Here and Eternal

It all matters.

Every intentional act.

Every moment of “presentness.”

Each day we engage-however bold or quiet, we impact our world, and we alter the lives around us, and our own lives.  

Saying this is not terribly difficult. Believing it is.

Finding significance is frightening.

Each of us has or will have those terrible, shaking moments when we confront the hollowness of circumstances, rhythms, and routines of our lives. Maybe there are obvious good things and good deeds. Looking a little beyond the surface, we may find a few more. We find hints of meaning and purpose, often enough to satisfy our longing for significance and purpose. I am prone to stop there. Satiated and okay.

If I have courage, beyond that, I discover an abyss. A few degrees of separation and a desperate, mortal confrontation awaits.

I spend large parts of my days engaging people. It is part of how I am made, and even though I am introvert, I love it.

Even when I don’t love it, I still love it.

There are many untold and, until those moments, wordless stories to be heard. Many guarded longings which begin to chisel escape tunnels in complicated, broken, dirty, dusty sentences and uncomfortable, unsettled pauses. I often hear the struggle to articulate why any of this around us matters-more importantly, why the precious one in front of me matters.

The real conversations are desperate. Happy words often mask terror. The questions that are never far away (but often encased in unconscious or deliberate concrete) are versions of, “Does any of this mean anything? Will anyone ever know I was here? Does my life matter? What is the point in any of this?”

I’ve had many of these conversations.

Many of them with myself.

I know the hopelessness of a void instead of an answer.

A younger me tried to fill, but then numbed the nothingness with whatever could fill in the cracks produced by tense questions. It was dripping liquid (both literally and metaphorically) which ran off quickly.

An older me filled and fills it with visible markers. Most of them good things, with value and meaning.

Many of them pointing clearly to purpose.

But what happens on the quiet days and seasons? What about days and weeks turning to months when engagement is inconsistent, irresponsible, and often close to impossible? What if the fruit of my labor is not visible?

To extend that metaphor, if I cannot sow seeds of goodness and see the fruit known as good things, how will my life matter? Am I just shuffling in the dirt, moving earth around, trying to be busy and avoid the terrible meaninglessness of my stillborn work and, more disturbing, the futility of my life?

I am too easily satisfied with values I ascribe to my goals. Again, many of the obvious things I would count as good are indeed good. But are the smaller, quiet, less noticed things less good? Are they less meaningful? Are they any less markers of purpose or meaning?

I don’t speak the language where we live. There is a pandemic which has severely altered the world and its structures. The little spot on the globe which I currently occupy is no different. We are only a few months here, but I don’t know what it was like before we arrived. However, closed shops, restricted movement, and many other things tell me that our town has a pronounced limp. My ability to interact with people is limited, and my opportunities to “do good” are few and almost none-at least according to my easily satisfied sense of goodness and meaning. The markers for a “successful day” are absent.

What else is absent in all of this is what is in me. More precisely, Who is in me.

I am not offering this as Sunday School answer.

This is a hard-won revelation in my life, in my mind, and in my heart. This was and is seed watered in tears, anger, and unbelief. It is something I struggle to believe some days. I don’t mean to say that I am struggling with my faith.

I am not.

I struggle with brokenness. I am moved by vulnerability. I can be overwhelmed by the pain around me.

I can hardly handle stray, abused, or neglected animals. I have an affection for the outsider. Weak, frail, and lonely older people break my heart.

I don’t feel pity for people with disabilities, but I am not sure I have the vocabulary for what I feel when I encounter them. Almost every time, I feel an urge to do something, but I have no idea what or why. When I talk to God in the mornings, I ask for the forgotten to be remembered. I try to look for them, but I don’t know what to do. What can I do? I can’t make any of this better. The markers I have set for goodness are too high. If my purpose is to bring hope or to offer help and I cannot do it, what am I doing here? Even if I can help, will it ultimately matter?

I have to stop.

I have to remember that whatever I do, even sitting in that moment and “seeing” them, matters. In me, the Spirit of the Living God lives. When I am overwhelmed by the pain and brokenness around me, I can’t help but feel that this is a sliver of what He felt and feels. Yet, He is not overwhelmed. When I want to run or hide my eyes so that I cannot see it, He remains. His overwhelming love is present in that moment.

My expectations for myself are almost never met.

