Advent, Day 4: Long-Suffering

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(Photo: Robyn Mundy)

I believe we are sinners.

I absolutely believe that God delights in us and that there is inherent good in us.  We were created in God’s image and though we have marred and warped that image, the spark of God remains, even in the worst of us, even in our worst moments.  I firmly believe that.  

And we are sinners.  We hurt one another.  We act with hatred instead of love.  We act selfishly and call it love.  We do not do to others as we would have them do to us, we ignore and hurt our neighbors instead of loving them as ourselves.  We’re not even that great at loving ourselves, at least not in a life-giving, God-glorifying way.  What we call “love” for ourselves often is the fast or slow train to self-destruction.

I’m not trying to be a downer, I’m simply telling you what I see.  God saved us from ourselves because we bloody well needed saving.  When I look around, I think we could use a lot more saving–and I mean all of us.  

Jesus came in human form because God is long-suffering.  

Those of us who are parents know how many times we can endure having our child do the same disobedient thing before we lose it at them.  (“Mike, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”    
That’s fine.  The blog about unicorns and gold at the end of rainbows is just down there, at the other end of the internet.)  When I pray and breathe deeply and get enough sleep and plenty of exercise, God makes me able to endure a few more times than that.  But I have a limit and all my kids have seen what happens when I  exceed (with their capable help) exceed my limit.  

Jesus came to extend God’s limit for us to this:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38)

From the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  

I am convinced of this.  I don’t always get it, but I’m convinced of it and for all of us.  

Jesus came close to us so that nothing could separate us.  Jesus saw what single-mindedly self-sabotaging beings we are and instead of shouting, “That’s it!  I’ve had enough!  You want to do that to yourself?  Fine!  Have at it!”* Jesus came into our darkness.  Jesus caused himself unimaginable, incalculable suffering because he, too, had had enough–but instead of exploding at us, instead of punishing us, instead of even leaving us to the natural consequences of what we had done (were doing/are doing) to ourselves, Jesus came and made a way to peace.  

Advent shows us how long-suffering God is, because even now, as we count down to Christmas and run around acting like the point of the Season (which we’ve nam is to buy presents, stuff ourselves, overschedule and get stressed out, God comes to us not in anger nor disappointment, not even in resignation, but in Peace, offering us true peace.  

 

 

*As I’m sure none of us have ever done.  

Advent, Day 3: Gentleness

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A long time ago now I read a piece by Walter Wangerin called “An Advent Monologue.”  Though the language is dated now, I still recommend it.  It stuck with me, as good writing does.  It introduced me to the idea of God’s gentleness.

In the books of the law and the prophets, a person who looked upon God would die.  Not that God would strike that one dead, but that the very act of beholding God with mortal eyes would slay him or her.  

Of what did they die?  Awe?  Broken heart?  Heart attack?  Aneurysm?  Did the view of God burst heart or mind?  

Moses, however, looked on God and lived.  He went up on the mountain and spoke with God and returned with a face shining so brightly that the people could not bear the sight of him.  The reflected glory, the absorbed glory of God was unbearable, even in a broken human being.  

Those are the kinds of occurrences, I’ve discovered, that people who do not count themselves as Jesus followers tend to see as fiction.  

But the more hard to accept event, if you will, is the virgin birth.  I think it touches on too many things.  It touches on sex, or the lack thereof.  A virgin will bear a child and give birth.  Virgins don’t bear children, at least not in the age before in vitro fertilization.  An engaged young women, “betrothed to be wed,” turns up pregnant, so now we have sex and scandal.  That wasn’t a culture which took such things in stride (he understated).  Name and reputation were at stake, which also meant business prospects and future opportunities.  If this child was conceived out of wedlock, his fortunes were largely ruined before birth.  

“No one should be surprised that Mary claimed not to have had sex,” I’ve been told, “the surprise is that billions of people throughout history have believed her.”  I’ve been told this in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge manner, as if to say “We’re all adults here and we’re not really pretending that’s true.  Right?”

