Saturday, March 28, 2020

Shelter

In my home office, I have a painting of the Hundred Acre Wood. For Christopher Robin and friends, the Hundred Acre Wood provided a safe place for adventure and relationship. A new world opened for Christopher Robin as he left the cruel, lonely, grown up world and entered into a relational calm filled with life, love, and laughter.

As a child I would sometimes build tents in my home with blankets over tables and chairs. This tent served as my version of your treehouse, or your clubhouse, or your bedroom. A shelter to think in, to dream in, to live in, even if just for a few brief moments in time. Because the tent was not a permanent structure and had to be put away a few hours after construction, I learned to find another shelter to shield me from the world around me. At an early age, I built a shelter in my own mental and emotional world where I could experience a life that made sense to me when the life around me seemed to be spiraling out of control. This inner shelter soon became an outer shield where I lived much of my life in two worlds. Behaving and talking and performing in the physical world became common place for me as I lived and breathed another existence under the hard shell I crafted to keep my true self from exposure.

The new era of COVID-19 has forced many into their own shells. Six foot distancing, stay at home orders, lack of medical supplies, suspicion over a neighbor's cough. All of these have created communities that are behaving, talking, and performing in the physical world, yet living and breathing another existence trying to adjust to a new normal. We fill our shelters with physical supplies that will far outlast the crisis. We find ways to connect with one another via chat rooms and online communities. We use screens to hide ourselves from family members that we are now forced to spend time with in close quarters. Shelter pulls at us while reminding us that having a place of protection from the outside world remains a basic human need.

Psalm 91:1 says, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty." The reference leads us to a spiritual shelter where we find hope, peace, comfort, love, and security. We struggle to find the shelter because the journey of our lives has taken us other places far from our spiritual anchor. We each possess a spiritual place where we can be one with our Creator. Physical and emotional experiences steal the keys that lock the spiritual self away to keep us from getting into the depths that God has provided for us as a safe shelter. Physical trauma and emotional trauma come in many forms. I would encourage you to research where trauma comes from and broaden your mind to the ways the enemy twists our lives to prevent us from knowing solitude and peace.

This week has been a week of adjustment for our family, and I am sure that the week has been one of adjustment for you. Everyone is home now, and we are figuring it out. We could choose to retreat into our worlds or we could choose to let our worlds collide into new adventures and journeys that will keep us connected for years to come. Even as we find ways to interact and know one another, we still must find our shelter, our safe place, our version of the Hundred Acre Wood. We can go for a moment and relax, laugh, live, but we can't stay there. Somehow these worlds have to collide, too. Somehow we have to find a way to break through the physical and emotional mess that is keeping our spiritual selves locked away. Meditation can help. Music can help. Reading can help. Resting can help. Recreation can help. All of these tools are useful, and for me these tools, guided by the power of God's Spirit, can help me find the security I need to bring all of my worlds - as messy as they may be - into focus. Will you join me on the journey? Let's make these next few days and maybe weeks the most significant weeks of our lives. Don't let a small virus destroy your inner being. Society may struggle and possibly crumble. Who knows? I do know this for sure from my own experience with working through personal trauma. "... Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5, ESV).

https://www.amazon.com/Trauma-Heart-Wounded-Heal-Stories-Survival/dp/0757319815

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

When the Led Becomes the Leader

For many folks, these last few weeks have become a whirlwind of emotion and stress. Not too long ago, we were planning for events and experiences that would propel us into new stages of our lives. Weddings, graduations, careers, tournaments, competitions, and other parts of our culture that have become commonplace. Today we live in a different world, at least for a time. We live in a world of waiting and wonder. The latest news update from the president or the governor bursts forth from our schedule as we listen intently to see how wide the virus has spread and what new limitations force us to get to know the people who are closest to us in ways that we might never have considered before.

Businesses are scrambling to know how best to support employees during this time. Churches are searching for new ways to keep a community of people together when physical distancing is becoming more normal. Therapists are scheduling more patients even doing so remotely because the fear grips at the very core of our being. Through this new medical war we are learning a lot about who we are as people and about what motivates us to do what we do.

