Friday, December 14, 2012

Daddy's Little Girl

While driving around tonight, I heard the Mills Brothers sing Daddy's Little Girl on the radio. Apparently, because it has the word Christmas in it, it's considered a Christmas song. I'm trying to figure out how that resonates with the Easter Bunny reference; ultimately, I guess that's neither here nor there.


You're the end of the rainbow, the pot of gold,
You're daddy's little girl to have and to hold.
A precious gem is what you are,
You're mommy's bright and shining star.
You're the spirit of Christmas, our star on the tree,
You're the Easter Bunny to mommy and me;
You're sugar, you're spice, you're everything nice,
And you're daddy's little girl.


I know it's supposed to be a happy song, but it makes my heart ache...and not just because I only got three days with my little girl. I spent a significant portion of the day crying. Heaven welcomed too many angels today. Nearly two dozen families in Connecticut face futures that look black and empty tonight. Mothers and fathers have lost children who, when they first awoke this morning, they expected to tuck in and kiss goodnight tonight. Husbands and/or wives will go to bed alone. I know this darkness...and it breaks my heart that other people do, too, especially since this was no accident.

The following days, weeks, and months will be filled with arguments and rhetoric from the left and the right...none of which will bring these angels back. And, unfortunately, it probably won't prevent it from happening in the future. Policy and rhetoric are often of little use when pitted against evil.

As as nation, as a world, we're left with the question of why? The situation will be analyzed from thousands of angles; however, we may never truly know the heart and mind, and the darkness therein, of the young man who committed this atrocity. Our questions may never be answered.

Tonight I'm left wondering how can we, as people of faith, reach out to our communities to address the heart issues that are at the root of this type of evil?

Abba, I offer you my brokenness tonight. So much pain. So many tears. So many dreams and hopes brought to a violent end. It's too much for me to think about and handle on my own, on our own. I offer this to you, knowing you stand beside us. You weep with the broken hearted.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Steve Jobs

It's been a little over a year since Steve Jobs passed away. He was young, by the standards we set in this society, but he had always felt that he would not live a "long" life.

I've been plodding through Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs for several months. I say plodding due to the fact that it's taking me a long time to read it, not because it's boring...not by a long shot. It seems as though I will spend two or three days reading voraciously and then set the book aside for a week or two. Indeed, Steve Jobs was a very intense person...maybe setting the book aside helps keep me from getting caught up in his well documented "reality distortion field." It's an interesting read, at least for me; I'm a little bit into technology and a lot into Apple's products.

The man was  a genius. The man was a visionary. The man was really weird...but...weird sort of fits. Think about people like Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, and Howard Hughes just to name a few. They were all brilliant and at least a little weird. In fact, some of the greatest geniuses of history went "crazy," if they lived long enough.

By no means was Steve Jobs an exemplar of the finest qualities of leadership. He was often a brutal leader, unable to relate to his employees in a humane manner...but the people who worked with/for him typically speak of the experience as one they don't regret. As cruel and abrupt as he could be, he also brought out the best in people. He was able to get people to do the things they had previously thought impossible simply by getting them to believe they could do it. He was able to convince people to accomplish in hours or days what they had tried to convince him would take weeks or months.

As I read about this charismatic genius, a master of spin, a man who was able to turn sand and circuits into a multi-billion dollar empire, I can't help but wonder what the world would be like if all that energy had been focused on changing it in a different way? What if Steve Jobs had cared about people's hearts as much as he did about providing them with great technology experiences? It's a wonder I'll just have to let wander in my mind.

I'm no Steve Jobs...not by a long shot...but I wonder if I can't learn from him in a way that will impact my faith in a positive way. Steve was all about putting something in people's hands that would leave them wanting more. It needed to be easy, simple to use, something they should feel good about, something that they recognized as being good to have in their lives. Shouldn't that be how my faith looks to the world? Shouldn't people want to pick it up and look at? Find out what it's all about? Take it home with them and incorporate it into their life? Should it be easy and intuitive or should it come with 1,000 pages of complex instructions?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Abba, I come to you in my brokenness. I ask that you make me a light in a dark world. Make me humble. Make me gentle. That they world would see your Son in me and You in Him.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Count your blessings.

Oh, my...where does the time go.

It's been so long since I've written anything. I have an email inbox full of songs that I intended to write about over the past few months...but never did. Call it a time management problem. The time to write is there...I just haven't managed to actually do it. More than blog neglect, it's been a spiritual neglect as well. No loss of faith, no rejection of the things I believe, more like a long sit on a bench in the park. A long sit may not represent progress forward on a path, but it does give one time to think, and think, and think. The time for thinking is done, I need to start walking again.

I moved back into my house this past week. After a few days of unpacking, slowly, and banging my head on door frames I don't remember banging my head on before, I found my cupboards to be bare and decided to go grocery shopping this afternoon. There is nothing spectacular about grocery shopping. It is a chore most of us do on a fairly regular basis.

I'm not sure how other people who have lost a spouse and/or child experience grocery shopping, but for me it's almost always a bittersweet activity. I see mothers, and sometimes fathers, struggling through the store, with their children in tow, and the frustration is often evident on their face. My heart can't help but long for that struggle. As I stood in line tonight, the woman in front of my was "bellyaching" to the cashier that her young daughter was quite a handful....all I could think was, "count your blessings, lady, count your blessings."

After checking out, I was pushing my cart into the parking lot and the refrain of Count Your Blessings popped into my head...and the tears popped out of my eyes. I was feeling very appreciative that the sun had gone down and the bright lights of the store were behind me, shadowing my face.

The song was a poignant reminder that I, too, need to count my blessings.


When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

As I count my blessings, I try to remind myself that the vast majority of people, including myself, live life, make choices, and choose our words based on the portfolio of our experiences. I also try to remind myself that I would have probably been making the same "bellyaches" had things been different.

Abba, please accept this broken offering. Thank you for reminding me that I am blessed. Help me to see You and be You in the world today.

Monday, October 15, 2012

International Wave of Light

Today, October 15, is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness day...it's also The Wave of Light. As each timezone around the world marked the arrival of 7:00PM, people have been lighting candles and letting them burn for at least an hour...creating a wave of light around the globe for 24 hours.
For Miranda Evangelene Cole, February 5, 2011, to February 8, 2011
Aside from the glow of my laptop, Miranda's candle is the only light on in my house right now. The music I use to get me through times like this is playing softly through the stereo. These songs have been my lifeline in dark times. These songs speak to me in ways books and the consoling words of a loving community just can't. The music often carries the emotion that mere words struggle to convey.

It's a playlist that too me a long time to assemble. Adding one song at a time as its impact unfolded in my life. I want to share this list of songs with you. You may not like any of them, and that's ok, but they have helped me to just deal with life, too many times to count, and I would hope and pray that they might help someone else, too.

