A blog post on my fiftieth birthday.  

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(Non-sports fans–this is not a sporty post. Don’t bail at the first reference to ultimate.)  

I may be the youngest fifty-year-old I know.  And by that, I mean least mature.  

On Sunday, my ultimate team in our fall league finally won a game (kind of).  Afterward, we did a cheer for the other team, as is traditional in ultimate, a silly yell or song or something to congratulate/enourage/amuse the opponent.  Their team is “Tropical Stormtroopers.”  So I suggested, 

Tropical Stormtroopers/”That’s no moon.”/”I have a bad feeling about this.”/We’ll see you again soon. 

A teammate suggested the last line, which was a good rhyme/conclusion.  Then my teammates all told me they didn’t know my references.  They aren’t all fifteen.  I think a couple are in their thirties; one may be in his forties

So step back.  I’m out on a Sunday afternoon playing ultimate, of course I am, at 49 years and 354 days.  I played well.  Not what I could do at 29, not as fast as 39, but I didn’t embarrass myself.  I represented.  I’m guarding a kid who is 17 and faster than smoke.  A Big deal.  Makes me happy, keeps me sane.  

Then I reference Star Wars, the original, that we eventually started calling A New Hope or Episode IV, that was the formative movie of my childhood, with two of the most recognized quotes from the entire franchise (have you never seen a meme?*).  No one recognizes it.  But it rhymed, and after I explained it they were all, “OH! Okay!” And we did our cheer…

…and no one on the other team recognized the references.  

 

So here I am, youthful but old.  The mirror won’t let me forget that I’m fifty.  Neither will the sun, when it burns my scalp where I used to have high SPF hair.  

I realized long ago that to relate to young adults, which has been God’s main calling on my life, I need to have some clue what they’re talking about.  But I’ve seen people try to be hip and young when they’re not and <shudder> that doesn’t help.  Somewhere in between, there’s a balance.  

My Peter Pan streak helps.  It’s not like I have to try to remain immature.  That seems to take care of itself.  My friend Michael, celebrating his 25th anniversary today, just described marriage as “relentless tolerance.”  Ah, Lord, you have gifted Kim with that, and she practices it every day, and I am so grateful.  

My eldest, Rowan, recently expressed that life seems to expect mastery after only two rodeos. That’s a small number of rodeos.Image result for know everything by my second rodeo

I agree wholeheartedly.   I’m fifty and every day I feel like I’m winging it, trying to pick up cues from the people around me how this is supposed to work.  But at fifty I know–most other people feel that way, too.  Maybe not as often.  

There are so many things I don’t know at 50 that I thought I’d know by now.  I know so much more about myself than I did at twenty or thirty, but I still baffle me.  The line about “I’ll feel like I’m an adult when I’m…” sounds like a joke to me now.  But the lack thereof no longer stresses me out.  

At fifty, I am a pastor and a writer. How do I know?  I pastor people and I write stuff.  Will I ever make money writing?  I hope so.  It would make life easier and would sure be nicer for Kim.  But titles have no bearing on who we are: many people with the position of pastor do not pastor at all (far too many, tragically) and wherever I go and however I get paid (or not), I pastor.  God made me to be this.  Likewise, the words always flow and someone reads them and tells me they relate or that it helps or I made them laugh or think.  Will I ever have the title of “pastor” again?  I don’t know.  But on my birthday, having the people I’ve loved and invested in recognize the impact I’ve had in their lives?  Priceless.  

Several different mentors have stressed to me, “Doing flows from being.”  I get this now.  I do these things because this is who I am; I do these things from who I am.  

Maybe I can say, fifty years in, I know who I am.  Not that I always understand why I behave in certain ways, but I know who I am. I know who God made me to be.  Living from here, whether a year or another fifty, is not trying to figure that out but trying to live it faithfully.  

So how do I faithfully live being immature?  

I’m asking that half seriously, half tongue in cheek.  I tell the young people I mentor that one indicator of maturing is learning to recognize my emotions and then choose my response, rather than having my emotions dictate my response.  By this measure, I have matured phenomenally…and still have some ways to go.  

There’s an entire series to be written about spiritual maturity and I would need some guest writers to help with that (*makes mental note*).  Take this not as a summary but merely a glimmer: spiritual maturity involves being the message we speak.  In this sense, hypocrisy is the opposite of maturity.  I hope, and fervently pray, I am maturing in this.  

But as for US common measures of maturity…I don’t know where my phone is.

And a part of me hopes I don’t find it.  

 

 

 

*”That’s no moon meme” comes up second on the Google search autofill.  Yeah.  

Things That Are Going Well

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This transition has been severely stressful.  Last weekend, Kim and I were in a septic tank.  Not symbolically.  That may tell you all you need to know about the challenges.

It struck me–or God nudged me–that many things have also gone well and I’ve been blessed and encouraged a lot.  It’s easy to focus on how bloody difficult it all has been, how, in many ways, it hasn’t gone as we’d hoped, and how transitioning to the US after seven years in Nicaragua is just plain hard, no matter what.  

But in that ever-elusive balance between being honest and choosing to focus on positives, it’s time to remember, and recount, the good stuff.

We’ve been back since late June.

Friends gave us a car.  It’s hard to express how much that helped.  Financially, of course, and practically–the only thing of more practical help than a vehicle right now is a place to live–but also morale-wise.  It showed me that God is in this part of our journey, which hasn’t always been abundantly clear to me.  They felt God led them to give us the car.  Assuming they were right, that’s some pretty cool watching out for us…and some pretty powerful listening to God by them, too.

