Friday, August 26, 2016

Stumblin'

I'm stumblin'.   I've been running at a breakneck pace for several weeks on end without stop and I find I'm starting to misstep.  Ever run until you're so tired your feet start to take on a mind of their own?  Legs act independently.  Limbs begin to decide where the path is instead of listening to the optical input your brain is translating.  The predictable outcome is the misstep, the stutter-step, or the outright face plant.  Comical to watch, unpleasant to live. 


It seems my brain is taking on a mind of its own...


The fuse seems uncharacteristically short in recent days.  Syllables I'm not sure I would normally utter tumble forth more freely.  Words of grace seem distant and the exercising of that grace towards others can seem a herculean effort when so many are in such a hurry and care very little to reciprocate.  Emotions expose more quickly and Karmic justice is the desired end for trespass.


Escape.


Escape to the garrison of my home.  That's all I need - the safety of my castle.  My domus.
Here I find my beautiful bride.  She is strength to me.  She brings order to chaos.  She orders our home, she orchestrates the meeting of our physical needs.  She clothes and feeds us.  She is raising a young man and two pre-teens while I daily venture into the world to gather the income our family relies upon.  She, in a word, is "amazing". 


And she is stressed.  In my absence of excessive work the strain is showing in our family.  "All hands on deck" is slowing to "A few hands holding the whole thing up".  In the midst of this, a boy adopted from trauma and abuse spirals into a negative behavioral cycle.  These usually ebb and flow.  We expect them from time to time.  But something is amiss, something is off.  This spiral is a nosedive to depths we've not encountered before. 


Perfect timing for my bride who is essentially "single parenting" for weeks on end.  Working six and seven days a week, I leave before the kids are up.  I often return after they've gone to bed.  And my bride has a few minutes via a phone call or before I collapse to sleep to recount the myriad of emotional highs and lows experienced throughout the day.  To say I've dropped the ball on this conversation a few times would be an understatement.  Thankfully this pace is starting to wind down, but at home, I've been stumblin'. 


I ran across the following recently.  It hurt all the way down to my stubbed and achy stumblin' toes.


Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.
Psalm 119:165


In the Hebrew in which this was written, this literally says


Great and abundant welfare, tranquility and contentment belongs to those who hunger and desire for God's instruction and direction and nothing will be a stumbling block to them or cause them to fall.


I can honestly say, my "hunger" for God's instruction in recent weeks has gotten lost somewhere between deadlines, appointments, project schedules, invoices, home, and child tantrums.  In fact, I'm pretty certain that I have been fasting and consequently malnourished.  Priorities.  The end result:  stumblin'.


But I have all these responsibilities.  I have the carnival of life going on around me.  It's a three-ring circus and I don't want to get in the clown car again.  I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and sometimes it's just too heavy.  How many would echo similar sentiment?


Jesus would.


In fact, he too stumbled.


He stumbled under the weight of all of it.  The whole world, for all time, on his shoulders.  It started in a garden.  Close friends dozed nearby as he could feel the approach of the storm.  The sheer weight of what was to come drove him to his knees as he bitterly wept "let there be another way..."


It continued in the dragging of rough hewn timbers through dusty streets.  He stumbled despite the screaming, despite the raucous, despite the whips.


It's zenith was with a shuddering breath as a sin laden savior released us all with the words "It is finished".


It concluded when quiet, sure feet, stepped confidently past the stone that was rolled back into the open, never to falter again.


He stumbled so I wouldn't have to.















Monday, August 15, 2016

Laughing at Thieves

I noted his face on the side of a social media page.  A local man that many would recognize if I were to give his name.  With a sense of curiosity that teetered on "I really shouldn't" and " I wonder..." I succumbed and found that a whole page had been devoted to just this man.  It was a page with hundreds of members and thousands of posts.  What had garnered this man so much attention?  What had brought this man so keenly into the spotlight?




This man is a thief; a con-artist.  This man is a criminal.


Again, were I to name this person many would immediately know of whom I write.  Such notoriety has this man gathered to himself.  Such visibility.  Many have had run-ins with him.  Many have fallen for his tales of desperation.  This man has made a living in recent years preying upon the humanitarian and benevolent nature of even the most callous of hearts.  This man has also been caught and been in jail numerous times for numerous offenses.


I recall I had been approached by this man once coming out of grocery store with my family.  My bride and I don't usually give cash but this time I felt led to and my bride followed my lead and he gained a small amount of money and a few of our groceries.  Regardless of what this man did with the money, we determined he was not going to go hungry that night.  But we stopped him and our family prayed with him before doing so.  Gullible?  I don't think so.  If there was no other blessing than my children praying over the man and seeing the lesson of loving others, it was worth it.