But there I find meaning and purpose.

I am present to see it, embrace it, and share it with Jesus. In a few instances, I am a witness to physical results. More often, Jesus prompts me to share a quiet, eternal moment with Him and with them.

I pray.

Something changes whether I see it or not.

Yesterday I saw two disabled women helping each other down the street. One struggled to walk with braces as her knees turned inward with every stride. Every step was slow and labored. Her companion took heavy, pronounced, diagonal steps, but somehow managed a light bump into her friend, and this steadied her for the next step. Her friend received it each time and then stepped forward herself again to prepare for the next bump. Each step for them was deliberate and multipurposed. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. I wanted to run up to them, call them a taxi, tell them God loves them, tell them they are beautiful, anything to affirm their value, worth, and beauty, but I couldn’t. I don’t have the language skills, and, even if I did, my words to them could disturb this holy moment.

I walked away, not immediately recognizing the beauty of that moment. I did not understand the privilege of what I just witnessed. Actually, I stifled tears as I shouted at God under my breath.

My shout and the other words thereafter became a prayer.

I don’t know how it all works, but my prayer mattered.

Our pained and our joyous prayers matter. Our presentness in those moments of pain, when we are stunned with our own inability to influence or make things better, matters.

My quiet, crowded, broken, confused, disjointed words to God make an impact. There is something eternal in them. Again, I don’t have the ability to explain it, but something is changed in those moments.

This is how we discover that there is meaning and purpose in our lives and in our days here. There is something sown in those moments when we are aware that we matter. Our lives here matter.

Nothing motivated by love, no matter how simple or complicated, clean or messy, spoken or unspoken, broken or happy is meaningless.   

It all matters and it is eternal.

Doubt

Most of us have felt it bore into our expectations, and, more painfully, into our dearest hopes. 

Doubt.

It causes us to hesitate, to question ourselves and others, and to minimize our dreams. It enters a room and whispers, “Did God really say?” It replaces the color of our past experiences and recollected victories with a numbing gray. 

We lose sight of things, and it leaves us unsteady on our feet.

Below the surface we coast for a time. If we refuse to confront it, eventually we grasp wildly at any railing. Often those guides are themselves frail and insecure.

In an effort to guard ourselves, the audacious becomes the limited and the impossible. Either consciously or unconsciously, to protect ourselves and God’s reputation, we begin to restrict what He will do. We believe it saves us from disappointment. And we don’t feel the need to make excuses for Him.

But we don’t have to stay there.

Doubt may feel very real to you today. Or maybe it shadowed you yesterday. You might sense it coming tomorrow.

All is not lost if it is, has, or will-not even close.

God is not wringing His hands hoping we don’t open that door. When we open it, He offers something more. He opens Himself to us again. Jesus invites us to reach out our hands and touch His wounds.

He guides us to what is real. 

I repeatedly see myself as Thomas in Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

Concorde Jet

The guy in the picture above lives down the road from us. Most days we say hello to him, and, if we’ve given it some forethought, we’ll bring him a bag or a paper towel filled with carrots. There have been a few horses in and out of that part of the property lately, but, a few months ago, his owner shared his story with us.

He is a racehorse from California (our neighbor races horses around the country), but on his way to Arkansas, he developed pneumonia and nearly died  While still on the mend, he developed a problem with one of his feet (I’m told the rocky soil here is hard on horses), and he struggled to walk, much less run. I don’t know much about horses, but I imagine both of these to be significant challenges for a horse built for speed.

Over the past few months, Concorde Jet has become more comfortable with us coming over and saying hello. Some days, when he sees us leave the road on our way towards him, he’ll saunter up to the fence to greet us. Other times he’ll stay in place, maybe turning his head a bit, but not much else. Honestly, he looked pretty rough much of the time.

He seemed very broken.

On the days when he did come to the fence, we’d talk to him, pray for him, and give him a few rubs on his neck and nose. We would move back to the road and begin our walk again. Each time, we would hope to see him move more, but often he’d be standing in the same spot when we would make our way back around. He was a pitiful boy who barely resembled a racehorse.