This past Sunday morning I woke up at 3 am hoping that the worship service we had planned for our church was completely posted to the internet. People were anxious about not gathering together and wanted some gathering point even if the gathering point was online. It took about forty five seconds for me to walk down the hall to learn that my hope was not reality. The worship service had not posted. The file was too large. Now these are not issues I am used to or equipped to handle. Stress set in quickly. Failure screamed in my head. Disappointment criticized me by telling me that yet again I was letting everyone down. Control stabbed me and forced me to find a way to fix it all in just a few short hours. No matter how hard I tried, I failed at every attempt. I turned to the Lord and prayed that He would demonstrate His power over technology by making things work. He didn't choose to respond according to my desire.

By 11:00 am the avalanche of all my past was crashing around me internally. I desperately tried to hide it. Frustration mounted around me so the only thing I knew to do was to pretend that everything was okay. I had posted a link on our website to Gateway Baptist Church in Irmo, South Carolina. A close friend of mine leads worship at Gateway, and I knew that if friends and family would find that link, his pastor's heart would pour out through music to minister to them and bring them to the throne of God. What I discounted was how the Lord would use Jeremy's heart for leading God's people to remind me of a simple truth.

As we watched and listened to the music part of the worship, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me.
Not audibly, yet clearly. The earth that had fallen around me began to settle, and rescue headed my way. The voices of defeat from my past continued to scream, yet the Holy Spirit's sweet whisper overcame the voices. Jeremy had been in a small group I was part of when Karen and I first started youth ministry. His family and our family became close and have remained so. The Lord allowed me the privilege to make some investment in his life, all of which the enemy continued trying to keep me from seeing. This time was not the first time the enemy threw blinders on me. This time, though, the Spirit's still voice was coming through. Jeremy stopped singing, and he picked up his Bible. He read from Psalm 46. I wonder if you might take a moment and read that Psalm with me? (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+46&version=ESV)

As Jeremy read from God's word about the earth giving way and the waters roaring I began to feel the Spirit lifting me to the "holy habitation of the Most High." In spite of my messed up life - yes in spite of me - the Spirit of God had taken this young man from a Godly family and was using him today to reach masses who were struggling to find some stability in uncertain times. Not until later when I stepped outside of the house did I fully grasp what the Lord taught me during that time of worship. He doesn't need me to do His work. He wants to use me, and He will use me, but He doesn't need me. He can do just fine on His own. My frantic efforts to do the right thing by everyone else are nothing compared to the "Lord of hosts," literally the Lord of armies.

The verse came back to me that he read so confidently. The very verse I have shared on multiple occasions. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10, ESV. The Lord will be exalted whether or not I can make things come together. The Lord will be exalted whether or not everyone thinks I am working hard enough. The Lord will be exalted whether or not the earth shakes and trembles. He is God, and being in His presence brings peace. His desire for me is to be still and know Him. He used a young teenage boy who has become a compassionate young man with a gift for music and a heart for God's people to remind me to be still. I long for the stillness and acceptance I saw in Jeremy Sunday. That longing is only filled by Christ. What a blessing to be still and consider what God does when the one who was led becomes the leader.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Social Distancing

The view from the front porch has changed over the last couple of years. We live in a different world than we did back then. You've changed, and I've changed, too. I'm older now. Dumber than ever. More realistic perhaps. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm just more transparent with my reality now. I'm heavier than I used to be. Can't see as well and can't hear as well. I'm older now.

The circumstances of COVID-19 (isn't it amazing how some phrases can so quickly become household phrases?) cause many to take a moment to reflect and cause some to take several moments to react. Reflection or reaction. Two responses to life that lead us down very different paths. Which path are you on? Do you ever feel like you've got one leg on one path and one on the other? Visualize that humorous picture for a moment. Here we go walking down diverging paths with our legs spread wide trying to walk down both paths. Eventually, we will end up doing the splits and falling flat on our faces (or perhaps the other direction - don't visualize that one too much please). As human beings, one would think, at least from my front porch, that we have to choose. Are we going to be reflectors or reactors?

Psalm 27 paints a portrait for us from a king who made a decision to be a reflector. You might consider joining me briefly in reading the Psalm. It's not a long one.

David gives us insight into his quiet time on numerous occasions, and Psalm 27 is one of them. He openly talks about fear and loneliness. He references anxiety and the unknown. Reading David's journal takes me to the enemies I fight daily. Physical, emotional, and spiritual enemies struggle within me to steal my peace and joy. Fear and desperation fill the space of the fight. I can't make it on my own. As I consider all those in our community who are fighting similar battles, I wonder how many are trying to make it on their own.

