That’s My Dad

Cedar-of-Lebanon,-adr090510670-bibleplacesMy Dad died two months ago. I was privileged to speak at his memorial. With Father’s day around the corner, I thought I’d share some excerpts from that eulogy to honor his memory….

If you knew my Dad or ever sat under his ministry, you most likely know the words: “The Cedars of Lebanon.” It was the title of His signature sermon.

His description of these massive, mighty trees and the way they were used to build the Temple of God and the nation of Israel was earthy and visceral. It always called me toward greatness and challenged me toward excellence.

Based on 2 Chronicles where Solomon sends to Huram and orders the Cedars of Lebanon to build the Temple of the Lord, Dad envisioned our lives to be those cedars–individually and collectively God uses the raw materials of our lives to create something majestic and purposeful from something mundane and ordinary.

These were the Cedars of scripture out of which he teased meaning and coaxed significance. Dad was one of those Cedars.

When he stood in the pulpit he was always larger than life. He was a giant. I remember so clearly as a boy watching him with distinct pride bordering on awe. He was a sharecropper’s son who knew how to work hard; stand strong and persevere unswervingly. He was familiar with the stained fingernails of the blue collar laborer but could stand toe-to-toe with attorneys and bankers as if he was born with blue blood.

His powerful bass voice thundered with authority, his intense gaze radiated purpose and significance and his passionate heart impelled him to pursue His own destined purpose with a single-minded devotion that bordered on obsession.

But most of my memories of Dad are based around church.

Outside of a few fishing trips and vacations to see family, the shadow of the steeple looms high over Dad’s legacy. That is both good and bad. It is good in that my roots go deep in the people of God. It is bad in that too much of my sonship often felt more professional than personal.

Here’s the reality: my Dad was not by any means a perfect man. When he was at his best he was a great man. When he was not at his best, he was a broken man–product of the fractured reality that was his lineage. In short, he was just a man. A hodgepodge of the mixed motives, random weaknesses and myopic vision with which we are all afflicted and by which we are all affected.

I find it both telling and comforting that throughout Scripture, the Cedars of Lebanon he so eloquently preached about, were symbols of both strength and weakness; righteousness and idolatry–the best and worst of raw reality we call life.

  • David pictured these trees as plantings of the Lord brimming full with life.
  • Ezekiel and Jeremiah extolled as powerful enough for men to build ships and safe enough for birds to build nests.

I believe at his core Dad was all of these things: Powerful; honorable; visionary and protective. But  these very same cedars were also symbols of things opposite and opposing to God’s heart and purpose.

  • David also saw that the cedars as representative of the arrogant pride at which the voice of the Lord had to thunder and roar.
  • Isaiah decried often how men used these cedars to make altars to idols that competed with the true God and thus had to be broken and brought low.

You see…just like me, Dad sometimes reflected these darker traits of his beloved Cedars. In his closing years, these failures introduced pain into our family. We would be less than honest if we didn’t accept, admit and acknowledge that fact.

All of this–the shining beauty and salty bitterness–well, that’s my Dad.

Ravaged by age, declining health and impaired judgments in his later years, Dad was no longer the mighty tree. Like his beloved cedars he aged, weakened and ultimately fell. It leaves my family with memories both of the vibrant tree and the decaying timber.

I will not reduce Dad to a conglomerate of his successes nor distort him as a composite of his failures. Instead I have chosen to accept him as synthesis of his experiences with life and people and God. He may seem fragmented to our eyes; but He is complete in His father’s.

I am left with poignant memories of a life lived the best he could navigate it in the rub and reality of a messy world. Honestly, it is that mix of beauty and bitterness that feeds my deeper hopes. It gives me peace concerning my own legacy. It’s helping me better write my own eulogy.

God does not judge any of us by chapters in our lives. He does not label us by moments.

He refuses to sum us up by any single season. This God who is Alpha and Omega; beginning and end–He is able to see into us and thus see in us what we desperately want to be true of us–even though we too often fall short.

The truth is…we are not the accumulated glory of our successes or the amassed rubble of our failures. We are all hapless victims of a grace that sees us as whole even in the midst of our shattered fragments. We are the unlikely recipients of a divine love that embraces us warts and all yet still says, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

One great joy for me is that as the best of my mother lives on in my sisters, my daughter and my nieces, so the best of my Father lives on in my brothers, my sons and my nephews.

  • His fine craftsmanship carried on by my brother Ron’s skilled hands–and now I get to watch it emerge in my own son, Nathan.
  • His power with words and skill in leadership echoes through my brother Hal–and I get to see it unfold in the keen gifts of my son, Caleb.

But mostly, I see my Dad alive every morning when I look in the mirror and see a man who walks every day with a limp. Flawed and weak, but walking on anyhow. Because the experiences along the way and the home at the end are worth the struggle of the journey.