God is God, Steven Curtis Chapman
Blessings, Laura Story
I Can Only Imagine, MercyMe
By Your Side, Tenth Avenue North
Healing Begins, Tenth Avenue North
Homesick, MercyMe
The Hurt & The Healer, MercyMe
Finally Home, MercyMe
In Christ Alone, Owl City
Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus), Chris Rice
I'll Fly Away, Jars of Clay

This is by no means a comprehensive list of songs which speak of grief, loss, the questions that come them, and the hope we have in Christ. I know there are hundreds of songs, if not thousands, that could be included. These are just the ones that have helped me the most over the past year and a half. They speak to the grief and pain of today...but, more importantly, they speak to the joy of that which is yet to come, the Hope of The Resurrection.

Tonight, my candle burns bright for my lil' Shrimp, Miranda Evangelene, and for all those who have lost an infant. We are not alone...their memories will burn in our hearts forever.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's a Hard Life (Wherever You Go)


It's a hard life, it's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all that they'll know

I'll be honest...I hate this season. No, not the weather.

Election season.

The rhetoric, the poison, the lying, the fact checking, the deception, delusion, and intimidation. If there's truth to be found in any of it...it's hard to find.

I was listening to a playlist of my favorite Christian songs and Jackson Finch's cover of It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go came on. I realize the song deals primarily with racism, religious intolerance, and other forms of hate...but all I could think about was politics. It just feels like we've become a culture that runs our elections with hate. The Republicans despise the Democrats. The Democrats hate the Republicans. The name calling, hyperbole, and sharing of distorted truths are miserable to watch...and it's not just the politicians participating. It feels like we have descended to a state where the "winner takes all" attitude is the pervasive mindset...which really means we all lose because the winner gets to ignore the 49% of the people who didn't vote for them...and we're passing this mindset along to the children who watch the adults as they go through this process. What hope do we have if we just teach them to pick a side and hold fast with blind devotion?

The process seems grey, bleak, and desolate to me...it's missing something I've really been spending a lot of time thinking about and looking for in the recent past...LOVE. There is no love in politics. There is no turning the other cheek. The concept that I can choose to put others before myself has no place in politics. It's depressing...disgusting. I can't wait for November 7...because maybe there just isn't room for love when it comes to electing the people who "represent" us.

After all, love isn't easy. Love takes work. Love isn't what comes naturally. Love is hard...and I'm preaching to the choir here. I'm really struggling with love...struggling in the spirit of Romans 7:15-24. I have people in my life that I'm finding it really difficult to love. I think about them...then I think about what I'm supposed to think about them...then I look up at the sky and I shout, "ARE YOU FREAKING SERIOUS?! I CAN NOT BE EXPECTED TO LOVE THESE PEOPLE!"

Ugh.

If I struggle with this in my own life, it's probably too much to ask my politicians to approach their job with it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Velvet Elvis

The upside of being sick...I finally finished Velvet Elvis (Bell, Rob (2009-02-26). Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 2401-2406). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.) I started it a few months ago. I'd pick it up and read a chapter, then set it down for a few weeks, and then pick it up and read another chapter. I'm relatively new to the world of Rob Bell, I hadn't read anything by him prior to this past June. Now that I've read a few of his books, I'm finding plenty of resonance with a lot of what Rob has to say...but, I also find a few things he's proposing to be a little tough to swallow.

I really think Rob is promoting some good ideas in saying Christians could probably be doing more for the Kingdom by being "pro-Christ" and less "anti-(fill in the blank with your favorite hot button lifestyle issue)." The Church has spent a lot of time in the past few decades being anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-drugs, etc...often in ways that drive the wounded farther from Christ. If I've been understanding what Rob has to say in his writings, it's that being pro-loving your neighbor, pro-being a peacemaker, pro-social justice, pro-taking care of the poor, pro-taking care of each other, and pro-Christ will do a lot more to attract people to Christ than being anti-anything ever will.

I do think Rob may be swimming in some muddy waters when he starts talking about Heaven and Hell. If I understand what he's trying to say, it seems like Rob is pretty confident that Heaven will be right here, when the earth is restored to the way it was when God saw that "it was good." I think Rob is trying to convince his readers that this physical planet will be the location of Heaven. I'm not sure I buy into that.  His main points are the scriptures that talk about God making all things new. I think there's plenty of scriptural support for Heaven "being" someplace else and Rob doesn't really take the time to address those as he typically only uses scripture that supports his stance. Does it ultimately matter where Heaven is...I guess not. One of the points Rob brings up time and again is that Believers should be more focused on "thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," the concept that we are to bring Heaven to earth in our daily lives, rather than focusing on Heaven being a place you do after you die. That's something I think we could all practice a little more.

It's Hell where Rob finds himself in trouble with many Christians. He doesn't come right out and say it, but it seems Rob either believes there is no Hell or that Hell is a temporary place and ALL people will eventually make it to Heaven. Smarter people than I have read his books and addressed this issue. I find resonance with one, in particular, a review of Love Wins, by Athol Dickson. All I can say is read that review and it's pretty much what I think, too.

One area where I've enjoyed taking in what Rob has to say is in regards to suffering, "Suffering is a place where clich├ęs don’t work and words often fail…when we join each other in the pain and confusion, God is there…it is in our suffering together that we find out we are not alone. We find out who really loves us. We find out that with these people around us, we can make it through anything. And that gives us something to celebrate." In my own recent trials, it became clear to me very early on that Christians aren't practiced in supporting each other in our suffering. We often offer pithy Christianisms when silence would be the best option. Hugs, shared tears, and just being there quietly can mean a whole lot more to those who are in pain than any quote or saying you can come up with about God's plans.

I have a least one more of Rob's books left in my "to read" list, and I may go back and re-read a couple of the ones I've finished. There's plenty of good to cull from them, even if you might have to set aside a few things that could be questionable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Time after Time

If you're lost, you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall, I will catch you, I'll be waiting 
Time after time

Time After Time
by Cyndi Lauper

I changed the station on the radio in my car the other day. What can I say, it happens from time to time. Hearing the same songs over and over can sometimes get a little repetitive and it's nice to treat my ears to something new. As I was cruising around town, listening to The Coffee House, I heard Everything But The Girl cover Time After Time. It was a nice rendition, but I'm still a little partial to Willie Nelson's version of the song (the original is pretty good, too.)

As I listened, I was struck by how the chorus so acutely portrays the situation so many of us find ourselves in at some point or another in our relationship with the Father. How softly does He whisper to us, "if you're lost, you can look and you will find me, time after time. If you fall, I will catch you, I'll be waiting, time after time." He's always there, no matter how distracted or unfocused we get. It's no excuse to get lost, but it's good to know He's there, time after time.

Abba, I come to you with my brokenness. I thank you for being there, time after time, for catching me when I fall.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Prophet, Priest, and King


But my closet's a shrine to and old friend of mine
Here i talk all the time with a prophet priest....
I pull out boxes and brooms
And i gush like a groom
For it's here i commune with
A prophet, priest and king
Prophet, Priest And King - Smalltown Poets

The message at church this morning was just what I needed to hear. The pastor has been off on sabbatical for a few months and I'm looking forward hearing his heart as he shares over the next next few months.

As he spoke to us today, the song Prophet, Priest, and King kept popping into my mind. It's highly likely you've never heard it. I don't remember if it was ever on the radio or not. It was on Smalltown Poets "debut" album back in 1997. I put "debut" in quotes because some of the members of the band had released an album, under a different name, prior to this "debut."

