Endeavor

20170803_144845_001Do you ever see that dog hanging out of the car window? Maybe you do that now, where you let the dog sit in the front seat with the window open? Can you picture him, tongue hanging out, nose up in the wind taking all the smells and light and energy? Are you like me what when you see the dog YOU smile when you pass them because you see the dogs’ smile? Does the dog’s smile make you smile?
Of course it does, right?

When I see a dog doing that, I smile because I know he’s in dog heaven. He’s taking it all in, moving at the speed of light, slobbering on the the window…and to me, that’s a little of what it’s like to ride a motorcycle…minus the slobbering on the window.

As you ride on a good day, the light and sun comes down on you and the sun and shade hit your body creating warmth and coolness. The bike cuts the air and tires gripping the pavement, moving with you like a dance. The engine beckoning for the open throttle, a little passion. The dance is leaning out over corners and challenging the hold gravity and momentum have on a normal person…because you’re not normal and you’re not doing something normal, you’re defying gravity and normal constraints. A smile often stays on your lips. You’re that dog doing something he KNOWS is not normal for him, just as riding is not normal for you…both of us know we’re being given a moment that’s pure pleasure and we’re going to drink it in.

When you ride a motorcycle there are usually a few common responses. One response is “cool” and they ask what kind of bike you have, they tell you about what you have, you share a story, and you know they’re ‘in the club’.

Another response is the yearning look in their eye of how they want/had one but made choices in their lives (or had a choice made for them) and they yearn to be back out on the bike but costs are too high for themselves or their family. These two responses are almost always from men (USUALLY, but not always)

The next set of responses are a mixed bag, gender-wise, but these responses are all based on a fear of getting hurt, or getting killed. Of this second group, It seems that everyone wants to tell you how unsafe it is and about the wreck that happened to their brother’s uncle in-law mechanic’s sister’s boyfriend that they grew up with…I hear it all the time. I could take offense to it, tell them about odds and tell them how I’m pretty safe and not an idiot on the road and how I’m always aware of what’s going on around me….

….or I could let everyone just think that I’m ok with the risk, say how the odds don’t apply to me.
I like the second choice but the first is probably closer to the truth.

Side note: As a seasoned rider, I will tell you honestly that most of us have come to terms with our own mortality and the risk we are taking. I hate to tell all of you this, but we are all going to die.

Why am I saying all of this?
Let me ‘land the plane’ with my thoughts.

When I owned a bike as a kid, I rode and loved it. Rode it til it died one day in a corn field in Lebanon Ohio, God rest it’s 125cc heart. Going through college, I had a roommate named Scott Schroeder who had a motorcycle. In the last year of our time at Ohio State, he and I talked of riding across the country when we graduated. It was a wish more than a plan because I didn’t own a bike at the time, nor did I have the financial resources for the bike…let alone a cross country trip. But that didn’t stop us from talking about it.

Six months out of college, Scott was driving his car home one night and got killed by a drunk driver. He was 24. I lost a great friend and the trip we wanted to take? Never happened.

Responsibilities and jobs and careers and girlfriends and many years later, I was about to turn 40 and that ghosts of the woulda, coulda, and shoulda’s were haunting me. I had given thought to that cross country ride over the years but felt that ‘responsible’ thing to do was wait until I had a family, wait until the kids were out of college…THEN I would get the motorcycle. Then I would do a grand adventure.

Getting ready to turn 40 it dawned on me that I was waiting for things to happen in my life before I would do other things….and if those primary events did not happen, the secondary would also never happen. When it came to the bike and trips, I decided I would no longer wait. Within a week Rick S. decided he was selling his bike and asked if I wanted to buy it. I’m not saying that the heavens parted and I heard a voice, but I knew I didn’t need to wait for a full sign from God…a hint was sufficient.

The first couple times I took the bike out, I was sure that SOMEONE was going to kill me. I thought of all the ways I could get hurt or killed…but then a funny thing happened. I didn’t die.

People are SOOOOOOOoooo afraid of dying. Supposedly it’s the second highest fear behind public speaking…which is odd to me…but everyone is afraid of SOMETHING. We even have words we’ve made up for unusual fears. Seems you would be challenged to have a fear that’s not already recorded. Lots of those fears are well founded…they keep us out of trouble, keep us from doing dumb things. Some fears are hindering us and we need to conquer those fears. They tell us most fears are never realized…we just fear certain things that we never have to confront.

In looking at my fear of dying while riding my bike, I realized I was faced with a fear that was keeping me from living, pursuing dreams, doing something that made me feel alive.

