Some of you may have read or followed my previous blog “This Sojourner’s Path”. It ran for nearly 3 years and much of it focused on who I was and what had happened to me to make me who I am…and my attempt to work through some very difficult issues. If you are interested to know what makes me tick then read below some of the most liked posts from that blog and some of my favorites.
As a young associate pastor, I was doing things that I felt passionate about, working with people that I cared deeply for, and serving in a place that had always been my home. One day, after about a year and a half in the position, I was asked to leave – out of the blue with no warning. Not just leave the job…but leave the community; in fact, to take my family and move as far away as I could in order to gain more of a “world perspective”. I was told I was being subversive, not following the Holy Spirit’s leading, and defiantly resistant to the work the Lord wanted to do in me and in the church I was serving. I haven’t written or spoken about this experience very often. I have never returned to pastoring – the politics of power of the modern church has left a bitter taste in my soul and left me craving a more personal and intimate experience that can only be found among friends. As I’ve written in a previous post, “Revealing Conversation”, there are still some wounds that haven’t quite healed and fences that haven’t been mended…and maybe never will be. After that event I spent weeks just trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. Did I do something wrong; did I break the rules; was I blind? And the biggest question of all, was God even there; and if he was, did He care? With all of the emotion involved the answer was unclear. While very painful and emotionally draining, the experience taught me about making the hard choices and being willing to step away from the familiar.
The paths we walk are rarely straight. They meander and twist and double back sometimes. Often there are side trails or forks in the road. Most times you can just stay on one path and handle what comes your way, but other times you are forced to make a choice. Do I keep going on this path or choose a different road? This was one of those times for me. It wasn’t just about losing my job or being unsure of how my family was going to survive. In this event I was presented with a choice of the heart. Who was I going to be moving forward? Who was I going to follow? How was I going to live out my faith in a way that others would see Christ in me apart from the church?
Several years ago I had a vision…I had been going through some internal struggles as I was learning to walk with the Lord so I went to a local park and sat on the beach staring out over lake Michigan, deep in thought and crying out for answers. Out of nowhere, I saw an aircraft carrier anchored just off the shore and thought it quite strange for Lake Michigan. As I rubbed by eyes and tried to look closer I was suddenly standing on the deck of the mighty ship and Jesus was standing with me. There was no one else on board – no crew, no planes, no rush or commotion, all empty and silent. Jesus asked me who was on the ship. “No one”, I said, “There’s no one here, not a soul”. He asked me this same question 3 or 4 times and I replied the same feeling more frustrated and confused each time. Finally, he touched my shoulder and I looked him in the eye and again he asked, “Who is on this ship?” I looked at Him for a moment, finally realizing who was with me, and said, “You are…” Then he said, “Ok, now let’s move on,” …and I was back on the beach sitting in a puddle of tears.
There is no path worth walking down if Jesus is not on it. There is no journey worth taking if Jesus is not leading…and I have never seen Him on the path that looked safe. He is in the struggle…he is in the storm…he is in the heartache; and if that is where He is, then that is where I need to be. Since stepping out of the modern church, I have come to understand some difficult things that I never would have otherwise. I’ve learned that the Good Lord hears the whispers of our souls more than the screams of our flesh. I’ve learned that He is more often seen in the nooks and crannies and quietness of life and not in the big, choreographed productions. I’ve realized that though justice may be desired, mercy is required, (that’s a hard one). And most importantly, I’ve learned that Jesus never pushes but always tugs at out heart encouraging us to walk with him.
So We Could Have
Most people think of spring as the season when you get your cleaning done. Out with the old, tattered, worn-out things that do nothing but take up space. Or maybe New Years as that time when we decide to begin something new, take on a new challenge…start over. The reality is that these things can be done anytime of the year, and this Thanksgiving and Christmas season is the perfect time to turn that corner.