I think that’s funny.  I believe in a bunch of crazy things, easily six impossible things before breakfast, the central one of which is that a man was God, that God became a particular man, and this particular God-man not only lived on earth but resurrected from the dead after being violently murdered.  I not only believe that happened, I believe it has formed me.  I’m not a rich or famous man, but I have had a number of people call me the most influential person in their lives for a period of time, and a smaller group within that will tell you I saved their lives.  The crazy things I believe have helped other people live.  

I don’t consider the virgin birth even Top Ten of improbable things I believe.  

But I do consider it the utmost evidence of God’s gentleness.  

Those who believe in God would say that God could have chosen many means of self-revelation.  Romans tells us that nature has revealed God’s divine nature and eternal power.  Yet many who love nature see nothing of a God or Creator there.  

God chose to be born.  God’s choice for revealing almighty power, but more importantly unconditional, unwavering, undefeatable love was to become an embryo and, eventually, a newborn.  John writes, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”

I know this seems crazy if you don’t believe in Jesus’ deity.  It’s a ridiculous assertion. I believe it because the ridiculous assertion, or the subject of the ridiculous assertion, changed me.  

For those of us who believe in Jesus’ deity, this should strike us as more crazy than it does.  

God whose appearance caused instant death became God who depended on humans for life.  God the all-powerful made himself so powerless that any adult, any child could have taken his life.  

Within the last twenty-four hours of his life, Jesus would tell his disciples that he could appeal to his Father who would at once send more than twelve legions of angels.*  But he did not.  

Jesus entered in gentleness and left in gentleness.  Some have described it as weakness, but weakness, self-imposed, is gentleness.  

Jesus came to his own, and those whom he had created did not recognize him.  He didn’t force them.  He still doesn’t. 

Gentleness is a withholding of strength.  Jesus used gentleness to express love.  

He still does.  

 

*A legion of the Roman army had roughly 6,000 men, so assuming Jesus was speaking in context for his followers to understand, he meant about 72,000 angels.  Considering that a single visiting angel invariably scared the snot out of whomever received the visit (“Do not be afraid,” every single time) seventy-two thousand would have provided sufficient force.  I don’t know where this one ranks in the “improbable things,” but I do believe it.  

Advent, Day 2: Patience

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God is patient.  

The Bible tells us 

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (I Peter)

“Patience is a virtue,” we jokingly remind one another when we grumble over having to wait.  Patience is a virtue, and also a fruit of God’s Spirit: 

By contrast [to the stuff I do when I’m not cooperating with God’s Spirit working in me] the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians)

If you’re God, and you live outside of time, I’m not entirely sure what “patience” means, because for us patience always relates to time and the passing of time.  The prophetic Tom Petty told us, “The waiting is the hardest part,” and those of us who have children can certainly attest to this.  I love my son dearly, but I believe his average attention span currently runs around 1.6 seconds.  Today, while we were out taking our dog for a walk, he said, “Dad, let her leash go so she can run to me.”  I registered what he said, I unwrapped the leash from around my hand, and in that time he was distracted and looking away by the time she started running.  That, of course, tested my patience.  

Patience and waiting are related, as described in Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” If you can see it, you’re talking about something other than hope.  “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

When we talk about hope and waiting and patience related to Advent, we mostly talk about the people of God waiting for a Messiah.  We talk about the prophecies that a Messiah would come and bring Shalom, that God would send this one:

Who has believed what we have heard?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53)

Jesus followers believe this foretells and describes Jesus.  I believe that.  I believe Jesus somehow atones for my sins, and yours.  

