, I was about 50 or vertical feet lower than I was at that moment. But I was getting closer to the middle center of the mountain, and I was getting closer to the top.

When we decide to live our lives with Christ, our lives are a lot like this spiral upward. Last time, I mentioned how as we live our lives, God is constantly removing layers of sin, dysfunction, untruths and our fallen nature. And that’s true. As we move upward towards Christ, we are also moving inward, closer to the center of our souls. It’s like running up that mountain. Things I thought were long and over, are back again. It seems that way. But it is God inviting us to move upward towards Him and in return we are also moving deeper into our souls, into our own hearts, deeper into our sinful nature and dysfunction. Which means, it may seem like we’re dealing with a particular issue again, when we’re actually working deeper at the roots of that issue.

A constant journey of inward and upward. I dare say we cannot move upward, at least not fully, unless we’re also willing to move inward. Move deeper into the scary parts, the dark parts of our hearts. Why scary? Because the deeper we go, the less room there is to hide from God. It’s scary being exposed, vulnerable, totally out there. And what may be scarier about this place than exposing ourselves to God, is that we are exposing ourselves to…well, ourselves. But it is the place where God desires we go….with Him.

Are you willing to move not just upward, but inward as well? What is holding you back? Are you willing to bring what’s holding you back before God?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: http://www.bradjgoldberg.com/photography/italy/

Meeting Each Other

I really have good people in my life. There are good people that have surrounded my family and I. Encouraging, supporting, willing to call me out on my stuff when I start blaming or throwing myself a pity party. Yep, those kind of good people. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have them. I would probably be living out of my own woundedness and dysfunction more than I already do, that’s for sure.

One of the hardest things for me when I started down my road of recovery was both sharing my own junk freely and letting that float in the air in the room. The listeners were quiet, none of them trying to break up how uncomfortable they felt with handing me a tissue or saying “it’s ok.” Another hard thing was sitting there when someone was sharing their junk and me not trying to make myself feel better by smiling, talking, adjusting my posture in my seat, etc. We all just sat. Quietly.

My first experience with this sitting in silence was in one of the dark times in my life. I wanted God to speak, clearly, as to what He wanted me to do. I was desperately searching for direction. But He was silent. Very silent. And the more I strained to hear anything, the more piercing the silence was. I finally unloaded about this in a  group meeting of other leaders as we went around the circle sharing what God had done in us that week in the San Bernardino mountains. But all I could share through tears was my frustration…and fear. And there it was again, silence….silence from the other 30 people in the room. But this time it felt inviting. It seemed that God was doing, even though He wasn’t saying. I say this in no light terms….it was holy ground.

Henri Nouwen, who knew loneliness and pain, wrote, ” I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the midst of our limited abilities to help each other. “

When we hit the wall and the bottom, we feel it. If we lean into it, and consequently God, we come out changed for the better. More grace, understanding, compassion, trust, joy…the list goes on. Jesus meets us in our pain. And, we can meet others in theirs. Who will you meet in their pain today? Who will you allow to meet you in yours?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Are You At Home Or In Transit?

We’ve lived (are living) in some incredible places in our 14 years of marriage. Since we first met in 1998 we have traveled to some places most people only dream of. Our first major trip together was our internship in 2000 where we traveled with 6 other people backpacking in Nepal and Northern India. Since we lived in Europe for the past 10 years, we’ve been thankful for how cheap it is to travel once you’re there. We’ve been able to travel to Germany, Holland, Finland, Spain, the U.K., Italy, Estonia, Russia, Panama, Siberia, Turkey and now reside in Mongolia. Our kids have been to most of these places as well making their life experience fuller than they realize. It has been incredible.

We are foreigners in these places. When we have met people, struck up conversations, and tried to go off the beaten path to the “local” places, most conversations stick to surface things. However,  if we are there long enough, conversations can tend to dive deeper into thoughts, opinions and perspectives. We’ve been asked a lot of times what we think of their particular country, language, cultures, politics or political leaders, etc. And we have asked the same of their thoughts. The politics question is almost always the question that can cause a breakdown in any conversation.

I went to university in the Southern United States. That was a cross cultural experience from where I grew up in the Northern Midwest. Almost half my life has been lived in a cross cultural context. A foreign one. We have tried to assimilate by learning the local languages, eating their food and trying to fit in. But we only do this to a point. There are parts of our my personality that I would have to give up or hide in order to fully assimilate. There are parts of my past that I would have to lock up, never to speak of again if I really wanted to fully become one with a foreign culture. And there are things that if I engaged in them, would completely break my relationship with God.