Many of us go through these holiday seasons like robots. We have our traditions – that party that we always go to, those songs we love to hear – the feelings we haven’t felt the rest of the year somehow are allowed to reveal themselves now. We laugh and visit relatives; we give gifts and share meals together. We’ve spent so much time during the year running around, seeing people without really looking at them; hearing voices without really stopping to listen. We could have entertained angels and not even known it. This is the perfect season to apply some perspective to our daily race.
Thanksgiving is a time to “give thanks”. Not in a casual way but in a deep-felt, genuine attitude of gratitude. We are taught as children to say “thank you” but often not taught why. We are told that it is the polite thing to do and it is left at that. But, we say those words because someone gave something up so that we could have it…and we are thankful for their gift. That is why we say “thank you”. They chose to go without so that we could have. Would we have done the same? I hope so. Thanksgiving is far more than just a turkey and pumpkin pie…it, along with Christmas, is a time for giving. The one for giving “thanks” and the other for giving “gifts”. For both it really is all about the giving. And we give because of what was once given to all of us. He was given because we did not have…and we should be thankful…and do likewise.
“Are You Kids Alright?”
This is a tough one to write. I have never really written about this topic before, or even talked about it much with anyone, but aside from my acceptance of Christ it is the single most influencing event of my life and in many ways has caused me to become who I am today. Christmas, 1980 was not a very good one.
It was December 16th and I was 12 at the time. I remember that it was a very cold and clear winter day. We had already gotten a lot of snow for the season with snowbanks already taller than I was. One of my chores was to haul in the wood for the stove and the bin was already empty from the day’s burning. As many twelve year olds are prone to do, I was procrastinating and honestly just being lazy. By the time dad got home from work the wood was still not in the house and he was pretty mad about it. So after a bit of a talking-to I bundled up and followed him out to the woodshed to do my job. He was chopping some kindling and piling wood on the sled for me to haul. He did not follow me back to the house. As I was bringing in the wood my mom asked if he were coming back in. I said he was still in the woodshed so she went out to talk to him. As I glanced out the window I saw her helping him into the passenger side of the truck…dad always drove so I knew something was wrong. She came into the house, made a couple of phone calls, and said that my brother would be coming over to help milk the cows and that she was bringing dad to the hospital and would be back later. About an hour later the phone rang and my brother answered…dad had a massive coronary and had died in the truck on the way to the hospital.
My brother made a couple of phone calls and went back out to the barn to finish the chores. One of my sisters went up to her room and I don’t remember seeing her again till the next day. My other two sisters and I began to cry alone in the living room, not knowing what else to do. About a half an hour later people began showing up at the house – first our pastor, then my older brothers and sisters, all with food in hand – probably their dinners that had been interrupted. It seemed like forever but when mom finally came home the first words I heard through her streaming tears were, “are you kids alright?” We were not…and neither was she…but there was really nothing else to say at that moment. This was the second husband she had lost unexpectedly, and the second set of children she was left with to raise alone.
I don’t remember much else from that moment on. Bits and pieces of conversations here and there, Kleenex in hands and silent stares – the cross our pastor was wearing as he sat with me on the couch, holding my hand. One thing that I do remember clearly is a long cold walk with my older sister who wanted to get out of the house for a minute or two. We walked the entire length of our long driveway arm in arm with tears freezing as they fell. She was talking about a lot of different things, as she often does, and she kept saying over and over again that Jesus loved me and that He would be my Father now. I will forever be thankful to her for planting that seed…about a year later it took root as I accepted Christ as my savior and I have never regretted that choice. She was there when that happened too.
I have spent a lot of time over the years working through the guilt and anguish of those events. For years I felt guilty because dad was mad at me for not hauling in the wood so it must have been my fault. For even longer I tried to figure out why my dad and I always seemed to be at odds with each other and how I never really thought I measured up to what he wanted. These are feelings I’m sure many young boys feel and, to be honest, many men feel. I have to concede that what I know of my dad and our relationship is through the eyes and understanding of a 12 year old boy – incomplete at best. I am still trying to figure out how to let God be my Father and how to be a dad to my kids and hoping they never wonder if they measure up. I could not be happier that the Good Lord has blessed me with two great kids.