Filed under: Death, endurance, Father’s Day, Grace, Gratitude, Greatness, Perseverance Tagged: beauty, Courage, Dad, Father’s Day, Fathers, funeral, grace, pilgrimage, sacred ordinary, weakness

A Question of Trust

fruitless-tree-2-1“How long?”

“Why?”

These unanswerable questions plaster themselves like graffiti on my eyelids at the end of a season of loss like none I have ever known.

Grief has become a familiar traveling companion. Tears have left permanent tracks on my face.

Three people I have deeply loved for more years than I can calculate are gone. Death has exerted its temporary hold on them leaving a vacuum in the deepest places of my heart.

Beyond my own pain has been the intolerable hurt of watching my beautiful niece and her sons deal with the inexplicable death of a vibrant husband and father. My friends I call siblings have wrestled with the difficult passing of our father. And most recently, my precious wife and children mourn the immense loss of our beloved “Granny”–a central figure in our house for years.

All in just over three months.

These two questions–“How long?” and “Why?”–are not new simply because they have been concentrated in these dramatic weeks.

They haunted me during my mother’s nearly 13-year battle with Alzheimer’s. They battered my intellect as Dad made silly but painful decisions in his later life. They mocked me through a battle with drug addiction in one dearest to me. They assaulted me in the tragic loss of the lifetime dreams for some I knew well.

But they never screamed so loudly in my heart as in my own days of personal failure and spiritual implosion. These losses were incalculable.

  • “How long?” is the question of season. When will I stop hurting? When will I feel normal again? When will this long journey finally end?
  • “Why?” is the question of reason. Why did God let this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? Why can I not make sense of it?

I am absolutely convinced these are not the right questions to ask in life’s moments of crisis or chaos. Two simple reasons underscore this belief.

One, I will not be healed by the answers even if I have them. Adding up the equation does not fill the loss, assuage the grief or dissipate the longings that suffering deposits in my soul. I need far more than answers when my world is upside down.

Two, I do not have the capacity to handle the answers even if I were given them. There are certain realities that will make sense only when viewed in hindsight from an eternal point of view. I need a bigger picture than I am able to see when my life shakes at the core.

An old prophet of the Bible, Habakkuk, had exactly these same questions as he viewed the panorama of suffering and loss that enveloped his life.

  • “How long?” he asked God as he watched the slow-motion, time-lapsed descent of his beloved country into the abyss of failure and forfeited destiny. Why was it taking so long? Why would God tolerate the injustice of a punishment exceeding crime? It seemed evident that God had lost track of time.
  • “Why?” he asked God as he reviewed the methods God was using to realign the purpose and passion in His people. It simply made no sense to use an enemy far worse than backslidden Israel as a rod of correction. It was apparent that God had lost His mind.

The danger of these unanswered and unanswerable questions is this:

…if I spend too much time calculating what is incalculable I will find my view of God skewed and warped by what I cannot figure out.

Safe or shallow answers I dream up leave me with emotional nightmares that have no basis in ultimate reality. Fatalism based on those concocted answers might remove intellectual tension but it leaves me living with lies.

Perspective is a key for me in this season of pain. When I remember that I have only the spot of light called “today” and a speck of history called “life”, I am able to believe beyond what I see and hope beyond what I feel.

Like Habakkuk, if I learn to wait for His answer rather than jump to my conclusion, I will find hope, help and healing are there for the taking.

“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” (Habakkuk 2:1)

Part of the purpose of the biographies in the Word of God is to increase my span of experience and scope of understanding by giving me the larger picture of His-story. In this broader view I am driven to the unchanging character of my God rather than the unexplainable changes of my life.

If I attach too firmly to the overblown benefits of the temporary I am robbed of the overarching blessings of the eternal.

So I am trying to learn the lesson Habakkuk did. That God is good in spite of my questions and He is great in the face of my weakness. I can trust Him when I do not understand Him. I can believe in His love even when I cannot believe in His ways.

Only then am I able to say with the old prophet’s conviction, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

When I find that place where acceptance becomes serenity and serenity becomes surrender I will see the results Habakkuk saw: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19)

When I boil it down, these two daunting questions are really two sides of the same coin. They are indeed one question…one ultimate question.

A question of trust.

Filed under: Change, Doubts, Faith, Hope, Spiritual Formation Tagged: Change, Courage, Faith, hope, how long, journey, suffering, trust, weakness, why

It Doesn’t Take Much

Cup-Cold-WaterIn the most fragile moments of life, it doesn’t take much to make a big difference.

I have spent the past few days watching the tender interaction between two of the most amazing women I have ever met.

My wife and her mother.