The other day, I quoted Walter Bruggerman that we as followers of Jesus are “in transit.” Not “transition” but “in transit.” It’s a different way of calling us “foreigners” or “aliens” as we are called in 1 Peter 2:11. I resonate deeper with the phrase “in transit” because it is an active intentional phrase. It’s a phrase of continual motion or action. Not simply a title, but a word of movement. If we are in transit or foreigners in this world and on this earth, what does that mean? For me, it means to do what I have done before-try to learn the local language, try to understand the culture the best I can, be respectful of those who live here as they are part of God’s creation to. However, there are also things that if I engaged in them, I know it would break my relationship with God. At the very least, it may break my relationship with other fellow believers, which is not honoring to God.

In the Church in the States, at least, politics is one area that we seem to engage in more and more with each election that is divisive and ends up tearing the church a part. Expecting people who have no relationship with a Redemptive God to live as such. It seems that our “rights” as citizens of our particular country tend to trump the rights granted to us by God. There are other examples I could bring up, but these are the hot topics right now from what I can tell. And I wonder, is this what living like a foreigner looks like? Is this living in transit?

There are two extremes that I have seen in people who live overseas. The first is complete lack of assimilation. These foreigners have no desire to assimilate at all. They either ship in food from their home countries or go to stores that only sell things that they are familiar with. They have no desire to learn the language and usually, from experience, have a complete disdain and arrogant attitude toward their host culture. We could compare these to sects or groups of people in the States who have nothing to do with modern society. The other group are people who have “gone native.” These are the people who have completely blocked all of who they were/are from their past to fully embrace everything about their host culture. From what I can tell, these  are ones who are trying to run away from something in their past and so they suppress it and embrace this new way of living.

In the Church in the States, I have seen both. And it’s painful to watch. It seems that the Church, at least in the regular and social media, is playing the part of the latter, going native and embracing our political system as the means for Christ’s salvation to come, as opposed to living a life modeled after Christ. Making this place our “home” settling for second best forgetting that our eternal home is far greater and better. Beyond what we could ever hope, think or imagine we’re told in Ephesians. Why? Maybe because it is something we can touch, feel, smell, hear, see. Our eternal home is not as tangible as of yet and therefore out of sight out of mind might rule. Whatever the reason, we are not living as foreigners carrying the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control that we are given, to the host culture that we are in..that is the culture of this world. And that is hard. It is sad. It is painful. It brings grief and mourning to my heart. I wonder if it does to others.

My encouragement is that your mindset be as a foreigner-our eyes set on the hope and prize in Christ Jesus, and living like Him here in our host culture. Blessings be on you.

What does living as a foreigner, in transit men to you? How do you see this being lived out practically? What have you learned from others you’ve seen live this way? Thanks for sharing your stories as we journey together.

 

 

 

 

Are You Gasping For Air?

In the early 90’s, there was a show that aired in the U.S. about how the national emergency response system was beneficial in helping to save lives. It was a way to promote the system/special phone number as well as a way to build greater awareness that such a service existed. It was based on true events using the actual emergency conversations that took place. The host was William Shatner, most famous for playing Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek franchise and television show.

Apart from him, the show was filled with horrible, over-the-top dramatic, bad acting. It always involved someone doing CPR to try and get the victim of the unforeseen accident back to breathing, as well a pulse. Compressing the chest to get the heart pumping, then breathing into their mouth to fill up their lungs to get them breathing again was just a normal part of what was on the show. Though it was bad acting, the show was effective in helping everyone understand just how beneficial the  911 system was/is.

One thing I do remember about the program was when people performed CPR on the victims, eventually most of the victims would suddenly gasp as if actually taking that first breath after not breathing for so long. It showed, as real as it could, how taking that first “breath of life” is a powerful moment when trying to bring someone back to life. The rescuer was literally breathing life into the victim.

In December, I was able to speak with three friends that have had a place in my heart for a while. Two of them have been friends of mine since college (a mere 18 years now) and the third, for just over a year. But each has a part of my heart because of the laughter, encouragement, honesty, vulnerability and love they bring to my life, and I, hopefully, to theirs. No matter the topic, time difference, length of call or via phone or Skype, they are important to me. Why? Because they breathe life into me.

Sometimes in talking with them, and others in my support circle, it is as dramatic as that tv show. This moment where I feel lifeless, hopeless even. Suddenly, truth is spoken over me, life is breathed into me and it’s as if I am taking that first big ‘gggaaaaasssssspppppp’ of air…..of life.

