River Worlds

dirtroadWhat I wouldn’t give for a good spring down-pour! I’d give even more to hear a rumble in the sky and see a flash or two of lightening. It has been a long and cold winter and the puddle guppy inside of me is drying out, gasping for just one drop of fresh, spring, heaven-sent rain! You just might catch this Finn dancing when it finally does…(not likely, but I may stomp in a puddle or two…)

One of my favorite things to do on a rainy day when I was young was grab a shovel and go outside to make little rivers from one puddle to the next on our long driveway. We lived way out in the country on a little traveled dirt road and our driveway was about a quarter mile long. Rain in the spring was always the best since it helped to melt the snow making longer and wider puddles. Some were more like little ponds than mere puddles. I would put my boots on and my jacket and cap and go out in the rain, digging rivers from one puddle to the next all the way down the driveway. Sometimes I’d make a dam of mud and gravel here or there to make my own puddles or put smaller pieces of gravel or sticks in the stream pretending they were rapids or waterfalls. Often, if it wasn’t too cold out, I would take the time to find some old blocks of wood and some matchbox cars and make a small little town of sorts near the end of the driveway along the mighty river I had just created and then run back up the driveway and break the tiny dams I had made and watch the water rush down and demolish the tiny town I had created.

This was just my way of making a chore more fun. You see, what I was really supposed to be doing is making ways to get the water into the ditch so the driveway would dry out faster. This was important because often our driveway would often become impassable during the spring thaw and we would have to park our cars near the road and walk to the house carrying whatever groceries or necessities we had. A quarter mile is a long way to walk back and forth and the sooner the drive would dry out the sooner we could use it again. We often used a sled or wagon, but we would still have to make several trips. So while I was supposed to be making ways for the puddles to drain off of the driveway, I was really creating a river-world rife with tiny towns, rushing rapids, deep and wide puddle oceans, and tiny stick canoes. Eventually I would get to doing what I was supposed to be doing and the puddles would end up being nothing more than drying lakebeds with half buried matchbox cars and blocks of wood. I’d clean these up and then impatiently wait for the next soaker. It was great, good fun…

What I wouldn’t give for a good downpour right about now…(sigh)

Moments Matter

Slips away from all of us

Moments are fleeting and finite. Most we let pass by without too much notice as the hands on the clock sweep into history the minutes and seconds. We are passing through this current of time and most often do not pay any attention, other than to look back and wonder where it all went and how we could have missed so much. Moments matter and many are wasted.

I’m not talking about those big things that we’ve all experienced. I remember very clearly everything about the moment my dad and brother and sister died. I can describe the times my kids were born. I can detail for you the day I proposed to my wife and our wedding day. The time I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior is forever seared on my memory. These and many other moments in my life have become markers for me that signify major changes in direction or understanding or belief. That is why I remember them so clearly; my world was shaken and I was forever different from each moment on. I know you have your big moments as well and you may just have thought of one or two. These moments matter.

But there are those moments that in some ways matter more. It is one thing to turn a corner, take the plunge, or tie the knot but it is another thing to take that next step and begin to walk out that change. I am now a Christian, husband, dad, and brother and many other things to many other people. It is a position I now hold, but how do I be those things? What do I do or say or feel as I live out that moment that changed me? The moments that matter are in the doing. Reading my Bible when I don’t feel like it; having dinner around the table as a family; being silly with my son and patient with my daughter; holding my wife’s hand for no reason and smiling when I’m sad because I believe things will get better. These are the small moments that validate the changes wrought in the big moments. These are the moments that are often not remembered or counted or seen, but define who we are.

These moments matter. They are not insignificant. They engender trust, build integrity, and prove love. Time is the currency of life and moments are the pennies we spend. There is no Bank of Time where we can open a savings account or ask for a loan or apply for a credit card. There is only the here and right now moment that we have to spend. You can’t hold onto it and spend it later and you can’t make it last any longer. It is here right now…and now it is gone.

Your last few moments have been spent reading this post – I hope they were not wasted. If they were, I sincerely apologize!

What Friends Are For

friendshipFriendship is a difficult thing…and something that I have not quite figured out. I have someone whom I consider my “best friend”…my wife…and I would have a hard time spending a day without her. She is never far from my thoughts and influences everything I do. I have had others whom I have called “best friend” but over the years have found that those words do not fit the relationship. I have had those that I call “friends” and those I consider “acquaintances” and still more that are just people “I know”, but wouldn’t necessarily call them friends. When it says in Proverbs 18:24 that there is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother”, is it implying that there are different kinds of friends? I think so.