The idea of social distancing makes it difficult to join others in the fight. One of my wife's coworkers pointed out that we are social people creating to need each other. She coined a new phrase - "physical distancing yet socially connecting." The new phrase requires creativity and energy, but isn't the value of community worth the creativity and energy required? Do we need crafted environments to care for another, to enjoy one another, to hear one another? Limiting groups of 10 or more don't stop us from living. Here are some ideas.

1. Walk outside and try to find a neighbor you've never met. Smile, wave, and consider initiating a conversation. You don't have to be in someone's face to hear his story.

2. Call a senior adult you know and see if she needs you to run to the grocery store for her or pick up her medicine. She is afraid. You are not. Do something.

3. Trim your bushes that desperately need trimming. You'll feel better. Your neighbors will appreciate you. You might actually get some blooms that have been kept back. Clean your driveway. It's amazing what clean concrete will do for the senses.

4. Spend some time on your porch or just sitting down in the grass in your yard. Soak in the sun (with sunscreen please) and breathe deeply. Thank God for the ability to breathe.

5. Read a new book or start a new Bible study.

6. Write cards and encouraging notes for someone.

7. Take some games to a foster family trying to figure out what to do with their new time together.

8. Prepare a meal for someone who can't get to the store and who can't do takeout. Or even better, support a small business by buying a meal for takeout and delivering it to someone with a smile. You can leave it at their door and give them a smile through a window.

9. Talk to the people in your house about their own fears and dreams and hopes for the future.

10. Play your favorite music loudly and dance around the house. Who cares if someone is looking? Use physical distancing to your advantage.

11. Play worship music and mediate on the faithfulness of God. Use your time to enter into His presence and to know Him more fully than you've known Him before.

12. Record yourself reading some books and share them with your children and grandchildren. Post them online so children in a children's hospital perhaps can log into them and hear them. Maybe sing some songs, make some crafts, and connect online with folks at a Ronald McDonald House, in a cancer ward, or at a senior living facility. In addition to the diseases these people are fighting, now their social interaction has been take as well.

David celebrates in Psalm 27:6. "And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord." Let not your head be low. Let our Father lift our heads by the power of His Spirit. Don't let the physical, emotional, and spiritual enemies defeat you. Offer sacrifices of joy to the world around you. Sing. Sing loudly and make melody to the Lord!!! The world needs to see Hope that comes from Christ alone. I choose today to be a Reflector. Will you choose with me?

Friday, August 31, 2018

Why Do They Have To Be The Enemy?

Ugh. Once again we are in the middle of a politically charged environment. Really, it never ended. Once the most recent presidential election unfolded, the storm was set on what seems to be a never ending, irreversible course. The recent primaries in Florida revealed more of the same. Whether the craziness is the result of the storm or an additional driver to the storm is hard to tell.

When did we lose statesmen? Why can't we have an intellectual exchange of ideas where we discuss ideology without hatred and racism coming into the conversation? When did people of faith lose their convictions? When did Jesus become a Republican? Or when did he become a Democrat? Why are we afraid to stand on our own and to speak out against the hate speech that destroys our sense of well being. My kids are growing up in a culture where to be a follower of Christ you first have to align with some political party. If you align with the wrong one, then you are demonized by the other side and often in the name of LOVE. What's love got to do with it? Thanks, Tina Turner. Love has nothing to do with the arguments that are being thrown around. It's all about power and control. It's about ME and what is best for MY TRIBE. Doesn't anyone care about the others? Is there some new sacred text out there that justifies destroying those who disagree with us for the sake of our tribe coming out on top?

I'm aware of the Old Testament, for sure. As a matter of fact, I would consider myself a student of the Old Testament. I would have to put forward, though, that the conquering of lands by Israel was with a specific intent to describe the character of God for those people and was not ever intended to become the mantra of the people of God today. Nowhere do we see in the teachings of Jesus or in the post-resurrection writings that we are to elevate ourselves by putting others down. Quite the contrary.