There is much more to write about this time in my life and I’m sure I will put it down on paper at some time. These memories are very real to me during the Christmas season; even more so when I think about my mom suffering through end-stage Alzheimer’s and what that means. She’ll be 87 in a couple of days and she knows better than most that life can change on a dime. If she were able to speak, even with all she is dealing with right now, I have no doubt that her one concern would be if we were alright.
Yes, mom…we are.
God’s Christmas Tree
We always had a freshly cut Christmas tree. As a kid growing up on a farm with a lot of land in the U.P. of Michigan, trees were plentiful. Of course, the chosen tree was never perfect and was often one-sided but that didn’t matter because the not-so-perfect side would be against a wall or in a corner anyway. I can remember traipsing through deep snow with ax over one shoulder and a sled in tow that always turned out to be too small for the job. I don’t know why we never paid any attention to the trees in the summer and marked then which ones would be good to pick. Instead we would just set out on our cold, arduous adventure to find the best of the worst…it sometimes took hours. One year dad brought the chain saw because he saw the top of a very large tree that he thought would be good. It was a big old white pine that had few branches left toward the bottom but a full top. As it turned out, the top was much bigger than thought from the ground and it took a significant amount of cutting to get it to fit into the house, and when we did it filled out almost the entire dining room. That was the tree that the sock monkey was stuffed into.
No matter the tree, the trimmings usually made up for the faults of the tree and by the time it was fully decorated we didn’t notice that it was not perfect. Back in the day, (we’re talking 1970’s here), the typical decorations were very shiny and sparkly and colorful. Add in the giant lights that you had to clip onto the branches and the streaming tinsel all over the place and you end up with something that is more akin to a disco ball than a Christmas tree. Perhaps that’s why the song “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” was so popular back then…
On our very first Christmas together my wife and I went out and got a real tree to decorate. It wasn’t a very big one, about 5 feet tall. We shared the joy of picking out decorations and deciding on a theme for ‘our’ tree – it was simple, earthy, rustic, white lights…no tinsel. It was such a joy to be in our first house in our first few months of marriage sharing our first of now 20 Christmases. For the first week or so it was wonderful, then little by little the needles began to turn brown…first only a few then in droves. It still didn’t look too bad with all the decorations on it and we were too in love to really care too much anyway. We had our gifts underneath and were waiting eagerly for that first opening of the first Christmas gifts as a married couple. Coming home from a weekend at her parents…only a couple days before Christmas…we discovered a leak in our roof right above our very special tree. Not a little leak but the kind that eliminated what needles were left on the tree and soaking each and every gift that was underneath it! We recovered, but that was the first and last real tree we ever had. A few days after Christmas that year we went out and bought a brand spanking new factory made tree on an after holiday markdown…
Over the years I’ve learned that it’s not the tree that matters so much – whether it’s real or plastic with fancy decorations or simple homemade treasures – but what it’s there for. For children it is there as a place to put gifts, and for most that is all that really matters. As adults we understand this and want to give presents to our kids that will make them happy, keep them safe and warm, and make them feel cared about. If kids understood what is really going on they would see that what they really crave is to be loved and that is what the gifts truly are – a demonstration of just how much they are loved. I don’t believe this sentiment is lost on the Good Lord, either. On his very first Christmas, he decorated the sky with twinkling stars and angels proclaiming good news of great joy. I can imagine giant swirls of clouds and cosmic dust draped like garland around the expanse! Then He placed a big bright star on top of it all, calling attention to what was going on underneath on the earth below. And we, like children, ought to be excited about that one gift that was placed under that heavenly tree so long ago – he is showing us just how loved we all are…
Recently I have been having a recurring dream or vision. Not as profound as an aircraft carrier or a great hall of gold, but gentler, more of an impression. I am on the edge of an endless open field, just along the tree line looking out toward the horizon. The old untended field is littered here and there with nearly ripe grains from years gone by and wild flowers of every kind dancing among the grasses. Scattered throughout are large spreading maple trees in full fall color providing shade from the late summer heat and rest for weary wanderers. The wood behind me is dark and foreboding, much like Fangorn Forest as depicted in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – dark and gnarled and dank. I have just come out of the forest and am looking out across the vast plains ahead of me, wanting so badly to run out into the gentle breezes rippling over the grasses but ever so frightened of what may be hidden beneath the beckoning surface. Maybe if I’m quick enough I can make it to one of the nearer trees before whatever lurks takes hold of me.