A week or so ago, in the middle of one of my own challenging days, I took a bag of carrots down to him. He met me at the fence, chomped the carrots in twos and threes, and nodded at me when he was ready for more. When we finished the bag, I began moving down the road for a longer walk to hash things out with God. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he was trailing behind me, along his side of the fence. This was unusual because he normally stood in place, and it was even more unexpected when he began to move faster. A quick step moved into a trot that morphed into a glide. I stopped and watched as he flowed along the entire length of the fence. His feet didn’t seem to touch the ground. His head was up, and his mane shimmied. As he reached the corner of the paddock, he turned and did several elongated circles before stopping and looking at me. I saw something in that moment that I hadn’t seen in the months I’d been visiting him.

I saw him as he was made to be.

Instead of a sickly animal to be pitied, I saw a glorious creature doing what it was created to do. I saw him as who he really was, not as the shadow I’d grown to expect. This is something for me to remember as we encounter more of those who do not know or have forgotten who they really are.

God reminded me that when we see past brokenness and shadows we can discover glory and goodness.

 

*I wrote this entry a few weeks back, and our friend has moved to a much larger nearby pasture.  From time to time, we drive by and see him, healthy and happy, surrounded by new four-legged friends.

I am here

Today I heard a beautiful presentation of the gospel. No diagrams and napkins, no broken laws-just a few words of truth about loving and being loved.

The presenter wasn’t trying to share the gospel with me; instead, she was telling me about her life and what matters to her.

Last month I made a new friend, and we’ve been meeting up a few times a week to walk and talk (socially distanced of course). There is another story to tell here, but today my new friend brought his partner, Letisha. This is a story by itself.

I ask a lot of questions because it not only helps me get to know the other person, but their answers often tell me what is important to them. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that instead of consciously trying (and often awkwardly) to work my way into a conversation about faith, it normally comes out naturally when people begin to share about themselves. Plus, asking questions keeps me from talking too much about myself-sometimes.

As we walked, our conversation began to meander into meaning and hope. More specifically, I asked where she found those things. From there, she began to tell me about her work as a nurse.

She told me that while she was paid for her work, she said, “I feel it’s the Lord’s work. I have the gift of healing.” This was an interesting statement, and I was curious as to where we would go from here. She went on to explain that healing was more than just physically taking care of people.

Another important statement.

She continued, “A lot of the people I see are sick, and they are scared. With the virus, people are afraid.”

There was more. “When I work with Covid people, they are alone, or at least end up alone. Being away from their husbands and wives or their kids makes them feel even more desperate. For some of them, it is the first time they’ve been alone like this. No one they know is around. I am one of the only people they see, and they are scared. Fear is real, especially after I leave and close the door.”

The she said something remarkable that colored brightly everything I heard afterwards.

“But I tell them before I leave, ‘I’m here. Just call me. I’ll be close by. It’s okay.’” She continued, “It is important for them to hear that. They need to know that.”

It is not unusual for people to tell me about their work when sharing about what is important in their lives, but I don’t always hear about the meaning they find in their work. She’d told me without trying to do so.

The gospel reveals the voice of Jesus whispering, “I AM here.”

In the same breath, “I AM not going anywhere.”

The gospel confronts our fear with, “But I AM here.”

To our sickness, the gospel says, “I AM your Help. I AM your Healer.”

To every thought, the refrain continues, “I AM here now.”

The gospel draws close and says, “You are safe now.”

I am not saying this is all the gospel speaks, but the gospel does speak this.

He is here.

He is not going anywhere.

There is no separation.

Because of this, we are safe now.

 

Troy

God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.

-J.M. Barrie

 

Several years ago, my sister passed along a news report about a fire at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother hadn’t lived there for more than a decade, but, to me, those few rooms will always be her home, and mine too.

That is quite a word-home.

I think I know what it means, but I am not sure if I know how to put words to it. Regardless of how I’d explain it, I think I know what it is. It is a simple word, but much more complicated than its four letters. It’s definition is much more full and vivid than black and white script on a page. It is a nest of parceled images, scents, and feelings strung together, and it is without simple vocabulary.

It is fried pies, bacon, and scratch biscuits from an iron skillet. It is a rust edged window air conditioning unit in the dining room which blew a stream of cold air that was magnificent in the summer time. It is a small pull chain dangling and clicking against a medicine cabinet mirror above the bathroom sink in an uneven bathroom with an old tub. It is yearbooks from the 50s and 60s and dusty encyclopedias on open bookshelves in a too tight hallway. It is a television where I pulled the knob, heard a click and hum, and listened to the pictureless audio for half a minute as it warmed up. It is a country molasses voice calling me to supper at the kitchen table.