Their song ties into the sermon...loosely. As part of the message, pastor explained the 3 offices of the old testament leaders:

  • Prophets - they represented God to the people
  • Priests - they represented the people to God
  • King - was supposed to work for the common good of all the people
It's these three offices that we're all called to participate in as members of the body of Christ. It's this message that has been working it's way into my heart over the past few months. I'm called to represent God to my fellow man. I'm called to represent, and life, my fellow man to God. I'm called to work for the common good of my fellow man. We, as believers are called to be prophet, priest, and king...that's quite a challenge.

It's enough of a challenge that, as I process the message, I have to remind myself to take things slowly. I can be my own worst critic. I'm impatient. I cringe when I fail. It's sometimes hard for me to just ask, "God, where do you need me today?" because I'm looking at where I think He should expect me to be. The problem is, that's not where He's looking.

When the Israelites asked God for a King, he met them where they were at. Even though it was NOT what He wanted for them, He still worked with them, redemptively, in the place they were at, not where He wanted them to be. He understands our brokenness...and will work with us where we're at. I just have to keep reminding myself of that truth.

Abba, I offer you my brokenness today. I offer you where I'm at and ask that you work in me to help me as I strive to be you to my fellow man, to life my fellow man to you, and to work for the common good of all mankind. Father, mold me into the prophet, priest, and king you want me to be.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Breathe Deep (The Breath of God)

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes
Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits
Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop outs
Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed
Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens
Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords
Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics
Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life
Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Police, obese, lawyers, and government
Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects
Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists
Photographers, biographers, artists, pornographers

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians
The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers
Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and juries
Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Who did Christ come to save? Ultimately, as I read, listen, learn, consider, and wrestle with my faith, I can think of only two correct and appropriate answers to that question...all mankind and me.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Matthew 3:16-17

Who did Christ come to save? There are a lot of different people listed in Breath Deep, by the Lost Dogs, many of whom would not be welcome in most churches. I'm still in the middle of that big road trip I was talking about in my last post. Still not reading much, or listening to much music, but this song has been on my mind all day, so I listened when I finally got to my hotel for the night.

This song has been one of my favorites for a long time, but I think I'm hearing it with different ears now. Ears that hear more truth and not just a catchy hook and a reminder to breath the essence of God deep into my being. Over the past few months, I've been sensing that I need a change of heart, a change of position, a change of mind. I'm really sensing the need to start worrying more about what I should be doing right, in terms of my faith, than about what other people might be doing wrong. Trying to live of life of what I'm for instead of what I'm against. A life of reaching out to the wounded instead of condemning them. Tall task, big change. I hope these things are on my mind for a long time to come. Lord knows I've got enough miles of road laid out in front of me to allow it for the next 8 to 10 days.

Abba, I bring my brokenness to you and lay it at your feet. Help me pause and breathe deep Your breath. I pray that You will continue to open my eyes and heart to doing what I can to bring Your Kingdom here until I can get there.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hit the road Jack...

I'm on day 11 of a long road trip. One downside to travel like this is that I just don't end up reading much or listening to music. I left my iPad at home, in favor of my MacBook Air, and reading a book on the computer just doesn't work for me. However, I do find plenty of time, mostly at night, to catch up on Facebook, email, phone calls, texts, etc.

A few days ago, my youngest brother posted a link to an article that caught my attention. It's an editorial piece, by Shane Claiborne, that's almost 3 years old now. The title alone, What If Jesus Meant All That Stuff, was enough to get me to read it. I'm glad I did. I found resonance with Shane's message, especially in light of the questions I've had on my mind lately. I have recently begun to wake up to the idea that my faith should not be about punching my ticket to Heaven...assuring a joyful, blissful, splendiferous afterlife...or, more succinctly, avoiding Hell...it should be about trying to bring Heaven here...today.

"...too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God's Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven." On earth."

I feel blessed that people like Shane are around to help people like me figure out that maybe our motives for taking on the yoke of Christ need to be more thoroughly examined, and possibly even tossed out. I re-read the article today, mostly because of something that happened near me this morning. I opened the door to my hotel room to take my bags out to my motorcycle, getting ready for another long day of riding, and walked out into the middle of a "domestic disturbance." A woman was chasing a man across the parking lot, yelling at him, and clearly getting ready to do her best Roger Clemons impersonation with the cell phone in her left hand. The hotel manager just happened to be shuffling along, caught between the two of them, and ducked just in time to avoid being beaned by a large smart phone hurtling across the parking lot. This was a situation where the love of Christ was noticeably absent...and my reaction was to play ostrich. I walked over to my motorcycle, as if I was deaf and blind, strapped my bags onto the back seat and then walked back to my room to get the rest of my things. The fella hightailed it out of the parking lot while the manager confronted the woman and did a reasonable job of getting her to calm down before I pulled out and left the scene in my rearview mirror. I've been thinking about it all day, trying to assess if there was something I could have done to help or not. These people were obviously experiencing a bit of Hell here on earth...and all I can wonder is how could I have brought Heaven to them? I haven't come up with a good solution or answer yet.

As I read through the scripture, take in the writings of others who have wrestled with these ideas and questions, and try to figure things out...I have to remind myself that it's a process that might take the rest of my life. I have to remind myself that Paul (the one who wrote significant chunks of the New Testament) didn't go from being blinded to being super-missionary in a day...it took time. Patience is a virtue I struggle with.

Abba, I bring you my brokenness today and lay it at your feet. As you continue to open my eyes to those around me who are in Hell, I ask that you grant me wisdom to be able to bring Heaven to them.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Work Harder

"WORK HARDER...millions are depending on you!"

That's the bumper sticker on the back of the car in front of me while I'm sitting at the corner of Airport Road and Boardman Road. I've seen it before...several times just today and I'm pretty sure there are several cars bearing it, or something similar to it, in the parking lot at church each Sunday. I've also seen it posted as a "postcard" on Facebook by many friends, both Christian and not.

I'm looking back and forth between the bumper sticker and the guy standing at the side of the road with a sign that reads, "Help...2 kids to feed. $20 or $30 would really mean a lot." He's not looking at the cars...just standing there, staring at the ground, shuffling his feet, and occasionally glancing to his left, at the highway.

The King will reply, "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

This is what the Lord Almighty said: "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other." - Zechariah 7:9-10

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. - Acts 4:32

The list goes on and on and on. Balance...it's all about balance...which it doesn't feel like we have these days...and for which I don't have the solution. This feels like a very unbalanced situation to me.

In no way am I endorsing our current welfare systems, the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act, communism, socialism, etc., etc. I believe our current government systems, especially those with a focus on social welfare, are far too "corrupt" to be sustainable. We need lots of reform...across the board in the private, public, and government sectors. However, my experience today ignited a fire under the questions that have been brewing in my heart and head about these issues for a long time.

When did "The Church" abdicate social welfare to the government? Why does it feel like those of us screaming the loudest about how unfair things are are the ones who should be bending over backwards to help our fellow man? Can people of faith (all faiths) reclaim this responsibility, prying it out of the government's hands? If we do, will we do it better than the government? Is the job too big for "The Church"? Too big for God?