This verse is often taken to mean that Jesus is that friend who sticks closer than a brother…and while it may be true, I think this verse means more than that. Jesus does call us “friends” and He is closer than a brother, (or at least desires to be; whether he is or not is really up to us), but I believe this verse also tells us there can be those friends in our lives who can fill the role of “closer than a brother”. And that we can likewise fill that role in someone else’s life. This is not to diminish or replace Jesus in any of our lives, after all, He is the model of what we should strive to be…and that includes what kind of “friend” we are to one another.

We all play a role in someone else’s life…and we play a different role in each person’s life that we are a part of; just as they play a part in ours. The part of that verse that gets sticky is the “closer than a brother” part. There have been very few people that I have gotten that close to or allowed to get that close to me. I am not the most open person in the world and have not been the easiest person to be a friend to. Those that have been that close, (apart from my wife), are no longer close, and those that I meet today and call “friends” may have the potential to be close, but life and circumstances and choices often get in the way. To be honest, maintaining friendships…maintaining any relationship…is work, and few in today’s world are up to the challenge. It is far easier to “like” someone on Facebook than to tell them in person that you like them, appreciate them, value them….or even love them.

I have learned a few things about friendship:

  • Friendships are often transitory…they change and morph and often end, and sometimes begin again
  • While friendships are nice to have, they take work to maintain…some more than others
  • A friendship, (any relationship), is only as strong as the one putting the least into it
  • Great friends are few and far between, take time, and are worth waiting for
  • There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother through all of the above

I have 8 brothers and sisters, two have already gone to be with the Lord. I have been more of a friend to some and less so to others; allowed some into my life while keeping others at arm’s length. Right or wrong, I think all 9 of us have done this for various reasons. I often wish this were not so but at this point in time I am powerless to change it. It is simply how we have learned to relate to each other. I have also had some really great friends in my life, but circumstances and choices do change things and those friends that I once called “best” have become little more than a footnote. I also wish this were not so; I think of them often and pray they are well. I regret the part I have played in all of these relationships that have caused them to drift and seem less important than they are.

There are times in all of our lives when we know in our mind that Jesus is there with us but just can’t muster up the faith to believe with our heart that He is. It is these times that we could really use that friend to allow Jesus to be closer than a brother through them. To sit with us, give us a hug, listen to our fears, and wipe our tears. And we need, at times, to be that friend to others as well. That is, after all, what we are here to do, right? To be Jesus to those who cannot see Him. Sometimes I cannot see so clearly, and I know sometimes you can’t either. This should be what friends are for.

Be A Light And Shine

streetlightsSome have asked over the last few years, and I’m sure many more have wondered, how a pastor and his family could have fallen so far away from the church, as if going to church is what made us believers. While it is true that we have not been tied to a church body for nearly 13 years, we have not lost our faith; if anything, our faith has deepened. We have learned as we visited different churches that the relationships that were forming were not friendships but “churchships” and had one requirement: being in church. We were not brothers and sisters in Christ living and working and sharing throughout the week, we were acquaintances meeting at the church on Sunday morning or Wednesday night. There was no common ground outside those four walls. The church should not be a social club for believers; it ought to be a relationship with others through Jesus Christ lived out each and every day. Jesus did not shine within the four walls of a church waiting for people peer through the windows to see what was going on. He was out among them, living and breathing, sharing and caring. That is where we have been these 13 years: trying to live out the example of Christ to a fallen world recognizing that we are fallen as well and just as much in need of a savior each and every day. We have learned far more outside the walls of the church than we ever would have within and I would consider that a blessing.

I have not gone back to pastoring and I doubt I ever will. One of my earliest memories of church life was the older ladies from my childhood church always telling me that I should be a pastor. It was really their way of telling me that they liked what I had done in Sunday school or what I had written. My young impressionable mind had carried that through the years – through all the good and bad – and made into a ‘calling’ something that never really was. It was just something that I’d been told I would be good at and my need-to-please nature ran with it. This is not to say that I do not have a calling. I believe that we all have a purpose planted in us from the very beginning. I know that I have gifts in teaching and administration and helps, and I also have a creative nature and a love for words and how they can be put together to convey meaning. Having these gifts, however, does not mean I’m called to be a pastor. But I do have a calling. Whether at work or in the grocery store; driving down the freeway, at home, or while traveling; wherever I am and whatever I’m doing I am called to be a light and shine. To be a beacon for those who are searching for truth and being drawn by the Holy Spirit, that they may see Jesus. Isn’t that what we’re all called to be and what we’re all called to do?