But here is the patience I want to point to: God, who had this plan for salvation laid out for what I can safely say was a long time, came and started a human life in vivo, within the uterus of a teenage girl.  Then God grew at the same rate as the rest of us each day.  God came to term and Mary gave birth to God in human form–which I know sounds nuts but so does the rest of my life, so it fits–and God took his first breath of air with human lungs.  God screamed his first cry* with human vocal cords.  Then God patiently lived a human infancy.  God learned to crawl, and to walk, and to talk, and to feed himself.  God went through puberty.  God who would walk on water and calm storms learned the trade his father taught him and said, “Yes, Mother” (okay, “כן, אמא.” “Ken, Eema.”*).

I don’t know when Jesus understood his calling, his life, himself. Every child at some point thinks, “Wow, I’m different.”  What did Jesus think?  When did awareness of his deity occur?  One of the heresies that emerged in the early church said, “Jesus just appears to be human; yes, he’s fully God, but bodies are inherently evil so he gave only the perception of being incarnate.”***

But at some point that happened.  I find the Trinity most mind-boggling during the time of Jesus’ incarnation.  God in heaven waiting for God in human form to become aware of being God.  Got your head around that?  But God waited patiently.  

Then Jesus became aware that he was God, would die on a cross, would resurrect from the dead and…God waited.  

God waited patiently, in hope, and hope that is seen is not hope. I’m not suggesting Jesus doubted who he was–there is no Scripture addressing it and I’m not speculating here.  I’m saying at some particular moment in time and space, in our world of time and space, God who had lived eternally, who had created the cosmos, all that exists (“billions and billions of stars”), grasped, “I’m going to die for all these people, the beautiful, kind ones and the nasty, treacherous ones.”  

Then God waited.

I’m waiting.  I’m waiting on God, I’m waiting to see if God will be faithful, I’m waiting to see how some horribly difficult things in my life, and in our world, turn out.  I believe Jesus is coming again, and I’m waiting.  I’m waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  I’m waiting for God’s restoration and redemption of creation.  I’m waiting for God to lead me.  

God has waited, too.  God understands waiting.  God is waiting still. 

Jesus is patient.  

 

 

*”But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”  Yeah, I don’t buy that.  I think he shrieked.  

**I think that’s right.  Feel free to correct me; seminary was a long time ago.  

***Docetism, 2nd Century.  Problem was, if Jesus did not have a human body Jesus could not die on the cross or rise from the dead.  

Advent Day 1: Empathy

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I haven’t written much on my blog lately.  In fact, I haven’t posted since Election Day.  

I have many reasons, including trying to focus on other writing, continuing to struggle through this transition, and the intense discouragement I feel over both the state of US politics and the widening chasm between those of differing political beliefs.  “Discouraged” may not be a strong enough word; I’m depressed as hell about it.  

And today brings Advent.  I’ve been staring at this computer for the past 2+ hours, trying to figure out what I might say.  There hasn’t exactly been a popular outcry for a return of my blog, but enough people have said they appreciate it–and I know writing it can be healthy for me–so I want to try another Advent series.  This one will be different.  

 

Empathy

God created us and God knows everything.  Jesus followers believe both of those statements.  

Sympathy is feeling bad for another’s pain.  Empathy is sharing in another’s pain.  

Put another way, sympathy means concern for another from the outside, from my perspective.  Empathy means concern for another from understanding and relating to their point of view and to their experience.  If I sympathize, I feel bad for them.  If I empathize, I feel their pain along with them.  

Among the paradoxes I find trying to know God is this:  What did God learn when Jesus became incarnate?  

Did God learn what human pain felt like from the inside?  Did God know that already from the outside?  We talk about how God is present everywhere and therefore “the outside” can’t really apply to God.  

Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”  Then Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus became perfect through suffering and Hebrews 5 adds that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.*

I can more easily wrap my head around that Jesus learned obedience because it makes sense to me that obedience tested and fulfilled is more truly obedience than obedience in theory.  It’s tougher to grasp what Jesus knew and when: he grew in wisdom as he aged, like the rest of us?  He didn’t know the hearts of all people when he was, say, two?