Meijer was right around the corner...I rolled down my window and told the guy with the sign to hop in. He didn't try to buy booze, he didn't buy cigarettes. We got milk, cereal, bread, fruit, veggies...staples. He just moved to Jackson a month ago. He got a job at McDonalds but won't get his first paycheck for another week, not that I expect his first paycheck to do much in terms of being able to buy groceries. The kids are 2 months and 18 months old...Miranda would have been 18 months old yesterday.

Abba, I bring my brokenness to you and lay it at your feet. Soften my heart, open my eyes, give me wisdom.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Because He Lives

I was sitting at the kitchen table, in the Archer home, earlier today and working on a jigsaw puzzle with John and Jason when Jason pulled out his iPhone and started playing a short playlist of some songs from The David Crowder Band's latest project. As the songs spilled out of the small speaker in the bottom of the phone, I found myself singing along to a couple of hymns that many might call "fundamental" to the faith...and Jason and John both joined in. It wasn't exactly worship but it felt right and good and I enjoyed those few minutes a great deal, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20. It was just supposed to be a cookout, right? :)

One song, in particular, touched my heart strings. The classic Because He Lives, written by Bill and Gloria Gaither.

God sent His son, they called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal, and forgive.
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.

The line that really reached out to me is the second one...He came to LOVE, HEAL, and FORGIVE. Those three verbs seem to be central to the story of the Gospel...but, have they been the cornerstones of my faith? Have they been the cornerstones of the faith of all who take on the yoke of Christ? I'm not sure they have, which might explain why so many people who need to experience the healing, forgiveness, and love of Christ instead feel persecuted by those who bear His name. I'm guilty of this...judging the wounded...pointing my finger instead of extending my hand...but I'm trying to change.

These days, I find myself being reminded on a regular basis that Christ reached out to the outcasts...to those who were "not good enough." Not one of the 12 disciples had been found worthy of taking on the yoke of a rabbi...yet Jesus, who was a rabbi, chose them. He made a habit of dining with "sinners" and those who were considered "unworthy" of His attentions.

I'm trying to change, from the inside out. He set the example...love, heal, forgive.

Abba, I bring my brokenness to you and lay it at your feet. Father, please keep my eyes and my heart open to loving the unloved, forgiving those who I need to forgive, and brining those who need healing to you, instead of opening their wounds.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Come What May

I got to ride down to Indianapolis this week. One of my best friends works there...it's a bit of a commute from the Jackson area, a bit over 4 hours with a stop for Starbucks...and he invited me to ride down with him on Sunday and hang out for a couple days. It's a trip I might repeat in the future...when it's not so hot. During my visit, I saw on the news that they set the record for the most days over 90 in the Indianapolis area during the month of July...but this is neither here nor there. I had a great ride down with my friend, despite the heat, and we traversed some great blacktop as we took the backroads and two lane highways for most of our trip down.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to spend the whole week with him. I had to head back home today. As I was getting back onto I-69 North, watching Indianapolis fade into the background in my rearview mirror, a small voice in the back of my head said, "Don't forget to call Sara at your next stop to let her know what time you'll be home."

It took about 5 to 10 seconds for whatever cranial control center is responsible for managing all the various aspects of my life to come to a screeching halt in response to what had just happened...now all the little voices in my head start scrambling, trying to figure out how there's any part of me, even so small, that could have forgotten what happened 18 months ago.

"What?! What just happened?"

"Ummmmm...not sure...we seem to have misplaced some important information...we're trying to find the responsible party."

"No...seriously...have you been hiding under a rock somewhere for the past 18 months?!"

"Look, I don't know why we said that...it just came out. We're trying to figure out why."

While all the little versions of me that run my existence continued to scramble around inside my head trying to figure this all out, the duet of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Dr. Chase Meridian came up in the playlist I had chosen for the ride home.

Never knew I could feel like this
Like I've never seen the sky before
Want to vanish inside your kiss
Everyday I love you more and more
Listen to my heart, can you hear it sings
Telling me to give you everything
Seasons may change winter to spring
But I love you until the end of time

Come what may, come what may
I will love you until my dying day

Suddenly the world seems such a perfect place
Suddenly it moves with such a perfect grace
Suddenly my life doesn't seem such a waste
It all revolves around you

And there's no mountain too high, no river too wide
Sing out this song and I'll be there by your side
Storm clouds may gather and stars may collide
But I love you until the end of time

Come what may, come what may 
I will love you until my dying day
Oh come what may, come what may 
I will love you 

Suddenly the world seems such a perfect place...

Come what may, come what may 
I will love you until my dying day

Come What May is a beautiful duet from the movie Moulin Rouge...I listened to it three times in a row while all the mini-me's in my head continued flailing around. Sigh...I was blessed to have have that love for 15 years...

It's no secret I've been dating. Whether good or bad, it's been happening. I was even engaged at one point, which I now realize I shouldn't have been, but it happened. It ended...unpleasantly, as things like that often do when they end; there's always a lot of hurt on both sides. It's not easy...not just because of my loss, but because it's so different from what I remember from 17 years ago...and emotions and feelings, like the ones that overwhelm me when I hear a song like this, make it even more difficult.

As I continue to move on, trying to move forward, I'm realizing that life often offers few answers to the many questions it raises. My own list continues to grow.

Abba, I bring you my brokenness and place it at your feet. You know the questions of my heart. You know the longings and desires. I give them to you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wrestling

How can I get this jumble of thoughts out of my brain and into this well defined and manageable space? I'm starting to wonder if it's possible. I'm wrestling with Christian pop-culture and the messages we're inundating ourselves with in regards to hardship, pain, and suffering. I'm wrestling, because I don't have an answer. The rest of this may just end up being word vomit...

You must, you must think I'm strong
To give me what I'm going through

The above lyrics are the first lines from a great song, Strong Enough, by Matthew West. BUT...I don't like them. I really really really really don't like them. I have to remind myself not to let what, in my opinion, is a poorly written set of lyrics take away from the rest of the message, that only God has the strength to get us through the turmoil of life. We can't do it on our own.

So what don't I like about those first few lyrics? It's the same thing I don't like about the kitchy "encouragement" I keep hearing on The Message between songs: God won't protect you from it, if he can refine you through it.

Those aren't the only two examples of what's bugging me, or what I'm wrestling with, they're just two of the best, most recent, examples. I feel like the message from them is that God allows us to, and/or makes us, suffer...on purpose. I'm wrestling with this because I do know and believe that God "allows" us to suffer, sin is in the world...suffering is part of the curse. However, I get this sense that it's not that He's allowing it, He's just not preventing it...not yet. He could...He's the creator of all that we know and everything we don't, Lord of the Heavens and the earth...but He doesn't.  What I'm wrestling with is the concept of Him purposefully, as part of "His plan," making us suffer. That feels like the message I'm receiving in so many sermons, songs, and pithy Chrisianisms...the message that God "afflicts" us with suffering as part of His plan.