When my kids were young I would hold their hands as we crossed the street or in large crowds or anytime they felt afraid. If I sensed that something just wasn’t right and I was unsure or uncomfortable I would pick them up and hold them close. Sometimes I would carry them on my shoulders so they could have a better view of what was going on around them. Then, when we would get to a playground or home or someplace I knew was safe I would loosen my grip and let them run and play and explore. I’ve come to think of the Good Lord in much the same way. When hard times come, He slips his hand around ours and he holds it tight. Sometimes He carries us on His shoulders so that we can see what is around us and then there are times when He wraps us in his arms because we are sad or frightened. Then, when all about is safe and secure, he releases His grip and lets us run and explore, always with a watchful eye. Through all of my pain and struggle, victories and defeats, joys and sorrows, He has been right there holding my hand and calming my fears. Now I find myself on the edge of a vast clearing and He is encouraging me to run!
Fearful Follower, Faithful Friend (part one)
A Radical In A Tree: From his vantage point perched high upon the tree he could see the world. He could see the sun being covered thick dark clouds casting shadows and gloom over the land. He could see the animals in the fields huddling in crevices or thickets seeking shelter from the darkness. He could see the city seeming to slide down the hillside as the buildings clung to the stony ground. There in the midst of the city on the hill he could see the king’s palace where just a few hours before he had been in a meeting with the city officials wondering what they ought to do about the radicals stirring up trouble in the streets.
From that tree, which was itself on a hill a bit above the city, he could see people on their way here or there. Some were headed away having completed their work for the day or their business in the city. Others were coming nearer, curious about the commotion that had just taken place along the streets and upon the hill where his tree stood. Still others were very close, nearly at the roots of his old tree, peering up at him trying to see but unable understand why this radical was up a tree. Then there were those who were on their knees weeping, wrapped in each other’s arms that brought no comfort, unable to look up, knowing what and who they’d see – not some radical but one of their own…their very own. If he could have he would have reached down from where he was and wiped their tears away and calmed their fears but he loved them all too much to do that. He knew why he was up a tree and that he would not be there long so he steeled his heart against the sights and sounds and endured the pain.
He was not alone on the mount, there were two other men in two other trees on either side of him, one just sneered but the other was pleading. He had watched as these two fought and struggled against their captors. They had screamed and bellowed and hurled insults and begged for mercy to no avail. They had been treed and he knew he was soon facing the same fate. He resolved not to fight, instead climbing the tree himself. This had left many of the people both bewildered and amazed but none so much as the man on his right pleading, “Remember me”. He would not forget.
As the sky grew darker and the people scattered fearing the foulness in the air, he found there was nothing else he could do upon the tree. He had gotten himself into a position from which there was no turning back and he would not have done anything differently anyway. He knew the pain would be worth the reward. Though many could not understand at that moment what was happening he knew that one day they would. There was a war raging that none of them could see and this was the only way to win. So with his last ounce of courage and his last bit of strength he stood out on a branch and stretched his arms our as far as they could reach. He looked out over the people and the city and across all times and screamed, “It…is…finished!” and let himself go.