My friend Tim gave me and Corin tickets to a baseball game.  Slightly less pragmatic gift than a car.  But it also made me feel tremendously loved.  I’d screwed up with Corin and this redeemed what was otherwise going to be one of those low moments of parenting. Going to a baseball game, or not, doesn’t seem such a crucial thing in the big picture.  But in the midst of our chaotic transition it gave us a chance to spend a day together, just be together, shout our fool heads off, and stop worrying about whether the house will sell or middle school will ever get better.  We were about twelve rows from the field.  We received lavish generosity.  One of my favorite memories with my father is a trip we took to see a baseball game together.  I hope my son says the same.

We are living with family, with my in-laws, Ben and Celeste, and their two-year-old son.  The most practical need God is meeting for us right now is this place we live.  I don’t get the sense from them that they are doing us a big favor or putting themselves out–which they are and they are–and, in fact, they seem to like it. Either they have fooled me mightily or this has gone very well.  On my end, I’ve enjoyed this extended family time so much I will miss it when we have our own home.  I consider that rave reviews.  We passed three days, and then three months, that a guest should stay,* and I’ve started to wonder whether we have missed the boat in our culture.  Nicaraguan culture practices versions of this model of family everywhere.

A funny thought: practical needs are food and a home.  Worldwide, a car is a luxury item that feels like a practical need in US culture.  You know what another actual need is?

Sleep.

I’m sleeping here.  Last night I slept 7 1/2 hours straight, without waking up once.   I dreamt deeply.  I woke up feeling rested. 

After years of insomnia, I wake up feeling like I’ve experienced a mini-miracle.  I tried not to be too whiny about my insomnia–Yeah, who am I kidding? I complained incessantly about it.  I’ll offer only this defense: it sucked.

People need sleep. Sleeping, it turns out, helps. A lot.  I would be tempted to complain about the cold–who am I kidding, I’m complaining a lot about the cold because I’m already freezing my patootie off–but I’m pretty certain colder temps get much of the credit for better sleep.  I can’t say I feel less stressed here, but I definitely traded one type of stress for another; perhaps this version doesn’t keep me awake at night.  I’ll take it.  I’ll take it and rejoice.

I’ve thought a lot about relationships since I’ve gotten back.  I find it impossible to weigh what I’ve lost against what I’ve gained (back).  I’m homesick for Nicaragua, certainly, and that mostly means for my friendships there (and fresh tortillas across the street).  There are people here I missed horribly; mostly, I tried not to think about how much I missed them.  Yet I’m very lonely, thus far.  Weird.  In the midst of that, a few people have bent over backwards to help us with preparing to sell our property and  with our move.  I’m profoundly grateful for their love, shown through lifting boxes and fixing broken stuff.

Lastly, and as a parallel, I miss our daughter, Annalise, though I feel tremendously proud of her for choosing to return to Nicaragua and invest her heart in kids there.  I also love having time with our eldest, Rowan, which I had not been able to enjoy these past three years.  I can’t weigh the gain and the loss on a scale, but I’m glad for both of our children and grateful to be their dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have more things going well than this; I opted to describe these in more detail, rather than make one of my Thirty lists.

I still don’t know what it all means, but I can see glimpses of God’s faithfulness in the midst of it.

 

*”Fish and guests smell after three days.”

Brain Damage

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Here’s the thing:  I have a really good memory.  I mean, an excellent memory.  Not a great memory for facts or figures, but for anything relational.  That’s my framework and thus I always have somewhere to hang those memories.  My high school friends get a little frustrated that I can recount in detail what happened when they (sometimes) can’t remember the event I’m describing at all.  

Here’s the thing: my memory doesn’t work right now.  It’s working for skubula, and that truly frustrates me.  It feels like brain damage.  The only brain damage I’ve experienced directly is suffering concussions.  I remember nothing of my accident, for example.  It just isn’t in my memory bank.  Right now, neither are significant things people I love have told me.  I cannot stress enough how much this pisses me off.

Because here’s the thing:  Much of what I do works because I care about people and remember what they tell me.  I joke sometimes that I have no job skill, I’m just good at being friends. I’m only half joking.  All of my ministry, in every form it takes, relies on relationship, which in turn relies on my knowledge of the people in whom I invest.  

The worst example of what I’m describing:  a truly dear friend, a guy I’ve mentored for years and years, once closely, now as more of a peer and occasionally, told me his significant other was expecting and he was going to be a father.  That is huge news.  You might argue none bigger.  In fact, he told me way ahead when few others knew.  I was honored.  

And then I forgot.  

I forgot so completely that when he was describing his life, it threw me that he kept referring to his baby.  I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa–what?!?”  Which would be an appropriate response if I hadn’t been told the news.  

But I had.  

Now, I know several of you are lining up to tell me I’m getting old and this is a natural side effect.  I’m going to have an increasingly difficult time arguing against the first point, but I reject the second.  I’m not gradually having a harder time remembering things; at some point in the last 6 to 9 months, I just started dropping things, major things, with no warning.  Nope, don’t say “Yes, that’s how it works.” I’m not buying it.  

Here’s what I think, self-diagnosing as any good pastor/teacher/coach who knows little to nothing about how the brain functions must do:  some combination of grief, stress, and long-term impact of insomnia has monkey-wrenched my memory.  

Now, in order for this not to sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself–because believe me, I’m not doing self-pity, I’m angry–I know that A)I am not going through what people with serious brain damage do, B)most likely this will be temporary.  I’m fortunate and blessed in so many ways I couldn’t write a blog long enough to name them all, much less describe them.  I know that.  