But I’m not dabbling with “Can God create a rock too big for God to lift…” stuff here.  I’m in awe of incarnation and especially of this: the almighty God of the Universe who is eternal and knows all things, became limited, became weak, became vulnerable, and experienced our pain directly, not indirectly.  Sometimes I’m comforted when I hear “God cries with you” and “God suffers when you do.”  Other times, I think (or say) “The hell God does!  I’m depressed and insecure and feel like a failure and God may sympathize but God does not know how that feels to empathize.”  

But maybe God does.  Maybe Jesus felt depressed when folks he loved gave up on his ridiculous ideas and went back to a wiser, safer life.  Maybe Jesus knows exactly what loss feels like because he experienced more of it as a human than any of us could.  Did God empathize with us before Jesus lived and grew in Mary?  Perhaps.  I know God empathizes with us us through being born, being a poor refugee, being a beloved and despised teacher.  

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, apologetically, “I’m really excited about this but it’s such a small thing.  It’s silly.”  I’ve said it myself, too often.  But I think Jesus rejoiced in small things.  I think Jesus knows how that feels.  I think our celebration of small things–sunlight through clouds, grass on bare feet, a bite of a good apple, a cute dog–glorifies God and emulates Jesus.  Small cups of water and little children and two pennies in an offering and good wine at a wedding.  Jesus knows how important these are; Jesus feels how sacred these are.  

Hebrews says we have a high priest (Jesus) who suffered every temptation we do.  True.  He also laughed at bad jokes and ran on the sand.  He empathizes with our whole human experience.  He had both a former tax collector (so pro-government he was considered a traitor to his people) and a zealot (so anti-government he called for violent revolution) calling him “rabbi.”  

He wept over Jerusalem.  He wept with Mary and Martha over Lazarus, who would be walking out of the grave in about five minutes, because he loved them, not abstractly or from a distance, not at arms’ length, but with his arms around them, feeling them shake when they cried.  

I feel distant from God.  I do.  I haven’t heard God much since I moved back to the States.  Lots of reasons, lots of idea and theories why that might be. I’m swimming in deep water.  

But I don’t feel abandoned by God because, as Advent reminds us, God is with us.  Immanuel.  God chose not to stand outside or watch from “above” or even to know us solely as Creator; God knows us as we are from being one of us. 

God empathizes.  

 

*”Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”

 

Clipart: <a href=”https://clipartxtras.com/”>clipartxtras.com</a>

 

Terrified on Election Day

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I haven’t written a blog post in a long time.  I haven’t suffered insomnia much since I moved back from Nicaragua.  This morning (3AM) I can’t sleep and here I am starting a post; I’ll let you decide if correlation equals causation.  

Today is election day.  That may be why I can’t sleep.  I may be terrified for our country.  

I’m not young anymore.  I act childishly, of course, but I’ve now seen many elections, voted many times, and been alive long enough to watch our country moving in a particular direction.  I lived outside the U.S. for seven years, which gave me a different perspective on both US politics and the impact the US has upon other parts of the world.  

People believe what they want to believe.  All of us, consciously or unconsciously, make up our minds and then gather evidence to support what we “know,” rather than looking at the evidence and deciding what to believe.  I believe this trend in public discourse has become worse as I’ve grown older.  

It isn’t a new phenomenon.  Every marriage ever survives or dies  based on this behavior.  

If you can’t see evidence that controverts what you believe, then you can never say and mean these words:  “I’m sorry, I see now I was wrong.”  

If you can’t accept evidence that contradicts what you “know,” your mind can’t be changed.  

That’s a terribly frightening position to take in life.  Frightening for you and frightening for others around you.  

If you can’t be wrong–if you can’t see when you are wrong–you are dangerous to yourself and others.  

As a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that life and death hangs on these words: “I have sinned; please forgive me.”  

“I have sinned” means “I was wrong.”  

I once gave a sermon entitled “You’re Wrong.”  Christians have an easier time saying “I’m a sinner,” than “I’m wrong.”  I think we rattle off “I’m a sinner” because that’s our party line and we know we have to acknowledge it.  The Bible says so.  “I’m wrong” proves a harder confession than “I’m a sinner,” because yeah, we’re all sinners…but I’m still right in this argument.  