Dianne’s 98-year-old mom is actively dying. She has been under Hospice care since January but has rapidly declined in the past few weeks. She now hovers in that strange state between life and death, literally taking her last breaths.

Myrtle isn’t able to fully grasp or embrace all the things Dianne does for her. But I have noticed something profound being lived out in real time. Watching it moves me deeply.

It really doesn’t take much. 

Dianne has cared for her mom in so many big ways over the past 15 years she has lived in our home. But it seems now it is these little things matter most. The smallest things seem to help Myrtle feel the love in her daughter’s heart.

A few drops of water to sooth her thirst. Some balm for her dry lips or cream for her fragile skin. A tender hug when she is agitated. A kiss on the cheek when she is anxious. A song to sooth her nerves.

She holds her hand to calm her fear and speaks reassuring words that affirm her life and assure her of her value. She sleeps beside her so Mom understands as best she can in this in-between state that she is not alone.

Taking it all in as I stand ready to help in any way I can, I understand in my deeper parts that this is very much the stuff of Jesus.

This is His heart. These are His hands.

Jesus was man as the Father had dreamed he would be. He was everything God had desired and designed before one pixel of creation was illumined. When the Father imagined a creature who could share in the life and love that was the eternal atmosphere of the Trinity, Jesus was the perfect example of what that looked like.

The Father pointed to Jesus and said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

He was saying, “That’s what I meant when I made you!”

Looking back over that life, it is easy to get so absorbed in the big things–the miracles, the suffering, the confrontations, the Passion–that we forget so much of His life was doing little things that changed the ending of many stories.

It didn’t take much to radically alter the way a person felt about themselves or transform how they felt about God.

  • He stopped. When a blind man was crying out or a marginalized woman was bleeding out. He stopped. He noticed. He met them in the mess.
  • He went. When Jairus told the sad story of his dying daughter, Jesus went. He proved that people mattered more than schedules or plans or…anything.
  • He touched. Lepers who had forgotten what touch felt like and beggars who had not been touched with tenderness for too long to remember.
  • He wept. When his friends grieved in tears for their dead brother, Jesus let their pain pierce his heart and prompt his tears.
  • He spoke. Comforting words of acceptance to the woman caught in adultery laying in shame at his feet and the woman of ill repute washing those same feet with tears.
  • He rejoiced. Laughing over the presence of children and dancing when His disciples came back so pumped from their first kingdom adventure.

By these actions Jesus was showing how God felt about us. He was demonstrating what drove Him to the big thing…the cross.

Not one of these things Jesus did was a big thing…but each changed everything.

And Jesus passed the baton of these works and words to us–His frail and imperfect followers. “Go and do likewise,” was His epilogue to the story of the Good Samaritan. “Do as I have done to you,” He said after He washed the Disciples dirty feet. It wasn’t a big thing, but so real and powerful that to this day it embodies what it means to serve another.

He was emphatic about this, “…if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42) Again near the end of his life, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

Each of Jesus’ small actions lived out in the rub of our lives trumpets a huge message from the depths of the Father’s heart:

  • When you stop and make time for someone in pain you display that they deserve compassion.
  • When you walk with someone through seasons of fear you show that they deserve companions.
  • When you reach out and touch others who feel rejected and set aside you demonstrate that they are worth the risk.
  • When you weep alongside those who mourn life’s losses you exhibit that they are worth the cost.
  • When you speak life to those whose hearts have believed the lies of the Enemy you underline that they should always have a voice.
  • When you celebrate and rejoice over the little wins of the little ones you expose how they should always be valued.

And when you spend your waking moments tending the little needs of a dying mother with a tender servant’s heart, you too make God’s dream come true.

He sees and says, “That’s what I meant!”

“Well done, good and faithful servant…”

Filed under: Aging, Caregiver, Death, Faithful, Incarnation, Servanthood Tagged: death, Hospice, People, people matter, sacred ordinary, servanthood, serving, Spirituality, suffering, weakness

On A Scale of 1 to 10…

kapowPicture a scene in a really bad B movie–the main character slowly wakes from a deep coma.

Eyes open, thoughts forming, but unable to move. Trapped in the frightening fog between dead to the world or alive to the pain.

That was me.

I had just spent six hours under general anesthesia and was now sporting an incision that bisected my abdomen. My large intestine was now M.I.A. It had been a permanent, life-altering surgery.

Emerging from the near-death anesthetic sleep, I had an incredibly unpleasant “Aha!” moment. The climax of a classic Batman episode flashed before my eyes.

Kapow!

I was in more pain than I had ever been in my entire life. In fact, add up all the pain I had experienced in that life and this dwarfed it.

My initial thought was, “What have I done!?”

It seemed the old saying was true, this “cure” was way worse than the disease.