But I feel strangely disabled right now.  I don’t know what to do with or about that (other than to vent about it on here, and pray…not in that order).  I have been isolating too much during our transition, and certainly this is one reason why.  It’s not just major relational things, of course.  It’s all the things.  Today I screwed up by forgetting what I told one of my kids I would do.  Kim will ask me to do something and I’ll forget she ever said it.  Yes, we’ve all forgotten to do something our spouse asked us to do.  But usually when this would happen to me before, there would be some glimmer that we’d had the conversation.  Now, like I said, it’s just a black hole there.  It’s like trying to remember when the Prado ran into me.  Nothing.  

I have no great conclusion about this, other than to repeat that I believe it will be temporary and, as with all such things, it teaches me empathy if I’ll accept the lesson.  I’m trying.  

Also, if you asked me to, you know, officiate your wedding or baptize your child or keep your darkest secret, you might want to remind me.  Except maybe the secret thing; you might be safe there.  

 

PS I am not a hypochondriac, probably the opposite, and no, I do not believe I have a brain cloud. 

PPS Bonus points if you can name the movie I just referenced there.  

Disneyland?

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Imagine you live in Disneyland.  You’ve spent your whole life in that park, except for a few short trips to Anaheim to watch the Angels play or In-N-Out to get the world’s best burger.  You see Mickey and Snow White every day.  

You know you live in Disneyland.  You don’t believe Goofy is a real dog nor Donald a real duck.  You’ve watched the movies and understand that Ariel is representing The Little Mermaid and Mulan is an actress wearing a costume.  You understand that other places don’t have Space Mountain or Splash Mountain.  You get that the Haunted Mansion isn’t, either one.  

No one knows better or more intimately than you the shortcomings of “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  You know that some of the staff fight.  You know that a lot of kids–and adults–throw their trash on the ground.  Someone has to pick that up to keep THPoE from becoming a dump.  Maintaining happiness takes work.  You also know that being in THPoE doesn’t magically make everyone happy, Magic Kingdom though it might be.  People still scream at their children.  You’ve seen children get hit.  You’ve seen children run away.  

In other words, you know the limit of the Magic.  

So you’re neither naive nor immature in your view. 

You are, however, limited in your perspective.  Like all of us, you tend to default to believing what you’ve experienced is what others experience.  You say things like, “I know not everyone lives in an amusement park,” but you’ve only lived in an amusement park, so you don’t know exactly what that means.  You can guess.  You’ve seen pictures.  You’ve heard news reports.  But there are many aspects to life outside The Park that you can’t quite picture.  

 

No analogy is perfect and every analogy, if stretched too far, will fail.*  I’m not trying to insult anyone with this one.  I’m not suggesting that suffering and tragedies we experience are less real.  There were ways life felt richer to me there than here.  

Being back in the U.S. after living for so long in Nicaragua feels to me like living in Disneyland.  This place is extraordinary, and extravagant, and has so much that strikes me as facade.  

Every school, every public school I see in our area, has facilities vastly nicer than any but the wealthiest private schools in Nicaragua.  I’ve seen poor schools in the United States.  I know they are here, too.  But even those have much more–of almost everything–than public schools in Managua.  

I’m experiencing some of the typical reverse culture shock.  Grocery stores have So. Many. Choices.  But I’m not deadlocked or paralyzed.  I get how this works.  It’s Disneyland.

Every car on the road is nice here.  I know, people drive around some serious wreck here.  Except they don’t, not really, not in comparison to what stays on the road in Nicaragua.

Where does Nicaragua get its buses for public transportation?  Most of them are “retired” school buses. Why did they retire?  You know why.  They were too old.  Too many miles.  No longer considered “safe.”  So someone got them to Nicaragua where they were wired and welded and puttied back together, then jampacked with riders such that some literally hold onto the rear door and hang out the back.

This is Disneyland. 

I’m not saying it’s without problems.  You could argue that some of our national problems are worse than those in many developing nations (not Nicaragua’s, since April 18).  But I’m returning to a life assuming lawns and lattes and golf courses and lawnmowers.  If one assumes all of those as “normal,” a world without any of those…

Okay, some people want to debate whether you can get a latte or find a golf course in Nicaragua.  Yes, and yes.  It’s not a perfect analogy.  But golf courses and lawnmowers and even the luxury of grabbing lattes are as far from most Nicaraguans’ experience as a loudspeaker playing “Zippedy Doo Dah” and Jiminy Cricket singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  

Don’t believe me?  Our neighbor, Mileydi, who became a sister to Kim, had never seen a microwave when she first came into our kitchen.  I once tried to explain to my friend Tito, when he asked me if I owned a car, about car ownership in the U.S.  He told me, matter of factly, that he would likely never own a car.

Have you ever owned a car? 

I know, some people in the U.S. can’t afford cars.  Can anyone you know personally, anyone you are good friends with, not afford a car?  Ever in their life?  

Do me a favor.  Next time you are at church, or a grocery store if you aren’t a church-goer, just pause and look around the parking lot.  Don’t look to see who has a nicer car than you, look to see how nice the cars are there and what the sum value might be in that one parking lot, in that one church or grocery store, in your one city.  

I’m trying to adjust to Disneyland.  

Again, I’m not trying to be frivolous with this analogy.  I’m trying to convey how wildy vast and staggering our resources, our wealth, is here.

 I say this with all humility: I consider it a privilege that I lived in Nicaragua and now the world looks different to me. We were able to do that because a lot of people and some churches (i.e. groups of people) shared their resources and helped make it possible.  It cost us, too:  years toward retirement, a whole lot of hair from the top of my head, whatever the ongoing cost will be for seven years of insomnia.  

I feel responsible for that privilege, especially in how I use it to impact others. 

So here it is.  We live in Disneyland.  I live in Disneyland.  We live so differently than how the vast majority of the world lives that it’s like Disneyland by comparison.  I’m not making value judgments on us individually; I’m not saying we don’t work hard. Neither am I demeaning Nicaragua and certainly not Nicaraguans.  But if we won’t see this, or if we convince ourselves that we deserve (or earned) being born where we were, I believe we deceive ourselves.  