That’s the opposite of repentance.  Repentance means, literally, turning around and going in the opposite direction.  

But what if I can’t–or won’t–ever see that I’m going in the wrong direction in the first place?  What if Peter looks Jesus in the eye and says, “I didn’t deny you!” and then argues for his innocence?  

Here’s the thing:  You don’t think you’re wrong.  You don’t want to believe you’re wrong.  Accepting you’re wrong is costly.  Acknowledging you’re wrong?  Hoo-boy, that’s exorbitant.  

No one wants to pay that price.  

None of this is new.  Adam and Eve both ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  When God confronted them–when their guilt was obvious for all to see: hiding from God, newly clad in fig leaves, cores and seeds strewn on the ground–neither said, “Yes, I did that. I shouldn’t have.  I’m sorry.”  

What terrifies me now is that our political parties have recognized “We will get absolute loyalty from our members when we demonize the other party.  When we can convince our members that anything the other side does, no matter how positive-looking, is either inherently evil or else a ploy to deceive people (us!) so that they can commit a more cruel and vile evil, we will never lose a voter again.”  

“Fake news” plays perfectly into this.  Any appearance that my side actually did something wrong, or even heinous, I can dismiss as fake news.  Exaggerated, twisted, taken out of context, wholly fabricated.  I can read a news report, I can listen to an audio recording, or even watch the video of an event and still tell myself, “That never happened.”*

No, I did not eat that fruit.  No, I did not deny you.  

We, our side, were not wrong, because A)You all are liars, and B)You are the enemy. Therefore, even if my side appears to have done wrong, it’s for a greater good, just as when your side appears to have done good, it’s for a deeper evil.  

I had a conversation last night with friends and one of them stated, “For people who support this president, nothing can change their minds.”  He wasn’t using hyperbole.  He meant it literally.  

I’m terrified.  

As a follower of Jesus, I believe God still redeems and heals and restores.  I believe I will see my son Isaac again.  I know God has defeated death.  

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

When I say I’m scared, I’m scared for us.  I’m scared for what we are letting our country become, I’m scared for who we will allow ourselves to be, while telling ourselves we are the opposite.  

Deceiving ourselves stands diametrically opposed to following Jesus.  Demonizing our enemies is antithetical to the Gospel…making our fellow countrymen and women the enemy and then demonizing them? 

Jesus calls us to love our enemies.  Jesus calls us to love the poor and the refugee (stranger).  Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves us. If those commandments “sound political,” the problem is not with the Gospel, but with our politics.  

Politics based on fear and hatred of our enemies, politics that vilify others to win your vote, politics that tell you to hate the people Jesus commands you to love, those are diseased.  They may appear to produce results–and even win elections–but they bear rotten fruit.  Nothing in the Gospels teaches us that the end justifies the means.  Quite the opposite.  We live faithfully and leave the results to God. 

We love faithfully, and leave the results to God.  

Where there is hatred, we sow love, not more hatred. 

I know some of my political views may offend you and if so, I appreciate that you’ve read this far…unless it’s just to prove me wrong.  I may be wrong; if so, I want to know.  

Marcus Aurelius wrote “If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.”

More importantly to me, Jesus said “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Ironically, some of those listening to him say these words argued, called him names, and, when they fully grasped what he was saying, tried to throw stones at his head.  

“Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  Racist names, at that.  

That captures my fear: when we hear the truth, will we repent? Or will we go after the speaker with stones?  Will I admit when I’m wrong or will I say you have a demon?  

The truth will make me free, if I receive it…but not if I attack it.

 

*”Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said. “Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”  This was in a speech to veterans regarding tariffs.  See video here.

 

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.  