Some of my favorite memories involve us pulling into the little driveway on the side of the house with two concrete runners separated by a dandelion infused grass strip. We never used the front door, so we’d see my grandmother at the kitchen window shortly before she appeared behind the mesh screen on the side door. Past the hodgepodge of green plants and mismatched flowers on the porch, I remember expectation in stepping up and crossing the threshold through the back door. The linoleum made something akin to a crackling, creaking, sticking sound as the kitchen floor sagged in certain places. I felt a security in its unevenness.

When my grandfather was alive, he’d be standing back near the doorways to the dining room and the hallway. I have a mental picture of him with his hands in his pockets, smiling. He’d draw those vesselly hands out and put his arms around us. My grandmother had already hugged and kissed us mercilessly and was flitting and fussing over something popping in that wonderful, black skillet.

This was a very happy and safe place for me. For another twenty years after my grandfather passed away, my sweet four foot by four foot grandmother who never drove a car stayed at 614 Troy Ave.

It remained a happy, safe place, and still is.

Close to my grandfather’s death, my parents divorced. In the following years, we sold the house where I grew up, and my mother moved in with my grandmother to help her. I still had three years of high school left, so I went to live with my father. His house dwarfed the 1500 square feet of my grandmother’s house, and I was the only one of my siblings there. I had a relatively new TV in my room, a bathroom with two sinks and no chain above the mirror, and  four or five light switches on the wall that I could never get right on the first try. Instead of the tub with a yellow pitcher to wash my hair, I had a shower where all of me stayed warm. The only hum in the house came when the central heat or air kicked on. His house had more than I’d ever had, and I am grateful for what he provided.

I love my dad, and I now know he was navigating his own new life, but I never felt like this was my home. Less those high school years, and more through college, I tried to go to Dyersburg (where my grandparents lived) as much as I could. There was something I sought there. I didn’t know it then, but I know what it was now.

It didn’t change.

Same biscuits, pork chops, corn bread, and butter beans. Same bathtub and old TV. In all my upheaval, this was the same home.

The life Heather and I have chosen has few of those consistencies. There are some, and they are, indeed, very precious to us. A few days ago we unloaded another moving truck with a trajectory towards moving again in a few months. Through more than years, I feel further from that special place I’ve written about above. It would be quite untruthful to say that we do not have a desire for a quiet place to find ourselves at home.

Part of me hopes (and maybe expects) to feel and hear that linoleum creak again when I cross over into heaven. I think I was given a taste of what home will be like on that day. Until then, I still have roses in December.

Obedience-The French

One variation of the joke goes…

“The British army adopted red coats because they did not want blood stains to cause fear during battle. The Prussians had spiked helmets to blunt cavalry sabers. The French army adopted brown pants for another reason.”

It is the history nerd’s version of an eighth grade boy’s poop joke. The root is in 1870 at Sedan and in 1940 during the German blitzkrieg. With ruinous defeats like this, France must be a nation of cowards and shirkers, right?

It is unfair, and, like the redcoat theory, it is untrue. Like most things, if we look a little closer and pay a bit more attention, we have a better chance of finding the truth.

Evidence is found between the emperor’s capture at Sedan and the disasters of May and June 1940.

The Great War of 1914-1918 made 700,000 widows of French brides and orphans of more than one million of their children. This in a nation of 40 million. The masculine flower of French youth between eighteen and twenty-eight years old saw six of ten killed or permanently broken.

Some estimates have the French birthrate declining by 50% during the war and still significant declines in the years after the war. This catastrophe cost the French (and other nations) a large part of one generation and pieces of another.

These are not the statistics of cowards and shirkers.

Our hearing of history is sometimes wrong, but, more often, incomplete.

In any general study of World War II, we hear about France’s shocking defeat in a six week campaign. There is much more to it, but that is not for this entry.

Stick with me. I have a point.

If we look closer, we’ll find instances of obedience that, in my opinion, helped change the course of the war.