I’d been in chronic internal pain for nearly five years. Crohns colitis, which 29 years ago wasn’t very responsive to medication, had been wreaking havoc on my guts. My colon had been decaying in a prolonged fit of auto-immune insanity–literally eating itself alive.

The result was chronic pain. Daily bouts with agony that left me crumpled on the floor in tears. After every other option was exhausted, the surgeon gave me the plain truth: have surgery or die.

Thus, that moment waking up in a recovery room in acute pain vastly worse than the chronic pain in which I had learned to live. But this intense pain was the only way to stop the chronic pain I had endured for nearly five years.

It had to hurt like hell to get me out of the hell I was living.

3-Pain-Scale1Frequently during my recovery a nurse would come in and ask me to rate my pain on a scale of one-to-ten. For a long time, I hung out around 35!

But the beauty of the weeks of recovery that followed was this: as the acute pain faded I realized the chronic pain was gone.

Permanently.

This pain paradigm has served as a parable for much of my life.

Nearly every decision for real and lasting change in my life–whether physical, spiritual, emotional or relational–has resulted from the choice to shift from the chronic by way of the acute.

  • Chronic can be anything…boredom, stress, addiction, habits, attitudes, outlooks, emotional proclivities, family bents. Any ruts in which the wheels of our lives get stuck and we can’t seem to break free.
  • Chronic is a thief…like the Enemy of our souls, it steals, kills and destroys. Chronic is progressive, decaying and exhausting.
  • Chronic thrives in the grind…grating incessantly on the psyche, it simply wears you down. It dulls by the friction of repetition and routine. The unchanging passage of time is its greatest ally.

Very often the only way of escape from the trap of the perpetual is the trauma of the painful. “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30, GNT)

Occasionally, I’ve been brave (or desperate) enough to choose the acute.

But more frequently, God has been forced to let the sharp intrusion of unwanted change or excruciating challenge to be the catalyst for the healing mercy He wants to bring. It is that trauma of transformation to which the ancient writer refers when he says: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)

When the chronic is broken and change is birthed, we understand what Paul meant when he said: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame…” (Romans 5:2-4)

Hope is the best place we can live. Hope elevates. Hope sustains. Hope heals. Hope envisions. Hope is potent and passionate. Hope is a spiritual treasure worth whatever it costs to possess. And honestly…

Hope only rises from ashes.

The Author of Hebrews is authentically honest when he writes: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

I love that in our worst pain there is always a “later on, however”. Pain is not God’s opinion of you. It is not a destination or designation. It is a moment and a movement.

On the other side of the pain–and there is always the other side with God–there is healing. And the scars that remain are the stories that will help others get through their acute seasons.

Recently, there have been some acute losses and intense challenges for my wife and me. Chronic is being unsettled by acute. Soon, the protracted will give way to suddenly.

God loves “suddenlies”.

Peter was in jail for sharing Jesus’ love. Utterly trapped in the abyss of random Roman justice. But then, Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and…struck Peter on the side and woke him up…and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. (Acts 12:7)

Sometimes the “suddenly” angel is invasive pain or unwanted crisis. But it is crucial to remember, when God introduces acute, something of this world’s chronic is going to end.

And on a scale of 1 to 10, the holy wholeness that follows is a definite 10.

Filed under: addiction, Change, Courage, Hope Tagged: Acute, Challenge, Change, chronic, Courage, Crohns, freedom, hope, Pain, recovery, restoration, suffering

Leaking Life

Leaking life…every day for twelve years.

That’s what was happening to a woman who snuck up on Jesus in a last-ditch attempt to get well. (Luke 8:43-48)

You see, she’d had a menstrual hemorrhage for twelve years. Since, as Scripture says, “Life is in the blood”…she was literally discharging life.

What’s worse, she had spent her life-savings on everything from specialists to quacks. None of their therapies worked.

Twelve trickling years had left her:

  • Weak: tired and anemic, she had no energy to live; no joie de vivre
  • Depressed: emotionally hopeless, she couldn’t figure out what to do next
  • Estranged: relationally isolated, she lived as an outcast from all she knew
  • Broke: financially tapped, she existed on poverty’s raw edge

She was slowly but surely wearing out and breaking down.

As my wife and I have been caretakers to her 98-year-old mother in her final weeks, the stress of that daily care has worn on us. While overjoyed with the honor of attending this remarkable woman, honesty demands we admit the weariness setting in from the daily demands that take their toll on us.

Sometimes we feel we are leaking life too. And in this season I am discovering:

Our most crucial moments are not those that threaten to wreck our lives but those that are trying to rob our living.

That’s what happens when you live for extended times under the:

  • Stress of sameness–the grinding demands that are always in your face
  • Burden of boredom–the mundane repetition that never seems to end
  • Pressure of performance–the unwritten expectations that are felt more than real
  • Ruts of routine–the banal tasks that are ever-present and never finished

These things are slow-drip punctures that cause you to leak the life-forces of destiny, meaning and purpose.