I’ve just been comparing U.S. life (mine, at least) to “normal” life in Nicaragua.  The violence and brutality unleashed on the Nicaraguan people by the Ortega goverment–attacking and killing unarmed citizens, firing randomly into crowds, murdering children, denying all responsibility–drives this analogy deeper.  Yesterday I heard a “bang” that sounded like a gunshot and my brain whirled to place myself.  Literally, it took me a moment, standing on our property in the mountains outside of Wenatchee, to remember I wasn’t somewhere I might be in danger from gunfire.  

I don’t think I’m traumatized.  I didn’t dive behind the brush pile I was clearing.  I am readjusting to not feeling in danger.  

So if my analogy is at all accurate, then what?  

 

 

*Snap like a rubberband, I wanted to say.  But that doesn’t exactly describe it. 

Turn, Turn, Turn

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Okay, here we go.  Last night I twisted my ankle when playing ultimate for the first time since I got back to the states.  I haven’t had an injury that’s made me miss more than a couple weeks of ultimate in…years.  I’ve been tremendously lucky at this age.  But now I’m limping like crazy when I need to be going up and down hills to get our property ready to sell (and I mean hills).  Then, as a special bonus, my son vomited spectacularly at 3AM.  

I’ve got some heavy posts about transition and following Jesus in our current climate that have been swirling in my brain, starting to take shape.  But I think I need to write a different post first.

I got to do Alex and Jameson’s wedding in Austin seven days after I arrived back in the States.  They flew me to Texas, put me up and treated me to a glimpse of their city.  It was one of the best ceremonies I’ve ever done–and I’m pretty out of practice these days–for which I give all credit to God.  It was a blast. I’m not in my mid-20’s nor a newlywed, but it restored my hope in being young and newly married, because they rock and will have an incredible, God-saturated life together, spreading the love of Jesus and learning to live by grace!  

Our friend Erinn is visiting from Maryland.  Erinn and Jeff were our best friends in Nicaragua (in a series of best-friends who-then-moved-back-to-the-US*).  I’ve got I-don’t-know-how-many friends from the US whom I’ve never seen in the US.  We’ve been introducing her to our world here.  There’s something odd but satisfying about bringing disparate parts of your world together, even as it reminds you that your life is so scattered now it will never come back together. Certainly not here.

At the beginning of the week, our friends J and A gave us a car!  I’ve got to say a few things about this.  First, moving back to the States is incredibly expensive.  It’s a great chance to see God’s faithfulness because it appears that a ladle is dipping money out of a very small bowl, very rapidly, but somehow the bowl doesn’t end up empty.  We gave our van to our friends Juan Ramon and Amada.  We were told we could probably get $2,500 for our van.  J and A were asking $2,500 for their car.  Then she felt God told her to give us the car.  

Doing what we’ve done–I would say following God’s calling the way we’ve understood it–we decided a long time ago that when people choose to share with us, we receive it with gratitude.  It’s not very self-made-and-autonomous U.S. Archetype Man of us, but missionary life wouldn’t work if we could’t receive.  Likewise, returning-from-missionary-life.  It’s humbling, but not in a bad way. 

They gave us the car in response to a request I made to borrow a car while we tried to buy one.  We got six different offers to borrow a car in addition to the Toyota Camry we were given.  Six, in 24-48 hours.  

This move is hard, and my heart still feels torn not to be in Nicaragua, but our community here pounced on the opportunity to share with us.  That helps.  I don’t know why I’m back, but I feel loved and welcomed back.  And I see God providing, even as the bill to replace the hot water unit so we can sell our house costs more than the car we didn’t buy (Man, that’s a big ladle!).  

One more thought on that, especially if you read the above and thought, “I would never take a car from someone!”   We’re able to be generous because we know God will provide for us.  I mean, we were able to give seven years of our lives because we knew God would not let us or our children go hungry.  One reason we came back, probably my least favorite but a legit one nonetheless, is to reenter working toward retirement.  As Jesus followers, we walk in faith and trust God while using discernment and acting wisely with what we’re given.  Wise doesn’t mean, “Mine, all mine!”  Neither does it mean, “I don’t need to worry about my bills!”  I think wise means we walk close to God, with open hands, giving when we see opportunity, receiving when we see opportunity.  

Finally, as I’m trying to let myself be here, not wishing I were back in Nicaragua, not questioning or arguing with God or even forcing the inevitable grief and culture shock that I’m still waiting to engulf me,** I’m reminded that God meant it about “For everything there is a season.”  I loved being in Nicaragua–I mean, after I got over hating being there–and that makes it tempting to cling to what was.  I don’t know what this new season is yet.  I don’t even know why this new season is yet, though I could explain the reasons we moved back, at least somewhat convincingly.  I simply know this is a new season and that means God has purposes for it, most of which I can’t yet see.  I could feel guilty for being back here where so much is easier–life works easier here, in so many ways.  Instead, I’m choosing, and I mean minute by minute here, to walk with my hands open for this season itself.  I don’t know what God is giving us.  I don’t know what we’ll be giving, of ourselves and what we have.  

I just know seasons change.  

 

*Jacques and Amanda, Jeff, Jeff and Aaron.  

**As someone who deals with depression, I’m daunted that re-entry is a phase in which most people experience depression.

Running Out

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I’m running out of time.  I’ve got one day left in Nicaragua.  

I’m running out of food, running out of ways to feed myself–the stove and fridge have been gone for a week–running out of shampoo and soap and now, it seems, running out of functioning keys on my laptop.  