Fearful Follower, Faithful Friend (part two)
A Savior in a Cellar: Where he went no one was quite sure. Some said his final words were just the mutterings of a man who had finally given up. Others, citing the earthquake and the darkness, had a suspicion that there was far more to the cry, “it…is…finished!” Those who followed him knew it was much more and believed he had come to save them but could not understand how what they had just witnessed became salvation…it looked much more like defeat with the one they believed to be their savior now buried in a cellar.
The fact is that salvation had just been purchased and his life had been the price. For three days he had been about the business of providing a way for all to find the Kingdom. The keys were now in his hands and the prison doors were opened to those who had been held captive for so long. Now, through him, all had been given the opportunity to approach the throne of Grace and find salvation for their souls and spend eternity in his Father’s Kingdom. Those who had followed him would understand very soon and would be charged with carrying this good news to the world that they knew. That good news would eventually reach across time to every soul, offering forgiveness and granting salvation to all who would believe.
What he had just accomplished in three short days was no small feat but there were a few things he had left to do before he went to his Father’s house. Strolling along the path that lead to where his body had been laid he came upon a woman who was very much in a hurry and weeping as she ran. He asked her what was going on and, thinking he was a gardener, she begged him to tell if he knew where the body of their Lord had been taken. She was distraught beyond words but managed to tell him all that had happened over the last week – about the man who had died in the tree and how the tomb they had sealed him in was now open and empty. When he could bear no more of her sorrow, he stooped to look into the woman’s eyes and said, “Mary…”
Immediately, in amazement and overwhelming joy, she leaped up with arms outstretched, rushing to embrace him. He stepped back and pleaded with her not to touch him since he had not been to his Father’s house yet. She was quick to believe and understand what had just happened and was filled with a joy mixed with peace that could not be described. He asked her to hurry along and tell his followers all she had seen and heard – that he was alive and well and would see them all very soon. Taking one last look at his loving eyes, she sped on as if the very wind were carrying her with her feet barely touching the ground. He watched her as she ran knowing that she was the first messenger of the good news that their Savior was no longer in the cellar…she had seen him and spoken to him…he was ALIVE!
Fearful Follower, Faithful Friend (part three)
A King with Scars: They had all heard the news by now. Some had even seen the grave cloths and the empty cellar. And they had all heard Mary tell her story over and over again. Then they had been there that first night when he had walked right through a locked door and visited with them. They were surprised and overjoyed at the sight of him and in order to dismiss any doubt he revealed the scars that remained in his hands and feet and side – healed now but still visible and touchable. There could be no mistaking that this was indeed their savior.
After he had calmed their excitement he told them that just as he had been about the work of his Father that he was sending them out to do the same work and with one breath he gave them all a portion of the same power that he had to heal and forgive. They were now to be his representatives to the world. Of course, most had really no idea what that all meant at that moment but they did know that they had been changed and that the one that they had been following was alive and still their leader…and their Lord.
I was not there when all this had happened. I had been one of the first of his followers to scatter that fateful night in the garden when the soldiers came and took him. That whole night had been very strange. The lot of us had dinner together and he had told us many things about what was going to happen very soon. He had said that one of us would betray him and that Peter…even Peter…would deny him before the night was over. I was frightened and confused. How could any of these things be? He was our Lord and the Savior of our people. After supper we had gone out to the garden and waited while he and the others went further on to watch and pray. When I saw the soldiers coming and Judas among them I knew that the words he had spoken at the table that night were true. I confess, I was overcome with fear that I might be caught too…so I fled. The next day I watched from a distance as the radical, as they called him, climbed onto the tree and the words, “it…is…finished!” rang loudly in my ears. And again, I fled.