In May 1940, France was in trouble. As it became evident that France would fall, the port of Dunkirk (in northern France) became important to British as a way to save their army from capture. Some of you may have read the story or seen the recent Christopher Nolan movie with the same title. In short, the British sent anything that would float in order to get men off the French beaches. Across the Channel, this mongrel flotilla would gather and then deliver the men safely back to England. They couldn’t save France, but they knew they would face Hitler very soon and they needed an army to defend themselves. The last days of May and early June 1940 were chaotic, dangerous, and confused. The British hoped this improvised plan would save 40,000, maybe 50,000 men.

Surrounded by seven (some sources say eight) German divisions near Lille, French General Jean-Baptiste Molinié ordered his 40,000 men (many of them North African) into a doomed counterattack. At the end of just a few days, most of these men were dead or prisoners of war. There was no real hope of successfully stemming the German flood across northeast France, and at this point, defeat was only a matter of time. Their sacrifice, however, kept 100,000 German troops occupied during the German drive towards Dunkirk. Molinié’s defeat was absolute and complete, but it is believed that his men kept the beaches open for an additional two days.

As the lines at Dunkirk collapsed, another group of French soldiers were ordered to hold the Germans back as long as possible. Most of these men knew that they would not leave France alive or as free men. As their comrades moved towards the beaches and to the possiblity of safety, they held their positions near the city. Though they would receive no benefit in obeying, they remained.

40,000 men remained on the beaches when the last ships left, and the Germans arrived.

The courage, boldness, and importance of the British navy and the many civilians who helped evacuate their army over those nine days in May and June of 1940 cannot be underestimated.

It is part of their history and is well-known.

The obedience and eventual sacrifice of those French soldiers is less well known, but is no less brave or courageous. Their obedience to orders which they knew would end in defeat is extraordinary. Many of these men went off to prisoner of war camps for the remainder of the war. A good number of them never saw France again.

Their obedience allowed the British to fight another day. It allowed many of their French brothers to fight again too. Instead of the 40,000 or 50,000 men the British hoped to save, over 340,000 men moved across the Channel. The majority of those were British, but the 100,000 Frenchmen who escaped would return as part of the army that would liberate their homeland and help defeat Germany.

Without these men, Britain might have shared France’s fate. This was almost a year before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and a year and half before the United States entered the war. Britain was alone, but she still had an army.

Other than in source books, the names and lives of the men left behind in Lille and at Dunkirk will be soon forgotten. In the context of other lives lived during those years, their lives were not famous. They were not celebrated. Nevertheless, theirs were lives of meaning.

This obedience was to be costly. Theirs was obedience with eyes wide open. Too often we see obedience as something to be eschewed. It is a dirty word, a word for sheep. True, it is seems to be a vehicle of tyrants and bullies. That is not obedience. That falls more in the realm of fear, self-interest, and cowardice. Its fruit is slavery and death. To be more concise-evil.

The fully aware obedience of these Frenchmen produced life for others.

The Light on the Road

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Between the expectation of what should be and the confusion of unrealized hope, there is a haze. This sickly combination of dry air mingled with smoke and dust particles is a distortion that wraps and masks reality.

I imagine the minds of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus were a blurred, disoriented mix of things.

Jesus was supposed to be something different. He was supposed to set things right. This promised king should have turned the world upside down. The present reality was that none of that was true, and there was no promise that it ever would be.

At least not in this moment.

Two disciples were on their way out of mostly right-side up Jerusalem. Jesus had been brutally executed, and his body was missing. There were reports of some strange happenings, but their supposed king, like their hope, was gone.

This didn’t make sense.

This moment was full of smoke and dirt. I imagine numbness and shock infused with pain. While a haze will obscure an entire landscape, the haze itself is not an illusion.

Ache, confusion, discouragement, and disappointment are all real. These were present with disciples that day on the way to Emmaus, and they accompany us today.

But moments like these are fluid. However slight or great, there is always motion. And there is a more complete reality behind the haze.

The disciples kept walking. Maybe they moved along stooped and bent. Maybe there were long pauses between broken pieces of conversations and unanswered and unanswerable questions. But they kept moving. At some point, an until then uninvited stranger appeared and began asking questions.

Something was happening.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent more time looking at pictures and paintings. I have no aptitude for art, but I have a growing affection for it. Here I find captured moments of individual, but often universal stories.

While the disciples walked along with the stranger, something was swirling behind them. It was a little wild and uncontrolled. Part of it caught them. All of it would envelop them.