Love On The Other 364 Days

jesuslovesyouMy wife and I made a choice very early in our relationship that Valentine’s Day was not going to be a ‘have-to’ thing for us. We would watch the stores fill up with cards and candy and hearts all screaming “I love you” in one way or another as if this was the only day those words were allowed. As if this is the one and only day throughout the whole entire year that you MUST tell the one you love how you really feel and if you don’t then it’s over! You missed your one chance to be open and honest and loving and caring. February 15th ought to be called Broken Heart’s Day for those who got it wrong the day before. Stores could sell special boxes of tissue for those unhappy tears, and all the candy in those left over heart-shaped boxes could be repackaged in raggedy gray bags for your “stay-home-alone-and-watch-a-sad-movie-chocolate-binge-night-because-you-missed-your-chance-and-will-never-find-love-again” pity party.

I realize I’m being a bit dramatic, but do I really need one day in the whole year to be set aside for me to do what I should be doing each and every day? I can walk into any Hallmark store and pick up a card for just about any reason, any day of the year, for anyone I care about and make them smile. I can go into any florist and buy something as simple as a daisy for my wife to show I’ve been thinking about her, (or better yet pick a few for free from the field on the way home from work on a hot day in July when I’m tired and sore…it might look a little weird but love can make you do some crazy things). I could cook dinner, hold a hand, give hug, or watch a rom-com chick-flick when I’d rather see some sci-fi adventure. I could do the laundry, watch the kids for the day, pay attention, listen and hear, and yes, I can actually say the words “I love you” every day…out loud and unashamed. Do we really need to try to cram all that we ought to be doing the other 364 days of the year into 1 day? Will showing love on that one day be enough to last for the rest of the year?

Love isn’t a feeling or an emotion that is strong one moment and gone the next. It isn’t vengeful or unbelieving or timid. It doesn’t hide when times are tough and it doesn’t wait on the sidelines. Love is an active, alive, bold, and compassionate choice that we make each and every day. We choose to love or we chose not to…it is that simple. I don’t need the calendar to tell me when to love. I have a savior who has shown me how. He chooses each and every day to be patient with me and kind; not to be envious, boastful, proud, rude, or selfish; to not get angry with me or keep a list of my wrongs, he does not rejoice when evil gains ground in my life. He always shows me the truth, protects me, trusts in me, has high hopes for me, and always encourages me when things are tough. He has never failed me and never will. I’d rather have this love every day than get all excited about an emotion-driven sentiment once a year.

I Am A Christian Mulit Tool

multi toolI’ve figured out how to play the game. It really is no big deal, once you get it. At home called Dad by my kids and Honey by my wife. I’m Mr. Fixit and the man with the plan and the setter of goals. At work I’m the organizer in chief, the solver of problems, and the team player. When at church I’m reverent and reserved, respectful and righteous. Among friends I’m the thinker and the listener, quick with dry sarcasm and a pat on the back to show I mean no harm. This is me…all of it…but not all the time. I’ve learned that I can’t be “Dad” to my friends or “reverent” and “reserved” at work. I can’t treat my family like a sports team and most definitely cannot be sarcastic with my wife and expect her to call me “Honey”….more than likely I’ll get a steely gaze with “that’s enough, Dear” attached. I am each to one and all to none. I have figured it out…everyone is kept happy and I am exhausted.

How do we do it? I mean, especially for those of us who have a deep seated need to please and in turn be accepted, how do we reconcile who we really are? Do we really even have a true self or are we just playing a role depending on the situation or circumstance? I have, and I would guess most of you have as well, found that there is an identity that I have…something that I call ‘me’…that few people ever really see. It is made up of the thoughts and emotions that are always swirling but never spoken. The excitement that is held, the sorrow that is boxed, and the dreams that are shelved. It is the deeply rooted faith with no branches. This is who I really am…if you really get to know me…and few have.

I’ve come to understand what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all men that by all means, I might save some.” There may come a time when someone I work with will need encouragement; I can be an encourager. There will be times when my kids are facing a difficult task; I can be a coach. A program at church may be falling apart and need an organizer; I can do that. And there are times when I can be playfully sarcastic with my wife…and she’ll still call me Honey. I can share my emotions and be excited as well as sad. I can dig my roots deeper while my branches reach for my dreams. I can be all these things. I can be like a Christian multi-tool; give a hug, share some wisdom, smile and nod, shout “Amen!” and shed a few tears, help someone else shine and offer a hand of help. It is who I am ‘in Christ’ that makes the difference. It is being ‘in Christ’ that allows me to be all things to all people that some may be saved. It is far too confusing to know who needs what, when, where, and how much on my own. Christ can see their need and as I follow his lead he can meet that need through me.

