Friday, November 13, 2009

A funny conversation with a 4 year old

So I'm working from home today (Friday the 13th!) and my youngest comes up to me and wants to know if I can play, here is how the conversation went:

Zane: Dad, can you play this with me (Holds up the game 'Life')

Me: No I can't I'm working, I can later tonight.

Zane: Why not now?

Me: My boss might get upset with me if I played instead of worked.

Zane: Is your boss inside your stomach?

Me (laughing): No he is in New York.

Zane: Oh.... is New York inside your stomach?

Me (laughing):No it's far away from here..... wait, are you trying to say I have a big stomach?

Zane: No daddy, you have a small stomach...

Ah kids, you never know what they are going to say! He made my day with the small stomach comment :)

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Better Story

"Then I said something that caught his attention. I said his daughter was living
a terrible story."
These lines, by Donald Miller in his book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years", set up a story about a conversation that changed a family's life. After talking about what makes a good story, the dad decided to quit yelling at his daughter about her poor choices and provide a better story for their family and invite her into that story. The new story was one that was out of the ordinary, one that had risk, sacrifice, and adventure. I won't spoil the story for you, but I will give you this warning. If you read it, it's quite dusty and could cause your eyes to get irritated and start watering...

Reading this has happened to coincide with a visit from some old friends of ours, Jim and Linda (and their 3 sweet daughters). They are a family who decided to live a better story. About 5 years ago they decided to leave the comfortable American life and became Missionaries in Sub Saharan Africa. They are part of a media team that puts together information to educate people about the needs in Africa, and they also minister to street kids in the slums near their home. It's not easy, it's not some romanticized version of a missionary life. They have just as many negative turns in their story, as there are positive ones. But still it's a better story. Even after days where it seems like no one is listening or seeing more need than one family can hope to fill in a lifetime, they can still look at where they have made a difference and know that theirs is truly a good story. It's been a good visit to talk with them, and I can tell that they are eager to get back to Africa - back to the story God has invited them into.

As for me, I have a feeling that my own story will change soon. There has been an inciting incident already, now we just have wait and see how the main character and the Author of all our stories work things out from here....

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Scripture of Nature

One learns that the world, though made is yet being made.
That this is still the morning of creation.
That mountains, long conceived, are now being born
brought to light by the glaciers
channels traced for rivers
basins hollowed for lakes.
When we try to pick out anything by itself
we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
The whole wilderness in unity and interrelation is alive and familiar.
The very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in our magnificent National parks — Nature’s sublime wonderlands - the admiration and joy of the world.

- From the writings of John Muir

If you watched the PBS special The National Parks - America's Best Idea, then you know that the title of my post is taken from the first in the series, and that the quotes I've used from John Muir are read during the introduction. The series has got me thinking about how different my life would be if there were no National Parks, State Parks, or other Camping grounds to go to. Admittedly I don't go nearly often enough, but such places have left indelible impressions on my memory.

The year before I entered high school, I went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico; 200 plus square miles of wilderness somewhere between Cimarron and Angle Fire, near the southern end of the Rockies. It is a trip that I will never forget, it changed me physically, mentally, and spiritually. There were unforgettable places, like Bear Canyon, Urraca Mesa, Tooth Ridge, and Baldy. And somewhere along the hiking trails, God showed up, unannounced and uninvited. It was a time in my life when I wasn't talking to him or looking for him, but he showed up anyway. It was here that I truly understood the Apostle Paul's words for the first time, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Ro 1:20) It is something that I would remember again as I visited other places like the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, or the painted desert. It was at Philmont that I would, for the first time write down my experiences in a Poem; reflecting on the soul-refreshing experience, and a lightning show God gave to us as we ate lunch one day. Though it would be several more years before I would respond to his voice, I first heard it in that wild place; away from the din of city noise and the hurried pace of modern life. And ever afterward, my heart would long for the mountains and wild places where his voice was more easily perceived.

So I wonder what my life would be like without these places. Would I have ever heard His voice?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Reality of God's Love, and our Illusions

I have, on more than one occasion been asked, "How do you know God loves you -- personally, tangibly -- not as a theological truth". My heart breaks for people who ask that question. I've been there and know the pain of thinking you are unlovable, and to be honest there are days when I find myself back in that place. For someone like me, who spent 20+ years of my life thinking I was 'damaged goods' and 'unlovable if you really knew me', it is an exceedingly hard place to get free from. But thankfully, gradually, the days of living as if I'm not loved are becoming fewer and farther apart.

Part of my problem, and the problem that I think many like me face, is that we accept our culture's definition of love, and our culture's standards for 'being lovable'. So we put on a mask of performance to meet those standards. The world may love the mask, but our true selves behind the mask receives none of that love. We may even think God loves the mask, but in our more honest moments we know that he sees right through it and we think that, by the worlds definition of love, God can't possibly love us.