I have found myself tempted to cope in ways that take my mind off, but don’t fill my heart for, the struggle.

  • Deaden by distraction–get numb by entertainment
  • Comfort by consumption–get lost in something new
  • Mask by movement–get busy with any activity
  • Relief by resignation–get through by giving up

The alternative to these mind-numbing, soul-deadening, purpose-sapping substitutions is to seek meaning in the mundane; to mine for gems in the muck and mud of the waiting.

The difference between endurance and perseverance is what you get out of what you go through.

When you simply endure, you passively survive the hard times and come out on the other side glad its over. But when you choose to persevere, you passionately strain out of the bad experience real meaning that develops character, shapes destiny and forges significance.

You come out on the other side having plundered riches from that which had been perpetually sapping your life.

Luke’s leaking lady was so determined to staunch the flow that she elbowed her way through a throng to get near Jesus. Then she took the greatest risk a bleeding woman could in that day–she touched Him.

Instantly, she stopped leaking.

Jesus stood still, looked around and asked “who touched me?” This was no ordinary “touch” he was talking about. The word means “glued or adhered to”. There is a hint of desperation and determination in Jesus choice of word.

He knew somebody had reached out with all they were to tap into all He was.

And it worked. “Power has gone out of me”, He said. Somebody latched on to who I truly am and is imbibing that source of life.

The woman reluctantly knelt at the hem she had touched and poured out her story to the one who had saved her. Jesus made it clear in His loving words that because of her faith ALL her brokenness was healed:

“Daughter”–no longer rejected, abandoned and ostracized
“Be of good comfort”–no longer helpless or hopeless, she was en-couraged
“Faith has made you whole”–rescued, healed, fixed…forever
“Go in peace”–no more frantic search for the answer she now possessed

When you find yourself oozing the stuff that makes your life full and real, it is time for desperate action (faith).

Gather up the energy you have left, push through the obstacles, shake off the expectations of others and get close enough to Jesus to touch him.

One touch makes all the difference.

He patches the leaks, stops the draining influences, and pours life that doesn’t fade into our seeping souls. He empowers us to stand up, speak up and look up.

We stop leaking life and start living it.

Filed under: Caregiver, Change, Contentment, endurance, Expectancy, Faith, Perseverance, Spiritual Formation, Waiting Tagged: Caregiver, Courage, endurance, faithfulness, perseverance, serving, suffering, waiting, weakness, weary

Bookends

BookendsEagles.

Dad was obsessed with them. He peppered beautiful statues of them in his office and around our home for as long as I can remember.

A few of them live at my place since he passed away. One is a set of bronze bookends.

In an age where our libraries are digital bytes we read on tablets and smart phones, bookends are a thing of the past. Vintage kitsch.

I’m sure there are a lot of younger folk who can’t imagine what they are or what possible purpose they serve.

So to educate the uninitiated, bookends are heavy objects set at each end of a bunch of books to hold them in place. Brackets, as it were, to keep the books from falling all over themselves.

Since my extensive library lives on an iPad, Dad’s eagle bookends now sit in my office back to back. No books in between. Simply reminders of Dad and his love for books.

Reminders too that I am living my present moments between bookends.

My wife and I have been gifted the privilege of having two brand new grand babies and her very old mother in our house at the same time.

Little people whose age is measured in months side-by-side one gauged by a century. New arrival abuts near departure.

Beginning and end. Start and finish. New life and impending death in the closest proximity.

Prologue and epilogue viewed together with all the chapters in between removed.

Bookends…with no books between.

This vivid contrast of new and old, youth and age, life and death is haunting my thoughts and invading my living. Honestly, in view of the larger scale of history and the tiny scope of my story, the bookends seem closer together than I dared believe.

The Sage of Ecclesiastes waxes poetic about it. “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

James states it more starkly. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

When Granny and Silas or Isabella are in the same room, the brevity and fragility of life is impossible to ignore. I see both ends simultaneously and in those moments God whispers to my heart…

“What are you putting between those bookends?”

Challenged by the demands of the daily, I find it hard to concentrate on the quality of the life I am creating. Busy-ness leads to weariness; production creates pre-occupation; hurry incites worry. And days go by in which I can’t see much of value I am sliding between the bookends.

As we talked about this, Dianne vocalized what we in the middle of life so often think: “I wish I knew when I was young what I know now.” She reflected on how different our values–what we consider important and essential–would be if we saw life from its end.

This is not as it should be.

We were not planted in the soil of this world to simply produce the leafy vegetation of accumulation and accomplishment. Jesus made it clear when he cursed the unfruitful fig tree that our days were intended by the Father of history to matter and make a difference. (Matthew 21:19)

We were made to release in this life what God bred into our conception.