Three Moments of Serendipity

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The transition, as anticipated, sucks.  We’ve experienced many good things, including some powerful moments of kindness and generosity, but we’re homesick for our adopted country, we’re stuck and waiting for some things that are out of our control (selling our house), and the Nicaraguan government continues to abuse and murder its own citizens.

How we see the world affects everything:  what we believe, how we feel, how we live.  In my post about Mom I acknowledged that choosing to see things positively–even when they aren’t all bright and sunny–impacts us over the long run.  

Thus, three glimpses of seeing the world as a place where God moves.

1)We went to the farmer’s market Saturday.  I love the farmer’s market.  It’s a glimpse of the America I want to live in.  I went buy lemon-blueberry scones for my daughter who is recovering from knee surgery while trying to start at a huge new high school (did I mention about “sucks?”) But the woman selling her baked goods was having an excellent morning and was mostly cleared out.  Bummer.

But I’m a dad trying to help, so I asked, “Do you have any more of those lemon blueberry scones?”  She looked at me funny, hesitated, then said, “My daughter cut the scones this morning.  We cut them into eighths, but she accidentally cut them into sixths.  She was embarrassed, so she set them aside.”  Then the woman reached down and pulled out two enormous scones, the biggest scone portions I’ve ever seen.  Lemon blueberry.  

The moment went from Dad Fail to bringing my recovering, discouraged child these monster scones. I explained our situation and told the woman, “Let your daughter know that her embarrassing miscut was a serendipitous blessing for my daughter.”*

2)Yesterday I took a walk to clear my head and try to replace some of the bad thoughts with better ones.  I saw a yard sale sign and thought, “Nah, I don’t need to go to a yard sale.  We need to get settled first. We don’t have anywhere to put stuff yet.”  I kept walking.  

But somehow I felt an urge to go, anyway.  So I turned around and followed the sign to the sale.  

It was a big sale, but nothing I was very interested in.  I realized she had set up inside as well as in her yard and driveway.  Lots of stuff.  I bought a few vintage magazines for the sports articles and a Kubler-Ross book for a buck.  I chatted with the home owner and her friend for a moment, mentioning that we had moved recently.  

The friend asked, “Do you want to help her move?”  And the woman asked, “How much do you charge an hour?  Do you have a buddy who could help, too?”  

Uhhh…

She explained her situation, how she must get out of the house quickly because it closes in two weeks even though her next home is not ready yet.  I took her number and told her I’d let her know.  

But as I continued my walk, I felt very clear that I should help her move and that my eldest child might join me.  So forty-five minutes later, I went back and said, “Sure, I’ll help,” and gave her my hourly rate, which she readily accepted.  She showed me all the things that need to be moved and explained her situation in more detail–she got screwed, knowingly and intentionally, by the seller of the home she’s moving to.  

As I was leaving, she said, “Thanks.  Now I’ll sleep better, knowing I have someone who can help,” and her friend said, “It wasn’t a coincidence that you came by here.  What church do you pastor.”  I don’t right now, of course, but I told her we go to New Song and asked her if she has a church.

“No, but I need one.  I’ll come visit.”  

I’ve been back since June 29.  I haven’t gone to a yard sale until yesterday. I had no plans for that one–even reasoned why not to go.  Then I went and saw why.  

I think that was my first moment since returning of seeing how God is working through me.  The hours of work will do me good. Helping will be great.  

But being the answer to someone else’s prayer, the instrument of someone else’s serendipity?  

3)This morning I hiked with Brady, a dear friend, a guy I’ve mentored ten years, the one who calls me “Yoda.”  I pushed the time back twice and when he came to pick me up, it took me a little while to get out the door. We hiked up Saddle Rock, possibly the most frequented trail in Wenatchee.  As we neared the top, we passed a group and someone yelled, “Mike!”  

I turned and saw Emily, who spent a year working at our school in Nicaragua!  She goes to college in the Seattle area, but the odds of being in that same place at that moment–she’s never been to Wenatchee before, Brady and I haven’t hiked together in years, the time of our departure changed repeatedly–were still astronomical. 