In the stranger’s words were motion and truth. In the moment captured here, the haze was lifting. Actually, the smoke and dirt were being burned away. God was at work.

In your shuffle, in your pauses, in your questions, and in your ache, He is still at work.

Something is happening.

The light will catch you.

 

Artwork:

The Road to Emmaus II

Daniel Bonnell

Horses and Donkeys

I am a donkey and I know it.

I am okay with being a donkey.

I am not fishing for compliments, and I am not trying to make an obviously subtle metaphor to say that I have the good qualities of a donkey over a “shallow, superficial” horse.

I am just trying to say that I am different and I am okay with it. I may have just lost my audience because I just gave away the point of this, but that is okay too.  I write to process my own thoughts more than anything else.  I publish them to be vulnerable.

To back up, we landed in Tennessee after returning from Europe last year. You can drive a little outside Nashville and find yourself on roads among fields and pastures that belong in coffee table books and on screensavers. Horses, barns, hay bales, and rock-lined steams. This place is beautiful.

A few months ago, Heather and I were driving along one of these scenic routes, and we saw a small cluster of horses in a field. Standing a little shorter in the group was a stout, dull brown donkey. If I hadn’t given more than a two-second glance, I would not have noticed the difference.

But I did notice. He was funny looking, and it was a funny scene. He looked completely out of place, but, oddly enough, he (or she) looked completely comfortable.

I wondered out loud to Heather, “Do you think he knows he’s a donkey?” I didn’t see any mirrors in the field or in the nearby barn, so I’m pretty sure he didn’t know he was different.

I don’t expect a donkey to figure out that he’s different, but it is an interesting parallel to our lives.

If I look around and all I see are “horses,” I am probably going to think I’m a horse. I am going to think I can and should act like them. When I try to run like a horse, I’ll wonder why something is wrong. My gait is going to be offbeat as I move with the crowd. My lope is not as long or fluid or as strong. I can’t keep up in that way, and I am not made to.

I am pretty sure the horses knew he (or she) was different, but they probably didn’t care.

Most of the time we are the only ones who care that we’re different. But sometimes our comparisons are with those fabled rose-colored glasses.

The horse is a highly intelligent animal whose reaction time is faster than humans. Horses are bred for speed, but they are also powerful beasts of burden. They are not without their flaws.

They are fearful creatures who can be emotionally unstable and flighty. As powerful as they are, their long legs can be fragile. Broken legs are catastrophic.

Donkeys aren’t a cakewalk either. Beautiful and majestic they are not. Stubborn and noisy does not always win them admirers.

This all made me curious about donkeys because my first thoughts were those I just listed. I found that they are guardians against predators, they often calm nervous horses, and they pay attention to what is going on around them. One article mentioned that they notice when people, creatures, and things are out of place…hence the bray. Not too bad for somewhat stumpy, long-eared, critters that don’t look like they belong with their more celebrated cousins. Still, though, they aren’t the flashy animals that make me ooh and ahh when we pass a pasture full of thoroughbreds.  My normal statement is, “Look, there is a donkey.” If I say anything.

While I would love to say the above positive attributes are easily applicable to me, that is not my point. Plus, I am not sure those all apply to me. I just thought that was really interesting. That’s for free.

I am trying to say that many times we try to masquerade as something we are not or we believe the lie that we have to be something other to be better. We are not okay with being different.

I am often quirky and just downright strange other times. Sometimes I am really glad that I was not the first to share at small group (and so is Heather). This doesn’t make me uncomfortable with myself, but sometimes others aren’t ready for my hees and haws.

Horses are good. Donkeys are good.

Truth.

They are both made well and formed for certain things.  Both have warts too.

Many of you are actually donkeys and the world needs you. The world needs you to be loyal, to be protectors, to carry things for others, to love being with others. The world needs you to be you. The world doesn’t need projections.

Whether we are horses, donkeys, grizzly bears, or whatever, we don’t have to be flashy. The world has enough of that hollowness.

Celebrate and revel in our uniqueness in the crowd, and let others know it is okay to be a unique and incredible creation of God.  We don’t need to bray or snort about it, but don’t run from it.

If you are a horse, be a horse. Run and be beautiful. If you are a donkey, be one and love it. You are beautiful too.

