Posts Tagged ‘faith and life’

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.

“I have labored in vain,

 I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;

yet surely my cause is with the Lord,

and  my reward  with my God.”—Isaiah 49:4

With something akin to total recall I remember the time, place, and the event quite vividly. It was November 1997 and I was at a junior high youth gathering in Bemidji, MN. Now, if you have ever attended such an event you know that sleep is only optional. Being a part of the youth organization board which hosted the event, after a few days I was beyond simple fatigue. Hence, the defenses were already down a bit, and the unsettled portions of my life bubbled to the surface.

About 1:30am I retired to my hotel room and had a few quiet moments to myself. Back home life in the parish I served wasn’t bad, it simply appeared that my calling there neared its end. The direction I thought we were headed together turned out to be vastly different from my expectations. The feeling was of complete failure. How could I misread things so badly? Why didn’t I do this or that differently? What about my leadership was so terrible?

At this period in my journey I knew God was stirring something new for me, and really, I didn’t like the sensation. The unknown, all that was uncertain, every bit of new possibility was filled with fear, not excitement. So, back in that hotel room I plopped down in a chair, grabbed my bible and prepared for a bit of devotion and prayer. In an oddly providential manner, the pages of the Holy Writ opened right here, Isaiah 49, and my eyes landed on verse 4. “I have labored in vain…”

Like the rush of a violent wind these words swept over me. You try so hard and yet there appear to be no fruit to your labor. So it often goes when working in the kingdom of God. As the sower in Jesus’ parable one can only cast the seeds of love, compassion and the Gospel’s power and then pray for the Holy Spirit’s work.

I re-learned this valuable lesson once again on a recent journey to Ethiopia. For the past five years our church connects with ministries in Addis Ababa. The first few years involved a difficult project in a government-owned orphanage. Challenges prove to be nearly insurmountable and may be unsolvable. However, our recent connection is with a child development group called Onesimus, working with street kids. Estimates are 100,000 children living in the streets. These talented and faithful workers get the kids off the streets, hook them up with family if possible or find other housing means, get them into school, and basically give them a better shot at life.

We first visited in May 2012 and saw some wonderful pieces of this ministry. Our congregation and its members now provide sponsorship dollars for the program and make personal connections with the children. What we witnessed this last month was miraculous—we are privileged to participate in a ministry that is truly fruitful and really works. What Christ does through this program is transformational and genuinely changes lives. It is humbling and rewarding to partner with Onesimus.

Once again God smacks me in the back of the head as if to say, “See, I told you so.” Surely, when our cause is with the Lord the rewards are manifold. One must trust the Spirit is at work, even when our human eyes see something different.

God is faithful, and that is enough. Maybe it’s just enough encouragement to keep this poor soul faithful, too.

Today I stand with bothfeet in some different worlds. Last Wednesday, December 25, I left with 19 other adventurers for a two week trek to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We connect with a ministry called Onesimus Child Development Association, which provides a structured environment for children living in the streets to restored family situations, housing, education, and most of all, hope.
Today we Americans are ready for a new year, yet in Ethiopia, anticipation is of another sort: Christmas here is not December 25, but January 7. Today we are between Christmas for part of the Christian world, while others under our Tent-of-Faith are yet a week away from their celebration. We travelers place bothfeet in both worlds, as our relationships are what really count, not arbitrary numbers or dates.
A few of us tossed around this type of wonderment yesterday. It is hard to explain to many people why we make this journey. A great number ask us, “What will you do there?” The reactions are priceless when you respond, “Nothing.” In general, we don’t build anything, remodel, paint, fix or construct. We play with children. We learn from this ministry’s staff. We hear of hopes and dreams. We forge and foster relationships. That is what we are going to do on this journey; we are going to be.
This is so difficult for the majority of folks in the Western world. In the past I’ve told potential explorers that if they wish to go on an adventure such as this so that they will get something out of it, stay home. If you would like such a journey so you can go and save someone, stay home. So why go? If not for me, and not to save them, why? This stuff befuddles so many back home. Part of the confusion arises from the West’s colonial and missionary past, as we’ve not viewed the relationships as equal but rather lopsided. Something like, “We have so much great stuff, and aren’t we wonderful bringing it to the ‘Dark’ Continent.” Yes, there is much to learn, much to share for both parties in the relationship. Yet, if those pieces are goals of the relationship, we now successfully objectify the other. And that is not cool.
You go for the journey’s sake, not an outcome. You go for the love and joy shared. You go because to not go is not an option. In this instance you go for the flesh and blood incarnational encounter. The encounter and the relationship are the focus, not the outcome or what anyone ‘gets’ out of the deal. This is the place where true joy finds us. Truly, this is where God finds us as well. Not for either of us to come out ahead on a transaction but to fully enjoy an abundant life in relationship.
Sure, we live to praise, love and serve God through love and service to our neighbor. But this all flows from the fullness of encounter. Perhaps living with bothfeet in such places may enrich our sojourn on planet Earth.