Unfortunately early in church history, the idea of introducing others to the real Jesus went out the window, and instead protecting the TRIBE became the norm. If you don't fit into our mold, then you are evil, regardless of whether or not the mold looked anything like Jesus. So much time has passed and so much TRIBALISM has taken over the church that many find it hard to even know what Jesus might have been like. Read a passage of scripture that contradicts your tribe's philosophies. Share it with members of the tribe. Begin to talk like you believe the passage and that you feel like it contradicts the norm of the group. Begin to behave in a manner consistent with what you believe. See how long it takes for you to be shamed into submission for going against the accepted platform.

What would happen if we all took a deep breath and went to a quiet place for a while? What if we saw those around us as people and not positions? What if we became less concerned about tribal bonds and more concerned about helping everyone find their way? No wonder the world - even the American world - wants very little to do with Jesus. Those who claim to follow Him have so demonized those who disagree with them there seems to be little to no hope for them anyway. If following Jesus means taking on the nature of some political candidate, then that doesn't interest me at all. If following Jesus means taking on the nature of Jesus, then let's talk. If your posts and actions say one thing but your Sunday talk says another .... well that's a problem for all of us isn't it?

I am just as much a hypocrite as the next person for sure. I will say, though, that I am trying to be open to what is happening and to see the world around me in a different light - one that isn't filled with hatred and disgust but instead is filled with compassion and understanding. Why do those who think differently than we do have to be the enemy?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

MASH

From 1972 to 1983 a 30 minute dark comedy aired that portrayed the personal cost of war on individuals, families, and societies. MASH was not a show we watched as a family, and I never really questioned why. Perhaps it just came on at an inconvenient time or during another show that took priority in the family. While I never knew much about the show's content, the theme song caught my ear during college. Each week the music minus lyrics filtrated the homes of American families, many who never knew the meaning behind the tune playing over and over as a soundtrack that carried throughout the week. Did you know that the title to the song is "Suicide is Painless"? Here are the lyrics for your interest.

http://www.metrolyrics.com/suicide-is-painless-lyrics-mash.html

While many would argue that the song is depressing and should be stripped from the musical libraries of our world, the words are so real that they frighten those who choose to live in a world that does not exist. You see, fear is the great maker behind all masks. Our society thrives on hiding from all that scares us. We hide our feelings and our failures. We hide behind masks of power and prestige. We throw out words that spread the lie that everything is okay when the broken pieces of our lives are cutting gashes into our hearts because no one wants to know. No one wants to see. No one wants to hear. No one wants to feel. Stay hidden on the journey that will eventually end in death.

Death happens in so many different ways. My dad died from pancreatic cancer. We thought it would be from heart disease or from smoking. A friend's mom died after being struck by a car while crossing the street. We thought she would live forever. A student was struck by lighting, and another was killed in a drunk driving accident. A cousin died by suicide. An uncle died by drinking himself to death. Another uncle - stabbed by his girlfriend. A close family friend died from natural causes late in her 80's while the son of a family friend died in his 30's from an aneurysm. No one really knows how or when. No one knows if death will come suddenly or over time.

Robin Williams was an amazing actor and comic. He could make people laugh just by looking a certain way. He made movies that made us think about how we were living our own lives. His heart was large for those around him. We all allowed him the pleasure of helping us escape for a few moments or a few hours as he created a life that made us smile and cry all at the same time. I won't pretend to know what was happening in his life. I just know that the news reported he died - by suicide.

What makes someone who seems to be full of life find the answer in a sudden, self inflicted death? Could the song be right? Is suicide really painless? I suppose not for those who are left behind to figure out what happened or for those who are trying to put the pieces back together. What about for the person who sees this option as the only one? Do the ravages of personal war plague our lives so strongly that the only way to be free is to commit death - emotional or physical - by suicide?

The answer to that question should be a resounding "no." My friends associated with the church would say that there is another way. Those with families near them would also cry out in rejection of the notion that death by suicide is the best answer. Personally, I cannot imagine that death by suicide is the best answer either. I can, however, see why some would find this path the most obvious path for the moment. Without someone to help guide us through, we all get to places where we think there is no future. The dead ends are surrounded by impenetrable boulders and vines. What is the other way? Most people don't suggest anything that is tangible. Lots of ideas and meditative prayers rise to the surface. Does anyone have an answer that someone can really cling to and use to find a way to shore? Can the church perhaps decide to dive into the water and pull someone to safety rather than just cheering him on from the shore?