A couple of days later, I heard people talking about how the women had found the cellar empty and that Mary had actually spoken to him in the garden. He had told us to wait for him and that he would see us all soon. I could not believe it…it could not possibly be true. Wanting to go to where all the brothers were waiting but still fearful of being caught, I stayed hiding – how I wish I had had the courage to go. I could hear the commotion in the house but had seen no one enter. Later I heard that he had shown up right in the midst of them. The next day I went to the house where he had been and found the brothers and women still enamored and still talking. They told me all that had happened and the mission that the Lord had given them. I wanted to believe but just could not wrap my mind around all that had happened. No, it could not be true. I had seen him die in the tree. I watched as they wrapped his body and brought him to the cellar and sealed it. Dead men do not roll stones away.
Many days went by and while the brothers were still talking about him and their new mission, I was still in doubt. Had I missed it all – too afraid for my own life to be concerned with His? After dinner one night we were all just sitting around and talking when there, seemingly out of thin air, he appeared. The others immediately jumped up, excited to see him again and have their conviction once again strengthened. He calmed them down and made his way to where I was sitting and then, as if he had come that night just to see me, he bid me touch his hands and the scar in his side. I did as he asked touching first his hands, palm and backside, and then the deep scar in his side. I was undone…it was him…he was alive! Then he penetrated my eyes with his and said with a smile, “stop doubting…and believe!”
“My Lord and my God!” I said…and never doubted him again.
It was a very chilly 27 degrees here in the middle of Michigan this morning…the first real frost of the season. It kind of puts one in an autumn mood – like you want to go shuffling through piles of leaves as the cool breeze gently tugs on those still left on the trees or putting the garden beds to sleep before the blanket of white descends. I’ve pretty much finished the fall chores around the house so this morning was spent with a cup of coffee on the back deck as the sun dappled through the red and orange and yellow leaves as it rose from its resting place in the East. Not a bad way to spend some quiet time in the morning.
Just as this time of year makes me want to clean up the yard and rake some leaves and cuddle up close with loved ones, I also find myself reflecting on the weeks and months that have passed; sifting through memories, clearing cobwebs, and settling my spirit. As I’ve written before, this summer has had its share of mountain tops but also some deep valleys. It is these lowlands that take a bit more work to get through and often you are left without any answers.
One of my brothers passed away in July. When I was born in 1968 he was just finishing high school and then went off to Vietnam. Later, he married and had his own family so he and I did not really have the opportunity to interact as brothers would. What I do remember about him is the example that he set about what is important in life…and what isn’t. He had a wisdom born of experience and grounded in the belief that there was a God in heaven who loved us all and there was a price that was paid for our souls.
When Jesus tells us in Luke to “consider the cost of building a tower”, the question of the verse is not what ‘tower’ are you building, but are you willing to pay the price? And if you are, do you have what it takes to get it done? Most Christians I know want to bring honor and glory to the Lord. We want to do his will and please him but often we don’t realize that living for him means dying to self – that is the cost. Being willing to lay aside all that we are and hope to be so that when others look at us they see him. My brother paid that price. Everything I ever knew about him showed that he did his very best to put away his struggles and pains and sorrows so that those around him would be blessed. He did not wear his faith on his arm but there was a spark in his eye that let you know he believed. He was a man who laid down his life in many ways and he has left a legacy that points to the Lord.
It is my prayer that in some way I can be that kind of man…I don’t think I’m there yet…
“Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it.” (Luke 14:28)
This Is What Faith Is
It was a very chilly 18 degrees here in Michigan when I got up this morning and with the first snow of the season that came along yesterday it is really feeling like winter wants to settle in. This weather is rather early for us here in the Lower Peninsula but for my homeland in the Upper Peninsula, this is par for the course. I can remember often as a kid inches of snow covering well frozen jack-o-lanterns – Lake Superior can bring on a winter chill quite early some years!
For the next few weeks the weather will probably be a bit all over as the cool of autumn gives way to the crisp of winter. Seasonal changes can get pretty messy as we learn to let go of the past and deal with the present while preparing for the future. The winter coats get hung on the hooks with the boots beneath while the slickers and galoshes are stuffed away. The garage gets cleaned out from all of the honey-do projects for the cars, and the snow-blower and shovels replace the lawn mower and rakes at the front of the shed. And yes, there will be mud as the new snow falls on not quite frozen ground…and that mud will find its way into the house.