“Much fruit” He called it. (John 15:5-8)

For a while now, I have been like a dog on a bone over these words of Paul to the Ephesians. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

I am more convinced than ever that we are not a product of time plus chance. Neither are we advanced pond scum.

There was an idea called “you” that occurred beyond creation before “you” ever became part of that creation. He prepared important stuff for us to do in His-story before He stuck His finger in sand and began to write our story.

God dreamt us up in His heart before He cooked us up in our mother’s womb.

And He desired something significant between the bookends.

We have no idea how much space there will be between them. But we don’t want to just cram meaningless placeholders or silly novellas there to fill up the space.

The recent losses in my life have acted as an obnoxious alarm awakening my heart to the truth that the bookends are far closer together than I allow myself to imagine.

If there is any story I want contained in the void between start and finish, it is a biography of God–the saga of His reckless love in the story of my feckless life.

That autobiography of God is written in the accumulated biographies of those who bear His name. Together we are the volume that fills the void.

Put that between the bookends.

Filed under: Death, Life, purpose Tagged: Challenge, Courage, death, destiny, journey, life, passion, pilgrimage, purpose, Spirituality

Foxhole Friends

foxholeSeven years…that’s how long I have been mad at God.”

He was a father whose daughter had died seven years earlier. His words trembled and eyes were wet as he spoke to me just after I had poured out my heart at my young nephew, David’s, recent memorial service.

“Today, my heart has been healed.”

New and different tears filled my eyes as I grasped that something of the insight God had birthed in my heart just days before, had eased opened a door in his heart that had slammed shut when he lost the light of his life.

There were others too who shared with me that difficult day. Men and women who though weeping, told me how God’s word spoken in the middle of our situation that made no sense poured meaning into theirs that had made no sense for so long.

Two weeks later, after my Dad’s funeral where I had attempted to honor a broken man with my raw reflection on his beautiful gifts and painful flaws, my brother Ron said to me, “What you said today made sense.” Words from God’s heart passing through my heart encouraged healing in his heart.

You see, in those moments our family had made a decision–one unitedly declared through defiant tears: “We will not give in, give up or give out–and we will certainly not give our Enemy any credit. We will believe with faith what we cannot see with eyes.”

It reeked of raw and real hope. Those who needed that soul-food followed the aroma of grace.

Sometimes what seems like darkness to you, when exposed to the hurting heart of a fellow-sufferer is light. Your pain serves as a pinpoint of promise that causes another to believe he can make it through and what lies on the other side of the pain will be worth the journey.

Jesus said, “No one lights a lamp and then hides it, covering it over or putting it where its light won’t be seen. No, the lamp is placed on a lampstand so others are able to benefit from its brightness.” (Luke 8:16, Passion Translation)

Your greatest light may well shine from your darkest night.

I remember when I was attending my recovery groups what made the difference was the men who could say, “I have been there. You can make it.” There was an undeniable veracity in those words of experience.

When our children were struggling in ways that appeared capable of ruining their lives, real assurance came through people who had seen their children come through those flames scarred, but bolder and stronger. There was an unassailable confidence in those words of encouragement.

It is the friendship of the foxhole. It is the bond shared with those comrades who are forged with us and fixed to us in the searing flames of battle.

Every veteran in my family speaks in reverent emotional tones about the “brothers” they stood with in combat. Something is formed in the foxhole that lasts far beyond the battlefield.

Unfortunately, most of us hide the broken areas of our lives most of the time. Whether out of fear, denial or shame we cover the scars that could make all the difference in the world for those passing through our familiar flames.

In his letters, the Apostle Paul often shared the darker chapters of his story because he knew it would bring light into the shadowed corners of suffering for his friends. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

  • What have you been through that you didn’t think you’d make it through?
  • When have you endured the unendurable but come out on the other side?
  • Where did you face down your fiercest fears sure that you were going to die, but somehow survived and emerged stronger for it?

This may well be the locus of your purpose.

Your battle scars serve as healing balm applied to the open wounds of someone who right now isn’t sure they will make it through what you know they can.

It means the world to a person in pain when another shares love that really understands and words of wisdom outlined with scars. There is an irreplaceable comfort and irrepressible hope in the presence of someone who has really been where you are and invites you to follow their trail of tears.

That comfort is:

  • Authentic–full of the nutrients of life that sustain the soul.
  • Empathetic–rich with compassion that is birthed in shared sorrows.
  • Mystic–profound in its ability to reach the hidden hurts of the heart.

This kind of love isn’t a trite “I know how you must feel” coming from a well-meaning person who doesn’t have a clue. It is the earthy and visceral “I know what that feels like” that comes from someone who isn’t speaking in theory but with authority.