Now it seems the tables have turned.  Now a social media site exists just to notify of this man's existence, whereabouts, and doings.  And I was reading it.


"He's at _____ gas station hitting up some guy!"
"Crossing the street in front of _____."
"Resting 'tired' feet at the corner of ______ & ______."
"I wonder how many meals he cried money for today?"
"Think he'll ever make it to ______?  He's been trying to get gas money for years."
"He could've walked there by now.  Where's the car?"


What I was viewing was nothing short of a page dedicated to ridicule.  But this is a criminal so he has it coming, right?  He is guilty of theft, coercion, assault, trespassing - that people know of.  Who knows what this man has done in the darkness, alone or unseen?  This man has earned this page - earned the "wrath of the robbed".  Everywhere he now goes he will be despised, shunned, and ridiculed.  People will avert their faces from him.  He will disappear as he becomes a "non-person" for the avoidance he has garnered.  His is a slow death into the forgotten as others mock from a safe distance.


Similar to thieves flanking a crucified savior.


And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:35-43


One of the people I follow and respect on social media wrote something to ponder regarding the significance of what just occurred at the end of these verses.


I keep going back to this man on a cross next to Jesus. A thief. A criminal. And he had nothing - zero - to offer. No religious resume. No great... story. Nothing. What a loser, right? But he recognized Jesus.


I think at times, we can all be like each of the people in the above narrative.  I like to think I'm not the religious rulers - judgmental, pious, and calloused.  Certainly I don't want to be the soldiers driving the nails - harsh, brash, and insensitive.  I don't want to be the mouthy thief either, trying to get out of his sentence to return to old habits by bartering with the Son of God for an escape clause.  And the crowd standing by gaping, staring, transfixed, immobile?  Inaction at its best. But am I the other thief?  Am I the loser?  He was a criminal, a justly punished man and he lost everything.  Dignity, pride, honor, family, wealth, even his life.  Do we relate to this man?


Consider this; of all the people mentioned with Jesus here, who came out on top?  Who in this crowd ended up with the best outcome possible, securing a front row seat in eternity with the one who was there when the stars were spoken into brilliance and the oceans roared forth from the deep?  (I'll give you a hint - it wasn't the ones who knew the religious rules backwards and forwards.)  It also wasn't the ones imbued with authority and power.  It wasn't even the numerous (I guess the popular vote doesn't count for much in the Kingdom). 


Once again, Jesus picks the low to be high.  He picks the loser to win.  Once again, he spins our preconceived notions of justice, order, and equity to remind that there is only one Judge and he values the low, the least, and the lame.  He seeks out the prostitute, the tax cheat, and the diseased walking dead to lavish love upon and transform the world. 


And a thief is heralded into paradise.


Once again, Jesus reminds that we need to think twice before laughing at thieves.





Thursday, August 11, 2016

Buying Dirt

I'm buying dirt. 


Nothing fancy, nothing that stands out.  Simple soil.  Dusty earth.  Dirt.


Not many would follow this course.  Today's realtor would size up the potential resale.  The farmer might look for the nutrient value in the soil.  The engineer might calculate the slope for erosion or compressive strength.  The architect might envision the view captured.  The anthropologist might ponder the significance of peoples who have long since fallen.  Even the geologist might beg to question the displacement of centuries and millennia or the mineral content contained within. 


I want none of the above.  I want the dirt.  Give me a whole field of it.  Take everything I have in exchange.  Just give me the dirt.


Jesus would be proud.  He said so.


"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field."
Matthew 13:44


I have my bride to thank.  She pointed out to me the other day that we have found ourselves on this path whether we realized it or not.  We don't recall making the conscious choice to do so, it just seemed a natural step in following Jesus' desire for our lives and our home.  Where careers could have been pursued, children were reared.  Where security could have been shadowed, we chased after adoption.  Where comfort and 'peace of mind' could have been enjoyed, small ones were held, fought for, and prayed over. 


Where every aspect of this American prosperous existence could be planned for and secured, we seemingly screwed it up over and over again by making left turns, right turns, turns towards sacrifice and uncertainty.  Some of these roads led to great joys.  Some led to conflict.  Others lead to heartache.  And yet in each instance we truly felt led onto those paths by a knowledge that something far, far more valuable was at stake than our personal comfort, our 401K, or the gleam of our vehicle. 


And we're not the only ones.  We are fortunate to know and be encouraged by others who have chosen this economy as well.  Whether it be the orphan through adoption and foster care, the homeless, the sick and downtrodden, or reaching for peoples in distant lands; these have chosen to invest in what is contrary to Wall Street, what is contradictory to the teachings of the schools of finance.  Families have swollen far past "birth children".  Deep bonds have been formed with amazing souls from far off lands.  Many have sacrificed much to look intently into abused eyes to affirm "you have worth".


