As much as I love winter, passing years remind me that winter does not love me. Aches, pains and creaking joints intensify in direct relation to falling temperatures. I live on the edge of prairie, a mere two hour drive from the Canadian border. Winter, cold and snow are unavoidable throughout this corner of God’s Creation. It still remains true that the colder and tougher the winter, the sweeter the spring. Tastes and smells of a new season are with us now for a few weeks and newness floats along the wind.

April is that mystical time of our year when tides turn. In the motion of the Church year this is also true. Now, the drama of Holy Week unfolds and Easter brings its new-life surprise. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings.

The power of Easter is the force which brings death from life. Rather than a fantasy story book or fantastical movie Easter 009which only portrays death and life, what we have now is the real thing. We know death and darkness all around us. Jesus, in his innocent death, confronts all the forces contrary to God’s love. While for a moment it appears darkness has won, Jesus is vindicated with resurrected life. We too, are invited into this newness. Loss, sin, loneliness, sickness of mind or body indicate some sort of death in our existence. Through Christ we confront these deaths and look for new life. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings.

May this season of spring and the coming of Eastertide be for you a moment to come into God’s new life. Confront the darkness of sin and death and seek to follow the new way of light. Take time to rest, to renew in quiet stillness, reflecting on the still small voice of God. Carve out moments for devotion and prayer; maybe start by lifting up friends, family or troubled areas across the globe. Start a fresh study of Scripture—check out online resources. Mend a relationship. Help someone needy. Work for justice. Go about your day with a sense of calling to God’s good world. Go skydiving! Whatever it takes to celebrate God’s newness for you.

Winter slides now into memory and spring ushers in the sweet smell of new life. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings. The world so loved by the Crucified and Risen Jesus waits for you.

10519497_10152475346936245_6357215499360071137_nIt’s all about forgiveness. Several years ago a good friend who lived with a terminal illness told me with both seriousness and joy, “This is the week for which we live.” He died two year later on Easter Sunday. Yes, this week is about forgiveness not simply some palm branches and Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, although I enjoy both immensely. Between the Palm Sunday Parade and Easter brass the heart of our faith plays out a drama like no other. Think of it; Christmas displays part of the simply strange way God seeks to meet us, and now the Holy Week drama draws us into the oddity of Jesus’ mission. He will die a cruel, criminal’s death all for us. Yes, this Holy Week is about forgiveness, about God restoring the connection with us, about doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

A Story of Forgiveness

My son loves Legos. I do too. Although he is now 22 and nearly done with a college degree we still fulfill birthday and Christmas gifts with some sort of Lego. It is tradition and more. You see, he taught me a deep and valuable lesson of lego-1forgiveness through a Lego mishap. He was about three years old, and of course the rule was to put away toys when done with them. Easy enough. This was also the era of close to two years when his regular routine was to awaken me every day between 5 and 5:30 am. A few mornings the rising was tough but I take those days back in the twinkling of an eye. One early summer morning we made our way downstairs and sure enough, my bare heel found the sharp corner of a stray Lego piece.

I howled in pain, yet that was not the howl I regret. Restraint was lost as temper flew toward my three year old son. Voice at a fevered pitch I said things not to be repeated as the berating carried on due to the lack of clean up. Until I saw the quivering lower lip of a tender child. Silence. My parent-of-the-year nomination? Automatically revoked. What had I done? This was one of those moments the full brokenness of the human condition comes streaming down, a deluge of guilt and shame.

What happened next was the only thing I could think to do. Dropping to my knees we were soon face to face. “I’m sorry, Mat. I should not have yelled or said those things I said. I am really, really sorry.” This three year old then taught me a life-long lesson in forgiveness. Reaching out his bear-sized toddler hand, my son patted my shoulder, “It’s ok, Dad. I forgive you.”

No doubt a wall of separation came down with those simple yet life changing words. There may still be a loss of connection 19 years later if forgiveness did not happen.

This week is all about forgiveness. Dramatic portrayals of courage, betrayal, denial and abandonment arise from the players around Jesus. He goes to death for us anyway, because of us and in spite of us. This is love like no other.