The world needs us to be secure in who we are, in how we are made, and in Whose we are.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Something Forgotten

Lightning bugs. I’d forgotten them. Maybe they were in Budapest, but I do not recall seeing them. I was so preoccupied that I may not have noticed even if they were there.

I’ve forgotten a lot.

A couple of months ago, I stepped out of our new apartment in Tennessee and saw hundreds of slow moving slow glows. Summer is my least favorite season, but my smile was the result of an almost instant transportation back to the summers when I was seven and eight, nine and ten and many more until I became a man.

I remember our yard full of them. I remember the strangeness of seeing this flying bug lighting up as it passed close enough for me to see its greenish bulb begin and end and then begin again. I remember thinking, “I saw it from start to finish,” and somehow thinking I had discovered something new or unique.

It was unique to me.

I remember when we caught them in our hands. I remember oafishly breaking wings and legs and that bothered me. The bodies would still light, even on the ground. But only for a short while.

I remember running around in front of my house excitedly trying catch them in empty pickle jars. I remember the sound the thin, gold lids made when they’d hit the glass jar top. I remember the faint smell of brine. I remember catching one or two lightning bugs, closing the lid and then holding the glass close to my face.

Not being a huge fan of insects, I could safely examine their bodies and wait for the rhythmic rise and fall of their glow.

No fear of being stung by something that didn’t have a stinger. The glass protected me anyway.

I remember wondering why the glow got shorter and less bright. I remember running off to chase other things, some of purpose and some just because I was boy and I could chase things. I remember coming back and finding my pickle jars housing dead and dying lightning bugs. I remember opening the jars, but, like the ones I’d broken before, most were lost.

I remember feeling like I’d done something wrong.

I don’t remember if it was my mom, dad, or one of my sisters who told me, while looking at my jars, that I needed to poke holes in the top. They couldn’t breathe.

I remember that the holes didn’t always help. The restricted air slowed them down. They suffocated. I remember watching carefully and being upset again. Even though they were slow enough for me to catch in the first place, they were slower now. They bungled and stumbled around the jar. When I let them out, most of the time, they didn’t get better.

I learned to be more careful with something precious and fragile. I stopped catching them and found that I enjoyed having them as part of the backdrop of whatever I was doing outside.

They became part of a much larger narrative that continued past nine and ten, but got lost as I became a man.

I remember breathing is important. Somehow I forgot that again.

When I saw them again this year, a great deal came back with them.

Bunnies, Briars, and Listening on Rabbit Trails

Ilonka has discovered bunnies and squirrels. Enthusiasm and vigor are in abundant supply as she bounds toward these small woodland creatures during the walks in our temporary neighborhood. There is little hope of actually catching one and I am not sure if she knows what she’d do if she did, but it does not impact her efforts in the least.

Each morning she chases these furry pelted critters in almost the same spots-the house on the corner of Sunset and 25th, the park across from Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and many hedges and bushes in between. She runs at breakneck speed and stops when her quarry has escaped or if the leash snaps taut. She assesses her new surroundings and returns to the sidewalk, happy.

It is something akin to the instructions on a shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, repeat. We make our way back in a similar rhythm, and she comes home tired, but strangely satisfied.

As I’ve mentioned before, I spend a good bit of time talking to God while walking in the mornings. Actually, I have been talking too much. In our approach to ministry, I try to practice, “Pray, Listen, Obey,” and we have seen some pretty incredible results from this process.

I am not so good at applying it to my personal life.

I talk through ideas and problems. While this is helpful in working out issues, lately I’ve noticed that I do not slow down to wait for responses from God. The last few months have held many one-sided monologues.

Fortunately, He is a good and patient listener.

Patient because most mornings I say the same things.  Good because He is always there to listen to those same things.

I’ve tried to listen more lately.

I’ve stopped talking as much and have started asking more questions.

I’ve slowed down the processing.

I’m letting go of the need to fill the silence with my own words.

I’m waiting on Him to answer. To say what He wants to say, not what I want to hear. To answer even the questions that I do not ask.

And He does.

Like Ili chasing the bunnies, I have exhausted myself running down many rabbit trails without catching the “bunny” I expected to find.

Sometimes those rabbit trails lead us to places to which we might not have gone otherwise.

I haven’t caught any bunnies.

I’ve been tangled in a few briars lately.

But I find more roses.