Does God actually give us suffering and pain as part of His plan? Or...does His plan just account for the suffering and pain that a broken and sinful world brings to us? I realize it might sound like I'm quibbling, mostly internally, over semantics...but it doesn't feel like it. "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 I'm trying to reconcile the God who has plans to prosper me and not harm me, plans to give me hope and a future, with the same God who, according to what I feel I'm being taught, gives me suffering...on purpose.

Have you ever read something, had it eat at you for a few weeks, and then had to go back and re-read it again, just to make sure you were getting it? I have, I did it today...chapter 4 of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. It's a chapter where he talks about the need for us to not only turn to God in our times of great pain and suffering but to turn to each other or, more specifically, to people who have been trained to provide emotional and psychological support as we navigate the often dark and difficult waters of this life. Until recently, I believed in the power of counseling...for other people. Weak people. I didn't need it. After all, God won't give me more than I can handle on my own, right? That's the message I've been receiving for years. God will never put more on my plate than what I can eat.

In Velvet Elvis, Bell opens up about his own breakdown as "superpastor" of Mars Hill, the megachurch he started in Grand Rapids, Michigan, back in 1999. He shares about the pain of healing. How true healing, coming to terms with our junk, is not possible without an incredible amount of pain, "It was in that abyss that I broke and got help...because it's only when you hit the bottom and are desperate enough that things start to bet better." It can mean digging deep into our past to unearth the root causes and events that shape who we are and why we react to the world in the way we do. He talks about the healing power of salvation, the healing power of Christ, being a holistic healing, applying to the whole being, all of who we are. Healing that is supposed to bring us back in line with who God created us to be. Healing of our souls. He want's to experience shalom, which according to Bell is, "the presence of of the goodness of God. It's the presence of wholeness, completeness." Healing, shalom, that far too many Christians don't get...and that's left me wrestling with "why?"

What if God isn't giving us everything on our plates? What if the things in life that cause us the most pain, the greatest suffering, aren't from God? What if they're just really really bad things that happened to us because the world is broken? Things that happen because, until Christ returns, sin and death own this world? And what if it's this message, that God gives us suffering and only gives us what we can handle, that creates a false sense of "I can do this on my own" that keeps us from seeking help when we really really need it? A message that even imbues of with the ability to even forget that we must lean on Him? What if instead of inflicting suffering on us for our own good, and His Glory, God stands beside us, holding us, crying with us, and saying, "I'm sorry that this has happened to you, my child. It's not what I had planned, but I knew it would happen, and if you let me hold you and guide you, my plan will restore you."

What if?

Like I said, I've got more questions than answers...if I have any answers at all. I've got a reading list that's a mile wide, a mile deep, and as long as the Mississippi. Maybe He'll have an answer for me somewhere in there...maybe not. Maybe I'll just end up wrestling with it until my bones break.

Abba, I lay my brokenness at your feet. My humanness. Please help me find shalom in you.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Held

It's been a while, it feels good to be back. I didn't fall of the edge of the earth, just got distracted with some travel and other things. Over the past couple weeks I've had plenty of songs, plenty of things I've read, spark something inside...but didn't find time to write about it.

So...today I'm breaking my rule. I said I'd only write about a song, or something I'd read, if I'd actually heard or read it that same day. Today I'm gong to write about a song I heard yesterday while I was on my way to Detroit (shopping, running errands, going to a Tiger's game, etc.) I didn't get home until very late; as much as I wanted to write about it last night, I wanted to sleep more. :)

I've heard Natalie Grant's Held many times over the past year...and I don't like it. I'm still not sure I like it, but when I heard it yesterday it struck a new chord in my heart and mind. In retrospect, maybe the root of my dislike for the song is that the message is so raw, so close to what I've lived, that I just haven't been at a place where I could embrace the truth of it.

Two months is too little.
They let him go.
They had no sudden healing.
To think that providence would
Take a child from his mother while she prays
Is appalling.

Who told us we'd be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We're asking why this happens
To us who have died to live?
It's unfair.

No...it's not fair...is it? I had a professor in college who, when students would complain that something wasn't fair, would respond with a simple, consistent, quiet, "Life's not fair, life just is." We all knew it was coming. We all laughed when he said it. I don't think any of us really got it. It wasn't funny. It was a truth that far too many of us just don't experience in our life...until we do. At which point our response is paramount.

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred NUMB our sorrow.
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.

Bitterness is easy. Bitterness can make us feel like we have control. Bitterness can present itself as a salve...but it's not. It's poison. It's sneaky. It seeps in when we're not looking, when we think we're healing, progressing, getting better...it attacks when we are most vulnerable. It can keep us from seeing, from knowing, truth. It can keep us from experiencing healing. I think bitterness kept me from hearing the message of Held, the message past the pain, past the hurt, the message of being at rock bottom...we are Held...when it's all taken away...when we've been stripped, beaten, and robbed by life...we are Held...when if feels like all we have left is the breath in our lungs...we are Held...

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we'd be held.

Abba, I bring you my brokenness, I place it at your feet, hold me.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Simple complexity

"The issue then isn’t my beating myself up over all of the things I am not doing or the things I am doing poorly; the issue is my learning who this person is who God keeps insisting I already am...There is nothing we can do, and there is nothing we ever could have done, to earn God’s favor. We already have it...We cannot earn what we have always had. What we can do is trust that what God keeps insisting is true about us is actually true." Miscellaneous quotes from Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith, by Rob Bell

"Only let us live up to what we have already attained." - Philippians 3:16

It already mine...it's already yours...

I have to be honest, I'm struggling with the concept/process of trusting God as opposed to pleasing God. Maybe struggling isn't the right word...maybe it's just about internalizing it, chewing it up, swallowing it down, digesting it, and letting it infuse into my being.  It's not that I don't believe it...it just feels so much the opposite of what I feel like I've been taught my whole life (whether that is indeed what I was taught or not.)

My inner voice keeps wanting to pipe up and say, "it's all about not doing bad things, punching that ticket to Heaven, avoiding Hell." Somewhere, in the back, there's a new voice...one that is quietly encouraging me to stop worrying so much about what I do and don't do, what I did and didn't do, and start LIVING up to what I have already attained. I have ALREADY attained Heaven. Am I listening to myself? I have ALREADY attained Heaven.

It's almost too complex to put into words...because it's so simple...which, I guess, makes sense...since it's complex to integrate into my core, too. I mean, after all, if I live up to what I've already attained, the inner voice will be satisfied, right? The difference will be...motivation?...inspiration?...reason?

I've lived a lot of my "avoiding" God, not running away...just avoiding, because I didn't think I could live up to His expectations...now I'm realizing the expectations I wasn't living up to were mine. I've avoided grace because I thought I couldn't be good enough to earn it...now, I'm finally realizing it can never be earned.