Today was, on balance, a marvelous day.  I had one more ultimate game with the Chiquilistogua guys, who I have come to like so much.  Even though I’ve  never played in a tournament on their team, they’ve completely made me a member.  Today they gave me a disc they had made with a photo of their team stamped on it which they all proceeded to sign.  It will be one of my favorite remembrances from Nicaragua, a trophy not of winning, but of connecting.  After Sunday’s game they went around and shared with me what they’ve appreciated about me.  I’m etching those words on my heart.  Whenever I doubt my years here have been well spent, I’ll read them over again.  

I said “goodbye” to my friend Pastor Bismarck tonight, though of course we said “Hasta Luego.”  We”ll see each other again, sooner or later.  He told me a story I’d never heard.  We knew each other for a month when he helped me buy my car, since he is also a great mechanic as well as a servant-hearted friend.  The car cost $8,100.  We had to pay that in cash, which we did by giving him the money to make the purchase.  The man selling the car was shocked.  

“Why would they trust you with that much money when they don’t know you?”  

“We’re both Christians,” Bismarck told him.  “They trust me because we know God.”  

The man, on the spot, asked Bismarck to pray for him to become a Christian, too.  Then he invited Bismarck back to his house, told his wife, and she also become a Christian right then.  

I’m not sure why I’d never heard this before–Bismarck isn’t exaclty reserved with his storytelling–but he told to me as a “look what your trust did” story.  He lifted my heart tremendously, which was timely to the Nth, because my heart has been dragging on the floor lately.  I hate leaving this country I love that is suffering and daily watching the government kill its young people and then claim they’ve done nonthing wrong.  I don’t just want my spirits boosted while this misery falls all around me, but I do want to believe that my time here has meant something as I watch it tick away.  

I’m running out of space, too.  Out of weight that I can pack, which means I have to decide which things I’m not taking with.  I’m not really into things, but there are a couple of extreme exceptions, the biggest of which is books.  I’m not going to say it’s killing me, but it’s wrenching away one of my biggest sources of comfort–if that makes no sense to you, you’re not a bibliophile, and if you ask one, it’ll make sense to them, I guarantee.  

I’m almost done in the house, which is fortunate because I’m down to the last coach.  It’s the only piece of furniture to lie or sit on left in the entire house.  I deliver it to a neighbor tomorrow.  Our dog, who has been my faithful companion during this stretch since my family left, also goes to where he’ll be staying tomorrow.  Kim loves him the most but I’m going to miss him.  

Obviously, all these things need to happen.  This is moving.  It’s a countdown.  It was my idea to stick around a little bit longer, to try to have good closure.  Because of my choice, it’s been like pulling a band-aid off a little bit at a time for ten days.  Not the best way to do it.  More time doesn’t change leaving.

I’m still glad I did.  I believe God has good things for me back in Washington.  I get to go back to some people I really love, in a place where I can see God clearly and smell pine trees (kind of the same thing in my book).  I’ll be happy to be back, even as I work through this grief, and at some point I’ll see what God’s got for my next gig.  I’m looking forward to understanding a little better.  

And having said all that, it’s been worth figuring out how to keep eating without refrigeration or conventional cooking.  It’s been worth the figurative hair on my arm getting pulled, hard enough to hurt, for ten straight days, so I could tell some people I love them and thank you, eat a little more Nicaraguan food (Thank you, Emma!), preach a couple more times, play just a little more ultimate, and give what little I can in the face of this horrible, bloody crisis.  

The only things I’m not running out of, it seems, are words and prayers.  Zeke and César, Andy and Byron, Gerald and Jeremias, Samuel, Andrés, and Adán, Juan Ramon and Bismarck, Mileydi and Juan Carlos and Dora, I will miss you all so much.  Lord Jesus, put an and to this violence and raging injustice, to the lies and manipulation and self-deception.  Shine your light so the darkness here cannot hide any longer.  Raise up the leaders to move this country out of this night into a day of restoration.  Bind up and heal the wounds of the grieving and the broken hearted.  

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for caring about my small story in the midst of all this, my ridiculous life where I hope God’s grace pours through.  Please pray for my friends who are suffering now and will still be suffering when my time here has run out.  

#Nicaragua crisis in numbers: 285 dead. 1,500 injured. 156 disappeared. 72 detained (currently). 201 liberated. 4 people killed /day. Average “This is just a preliminary report. We wish it were the final report. That will come when social peace returns to Nicaragua.”- Alvaro Leiva, ANPDH

Currently the government denies it has committed this violence.

Hitting My Wall–Plus Good News!

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The stove and TV are gone.

The eph key on my computer doesn’t work anymore.

I gave away our second dog today.  That’s when I almost lost it.

I’ve said “goodbye” to some of the best people I’ve ever met, many of whom I–optimism aside–may never see again in this life, and hadn’t cried for one of them.  Part of it is how I’m wired:  if you’re right in front of me, I don’t miss you. If I’m still hugging you, you’re right here.  Even after we’ve said “goodbye” and I’m driving away, part of me thinks, “You just them like 30 seconds ago.”