This may have been part of what the old Apostle meant when he said, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body…” (Colossians 1:24). Or what Peter referred to as “participating in the sufferings of Christ”. (1 Peter 4:13).

They knew that every person in a foxhole needs a friend who will share the pain and fight side-by-side until the battle is over.

Foxhole friends.

Filed under: Comfort, Courage, Hope, Perseverance, purpose, Realtionship, Tears Tagged: beauty, Comfort, Courage, friends, friendship, grace, hope, passion, suffering, support, weakness

Legacy

Michael Thompson:

My nephew has show profound insight in this blog article. Read it thoughtfully.

Originally posted on The KT Consideration:

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

-Isaac Newton


A man’s legacy is hidden from him until a time in which he has eyes to see it. For some, clear perception develops much earlier than others: late in adolescence, teenage years or in their early twenties. For others, blooming slowly and through process, it reveals itself in sometimes painful & powerful ways.

I’m best described by the latter.

Lately I’ve wondered to myself, “How will I be remembered? And does it matter?” They’re not questions I’ve asked with any seriousness until more recently, yet it’s an idea that I haven’t been able to strike from my mind in several weeks.

There have been times that I’ve thought about it more than others: my college graduation, throughout the course of my professional career, my wedding day, etc. In my college fraternity, legacy was more something focused around bragging rights: who has the coolest “family” lineage in…

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Numb And Number

NumbNumberMy fingers were numb. I couldn’t feel anything.

And not feeling is a weird feeling.

It happened a few weeks ago when I picked up my guitar after not having played for years. I used to love to play, but piano has taken guitar’s place as ‘my’ instrument.

Now I am at that age where I carry a bucket around all the time filling it with stuff from a list of things I want to do before I get too old.

Speaking fluent guitar is on the list.

After more than a week of playing pretty hard I realized the fingers on my left hand were developing some serious callouses. As I touched my computer keyboard, stroked my granddaughter’s hair or simply tried to pick something up, I couldn’t feel a thing.

They were numb. The more I played, the less feeling I had in my fingertips. I went from numb to numb-er.

During the weeks of loss through which I have so recently passed, my heart sometimes envied my fingertips. Oh to not feel anything. To get reprieve from the haunting but familiar ache in my heart; to not have tears come spontaneously at the most inopportune times.

I have also become keenly aware of a disturbing fact. I am immersed in a culture that shares that desire to just go numb.

My boss got me thinking about this in a conversation shortly after my Dad’s funeral. Just one year ago I had been with him at his dad’s memorial. We also had some interesting personal conversations following His dad’s death where I was exposed to a deeper part of him I seldom get to see.

What he offhandedly asked me after my father’s passing was telling. “How do you get back there?”

Obviously he wasn’t talking about reliving his dad’s departure. He was talking about that place of soul-reality that emerges as pain jars you from sleep and reminds you what alive feels like.

In a way he was warning me.

There is something deep and meaningful you experience in seasons of pain. Those moments are raw, real and revealing.

But it is easy to lose touch with that awareness because the numbing effects of life’s pace and priorities set in so quickly.

  • The tyrants of success, achievement and money make demands that sap our energy and possess our vision.
  • The treadmill of familiar, habit and routine incessantly grind on our sense of uniqueness and purpose.
  • The titillation of entertainment, media and technology capture our attention and pinpoint our focus on minutia.

Our lives are rife with numbing agents–cultural anesthetics that act like Novocaine for the soul. It is bizarre that in a society literally obsessed with feelings, we have so few that are genuine and lasting.

Paul said it rather starkly to the Ephesian church: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:19) The literal translation of that first phrase is, “Having become calloused…”

Calloused like my fingertips…except these form on the heart. The rub of daily reality quickly desensitizes the heart to what it means to be fully alive and why that even matters.

The British rock band U2 gave this phenomenon words in their haunting song, Numb. One snatch of lyric says:

(I feel numb)
Don’t project, don’t connect, protect
Don’t expect, suggest
(I feel numb)

The proverbial life without pain because it is a life without risk.

We are numb and number.

  • Numb is when we anesthetize pain because we just want to stop hurting for a while.
  • Number is when we get to the point in life where we like the feeling of not feeling.

But startling interruptions like grief, loss or tragedy wake us from slumber and give us the chance to reset our default to life.

There is something vital and alive in moments where you face life-ultimacies. Whether critical moments of failure, tragic times of loss or vicious seasons of betrayal, you are never more alive than when you stare over the precipice of death.

Honestly, I am convinced we are made for that kind of living. Edgy, adventurous, scary and potent, this raw edge of life is the seam between time and eternity.

Here you find out who matters and what means something. You find out what is worth dying for…then you start living for that.