In later years, spinoffs of MASH surfaced helping us to see that there is life after war. How did they survive? They looked within themselves, focused on what they could affect, and decided to make a new life that mattered - at least for the moment. In essence, they committed a different form of death by suicide - bury the past by creating the future. Unfortunately, suicide is not painless. Suicide does not remove the pain. Somehow we have to find a way to embrace what the future holds and use the past to keep us from making the same mistakes again. Make the future what you need it to be to survive. War stinks. Survival stings. Life ....

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Road To Nowhere

Sometimes the most difficult part of a journey is getting lost along the way. At time getting lost can be an adventure, if you are the adventurous type and if no one else is depending on you to stay found. Mostly, though, others are looking for us to know where we are going and to know when we will get there. They don’t much care what happened along the way. Just show up on time with everything in order.

I haven’t lost my way often, primarily because I’ve not taken many journeys. Kelly Clarkson sings a song about being trained as a child to play it safe. Through that experience she ended up living in a world of fear and distrust. She was taught, like many of us, that the safe way is the best way. Stay close to home and fall in line. Everything else will be okay.

While I haven’t lost my way often, I have found myself lost along the journey here lately. I venture out a little thinking that I am healing from some brokenness only to find that the brokenness travels with me and haunts me into confusion. I try to be real and to let others see the me I know. It’s too much. I’m like a child learning to interact in a society that has always rejected the me I have kept buried for so long. I think maybe someone might want to know the real me, but then the past tells me I’m wrong. My introductory efforts come across as if I am a weak, emotional basket case who needs to be handled with kid gloves. When I try to pull back the reins, my heart leaves the path and hides in the darkness searching for a way to another place - not back to where I came from but also not where I was going.

Some say the journey is best travelled with someone. That saying is only true if you are worthy of someone traveling with you. Some journeys are best taken alone with friends and family who love waiting patiently at the end of the path. Perhaps they will be able to wait without a time frame or an expectation of what you will look like upon your arrival. On the other hand, perhaps they will not. Either way, you will end up somewhere. Even the road to no where ends up somewhere.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Pooh

Childhood memories are the best memories for many people. For others, these memories bring grief and heartache. Loss of family, friends, and innocence plagues the hearts of those from many walks of life. We learn to live with the pain and the regret hoping to discover ways to make the most out of our brokenness. Everyone has brokenness of some kind, I suppose. We live in an imperfect world so the best we can do is to take each day one day at a time and live that day to the fullest.

As children, we had the luxury of escaping into enchanted worlds of make believe. For some the enchanted world provided a place to play for a time, but for others the enchanted world provided a break from the harsh realities of living. The most difficult times, then, would be those where you would have to leave the enchantment and come into the circle of life others were a part of each day.

Bedtime was always the scariest time of day for me. All day long I could hide and pretend to be the person I wanted others to know. Bedtime, though, was different because as sleep encroached upon my private world, I knew I would lose the ability to be in control of my existence. I fought sleep with the strength of a warrior, but each night the power of nature overcame my senses. Each morning I woke with the burden of the life I so desperately wanted to leave. Each day I lived the life I created to keep others from knowing the real me hidden deep inside behind dark walls even I refused to go behind.

I don't remember when he joined me, but at some point Winnie the Pooh came into my world. I watched the shows on television and read the books. Mostly, though, I held onto this stuffed bear less than a foot tall. He rested on my bed each day waiting for my return from school. He watched me carefully as I engaged in activities that perpetuated my make believe world. He listened as I made up storylines where I was a flawed hero, and he heard me as I cried over the worthlessness I felt in my life. Pooh became a friend to me, and he proved to be the best childhood friend a boy could have. He was always there with me, but mostly, he was there with me at night. I remember heated arguments in our home at night. Holding Pooh tightly helped me make it through. I remember being afraid that I would dream about falling into the deep cavern yet again. Again, Pooh helped calm me. I remember being afraid of the Wicked Witch who threatened to boil me in her cauldron once she had put me to sleep. Through it all Pooh was there.

Tonight we are going as a family to see the new movie Christopher Robin. I have been rereading
some of the Pooh stories in anticipation of the movie. I don't know all that we will see as we experience Disney's creation of a grown up Christopher Robin and the impact of a bear and his friends on this matured life. Whatever we see, I am sure it will be amazing. He may be a stuffed bear, but the attachment remains - for scores of Christopher Robins around the world.