Emily is extra.  Her laugh and smile light up her surroundings.  We did that everything-at-once catch-up-in-passing and apologized to our companions, who seemed able to share in our delight of that unlikely encounter.  

 

I haven’t written much recently (see first sentence). I’ve started several posts and gotten nowhere. But as I was telling Brady about the yard sale, my brain clicked: that’s three in three days.  

Maybe they’re all coincidences.  But I see them as serendipity.

How we see changes who we are.  

 

 

*Yes, I used “serendipitous.”  It’s like cowbell–you don’t get that many opportunities and have to take full advantage when you do.   

 

Precious

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I’m tired.  It’s hard to adequately describe or even summarize the last two weeks.  I chose not to write about it at the time because I wanted to live it, instead, and my time felt limited and stretched as it was.  As always, I tried to create more time by sacrificing sleep, with varying results.  

I’m tired but happy.  it was a great trip.  

I’m 49 and my mom is 78.  I think she’s past the age where she’s offended by having her age revealed.  I hope so.  I think she should be proud of how active and amazing she is.  As I watch people age, I see characteristics intensify.  A touch of bitterness in the twenties can look surly in the fifties and full-on curmudgeonly by the seventies.  Mom is sweet and kind and generous and happy.  I think there was a time—okay, I know there was a time—when I thought she was a little too happy and positive and not shrewd or aware enough.  Those can be nice words for jaded and world-weary.  Seeing my mom at this age, I think she has chosen wisely.  Yes, you can see the worst in people and guard yourself all the time…and fifty or seventy years letter, the results will show.  The results show in Mom, too.  

We walked a lot.  We took a daily walk and I lobbied for two.  We talked about how many steps she was registering on her Fit Bit (note—steps actually happen whether or not Fit Bits score them.  I know, surprising.) and her most-steps competition with my brother-in-law.  We talked about people we know from my growing up years.  We talked about moving back from Nicaragua and my daughter’s return to Nicaragua.  We also talked about her health.  

I am not superstitious, so I don’t believe talking about being in the later or last stage of life will jinx anyone.  I don’t know how much time Mom has left.  I hope a lot.  I miss my dad a lot, crazy and difficult though he could be.  He was also my biggest encourager in my first twenty-eight years of life and generous beyond belief.  Generous with himself as well as generous with his money and things.  I visited his grave while I was there, which of course does not mean I visited Dad, merely the place where we most directly remember the joy and grief of our life together.  

I don’t know how much time Mom has left (nor how much I have, when we come to it), but I’ve learned that these visits are precious and they are the best way I can love her.  I mean, yes, coming to her house and having her feed me and spoil me.  That’s how how I love her. That’s how I let her love me.  If she were bitter or cynical, that might not work.  But she’s joyous and hopeful.  So we walk and talk and work off the cookies and brownies she makes and I eat.  (And eat.)  I’m going back a little heavier than when I arrived and at this age I’ll have to work pretty hard to take those pounds off again.  But Mom visits are feasts, not fasts.  I don’t know how many I have left, but I tried to make that the best one yet.  

My kids didn’t come along this time.  I don’t remember the last time I visited Illinois and brought none of my children.  It’s a little disappointing for Mom not to have any grandchildren running around, riding my old bike, helping eat the cookies, showing her how much they’ve learned and matured since last time.  But they are all deep in the midst of life transitions, moving countries, starting new schools, starting new jobs (I have kids starting jobs. Wow.).  So I got Mom to myself.  

On this same trip, I heard a friend describe time with her mother and frankly, it sounded awful.  I’m not someone who has only Norman Rockwell fuzzy-warm memories of family time.  I get it.  Heck, I’ve been the cause of more than one unhappy family story.  But at this stage, when “value each moment; you don’t know how much time you’ve got” is no cliche, I’m unspeakably grateful for the mom I have, for the love we have for each other, and for a visit when, amazingly, I got to know her a little bit better.