Abba, I bring you my brokenness. I ask that you help me internalize the reality that I already have what you've given me. That the joy over receiving this gift should drive the way I live, not worrying about earning something I can't earn.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Idols

I'm trying to read through the Bible in a year. To help me accomplish this task, I bought the One Year Bible. What seemed like a daunting task, is actually turning out to be rather easy. Of course, I'm not sure why we make it seem like reading through the Bible in one year is such a huge undertaking to begin with. Yes, it's a long book, but most of us have read other long books in a much shorter time period than a year. The Lord of The Rings trilogy is a long book, but I can read it from cover to cover in a matter of a few weeks. The Harry Potter series, if you read all 7 books in a row, is a loooooong book, but I can read it from the cover of the first book to the back cover of the last in less than a few months. Yet, the Bible seems almost impossible to consider reading in a year. I'm starting to wonder if this Christian "accomplishment" is much ado about nothing. Do we make it seems harder than it is just because it's not something we look forward to? If so, why don't we look forward to it? After all, it's the Word of God. The Word we are supposed to hide in our hearts, which I think might require reading it more than once....hmmmmm...I shall think on these thoughts and try to internalize them for myself.

"Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did." 2 Kings 17:41

I read this passage today. Unfortunately, my eyes kept wandering back to it as I was trying to move on, which made it hard to concentrate on the rest of the readings. At first, my thoughts were predominantly about how sad this verse is. It pretty much sums up what most of the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings is about. The people of God wanted a king, so God gave them a king, then the kings turn their backs on Him, the people follow suit, and the results are always disastrous. Every once in a while, a king comes along who tries to turn the people back to God, but either he turns away before he dies or the people do when the next king takes the throne. It's a horrible and sad cycle. It's a dark time in the history of Israel and Judah. The people of God are scattered to the wind time and time again. Yet, they don't seem to learn their lesson.

The more I pondered this, the more I started to wonder if we are any different, or, more importantly, am I any different than these wayward children of the most High and Holy God? I constantly find myself "serving" the idols in my life, whether it be TV, travel, food, etc. Given the choice of serving God or serving myself, I tend to lean more towards serving myself.

Which brings me back to reading the One Year Bible. Maybe the desire to do this came from Him. I thought I was the one who wanted to read the scriptures in a year...but, maybe He wanted me read them. I thought I was doing this to please Him...but, maybe He wants me to read them so that I'll trust Him.

As sad as the words of 2 Kings 17:41 are, in the end there always seems to be redemption, and the redemption of Israel, the redemption of God's people, is ultimately what the scriptures are about, not the failings. The failings are recorded and put on display to prove a point...God is always here. He is always waiting to redeem His children. We just need to change our hearts to allow Him to do it.

Abba, I come to you today in brokenness. I offer you my failings and trade them for a redemption that only comes through Christ. Father, help me keep my focus on you when the idols of my life loom large.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I Am A Servant

I've recently been wondering what to do with the rest of my life. There are plenty of folks offering me suggestions, which I do appreciate, but I also know when the answer comes it's going to come from within.

When I lost Sara and Miranda, I was fortunate to work for an employer who allowed me to use the Family Medical Leave Act to take a few months off work to begin the healing process. It was a very beneficial time for me. Not having to worry about work allowed me to let grief do it's dirty work without having to worry about maintaining my composure for significant part of the day. It let me give in to grief's vicious nature, allowing myself to be chewed up, spit out, and chewed up again, and again, and again. I could cry when I needed to cry, yell when I needed to yell, curl up in a ball when I need to curl up, and hurt when I needed to hurt. A lot of people who live through a loss of that magnitude don't have that opportunity (or worse, aren't informed that they may legally be entitled to it) and, for some, they wouldn't want it; there are those who might find more comfort in immersing themselves back in their work (although I would tend to agree with most grief specialists that that is actually a grief avoidance choice...but that's neither here nor there.)

I went back to work about 5 months after the accident. It was good to be back, doing what I was good at doing, enjoying the company of some great co-workers, and getting back into "the groove" of things. However, it only took a couple of months for me to realize my heart just wasn't in it...the things that had previously "turned my crank" held no motivation or satisfaction for me. Leaving my job wasn't easy, but it was something that I knew in my heart was the best thing for me and for the organization. I could have stayed and just gone through the motions. Many of the people I provided support to may have never known...but, I would have...and I just don't think I could have endured that.

That was nine months ago. While there have been a few people, very few, who have been overly critical of me taking this time off, most of my family and close friends have been very understanding about how important it has been to me to be a relatively free spirit during since that time. I've been involved in some pretty high stress work environments over the past 15 years. That alone can seriously harm a persons emotional and psychological well being if it's not managed well and, to be honest, I had not been managing that stress well in the years prior to the accident. When that is added to the loss of a spouse and child, the impact can be overwhelming...I was overwhelmed.

I went out for my not-so-daily walk this evening and, in the course of normal events, popped my headphones in and started listening to the iTunes genius playlist I built a couple of weeks ago based on the song Why Should The Father Bother, by Petra. Of all the genius playlists I've built, this one seems to have more songs that I love than any of the others. It's a keeper. As I was getting into my last mile, I Am A Servant, by Larry Norman, came on. It got me thinking about this whole work thing and trying to figure out how I want to address it. Do I need to attack it aggressively? Do I need to just sit back and wait for something to come along that sparks my passion? What to do? What to do?

I am a servant, I am listening for my name,
I sit here waiting, I've been looking at the game
That I've been playing, and I've been staying much the same
When you are lonely, you're the only one to blame.

I am a servant, I am waiting for the call,
I've been unfaithful, so I sit here in the hall.
How can you use me when I've never given all,
How can you choose me when you know I'd quickly fall.

So you feed my soul and you make me grow,
And you let me know you love me.
And I'm worthless now, but I've made a vow,
I will humbly bow before thee.
O please use me, I am lonely.

I am a servant getting ready for my part,
There's been a change, a rearrangement in my heart.
At last I'm learning, there's no returning once I start.
To live's a privilege, to love is such an art
But I need your help to start,
O please purify my heart, I am your servant

I went through some counseling last month, it was something I should have done a while ago...better late than never. During one of my sessions, I mentioned that I'd been feeling a little pressure, both internal and external, to jump back into the "rat race." My only problem is I haven't come across that spark, that passion, the thing that is going to be good for me, good for those around me, and good for those for whom I am working. After hearing me out, the Godly couple I was working with provided me with the reassurance that when I was ready, God would provide what I was looking for, what I need, what He needs me to do. Beyond that, I should just seek His heart. Tonight, this song was a great confirmation for me that waiting is OK, patience IS a virtue. and it's OK to want it, long for it, even if I don't know what "it" is.

Over the past few weeks, as I've contemplated my next path, I have realized that I may need to open myself up to ideas and things that I may not have considered before. Maybe I won't just get a new job. Maybe I'll end up finding a whole new career. Maybe I'm right where God needs/wants me. Maybe all he wants me to do is write my blog. Can I learn to be content with that? Is there someone, somewhere, someday, who will read these things I've written and find their own spark, or be drawn closer to Him...just because I waited? I am a servant...waiting for the call.

Abba, I come to you in brokenness. I offer myself to you to be used in whatever way you need. Help me to sit, and listen for your call, to listen for the Master's voice. Purify my heart, I am your servant.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Where There Is Faith

It's 10:25PM...

My head is pounding...

There's a crack in the pad of my left foot down by my pinky toe...

My right pinky toe feels like it has a blister...

I weighed 3/4 of a pound more this morning than I did yesterday...

Why can't I just pray the fat away...gaining weight certainly didn't seem hard...why is losing it...

It was 100 degrees today...