I’d love to say that I created this group of people around me, of these life breathers….but I didn’t. Perhaps I had a hand in it as I sought some of them out, kept them as friends, allowed them to speak truth, breathe life. Perhaps. I also think God placed these people in my life. I simply had to allow them to breathe life into me and allow them to see me, warts and all. This also means that I had to say no to those who didn’t breathe life, who didn’t speak truth over me. This was hard as I am part people pleaser. I don’t like it when people don’t like me. Often, though, those who didn’t speak truth I allowed myself to believe it was truth. it wasn’t life giving, it was life taking. Setting up boundaries and saying no, then seeking out those who did speak truth was is a long process that will probably be an on going, life journey. But it is so worth it.

To have life breathed into you and you breathing life into others, is nothing short of a miracle. A freeing miracle. We are told to do this and see it modeled throughout Scripture. God literally breathed life into Adam. Jesus breathed life into those around Him as well as the disciples and apostles with those around them. And, we are commanded to do the same. But it starts with seeking out those that speak truth into you which means vulnerability is needed on both sides. My prayer is that you and I continue to surround ourselves with life givers.

   Do you have those around you that breathe life, speak truth and edify you?  Are there boundaries that you need to set in place for those who take life? What are some truths that those around you have spoken about you that brought you life? Thanks for sharing!

 

Is There Space In Your Living Room?

Ah, a new year. It seems every time we hit the third or fourth of January, Christmas is a distant memory, the festivities of New Year’s are mostly forgotten and it’s back to the normal ordinary life we lived up until the 22 or 23rd of December. We’re back to the relentless political mud slinging. The continuation of security threats and endless terrorist/media laden fear that seemed to control us before, is back as I sit and read my news feed everyday.

So, what awaits us? It looks like increased national security in many countries. Deeper, thicker and more entrenched political lines become, even within the Church. More on going wars, and, sadly, more fear. Fear is a powerful motivator. Giving into fear has caused for some massive changes and reforms in my home country, the United States, and has caused many walls and barriers to be constructed in the hearts and minds of those within the Church.

Growing up (and maybe it’s still the trend) there were several people I knew that had a “formal” living room and a “family room” living room. As I got older and eventually became a pastor, when I went to someone’s house, I noticed I was going to less of the family room  and staying more in the tidier, perhaps more uninviting formal living room. It was a weird shift for me, unless of course they were close friends where we would hang out in the family room.

I also remember watching old movies. When people would come to visit, the women, it seemed, would go to have tea while the men would go to the den. The den was an incredible place with a selection of strong drinks in an antique globe, oaken bookshelves lined the walls while the other walls had trophies from various hunts around the world. Pipes in hand with their smoking jackets on, they would sit on big, overstuffed leather couches  surrounding a grand fireplace. I used to dream (and still do) of having a room like that-comfy, inviting, a place I could linger for a while with a book or in deep conversation.

Henri Nouwen described “hospitality of heart” with the picture that our hearts are a living room. A place that is to be hospitable, welcoming, comfortable. A place that is set up in such a way that others want to come, converse, linger with us. John wrote in Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I (God) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (ESV). Nouwen describes in his book “Reaching Out: Three Movements of the Spiritual Life,” that Jesus is standing at the door to our hearts. That He desires we invite Him in, welcome Him, dine with Him…linger while He is with us. Nouwen goes onto describe that our hearts need to be hospitable places, places where we meet others, invite them…a place where they can meet Jesus and experience Him. A family room, not a formal living room.

What an incredible picture. My heart, my living room, is a place where I cannot only invite Jesus into but others as well. My heart can be a place where others can meet Him for the first time or perhaps engage Him on a level never yet before. All because I am hospitable…because I have made a place for Christ.

In the fear that seems to surround us, I wonder if we have made space in our living room for Christ? I wonder if our doors are so bolted and locked out of fear of what lies on the other side, that we dare not open it up for Christ, let alone anyone else? Be it a refugee from another land or a longtime neighbor who simply doesn’t even know they are lost- are our hearts a welcoming, inviting place that is comfortable enough for people to desire to come in… to linger?

My prayer is that this new year our hearts would be full of people engaging Christ in the ways they need in our hearts as we make room for them. My prayer for all of us is that we are allowing them in, risking potential heart break, for the grace and peace of Christ. to make space in the living room for the unexpected encounter with Christ.

Peace and Blessings to you this 2016.

What are your thoughts on the living room of  your heart? Have you experienced letting others in and them finding Christ within your heart? Have you experienced shutting out others as a result of fear? How did you reconcile through that? Sharing each others victories and struggles  allows us all to grow together. I’d love to hear your story.