I don’t want to say that I no longer fear death…that’s far from the truth, I have a healthy fear of death and the way that I go, so if you catch one thing, catch this please.

I don’t fear death as much as I fear missing out on living.

God gave MEN a sense of adventure, of danger, and the need to confront it…to challenge death, to do something that makes our hearts beat with adrenaline…it makes us come alive. The Bible says that man was created outside the garden…was we have a need for the wild, the wilderness…even if it’s just a feeling.

If you are dying inside, if you are bored out of your mind then maybe you need to get a shock to your system. There is a phrase in the bible that says ‘wake up sleeper and rise from the dead and let Christ’s light shine over you”.

Are you sleeping? Are you the walking dead? Has life lost it’s ups and downs where you’re flatlining through it?

“Every man dies, not every man really lives.” Is a quote attributed to William Wallace. I would challenge all who are reading this to figure out what gift you have, what special talent, what seed has God placed in you…and breath life into it again.

What is it you are not doing that you should be?
What fear of failure is choking out ‘life’?
Why is it we die with so many unused talents?
So many unwritten books?
So many great humanitarian ideas?
So many curvy crazy roads not ridden?

You don’t have to play roulette, ride a crotch rocket at 120, bungee jump, run the bulls in Pamplona, swim with Great Whites…
…but to be alive is sometimes to lean out over the edge, where the air is crisp, the adrenaline keeps you awake, and you live in the present, in the juicy moments of life.

Mark Twain said “Let us endeavor so to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker is sorry”

The definition of Endeavor:
“to exert oneself to do or effect something; make an effort; strive”

In looking at this definition, where are you?
Are you striving to live…or just trying not to die?

Endeavor…
…exert yourself
…affect something
…strive to live.

Endeavor to live friends.

Two Stories

An adventure had formed.

With my BMW R1200GSA sold, I was free to find the next motorcycle to put in the stable, the new iron horse that could further my travels in adventure biking.

My next machine? A KTM Adventure 990 Baja edition.
It’s location? Minneapolis.
The adventure? A one way ticket to get the bike, followed by a 12 hour multi day ride through stormy weather to get it home.

Shut my mouth and paint me KTM orange….now THIS was going to be an adventure!!!IMG_0129

I packed gear for 2 days, refining my single bag (dry bag of course with the rain (or snow?)) of my best gear. It was looking like the trip would start out in near freezing conditions with light snow (or freezing precipitation) that would change over to light rain the first few hours then change over to overcast with intermittent light rain (all the way home) as temperatures would slowly rise to the 60s over the first 6-7 hours of an 11+ hour trip.

How many thermal layers would I need? How many layers did I have if I got soaked through? How many gloves would be needed? I had packed just enough but also included a lot of little tiny treasures that could become essential like hot hands, phone charger, and iPod. I even went out and bought a new helmet.

The day of departure I actually went to the airport a couple hours early because I could no longer wait at home anymore…the excitement was overwhelming .

The flight was uneventful, I caught a cat nap, but upon landing in Minneapolis, the excitement ratcheted up and the guy picked me up at the airport. We chatted, (actually I chatted) most of the way to his house. We arrived in a nice suburban area in Minneapolis. His garage door opened, and sitting in the center of his garage was this beautiful Baja version of the bike with it’s white panels with orange crash bars. I walked around two times, amazed at its condition… I was amazed that the plastic panels were in new condition and the bike itself looked like it had barely been ridden.

I was smiling.

The owner explained every little thing to me on the bike and demonstrated how some of the parts worked and then started it up. The engine growled and jumped with the goose of the throttle.

I was in love…or as much as a man can be with a machine….I would take this beautiful bike out for a minor test drive I would come back and figure out how to start my journey. I went inside to put on all my gear.

Did I mention that I was smiling?

I came out, he pointed me in a couple directions, and with the bike warmed up, I adjusted mirrors and put it into gear. I rolled out of his garage and started down the road and went around the corner to where there was a highway. I shot down the on ramp and darted quickly into the traffic to get the bike up to speed and the engine reached operating temperature. There was a smile on my face as I was thinking of the next 12 hours of getting this baby home…

And then I noticed it.

My hands were trembling (not with the cold) from movement in the handlebars and the GPS that hung from the windshield was dancing with the vibration. I had been so preoccupied with the bike in listening to the sound of the engine for any misfire in the roar, running up and down the gears feeling the clutch and shift and the RPMs, that I initially miss it. Once the bike passed my initial checklist, I started paying attention to other things and picked up on it. The smile began to fade a little bit is I investigated…it wasn’t in the wheels or tires…so it was very probably in the engine or transmission. I pulled in the clutch and the vibrational went away. I let the clutch back out and the vibration came back.