It's still 83 and the humidity is up in the "miserable" range...

I know I need to get out there and go for a walk...but I DON'T WANNA!

It's 10:30PM...

Socks on...shoes on...shorts on...playlist Genius 04 shuffle...ready...set...go...

It's 10:40PM...

Ugh...none of this music is really inspiring me tonight...keep walking...

It's 10:50PM....

I hate this weather....

It's 11:00PM...

He's My Son, by Mark Shultz, plays...hmmm...that's a touching song...the plaintive cry of a man wondering if God is listening to his heartfelt prayer...I've been there...I understand...

...but I'm still really not in the mood for all this...

It's 11:10PM...

Where there is faith
There is a voice calling, keep walking
You’re not alone in this world
Where there is faith
There is a peace like a child sleeping
Hope everlasting in he who is able to
Bear every burden, to heal every hurt in my heart
It is a wonderful, powerful place
Where there is faith

...OK...I get it...faith...maybe my real problem today is...me...maybe I've spent the past couple days focused more on what I want than trusting in Him...Where There Is Faith...

It's 11:24PM...

Only a little bit more....

I'll never know why
Why you did what you did
You didn't have to die
But you did
You hung on the cross
So that I wouldn't be lost
You took my place
Now You're pleading my case
You didn't have to do it
Oh, but I'm glad you did
You didn't have to do it
But I'm glad you did

You didn't have to suffer
You didn't have to give your life
You could have come down from the cross
But you chose to die
You said "Father forgive them
For they know not what they do"
An when they pierced Your side
You just hung bled and died

You didn't have to come down
From the Father's side
But because of Your love for me
You made the sacrifice
You knew no sin
But became sin for me
An all who believe
Can live eternally

You didn't have to do it
But I'm glad you did
You could have come down from the cross
Then my soul would be lost
But You chose to stay
And Your love made a way

...sigh...truth...You Didn't Have To Do It...but I'm glad you did...

It's 11:30PM...

Attitude adjusted...

Abba, I come to you, a broken offering. My problems are not bigger than You. My wants, my desires, pale in comparison to what You want for me. Help my heart seek Your truth.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Makin' your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot
Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you wanna go
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
The people are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name

Be glad there's one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came
You wanna go where people know
The people are all the same
You wanna go where everybody knows your name

The TV was on earlier today. I'd been watching some random show, it got over, I got up and started working around the house, but left the TV on...a few minutes later this familiar song came floating through the air. Cheers was the first show I ever remember being allowed to stay up and watch. It started at 9:00PM, which was normally bed time. The theme song, Where Everybody Knows Your Name, by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, has been running through my head all day. From the first few moments after that opening phrase made it to my ears, I've been thinking about how the desire to just be accepted, to find someplace where people just enjoy letting us be us, is so strong. Why did God make us that way? Do we do enough, as Christians, to reach out to each other in a way that makes the rest of the world want to find what we have, or what we're supposed to have?

On my walk tonight, Homesick, by MercyMe, played about 2/3 of the way through my walk. It immediately turned my thoughts back to that desire, the desire to find a place where we "belong." It's another one of the group's great songs addressing the grief that we all will experience in some way, shape, or form over the course of our lives. But tonight it was more than that for me. It was a look into the desire for acceptance. Where do most of us feel accepted? Home. Even those who may not have had the best of childhoods typically have some place they call "home," some place where they know they can just be themselves without worrying about impressing people or being judged for their failings, great and small.

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

Are we all just a little homesick? Deep down some place inside, maybe even some place we don't know about or recognize? Is that the driving desire for acceptance? A feeling that there's some place else, some place better, some place where there will be no judgement once we arrive? I don't have all the answers, that's for sure. Mostly just questions.

Abba, I bring you my brokenness and place it at your feet. In those moments, the ones when I feel an overwhelming need to be accepted, I ask that you remind me that you accept me and want to bring me to you and a place where acceptance is no longer a concern.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Breathe

Have you ever taken a deep breath, only to realize it was all you needed to turn things around, be it your attitude, your perspective, or your entire day? It happens to me on a pretty regular basis. There's something about a deep breath...a really deep breath...that can do something good for your heart and mind.

I spent the past 3 days up at Mackinac City, Michigan, with my extended family on my mom's side. It was great, it always is (we get together every summer for 3 to 4 days, usually for the July 4th weekend.) Of course, it's hard, too. It's a wonderful time with family...but it's also a pungent reminder of what I've lost, what's we've lost. The last two summers have been hard for all of us because this time we enjoy so much is an "in your face" reminder that they are not with us.

Arriving back home is always a little bit of a letdown after a great time away with family. Tonight I needed to breathe, I just didn't know it until I headed out for a walk just before 11:00PM. I popped my ear buds in, started up the Music app on my iPhone, selected the My Favorites (Christian) playlist and hit Shuffle...

Take my sorrow and my sin
I will run into Your arms again
Hold me Father
Once again my tears are dried
By your perfect love that's river-wide
Over-flowing

As I stand on its bank
With my arms overhead
I am overcome

As I breathe
The air of Heaven
Drawing in Your fragrance
When I breathe
I feel Your fullness come alive
Inside of me
You're the breath that I breathe

Covered by the evening sky
I turn my gaze to where Your kingdom lies
Deep inside me
A silent whisper in my mind
Sweet surrender to Your love divine
Peace enfolding

In the stillness I empty my soul
And Your presence flows

As I breathe
The air of Heaven
Drawing in Your fragrance
When I breathe
I feel Your fullness come alive
Inside of me
You're the breath that I breathe

It's taking hold
It's second nature when I
Savor...
When I Savor...
You
As I breathe

...and Leigh Nash, of Sixpence None The Richer, led me right into what I needed...to just breathe. When trouble comes, in any form, I want to remind myself to breathe...breathe in the love of Christ...the scent of Heaven...the breath of God. Tonight, as I took that deep breath, I couldn't help but feel like He was there, standing beside me, walking beside me, offering me His strength, and whispering to me, "it's OK, buddy, I've got this. Just trust me, I'll lead you home."

Why is something so simple as a breath so hard to do sometimes? After all, we breathe all day long, regardless of whether we think about it or not, it's truly second nature, it's automatic; yet, it's still not enough. We need to pause and take that breath in a new way, one that reminds us about what's important and where we're headed.

God, I come to you in my brokenness, seeking your breath. Breathe the scent of Heaven into me, that I might savor your love in a fresh way today.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

First world problems...

So, I'm thinking I might expand a little on what this blog gets for content. I had originally been playing off the musical aspects of notes and rearrangement and only planned to write about songs that caused me to think, or reflect, in some way of significance (well, at least significant to me.) However, I'm trying to be a multifaceted individual in my life and I asked myself why I'd want to be so limiting in expressing what moves me and gives me pause in this life? So, I'm expanding a bit; I've decided that it will be OK to post quotes/notes about things I'm reading, and how those, also, cause me to think and/or reevaluate the things that are important to me or going on in my life. I'm telling you this as if you actually had have input into deciding what I'm going to write about here...so goes life.