Finding a new normal is a process. You can’t let go and hold on at the same time…it just doesn’t work. Each and every season of our lives requires that we release what we have become comfortable with and grasp the next rung on the ladder – and then pull ourselves up. Sometimes it is not simply a step on a ladder but seems more like a leap from one swinging trapeze to another over a grand canyon with no net beneath. Letting go can be tough but if you don’t, eventually you’ll just stop swinging and be left hanging on the bar and lose your grip.
When it comes right down to it, there really is no change without some bit of unknown. Every change we are presented with has an inherent element of faith required. We do not really know the outcome of each and every choice we make or transition that comes our way. Will winter finally set in before Thanksgiving or wait till Christmas this year? Will I make it through training in my new job in time to be a benefit to the company? Will my car start this morning? Even the smallest things can make us doubt our choices. For example, on my first day of work at this new job I wore a white shirt and it was a bit chilly out so I put on my fleece jacket that I had not put on since last winter. When I took it off my crisp white button-down was covered in black lint from the inside of my fleece and I spent the day wondering if my new boss and co-workers noticed. I learned virtually nothing that first day! The next day came and then the next and I’m beginning to get a handle on things, but it is going to take some time and I am sure there will be some things along the way that trip me up…and that is OK.
This is what faith is…believing in what can be even though the evidence may say otherwise. I will learn this new job and learn it well even though it seems overwhelming right now. I will make it through this class even though I’m having trouble understanding it right now. I will get my honey-do list done, (at least started), before the snow flies for real this year. Winter will set in even though it is muddy and mucky and sloppy right now. The Good Lord will be there to catch me if…and when…I fall or fail.
The Truth That We Know
Easter bunnies, like clowns, are creepy. The other day while shopping there was an Easter bunny wandering around the store peeking around aisles and hopping through the garden center and handing out candy to children. He was dressed in a tattered white furry costume with long bent pink ears and broken whiskers with big white teeth and little beady eyes that did not move but stared blankly in whatever direction the head was pointing – creepy. I assume this character was approved to be wandering the store since the assistant manager was tagging along after him watching his every move, which in a way is even more creepy.
He skipped by my son and I in the hardware department and snickered as he passed with his little manager friend close in tow wearing a sheepish grin – it’s giving me the willies just writing about it! After they had passed I leaned over to my son and asked what he thought would happen if a man dressed as Jesus were walking around instead handing out tracts and praying with people. Come to think of it, what would happen if instead of a fat man dressed in red with a white beard inviting children to sit on his lap and whisper in his hear what gifts they wanted at Christmas there was a mom and dad kneeling near a cradle with a baby boy inviting people to come and see what God had done.
How far we have strayed from the truth and followed the lies. It’s not hard to understand why…the lies come with candy and toys but the truth often comes with surrender and repentance – neither of which could be called fun. There is a tug of war taking place in our culture between truth and lie and believers are the rope. We are told by the world to stay in your little church – don’t come out, don’t teach or preach, and don’t share your faith because it offends. We are also told by our church leaders to go out into the fields for they are ripe for the harvest and then bring those you find back here to be saved. Both are wrong.
We are called to be salt and light in a dark and unsavory world. It is not up to the church leaders in the buildings to save the lost, but up to the Holy Spirit working in and through believers who are willing to shine and season their lives with hope, kindness, and love. The truth of salvation can be presented in simple and loving ways that are not offensive. It can be seen in simple acts of kindness or a glance that says “I understand” and “don’t be afraid”. It is found when you keep your promises and confidences and do your best to be honest. These are the kinds of things that people everywhere are longing for and willing to follow after if they are real. The world has given us characters for every holiday that entice us with sweet treats and pretty wrapped presents but after the excitement wears off they are nothing but hollow shells and figments of our vain imaginations. We don’t have to bluster and banter about the truth that we know – we need to be the truth that we know. And that truth will then become real to those who are seeking and they will be found.