May your Holy Week be whole and filled with mercy.

Accident recovery pics 043Twelve years ago today my life changed forever. A quick recap goes like this; I was a passenger in a vehicle that rolled on an interstate, I was ejected at 75 miles per hour and lay busted, broken, and for a moment, dead in a ditch. Life returned to me after a Paradise experience and the long road of recovery commenced. The list of injuries is long, many of which should have put me permanently six feet under. My neck was badly broken required the fusion of three vertebrae. The right shoulder and humerus suffered six fractures. I experienced an open-book pelvic fracture and my sacrum was in three pieces. Adding insult to injury were a concussion and several broken ribs. Still, here I am, taking nourishment and living life.

Daily existence has both its joys and struggles. Many physical capabilities and some activities are distant memories. Pain is a constant companion, and the emotional and spiritual highways bring dips and climbs and uncertain corners. I’ve learned much these twelve years about myself, the world and others. Here’s a list of twelve learning curves my experience brings me.

  1. Let people love you. This sounds simple enough, yet we humans, while craving love and care so often don’t want to need it. We’d rather not have attention which points our weakness or need. It takes an admission of our brokenness to allow someone to love and care for us. Let them. They need it. You need it. You’d do the same for them.
  2. Some people are stupid; love them anyway. Through this experience I’ve heard nearly all the well-intended dumb comments people make. From, “God intended this,” to, “here’s the invalid,” to, “so glad you’re 100%,” the words are meant to be helpful. Even if they’re idiotic. Well, so what? Deal with it and be thankful for the intended love.
  3. Pain heals. I can truly say I know what full on, total and utter pain is. Much of it improves. Similar to a loss, the sharp sting slowly fades but scars and the dregs of injury remain. Often we think we should just ‘get over’ difficult experiences. I don’t think it works that way. We learn to live with the experiences which make us who we are.
  4. Pain endures. Just as pain heals, it also endures. For myself, the lasting effects of injury arise all day, every day. Pain is my invisible and constant companion, the only variance is severity. What does one do? You go about those things that can alleviate some of the pain, and try to avoid what makes it worse. When that fails, you give thanks for all that is still good in your life.
  5. You don’t always know another’s experience, even if you think you do. Sometimes we make assumptions about others based on very little information. Yes, to ass-u-me is to make an ass out of u and me. Don’t do it. Listen carefully for the clues which may indicate what is truly going on in another’s life.
  6. Celebrate. Life is so short and can be gone in the twinkling of an eye. Take time to celebrate something each and every day. Big parties, small gatherings, and quiet moments to offer thanks are all ways to celebrate life. Grab everyAccident recovery pics 075 occasion to celebration and gratitude.
  7. Dark times come; light always wins. To this day I still experience some very dark days, even some when I wish I would have simply stayed dead in that ditch. It sure would have been easier. That darkness is horrible and really sucks life out of a person. Through it all I remain a person of hope, for it is one of the very few things stronger than fear. If darkness surrounds you, hang in there. The light will come. I am living proof of this.
  8. Medical personnel are heroes. One cannot say enough about those who serve for the healing of other. Doctors, nurses, therapists, and techs are extremely gifted people. Sure, there are a few rotten eggs out there, but give thanks for those whose toil is tireless so that health is restored.
  9. People have goodness within them. A myriad of individuals and communities proved this to me. People stopped along the side of the road to assist and comfort at the accident site. Countless people showed encouragement and love through cards, letters, emails, gifts. The number who prayed for me is immeasurable. These are humbling thoughts but also evidence of humanity’s goodness. Look for it in all your encounters. It is better and more gracious than assuming the worst.
  10. Get up, dress up, show up. This one is difficult. My physical pain is considerable each morning, and simply arising is a chore. The alternative, however, is bleak. I decided long ago that I could not slip into the abyss and merely become a spectator of life, not a participant. Daily, a conscious decision is made to engage life. There are people whom I need, some who need me and a whole world to experience.
  11. Life gets redefined; live into it. No one’s life is exactly as we planned one, two, five, ten, twenty years ago. That’s part of the wonder and excitement. So many times in this journey I’ve heard the word, “normal,” as in, “You look so normal,” or, “Glad things are back to normal.” I assure you, there’s nothing normal about this journey. If anything, we define a new-normal. We could gripe and moan about how things should be, how they were supposed to be. What good does it do? Our lives are as they are from a culmination of life experiences. Change what you can, accept what must be accepted, live into today.
  12. I have so much more to learn. This is probably the most important lesson of all. It would be wonderful to say I learned the above lessons so well that I carry out each one to be perfection. It would also be a lie. Regularly, I fail miserably at living out the lessons learned. That is an important part of life. If one realizes this there is great freedom to dust off your boots and get back at the business of living. We never know what may come our way. Learning a thing or two along the way grants and open road of a full, rich, and abundant life.