Also, I think trying to do this transition in the midst of Nicaraguan’s violent upheaval, I have my emotions packed down tight into my abdomen.  I can feel them there.  It could get scary when they come up again, but not yet…except when I drove away after telling Sonny what a good dog she is.  I don’t know if she believed me.  She looked like she had doubts.*

We’re trying to use up everything.  We’re trying to limp by on what we have left–you don’t buy more when you can’t take any of it along.  Moving out of the country is different than moving across the street or city or nation.  Kim and I moved 9 times in our first  4 1/2 years of marriage.  I was in seminary and a lot of that was campus housing changes.  We loaded up pickup trucks or just carried boxes until it was all movd.  But we weren’t deciding among the art we brought with us, kitchen appliances, and keepsakes.  What’s replaceable?  How much to replace it?  Is that cheaper than the space it’s going to take in the suitcase? I have two full suitcases of books left

I realized as I was again going through my clothes to make another cut for tomorrow’s yard sale–our third, second in the barrio–that getting rid of things falls roughly between sense of direction and handwriting, both in order of what I’m good at and my emotional response to them.  If you don’t know me, I’ve been lost more times than I care to remember and a sixth grade teacher told me I would not pass college classes because my handwriting was so bad (she failed to foresee the microcomputer).  I was also raised by a packrat father and have the same tendencies.  So forcing myself to get rid of socks, t-shirts and ankle braces that I may or may not have money to replace kind of twists my guts.  You’d think I was raised in the Depression.

On the upside, we ventured out today and make it to the movie theater.  That was our second “long” outing in the past month, what used to be a 12-15 minute drive that now takes 25-30 because we have to take a route that goes literally in the opposite direction of where we’re actually trying to reach.  But I’m not complaining; I’m grateful we could get there at all.  We saw Solo for our last $4.50 movie tickets.  Ah, I will miss that.  A lot.

Last times, goodbyes, narrowing, and getting by on what’s left.

These aren’t real hardships, but I can feel myself hitting the wall.

Now I’m going to say a few blunt things and then something hopeful.
Most of our gringo friends have already gone.  I have mixed feelings about that.  I’m not judging; they have to do what they believe God leads them to do, just as we do.  But it’s weird.

People are expressing a lot of fear and concern for us.  I deeply appreciate the love behind that.  But we’re not afraid.  We’re not in direct danger.  We’re scared for the Nicaraguans who have no choice to leave if it gets worse.  We’re concerned for the people who are working for a meal today and there is no work.  Our beloved neighbors across the street who have become family to us had us over for dinner tonight, as part of our extended “goodbye.”  They are beautiful people who love God deeply.

They’re also so poor we bring plates with us when we come to dinner because they don’t own that many.  But this week, a man has been working for them, helping build an interior wall for the house renovation they have going–slow going, to put it mildly–and he is literally working to eat.  That’s what I’m afraid for.  So yes, pray for our safety and wisdom and discernment–but please pray for people to have enough to eat and for justice and shalom in Nicaragua.

ON that note, I’m going to end with the news I just read: the dialogue between the Ortega government and protesters went well today, for the first time!  I’m cautiously hopeful.  They are calling for an end to all forms of violence by all sides, independent human rights officials are being invited back in, they will dismantle barricades …and tomorrow they will discuss calling early elections to elect a new president and congress and that Ortega would not be allowed to run for reelection.

Wow.  I’ll end on a good note.  Pray.  Please pray.

 

Oh, and yes, I am pasting in the “f.”  Every single time.

*  As it turned out, she had serious doubts and bolted on her new owner.   They couldn’t catch her.  Kim had to go help them get her back.

Strangest Day

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It is severely stressful to live here right now. Today I said “goodbye” to a dear friend and one of my most valued ministry partners. We had a great conversation which all returned to “But who knows what will happen next?” “But who knows how things will be then?” “But we’ll have to see what’s happening by that time.”

Today, meaning 6PM Wednesday through 6PM Thursday, is officially my strangest day of being a missionary.  It’s all been strange, if I’m honest; I write my blog, in part, to convey how differently life runs here than in the U.S., at least than the U.S. of my experience.

But today, we have a paro nacional, a nationwide strike.  Have you ever experienced that?  I’m gonna say if you live in the US, you haven’t.  Nicaraguans may have.  I have not.  What will happen?  Maybe nothing, more literally nothing than most other days, if all businesses stay closed, as they might.  Will the outbreaks of violence increase?  Who knows?  Will it help?  We’ll have to see.

Our school went to online classes a month before we finished our semester, but Nicaraguan public schools, which have a school year that runs from february through November, still have kids going to class (I’m not sure about tomorrow; universities will close).  Seeing them appear in droves on their way home looks shockingly normal.

My Nicaraguan friends I saw today continued to be kind and generous and helpful.  Also, someone snuck into our house and stole Kim’s computer.  We don’t know how.  I tend to remember on some level that a spiritual battle constantly rages out of sight of most of us.  Good or bad, I don’t focus on it as much as some do.  Today, though, in the midst of all this chaos and violence and uncertainty, when I came home and Kim told me someone had stolen it, that felt like an attack from Satan.  And, of course, someone doing a bad thing to us.  She’s very sad and discouraged.  We walked around the house for a while looking for it because it didn’t seem possible.  But it’s gone.  It would take a miracle for it to come back, so I’d ask you to pray for one.

In perspective, of course, people are suffering much worse here.  It feels like a spiritual attack because it comes at such a vulnerable, difficult moment. That’s my experience of the enemy, to kick you in the gut or the teeth when you’re down.

When I say “strangest day,” I mean being face-to-face with a national crisis like this. Living in the midst of it, where life feels both normal and really freaking strange.  I mean try to imagine a US national strike in which all businesses close.  Right.  So do we hide inside tomorrow?  The Nicaraguans with whom I play ultimate invited me to their spontaneous practice tomorrow–they’re playing because hey! it’s a day off.  Will I play?  We’ll have to see.

I played with them today, which is their regular day to practice.  I can’t put into words how good it felt to run and vent off the accumulated stress.  I’d noticed my nerves were frayed and I had to control myself not to yell at my kids for things that normally wouldn’t even catch my attention–and at which I should not be yelling.  I even told my son today that a few times when I had to stop and recenter and calm myself, those were not his fault in the least, but simply an affect of the tension we’re all living under now.  Ultimate players, we played threes.  Non-ultimate players, three on three means a lot of running–I mean a ridiculous amount of running.  I loved it.  I needed it.