Praying for Clear Skies
Rain usually makes me feel better…but not today…I don’t know if there is much that could. For the past eleven years my family and I have been watching as our mom was slowly robbed of everything by Alzheimer’s and one week ago I got the call that she had lost the battle. It happened a little before 3am last Saturday. I knew the call was coming – we had watched as over the final couple of weeks she went from some chest congestion and low grade fever to not waking, not eating, not drinking. I did my best during that time to keep everyone updated and prepared – that was my job as her DPOA. I made the gave the nursing staff permission to discontinue medications…I gave them permission to provide comfort measures only…I gave them permission to start her on Roxanol to ease her pain as she passed. I did all this and more fully knowing I was carrying out her wishes but also fully aware of where these choices would lead. They were not easy choices…
I spent the last week with my brothers and sisters planning her funeral and making sure everything was paid for and all of her wishes were honored…I think we did pretty well. There were no fights, everyone cooperated and shared the load and that was a real blessing and testament to what can be accomplished when other’s feelings are considered before your own, and doing what mom wanted was more important than what any one of us may have desired. My wife and I did not choose to spend our 20th anniversary at my mother’s funeral, but that is how it happened and I hope the Good Lord explains his timing someday.
It has been a very difficult week and today is really the first day I have had to sit down and ask, “what just happened…?” The rain is not helping. If I could curl up in a ball in the smallest corner behind a closed door today I would. That is how I feel at this moment. I’m not looking for a hug or words of encouragement – I’ve heard them all already and for someone who is not a hugger I’ve indulged too many this week from people I hardly know. Please understand, I appreciate all who spoke those words and gave those hugs and I know their sentiment was sincere, but I’m all hugged out and I can’t bear one more “I’m so sorry…” This is me right here and now – as real as it gets.
It started raining the night after the funeral and hasn’t stopped yet…I never thought I’d be praying for clear skies…
Like nearly all of the characters in Les Miserables, (with the exception of the Thenardier’s – the Lady and Master of the House – who know exactly who they are and don’t try to hide it), we are all prisoners. Not necessarily locked up in some jail cell with no escape, but chained none-the-less by a selfish nature and unrepentant heart. The only place freedom is found is in the truth telling and then in forgiveness.
Jean Valjean is bound by a secret no one knows but the Priest an inspector named Javer who is himself bound by legalistic rules and unforgiveness. Fantine is bound by circumstances brought on by a careless and reckless past spent seeking love but finding only self-contempt and humiliation. Marius hides his rich aristocratic childhood behind his longing to be accepted by the common people whom he identifies with. Eponine hides her love for Marius and jealousy of Cosette behind a tough-girl image. Enjolras is a fearless revolutionary idealist, fighting for a cause greater than himself but still blind to the realities that surround him. Cosette is bound the secrets of others and a past she does not remember but longs to understand. These are characters caught up in the same fallen world bound by the same corrupt human nature that many of us find ourselves trapped in. We identify with one of more of these people and want them to find freedom and rejoice when that finally happens. We are all 24601.
This story reminds me of who I was, who I am, and who I long to be…forgiven, free, and loved. I love this story because it does not hide the fact that the only place these longings can be found is in the grace and mercy of a loving God. It is all wrapped up in Valjean’s closing line, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Real love is not bound by expectations, rules, or requirements. It is not used as a tool, given then taken away. It is not hidden out of fear that someone will know and others will see. It is not reserved only for the deserving. It does not live only in the light but seeks out those in darkness and despair. Love is a choice, given freely, expecting nothing. It is what fuels forgiveness, fosters hope, and empowers faith. Love is the motivation of an Almighty God working on behalf of his most favored creation. Love is an innocent man on a cross reaching out to all of us 24601’s who are bound, offering forgiveness and freedom.