I think I’ll take the ride.

“It’s something unpredictable. But in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.”—Greenday, ‘Good Riddance’ (The Time of Your Life)

2014 is gone. There are many reasons for which I would love to say, “Good riddance!” Shortcomings, losses, bad decisions, friends in pain or trouble, a sense of unrest, and unmet expectations are a few of my reasons I’m glad the year-gone-by is now history, one for the books. Don’t so many of us wish to scream, “So long, 2014. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out!” Much of our lives are spent regretting and ruing what has been. Indeed, we spend too much time in such an arena and would be well served to alter our perspective a bit.

The arbitrary date of the New Year allows us a chance to reflect on the past and lean into the future. It is also a moment in time to honestly assess our life situations. What was unhealthy these past twelve months and what built up my life? What joys and blessings came my way? How did I royally screw up and where did I succeed? This is one of our opportunities to search deeply and move forward with great hope, peace and anticipation. “Time for amendment of life”, is an old phrase I find quite helpful in moments such as this. From the past we may both celebrate the high points and learn from low ones, that we might relish the present moment and cling to future hope.

I have never been one to compile a list of New Year’s Resolutions as most people who make them do not achieve much success.  Observations indicate they rarely make it to February. Still we have this opportunity for new beginnings as well as endings of that which diminishes the good of our existence. We consider changes—or ‘amendments of life’, assess what we can control and what we cannot, then boldly step into the new day before us.

Grace, I believe, is an appropriate word for this day. It is grace that grants us a second chance. Grace offers the erasure of past faults and unmet expectations. Grace opens bright new doors and shines light into darkness, especially when we sense shadows of the past threatening to shut down future opportunity. Indeed, grace holds the power to make us new for this day and all that lies ahead.

Hold close the blessings of 2014, and grasp great hope for the year to come. Grace offers a feeling and sense of newness which can carry us through life’s journey. Maybe that is the blessing of New Year’s Day. I do hope you had, and will have, the time of your life.

“I wonder as I wander out under the sky,

How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die.

For poor, ornery people like you and like I—

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.” –Appalachian Carol

 

Young people teach us many important lessons. For example I recently learned from our 7th grade confirmation class they can readily distinguish between reality and movie magic. Our lesson for the evening was “Moses” and we watched the trailer for the upcoming movie, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. When I pointed out, (gently, I think), some inconsistencies with the film clip and biblical witness they were quick to respond, “It’s film magic! It makes for good cinema!” Party poopers. They stole my thunder right out of the gate. Yet, these kids readily understand that simply because they see it in a movie, on TV or the internet does not make it true, factual or authoritative. We are, however, taking a class trip to see the movie.

We can see nearly anything our beautiful minds can imagine through the wonders of movie magic and good cinema. Couple that with graphic images regularly on any news outlet and there’s not much we cannot visualize. On-screen visions can appear so realistic we become, to certain degrees, desensitized to the real thing. What happens to our sense of wonder and awe, especially when we consider our lives before the Almighty? Perceptions of God’s activity in our midst can be passé, visions might be ho-hum, our reading of scripture possibly becomes just another fairy tale filled with fake-movie-magic.