I don’t know how our Nicaraguan friends are coping with the stress.  I think, as my friend Eric pointed out, US folks believe  we have a right to choices, to control, to getting to decide how things go for us.  I believe many Nicaraguans, especially those who live in poverty, have fewer expectations (or illusions) to be in control of every situation, or to have the power over their circumstances to choose as they please.  I mean, like we do.

But I can say, not as a generalization or stereotype but thinking of each person with whom I’ve spoken today, that my Nicaraguan friends remain positive and hopeful.  When I ask, “Are things calm in your neighborhood” and the answer is, “Yes, they’re fine, just one truck drove by with seven guys with their faces covered shooting guns, but just that one time and otherwise it’s calm, everything else is good, gracias a Dios,” I’m pretty sure that would sound different being described by gringo friends. Or me.  

So we keep counting down days, we keep breathing in stress, we keep trying to love the people well while we’re still here.  Tonight our friend Aaron bought pizza for everyone (thanks, Aaron!) and we had two Nicaraguan families and a temporary bachelor over for dinner.  We had a blast.  We laughed.  Of course we talked about the situation here, and about our stolen computer. Not everything was light-hearted.  But we celebrated being together while we still are and we enjoyed our friendships even though tomorrow is completely uncertain.

“I came to you…”

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My emotions are so overwrought tonight I don’t know if I’ll be able to write anything coherent.  But I can’t keep going around the same circles in my head and if I read any more news I might explode or have an aneurysm.  So here we go:

Jesus always, and I mean always, takes the side of the oppressed and the persecuted.  Always.

That is what the Gospels say.

In fact, the suffering human being is Jesus.  That is what Jesus says in the Gospels.

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”

“When, Lord?”

“Just as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.”

When you fed that hungry person, you fed Jesus.  Symbolically, metaphysically, literally, I don’t know, but you fed Jesus himself.  That’s what Jesus says.

When you did not feed that hungry person, you did not feed Jesus.  “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat.”  He says nothing about whether you saw him or lived in the same country or had the same color skin or agreed politically.  That doesn’t come up.

I believe this about Scripture: we have to understand the context of what is written and then apply it to our own context.

So, the context of Matthew 25?

Jesus is telling his disciples the last things he wants them to hear and remember.  In chapter 26, they share the Passover meal (we often call it “The Last Supper” or “The Lord’s Supper”), and then Jesus prays in Gethsemane, is betrayed, and arrested.

In immediate context, Jesus says “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him…”

 When we interpret Scripture, we discern between passages directed to a specific context and from which we glean general principles, and those that have transcendent or universal truth, meaning they apply, basically as stated, to all times and places.  

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Transcendent.  All times, all places.

“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”  2 Timothy 4:13  Specific context, not to be applied universally.

“No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” I Timothy 5:23  You tell me.

Thus, when Jesus says, “all the nations will be gathered before him,” we conclude, with confidence, we apply it universally.

Now, Jesus gives a range of examples in this passage.  I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger (which, in biblical context, means I was a person from another country now living in your country), naked, sick, in prison.

Question: does Jesus mean rape victims?  Is he strictly limiting this teaching to these six categories?  How loosely or strictly is he defining his words?  Lots of people go hungry every day.  Does he mean the ones who are starving to death?  Only those?  The child on your block who is malnourished?  The alcoholic who begs for change, who has not eaten in a day and a night but might take your quarter and use it on more booze?

Here’s what I think about these questions: read the Gospels and tell me Jesus’ intent.  What is his heart?  How does he treat the woman caught in adultery?  The woman bleeding for twelve years?  Peter, after Peter said, “I swear to God I have never heard of this man Jesus!”  What does Jesus tell us the father of the prodigal son does, says, is?

This isn’t a test, much less a test with tricky, loaded questions.

YES, rape victims.  Yes, children who have enough to eat and drink but who receive no attention or love from parents or teachers or anyone else.  Yes, for the love of God, suicidal teenagers.  YES, transgender kids.  Yes, middle-aged, successful-appearing alcoholics, and yes, porn addicts and gambling addicts and…  Yes.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

So come back now to how Jesus always sides with the oppressed and the persecuted.  Who is Jesus?  What is his heart?  Would Jesus side with the bully or the victim of bullying?

What a stupid question.

Yes, I know.

Now tell me what we do about refugees.  Tell me what we do about victims of rape and domestic violence who seek asylum in the US.  Tell me, on what do we base that decision?

Tonight, I am watching the news blow up.  Tonight, in Nicaragua, innocent people are being attacked by the police.  But worse, they are no longer waiting for cover of darkness.  Now they are attacking in broad daylight.  It’s not really safe to talk about it, but neither is it safe for my neighbors for me to keep silent.  I can’t do anything to stop the riot police from attacking innocent children–my friend Andres said his brother was smashed in the face with a gun and two of his teeth were broken but he was not protesting, he was just at work.  All I can do right now is pray and ask you to pray.  Are you praying?  Do I side with the bully or the young man getting his face bashed with a rifle butt?  Which side is Jesus on?

The United States, as I understand it, just changed the law so that women who have been raped or brutalized by gangs in their countries, whose lives are in danger, will not be granted asylum in the US.  Yes, we condemn those gang members as “animals” and decry their violence, but we will not offer protection to their victims?  No?

“I was raped and I came to you for safety and you…”

Finish that sentence.

 

Plans and Life

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Commencement speech at NCA, Annalise’s graduating class of 2018.  You can also see and hear it by clicking here and going to -51:43 for however long Facebook keeps it posted. 

[Last time, student self-rating, one through ten.]