Again, I have my bride to thank.  For she recently reminded me of the above verse and the choices we had and will continue to make in our lives - to pursue the truly valuable treasures, even when they cost much.  They come in many forms and at various times, mostly at inconvenient and inopportune moments.  But soil usually is most noticeable when we're trying to stay clean, isn't it?  So why do we try?  One of my favorite memories is rolling and sitting in red sandy Swaziland soil with half a dozen children from Ludlati chatting the afternoon away as we played "count the passing goats" - truly an entertaining game when you've never seen or played the like.  The giggles and laughter mixed with thick African accents that day still resound in my ears.  The cost to get there was great.  The return on the investment; priceless.


I'm buying dirt.  With everything I've got.


Because that's where the lasting treasure is.





Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bookends

I was enjoying a country drive with my bride.  The meandering highway escorted us past emerald fields of crops in process.  Waist high feathered grasses beckoned us to continue to lose ourselves in the day and each other.  Time was ignored as it flew past like the yellow center line patterns, innumerable and irrelevant.  It was a weekday and for some reason this added extra color to the sky, heightened awareness of the organic artistry surrounding, and greater appreciation for the one next to me. 


We laughed, we dreamed, we imagined.  I love that I can still do these things with this woman after 20 years of marriage.  She is my bride, young and beautiful.  She is more wise than the girl I married years ago, made so by trial and heartache, challenge and adversity.  But her deep blue eyes still twinkle joyfully and her hands are soft within mine.  We recounted the joys of our years together.  We reminisced some of the dark times and how amazing it was that we survived these.  We recalled the wonders of the miracles that God had worked in our lives in our children, our marriage, and our home.  We marveled at how different we were and yet how perfect we still found ourselves to be for each other. 


Then we began to take note of the people God had brought into our lives.  Friendships, deep and true, had been forged with profound depth and commonality.  My bride likes to say "these are our people - these are the people we 'do life' with".  In discussing we articulated how perfect for each other these married friends of ours seemed.  How God had seemingly perfectly matched their personalities and giftings as well.  We are fortunate to have a tribe of close friends who fit this description.  Then my bride said something that stuck with me.  "They were meant to be together, they're bookends."


Bookends.  Complimentary objects designed to contain.  In the case of my bride's statement two people so perfectly matched they were easily marked for the their complimentary nature and the life they, together, contained between.  In pondering my own marriage I find that the script of our life together is not a book in process, but rather volumes in process.  Chapters with interweaving plot points are continually updated and added.  The book of our early years is slim.  The tome of parenthood is far thicker and a work continually being written as we daily script triumphs and failures trying our best to raise the next generation. An addendum of foster-care and adoption was added some years back, another work in process.  Some pages are dark and I would tear them out if I could but this would leave holes in the narrative of us.  Some pages are my favorite, but do not paint the entirety of the story.  It is the collection that is the definitive work of our lives, the collection between the bookends.


This, too, is true of each of us individually.  We are each of us a collection.  Some chapters are dark and foreboding.  Some should be forgotten and not opened again.  Some are worth visiting often.  Some are a delight and cause us to be proud of achievements garnered, choices made, and paths trodden.  Some cause us to marvel either at our own ineptitude or at the miracle of divine intervention in our lives. 


Though we visit the pages often, we cannot live in those pages again.  They have already been written.  The text of our lives is ever unfolding whether it be a poem, a song, or story of hardship.  Ever the script flows and ever it evolves with us.  Others catch glimpses of it.  Some get a synopsis.  A very few learn the details of the text.  Only one knows every word and punctuation better than we do.  He holds the quill.


Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2


When we are certain we are destined to write a tragedy, he is the one who has seen the entirety.  He is the hero interwoven throughout the story, chapter by chapter, volume by volume, ever present.  He knows the last word from the first letter of our lives.  His perspective is complete.  Tears birth redemption, heartache brings forth joy.  Death is swallowed by life.  His is the final word in the story because he is the word who took on skin.


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14


If we'll let him define the parameters of our lives we find that regardless of the script written -  the collection of our triumphs, failures, joys, and tragedies - the chapters of our lives will ultimately culminate in the text he has written for us, the volumes he has prepared for us to live out.  Each of these has a place in our lives, beginning to end.  There will be dark chapters, there will be joyous chapters, there will be chapters of achievement and chapters of seemingly little consequence.  We may lose ourselves in the pages and question the direction of the storyline.  This is where the author asks us to trust him with the plot, for he truly does have the most perfect of endings ready to reveal.


And one day, we will look back and appreciate the texts between the bookends.