Still, I’m convinced our hearts and souls long for awe, wonder, the mystery of the Divine. I see it in each generation, whether the elderly senior preparing for the final journey home or the small child singing to Jesus with glee and great hope. We human creatures possess a longing for the Divine, for wonder and mystery, for something which takes us beyond our own selves.

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December may quite possibly be the month created for just such a thing. Weeks of Advent waiting prepare, shape and mold us for the depth of a silent and holy night. The season is one of great joy, families and friends reunite, we mourn and grieve the ones not in our midst, whether from miles or the veil of death between us. This month may well be the one which most prepares us for awe and wonder.

“To you this day is born in the city of David, a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord,” could be the most awe-inspiring words ever shared. The Almighty, the Ancient of Days now in human flesh, entering our existence in the most humble of manners. May your heart be softened to the wonder of the Christ-Child, and may your wandering be filled with renewal and joy.

One of my favorite movies in recent years is “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, and adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, set in rural depression era South. In fact, it’s led me to re-read “The Odyssey” and enter once again into this classic tale. The main character in the movie is one of three escaped convicts, who travel back to his home in search of treasure.

As in Homer’s epic, these characters have a host of lively encounters and danger filled adventures throughout their travels. The main character, (taking the role of Odysseus) says repeatedly throughout the quest, “Everybody’s looking for answers!” The phrase becomes quite the mantra in the journey.

Everybody’s looking for answers…in some way or fashion. The zaniness of this movie reminded me of that simple fact; we don’t know everything, and we’d like to understand more than we do. It is part of human nature.

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”—Hebrews 1:1-4

The writer of Hebrews gives us a reminder of how God spoke in the past, how God speaks now, and how we might expect God to speak to us in the future. Now that the Son has delivered the ultimate answer of our salvation, we trust that his Holy Spirit will continue to reveal this word of grace and mercy until the end of this earth.

I suppose it’s true—everybody’s looking for answers. The best one I’ve heard is that “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being…had made purification for sins.” The News is just that Good.

I am an Adrian Peterson fan. That’s not entirely popular at the moment as his is certainly a flawed human being and has much to straighten out in his existence. Still, I admire him. Here’s why. It is not only that he is one of the top running backs in the history of the National Football League nor because he plays for my lifetime-home-team but that he is possibly the toughest to ever pound the gridiron. Each time facing adversity Peterson rises to the challenge with focus and determination. Case in point: after shredding his knee at the end of the 2011 his career may well have ended. Conversely, while expectations for 2012 diminished he carried his team to the playoffs in one of the most outstanding seasons in history. That’s toughness, both physical and mental.16846_323468214615_5551878_n

Now he faces another strange challenge. He offered plea of no-contest to child abuse charges after he admittedly disciplined his son with a switch. Excessive. Brutal. Picture documentation was disturbing showing welts and bruises over the boy’s body. Whether he plays again is in the hands of league officials and this storied career may end, due not to injury or age but behavior. Peterson declares all along he disciplines his children, (several children by several women), only as he himself was disciplined.

This, too, is disturbing and raises questions for me regarding our celebrity crazed society. We love our stars, are fascinated by their rise and fall, and hang on their words and actions. Adrian Peterson has some serious issues; he needs help. Public outcry is for punishment and I agree such behavior should not go without consequence. I am also one to say it is not enough. He may never play football again but is a young man with a long life before him. If the NFL offers only consequence without help for a troubled human being they should only feel shame. This man needs help to understand it is not right to beat a child, with switch or hand or paddle. He needs guidance to figure out bringing children into this world through several mothers while daddy goes his merry-screwing-way is unconscionable.  The NFL, all other sports organizations—pro and amateur—indeed, all humanity must take off the kid gloves to both deliver consequence and helpful teaching. I’ll be fine if Peterson is reinstated, but only if the guidance is provided that he may grow into the good man he’s shown to be on the football field.

After all, Peterson learned an unacceptable behavior from his father. It must not continue. The children of America are watching. What will we teach the next generation?

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”—Jesus, Mark 10:14