Thanks for having me speak, Guys. This is an honor. Of course, no one listens to a commencement address, since you’re sitting there thinking, “OH. MY. GOSH! I’m finally graduating!” So thanks for the honor of making me the last person in high school you don’t listen to.

C.S. Lewis writes, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.”

Now I know it’s difficult, but try to imagine what it would be like if your plans didn’t work out exactly the way you wanted them to. I don’t know, I’m just—let’s think of some hypothetical situation in which you had worked really hard on something and it didn’t turn out at all the way you wanted.

Imagine if you were seniors in high school and had a month left of school, just an ordinary day, classes going by slowly, and then suddenly it turned out that was the last day you’d ever have classes together. Imagine if you were trying to teach a Bible class and all you needed was to be able to be in a room together—and then you can’t be.

It’s not that hard to imagine, is it? Everything is interrupted right now. In fact, we’re having trouble now imagining a life in which everything goes the way we plan it.

So this is what I want to tell you, and it’s one simple thing that I honestly hope you remember for the rest of your lives: Life doesn’t go as planned. Plans are a fantasy. Lewis calls it “ a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

Now that I’ve told you the simple thing, here is the paradox: Of course we make plans. You had a whole Senior Presentation Night—I mean, morning—so you could share your plans for your future. You’re going to college. You’re going to work. You’re going to meet that beautiful person and marry them, or marry the beautiful person you’ve already met, and have beautiful kids. I mean, Mario has a girlfriend.  (I got Mario’s permission to say that.)

That’s the plan.

But life doesn’t go as planned. Life is the constant back and forth, the tug of war, the push and pull, between what we want try to make happen and what actually happens. Life is the dialectic between our plans and our lives.

Dialectic,” in case you happened not to be listening to Miss Pasker that day, either, is a reasoned argument between two sides holding opposing views. Like when Santi and Juan P didn’t agree and argued. Every class.

I could stand up here and tell you that everything will come out perfectly for you if you just work hard enough. Or pray hard enough.

But you know my testimony. That isn’t true. Imagining that if we just pray, God will make all our dreams come true is fantasy.

Jesus gives us a very clear picture of what will happen. In Luke 6, Jesus says, 46 Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

The most important word, for us, is “When.” When the flood arose. In every life, the flood will arise. How can we live in Nicaragua right now and not know that? Did any of us plan for this. I’m being completely serious—did any of foresee what the last month of your senior year would be like? What kind of storm we’d face?

Some of you have already faced storms and that’s why it’s hard for you to trust God. Some of you have had smooth sailing, no big floods, no nasty storms, and you don’t really want to give up running your life because you like how it’s going.

If we know the storm is coming, then we prepare for it. Jesus says that acting on his words is building a house that has a foundation, that can stand through a flood. Because the flood will come. We know that. It’s here now.

Jesus also says that not acting on his words is like building a house with no foundation. It might look nice. It might look beautiful. But when the flood comes, that house doesn’t have anything to stand on, anything to hold it strong in place. The flood just carries it away. “When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

I know some of you don’t believe this, and I respect that, because I respect that you have to make your own decisions about your lives. Part of what we’re doing today, handing you your diplomas, having you flip those tassels from one side to the other—don’t mess that up, Gabe—is symbolism that you have made it through this preparing time in your lives and you’re ready to make your own choices for your lives. Or you’re not ready, but it’s time, anyway.

I have only this to offer you, and I sincerely pray you remember it: God loves you. God loves you if you are following Jesus and doing your best to live by what He says. God loves you if you aren’t following Jesus and doing your best to live by only what you say. God loves you.

That’s the one thing I can promise you will be constant in your life. That’s the only plan I can tell you for certain will work out.

When you set out in your little kayak, you expect to paddle out and paddle back. That’s your plan. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

But it doesn’t always, does it?

Life doesn’t go as planned.

I trust you all remember what X is?

This is your calling. This is where your passion, the thing you love, the thing you were made for that grabs your heart, intersects with the world’s needs. Where you are able to do the thing you love and use that to help others.

But we don’t try to say that’s going to happen on these exact dates, doing this exact job, with these exact people. Because life doesn’t go as planned. If we get locked into “It has to happen in a certain way, exactly like this,” then we get frustrated and discouraged. We can get cynical.

As Lewis said, “the interruptions are precisely one’s real life, the life God is sending one day by day.”

Live that life. Don’t let the interruptions knock you off track from your calling. They are your calling. Your X is where your passions meet the world’s needs IN REAL LIFE. If you have this perfect picture of how you’re going to carry out your X but then it never works out that way so you never really do anything, you are missing your real life.

Some of those interruptions will turn out to be your husbands and wives. You’re going to get knocked off your plan, you’re going to go paddling out into the Laguna, and in the midst of being off course and stuck, you’re going to run into someone just as off course and stuck as you are. That’s your real life. Live it. Build on rock and live it. We can get angry that we don’t get to have the graduation party you all planned, and that’s fine, that’s legit, but don’t stay angry, don’t get so stuck in your anger that you miss the party we’re going to have right here. Because this is the party you get, with your classmates, one last time, and then everyone goes their way. This is the interruption. This is the life God has sent us and we can embrace it or we can reject it, but we can’t send it back for a better one or hold out for the one we planned on.

Last thing. Because life doesn’t go as planned, the things you need most are God’s love and true friends. Most of you already know that. Some of you know you made it through because you have true friends. That’s a good thing. Find those friends. Keep those friends. Friends who will love you unconditionally, who will stick by you, who won’t bail on you when life gets ugly. God shows us his love through one another, through our friendships. When you are praying and asking God to reveal himself and you have real friends, God has revealed himself to you.

Let’s get you diplomas.