It really is no big deal once you get it!

Cubicle Sized Faith

cubicleI have a very small office. I have a desk with one file drawer and an overhead cabinet, one small book shelf, my office chair and 2 guest chairs. There is not much room to move around and no windows just glaring fluorescent lighting and bare walls. Kind of plain, kind of depressing, less than warm and more than claustrophobic…but it is my space. It is the space that I have been given to do my job and meet with people, and I meet with a lot of people.

I have a pretty deeply rooted faith that is not the easiest thing for me to share; personal stuff is not my strong suit. I don’t try to hide my faith but I don’t wear it on my sleeve either and I don’t try to push it on people. If a door opens for conversation I’ll walk through it and if someone with a cold shoulder comes into my little space I’ll pray quietly that I can be a light that they might see and let it go at that. Sometimes they leave in a better mood sometimes not, but whether they do or not is not up to me…I’m just there to shine.

My little corner is just one among many in the office suite. Some cubicles are bright and open with windows and others seem like dark dungeons and make you wonder what lurks within. These others are not really my concern and if I need to venture into the maze I know that there is a light within me that can dispel any darkness. Who knows, perhaps a little spark will remain after I leave and brighten their space at least for a moment. Maybe they’ll wonder why their room seemed brighter and lighter and maybe they’ll notice that same weightlessness as they walk by my little space and be drawn in. Maybe they’ll step in for a moment and chat while I quietly pray within for an opening. Perhaps they’ll want more of whatever it is they feel and realize that their space does not have to be quite so dark if they’ll just let a little light start to shine in…and then out.

Some may say my faith is quiet and not made to move mountains or heal broken bones. I do not have scripture verses hanging on my walls or Christian music playing in the background. But there is a quality; an intangible and ineffable presence that lies within each believer, filling whatever space they are in and longing to reach out to those who are lost. As long as there is just one believer present, this faith will thunder from a mountaintop, roar in a stadium, brighten a home, and harmonize in a sanctuary. It will even rest in a little cubicle hoping to quietly touch those the venture near.

What Kind of Tree are You?

tree.jpgI love trees. The other day I saw the perfect tree. A big, broad maple with long, stretched out, low slung branches in all directions with the perfect rounded canopy reaching upward; in full coppery red fall majesty. It was an awesome sight…and one that will last only a few days. Before long, all of the brightly colored leaves will have fallen off in a carpet of dappled reds and oranges, carpeting the sleeping soil. A tree that large and that far reaching must have an equally impressive root system. It must have to dig deep and burrow far and wide in search of vital water and nutrients. A tree of that kind does not grow in a forest. It is not surrounded by other trees.

Forest trees are tall and narrow with few branches except at the top. Forest trees must work together, share water, breathe together and often die together. If one falls down, many fall with it…and it is only then that a young tree has any chance of becoming a towering member of the forest. There is no standing alone in a forest. But there is protection there in the company of other trees…something the large, solitary trees do not have much of. They are buffeted by wind and drenched by rain. They are weighed down by snow and struck by lightning. They are on the front lines of a battle that few in the forest could endure.

I have been a forest tree. I have been a part of the crowd trying to survive together. I have experienced the joy of a warm breeze rustling through our raised hands and the gentle rain bouncing off our leaves, watering our thirsty roots. I have also been a field tree, alone in the wilderness spreading my branches as far as I could; always on the lookout for a storm in the distance or the morning sunrise. This is what I’ve learned from both places: You cannot be a big tree in a forest and you cannot be a tall skinny tree on a hill. In other words, even if you’re one of the bigger trees in the forest, you are still part of the forest. You can’t go around knocking and blocking all of those around you looking for more light or digging for more water because the others help to hold you up and share their resources with you. If they were not there you would be too tall and too weak to stand alone and you will fall. Likewise, if you are in the wilderness, you have to be prepared to be alone. You have to dig deep with your roots and reach way out with your branches to strengthen yourself against the storms because no tree from the forest is going to come along and help you…none can.

So which are you? Are you part of the forest or alone in the field? Each have a part to play and each was grown for a purpose. The forest looks to the sentinel and sees the first rustling leaves in the breeze of an approaching storm or the hints of a changing season in the color of its branches. They know to gather in their resources and lace their branches together in prayer. The sentinel in turn looks back at the forest saying, “don’t worry, we’ll get through this. I’ll protect you. Hold on to each other and I’ll spread out my branches to shelter you.” Working together they will weather the storm and become stronger, reach higher, and dig deeper than either could have on their own.