That kind of living is a standing on tip-toe, anticipatory, expectant affront to the numb and number existence we see all around us.

The Bible has a name for that dynamic: hope.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:18-24a)

There is a form of life that refuses to be sleep walk or shadow box. It may groan, but it does so expectantly. It feels frustration, but that dissatisfaction is based on a vision of what can be, what should be and what will be.

Such life will inevitably feel like labor, but what is birthed is the reality of God in the rub of my place and space.

Living alive is painful. There is no way around that.

When you allow yourself to be impacted by the stuff of the real world and imprinted by experience of real people, the intensity can be overwhelming. But when you seek to deaden the pain remember, something important will die. If you choose to escape the struggle, realize some significant things will be left behind.

I was moved by my boss’s thoughtful comment. He was a year ahead of me in this journey and was encouraging me to not lose any of the lessons my losses were teaching.

In these moments, I choose to live in the raw vitality of life where I feel the pain of time but also the pulse of eternity.

Otherwise, I will just grow numb and number.

Filed under: Adventure, Courage, Death, Discontent, Expectancy, Faith, Hope, Perseverance Tagged: anesthetic, apathy, Challenge, Courage, death, destiny, Faith, hope, journey, life, numb, Pain, Spirituality, suffering

Little Gifts From A Big God

DovesHer eyes were as big as silver dollars when she looked over my head and gasped in surprise.

Without taking her eyes off whatever had mesmerized her, Dianne said, “Don’t move! Just look over your shoulder.”

Now those are not the first contradictory commands I’ve heard from my wife of 35 years, but I could tell something had caught her eye. As directed, I craned my neck ever-so-slowly so as to be able to see over my shoulder.

That’s when I saw what had captured her attention.

Doves.

Two of them perched atop one of the big paddles of the ceiling fan on our back porch.

Now you have to understand. Doves have appeared in the oddest places at the most opportune times in our lives. To recount the times might cause you to think I was spinning a yarn.

To Dianne, they have always been significant signs of God’s favor in sometimes catastrophic moments of life. Like the one that returned to Noah with an olive branch at a time when he had to be really tired of the Ark. (Genesis 8:11)

This most recent time was just another point of deep pain and desperate need when God seemed to do the smallest thing that made the biggest difference. In the chapters of your life-story when you can’t see the end of the road and your tunnel feels like a cave, God is prone to drop tiny treasures into your hands.

Think of Ruth. In a dark season of loss and need when grief and hunger were overwhelming, Boaz instructed his reapers to “pull out some heads of barley…and drop them on purpose for her.” (Ruth 2:16).

I love how the King James translates it, they were to drop “handfuls on purpose.”

God seems pleased to do the same for us. Dropping little bits of comfort, encouragement, joy, or peace to keep us hoping, believing, expecting and moving.

Handfuls of hope.

“God is great not just because nothing is too big for Him; God is great because nothing is too small for Him.” –Mark Batterson, Circle Maker

It is easy to believe nothing is too big for God, but much harder to trust that nothing is too small for Him. But the Father Jesus always told us about is a master of minutiae as well as Lord of the universe.

This God is one that notes when sparrows fall from the sky or hair falls from the scalp. By the way, for us bald guys, that is comfort! (Matthew 10:29-31)

He is a God who clothes unremarkable lilies and feeds unemployed ravens.

“And how much more valuable are you than birds!” (Luke 12:22-28)

One of my favorite stories of God’s tiny treasures is Jonah’s shrub. In his darkest depths of depression Jonah didn’t understand God’s timing or design. He sat down in a make-shift lean-to and gave up.

But “then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.” (Jonah 4:5-6)

Now I know that worms at the plant and Jonah had to move on, but it is the fact that in the moment when Jonah felt lost and alone, a big God sent a little gift that helped Jonah believe again.

Like Dianne’s doves.

As we have walked through the sudden loss of dearly-loved family members and the extended season watching the decline of her mother, Dianne and I know the weariness that comes from delayed answers and disappointing results.

Just when our souls felt worn and weary, our God chose a familiar sign to demonstrate that He is close and connected.

When you are in…

  • a waiting season
  • a worrying moment
  • a wandering time
  • a warring place

…those little gifts are just enough to stir your faith in a with-you God.

He is pleased to drop handfuls on purpose in your path. Enough seed to sprout faith in moments where you’ve lost track of hope and home.

Ours is a big God who delights in giving little gifts to His hurting children so they can cling to survivor’s faith…

“the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Filed under: Courage, Faith, Grace, Hope, mercy, Mystery, Perseverance, Restoration, Spiritual Formation, Stillness, Wonder Tagged: Comfort, encouragement, Faith, grace, hope, little is much, Little things, renewal, sacred ordinary, Spirituality, weakness