But the open secret of scripture is that God's love for us precedes any action on our part. "For God so Loved the world that he sent his only begotten son..." (Jn 3:16) and "We loved because he first Loved us." (1 Jn 4:19) are truths we all too often forget. And God's Love isn't the needy and conditional 'I love you because of what you can do for me' kind of love that the world offers; His love is selfless and without end. He says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love." I know this is still in the general head knowledge or 'read in a book' kind of information, but it is one of the things we need to know if we are going to dare to believe it and dare to put down the mask of performance.

Putting the mask down is probably the hardest thing a person will ever do. For certainly there are some people who live by the worlds definition of love and will walk away; preferring illusion to reality. We will all be tempted to pick the mask back up when around certain people, especially those who are significant to us in our relationships. But if we are to begin to experience the reality of God's love for us, we need to face the reality of ourselves. Only then then will we realize that God has always loved us, our true selves hidden under our masks and the walls of protection we've built for ourselves. And we can be confident of his love, because we have given up the illusions and see that God's love depends on God, not on us.

I read a quote from Thomas Merton's "No Man is an Island" on one of the blogs I follow, and thought it would be worth sharing here as well.

13. Our ability to be sincere with ourselves, with God, and with other men is really proportionate to our capacity for sincere love. And the sincerity of our love depends in large measure upon our capacity to believe ourselves loved. Most of the moral and mental and even religious complexities of our time go back to our desperate fear that we are not and can never be really loved by anyone.

When we consider that most men want to be loved as if they were gods, it is hardly surprising that they should despair of receiving the love they think they deserve. Even the biggest of fools must be dimly aware that he is not worthy of adoration, and no matter what he may believe about his right to be adored, he will not be long in finding out that he can never fool anyone enough to make her adore him. And yet our idea of ourselves is so fantastically unreal that we rebel against this lack of “love” as though we were the victims of an injustice. Our whole life is then constructed on a basis of duplicity. We assume that others are receiving the kind of appreciation we want for ourselves, and we proceed on the assumption that since we are not lovable as we are, we must become lovable under false pretenses, as if we were something better than we are. The real reason why so few men believe in God is that they have ceased to believe that even a God can love them. But their despair is, perhaps, more respectable than the insincerity of those who think they can trick God into loving them for something they are not. This kind of duplicity is, after all, fairly common among so-called “believers,” who consciously cling to the hope that God Himself, placated by prayer, will support their egotism and their insincerity, and help them to achieve their own selfish ends.

14. If we are to love sincerely, and with simplicity, we must first of all overcome the fear of not being loved. And this cannot be done by forcing ourselves to believe in some illusion, saying that we are loved when we are not. We must somehow strip ourselves of our greatest illusions about ourselves, frankly recognize in how many ways we are unlovable, descend into the depths of our being until we come to the basic reality that is in us, and learn to see that we are lovable after all, in spite of everything! This is a difficult job. It can only really be done by a lifetime of genuine humility. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is. We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty but also in its very great and very simple dignity: created to be a child of God, and capable of loving with something of God’s own sincerity and His unselfishness.

The first step in this sincerity is the recognition that although we are worth little or nothing in ourselves, we are potentially worth very much, because we can hope to be loved by God. He does not love us because we are good, but we become good when and because He loves us. If we receive this love in all simplicity, the sincerity of our love for others will more or less take care of itself. Strong in the confidence that we are loved by Him, we will not worry too much about the uncertainty of being loved by other men. I do not mean that we will be indifferent to their love for us: since we wish them to love in us the God Who loves them in us. But we will never have to be anxious about their love, which in any case we do not expect to see too dearly in this life.

15. The whole question of sincerity, then, is basically a question of love and fear. The man who is selfish, narrow, who loves little and fears much that he will not be loved, can never be deeply sincere, even though he may sometimes have a character that seems to be frank on the surface. In his depths he will always be involved in duplicity. He will deceive himself in his best and most serious intentions. Nothing he says or feels about love, whether human or divine, can safely be believed, until his love be purged at least of its basest and most unreasonable fears.

But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Something has changed -- and that's good

I went to work today and had quite an interesting day. The company I work for has begun the process of laying off some staff to cut costs in a more difficult economy. The rather interesting part was that one of the HR people accidentally sent an email to the entire office that said something about meeting where you could sort out your financial options after your termination. Needless to say, that caused quite a bit of angst and fear in many people.

But the funny thing for me is that I didn't become concerned or freaked out by any of this. In years past, when an employer would announce layoffs, I used to be somewhat of a basket case; even if I hated the job. And if I actually got news that I would be laid off, I would sink into a deep dark hole. But nothing of the sort happened this time around. No, I haven't actually lost my job, but for a short time I did think that they were closing our entire local office and it didn't really upset me.

So I guess I'm just sharing all that to say that Father has made some changes in my heart that I wasn't even aware of until today. Now I get to say, that's not anything I did, that is Fathers work in my heart! Thank you Papa!