I read a whole book from cover to cover today. To be fair, it wasn't hard. It was Drops Like Stars, by Rob Bell. It's a beautiful book, literally; the pages are just as much about graphic design and telling the story through imagery as they are about the select choice of words printed on them. It's a book about suffering. In typical Rob Bell fashion, he seems to expend a lot of energy just trying to provoke the reader to think before offering a story or snippet that explains how he feels about it.

I'm not reading books like this out of curiosity. I truly hope to gain something from them, whether it be knowledge, truth, or just new way to think about an old topic. There was a paragraph that reached out to me, about halfway through the book:

"If we aren't careful, our success and security and abundance can lead to a certain sort of boredom, a numbing predictability, a paralyzing indifference that comes from being too comfortable."

Even after what I have been through in the past two years, I still find myself often "overwhelmed" with first world problems (follow the link, if you're not sure what a first world problem is.) And so I find myself going through mental gymnastics trying to find the balance between "haven't I suffered enough" and "do I need to suffer more" for the Gospel? I don't have an answer to those questions. I'm not really expecting to, not yet; but, I want to make sure I'm asking them. As I'm "struggling" with my first world problems, while acknowledging that I've been through the wringer myself, I guess I'm hoping God always keeps my heart open to the plight of the least of these and those who live with suffering their whole lives. Let's be clear, first world problems aren't suffering, but they are a great example of what we complain and worry about, the trivial issues that "plague" our lives, while children go hungry in our community, while the truly poor, the widowed, and the orphaned sit unnoticed by those of us who call ourselves Christians.

Abba, I come to you in brokenness. Even as I offer you what little I have, I ask that you keep my heart and mind open and aware to the suffering around me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trust In Jesus/Who Am I?

I had the privilege of having lunch with a friend today. I love having lunch with friends. It's a great way to enjoy good conversation...mostly because it gives my mouth something to do when I'm trying to listen, thus I don't spend the who conversation interrupting my lunch mate. :) Just like most of my lunches with friends, today was a good day of catching up and finding out what God had been doing in each others lives. There's something refreshing about spending time with a fellow believer who is also experiencing new things in their faith that stretch them and help them grow.

I find that after something like this, I'm in an excellent frame of mind to have a song, or two, cause positive reflection and thought processes in my heart. Somewhere in between lunch and getting back to my apartment, God saw fit to provide me with the experience that I long for. I was tooling along in my car, listening to The Message, without really listening...when Trust In Jesus, by Third Day, came on. It's a song I've heard many times before, but not one that ever really caught my attention or made me think about my faith in a new way.

One of these days we all will stand in judgment for
Every single word that we have spoken
One of these days we all will stand before the Lord
Give a reason for everything we’ve done
And what I’ve done is

Trust in Jesus
My great Deliverer
My strong Defender
The Son of God
I trust in Jesus
Blessed Redeemer
My Lord forever
The Holy One, the Holy One

What are you going to do when your time has come
And your life is done and there’s nothing you can stand on
What will you have to say at the judgment throne
I already know the only thing that I can say I

There’s nothing I can do on my own to find forgiveness
It’s by His grace alone I trust in Jesus
Trust in Jesus

Do you believe we'll all stand in a final judgement? I do. I'm not 100% sure of what that scene will look like, but I know how I envisioned it for me. I can see me, standing before the throne, fumbling for words to explain why I've said the things I've said, why I've done the things I've done, and finding none. It's a depressing vision...however, based on some of the things I've been reading, the conversations I've been having, and some wise counsel I recently received, I heard this song in a whole new light. My vision has changed. Instead of standing there fumbling for words and explanations that will never come...I'm just standing there...and the judge is SMILING at me...SMILING with a loving, warm, tender smile. What I had previously envisioned as a place of condemnation and judgement is now a place of love and warm reception. And you know what...that's what it was supposed to look like from the beginning, I just never really understood it. The reason the judge is smiling is because all He sees...ALL...is Christ. He doesn't see my sin, my failings, my short comings, he just sees the one who died so that I might live!

While my brain and heart were digesting all of this, Who Am I, by Casting Crowns, started playing. Again, another song I've heard more times than I can count, but one that I hadn't yet listened to the real message.

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Again, the effect of my recent readings, counsel, and conversations helped the message of this beautiful promise play out in a new way in my heart. How often do I downplay my significance to God? After all, there are nearly 7 billion people on the planet today. Those, plus all who have come before, add up to quite large number of people. How can I be special when I look at myself among those numbers? The truth is...God plays favorites...He's big enough, great enough, and strong enough to get away with it. Each and every one of us is His favorite! His heir! He loves me as if I was the only one! Isn't that what we all want? To feel that special? To feel loved in that way? I know I do.

Abba, I offer you my brokenness. I am humbled to know that you stand in my place, to know that you love me as if I was your only child. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Hurt and The Healer

It was two years ago today...

I pulled into the drive through at Culver's for a quick lunch; I was on my way over to Battle Creek for a 3 day conference. As the girl at the window handed me my change, she asked, "Are you a father?" I panicked...how had she heard?! How did she know?! How did this complete stranger know that Sara and I had just found out we were going to have a baby?! How?! How?! How?! Well, it turns out it was Father's Day...she was asking to find out if I qualified for a free scoop of the flavor of the day. When that realization finally settled in, I sheepishly said, "not yet" and pulled forward to wait for my food. I sometimes wonder if that girl remembers that day. If the panic in my heart and head showed on my face, even the slightest bit, I'm sure she was a bit confused by my reaction. It's a good memory...I'm glad I have it...even if the rest of the story is one I'd choose to rewrite.

Today...

I hopped into the car this morning and, as I pulled away from my apartment, The Hurt and The Healer, by MercyMe, started playing on The Message:

Why?
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn't come from the explained
Jesus please don't let this go in vain
You're all I have
All that remains

So here I am
What's left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I'm alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Breathe
Sometimes I feel it's all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

So here I am
What's left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I'm alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

It's the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all the scars are understood
When mercy takes its rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
And hear You say "It's over now"

I'm alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into your arms open wide
When The hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here 

I cried like...well, it's hard to describe...I cried...a lot...hard...painful crying...the first time I heard this song. Saying that the music of Bart Millard and MercyMe has played a role in my grief and healing is classic example of understatement. It's my humble opinion that Bart has a gift from God in writing songs that reach out and touch the grieving in a way I've never felt a songs reach out.

When I heard the song today, it took me back to that day, two years ago, when I was flying high on the news of my impending fatherhood. How excited, how nervous, how wide-eyed and bewildered...how scared...how happy... It's a sharp contrast to other days I've had since then. The days when all I could do was lay on the floor and ask "why?" The days when it felt like breathing was almost too hard. To be honest, I still have those moments. They don't last long, a few minutes, but I have them...I think I'll have them for a long time.

The part of the song that got to me the first time I heard it, the part that still punches me in the gut every time I hear it, is the line, "I'm alive, even though a part of me has died." In those moments when breathing seems like the only thing I can do, those moments when I look to the sky and ask, "why," it's in those moments that I try to remember that I'm alive.

God, I offer myself to you today, all of my brokenness, all of my hurt. Abba, I am alive, breathe your breath into me, hold me close as you breathe your life back into my heart.