My smile faded.

Long story shortened, I got back to the guys house is a rolled into the garage and he came out with a big smile on his face and I calmly stated something was wrong. He stopped smiling and went back inside. I spent the next 45 minutes calling buddies, KTM dealers, and the consensus was that something was amiss.

In the end…I did not buy the bike…I walked away.

That evening and the next morning, I spent time at my uncle Bob and Aunt Judy’s who were awesome in their hospitality.  I got to enjoy getting to know them a little bit better…laughing and talking about family and some little known history around my grandfather and great grandmother.   We shared our thoughts of faith and how maybe I should spend more time looking for a wife than a motorcycle.  LOL!   It was fun.  It was family.

Next morning, faced with the reality that I was not riding a motorcycle home, I weighed out the cost of a plane ticket versus renting a car. If I took a flight, it would be quick, but expensive. If I took a car, it would allow me to visit a cousin of mine, Lisa.

Lisa was 2nd of three born to Larry and Marianne, my uncle and aunt. When we were younger, our families would spend time together, take vacations together, spend time at their cabin. In my younger years, they were a big part of the fun things we used to do that I remember. Lisa and I were buddies in those years and I remembered our friendship as an awesome part of growing up.

In 3rd grade, my family moved to Ohio, and shortly after that, a family rift over my grandfather ended vacations with them. So, many years ago, a friendship took pause over family politics, family conflict, and taking sides. As kids, you don’t understand things like that…it was something bad that happened that you had no control over.

There’s a lot of story between then and now that is important, but hard to explain and few understand. Lisa and Pat had family problems with her parents, Larry and Marianne, to the point that boundaries were set..and those boundaries became walls…and 15 years slipped by.

And then Larry passed away without resolution to a conflict that most in the immediate family did not understand.

5 years ago, when Larry passed, I ran into Lisa and her family at the funeral. She didn’t recognize me…but she hadn’t changed. It was not the time nor place, but we caught up a little that day.

Now here it was years later and I’m passing through on my way home….on a botched motorcycle adventure…and I felt it really important to stop and spend an hour with Lisa.

That hour turned into 5 hours of talking, processing, laughing, and sometimes crying about family, loss, grief, conflict, and God. It was probably the most important 5 hours of this year.

It was a chance for Lisa to tell her story
It was a chance to bring peace and light to an unresolved conflict.
It was a chance to laugh and cry again with a dear old family member.
It was a chance to have incredible insight into my family
It was a chance to look into the emotional mirror of two lives so similar…and understand that there are always two sides to a story.

In listening to her and catching up, I saw that both of us could understand, both of us could empathize, both of us could offer healing to each other.

In this situation, in this story, God used someone who basically lied to me about a motorcycle to get me to go to Minnesota, so that He (God) could bring me to my cousin’s house so that the two of us could connect and share some of the lost parts of our lives with each other.

In my head, I am the center of this story and I had my plans and thoughts, I thought I was at the center of the world. But I forget that it is not my world, it is Gods…and I have bowed and submitted and asked Him to change my world, use my life, and this self centered man (yes me) has asked that my life be more full.

I thought a beautiful low mileage mint 2013 KTM 990 Adventure Baja Limited edition with its white panels, orange crash bars, orange anodized Renthal handlebars, Garmen GPS, roughly 115 HP, 6 speed transmission, TKC 80 tires on the black shiny 21 inch front rim, extended footrests, CJ Designs bash plate………and steering damper……….and TKC tires………(did I mention under 6000 miles?)…….
I thought this beautiful new bike would make my life more full. But what do I know…
He saw what my heart needed, and it wasn’t a new toy.

The trip to Minneapolis was a divine appointment…and not just for me.

In my story about a trip to Minnesota, you could choose to see a motorcycle deal gone wrong…or you could choose to see my story of friendship restored.

You could choose to see a lie that brought me to loose time and money…or see truth in the reason that brought me to Minnesota to reconnect with family.

In a story about lost time between friends, you could choose to see the years lost or the 5 hours gained.

In a story about a cousin long removed from a family, you can choose to see the family that raised her, or the family she raised.

You could choose sides in an old conflict and lose one person from your life….or you could see that there are two sides to every story….
…and with grace and mercy
…you can see that there’s room to love both.

Life is full of choices…
Beginnings or endings…
peace or war…
life or death…

…be careful how you choose…if you must choose at all.

A Dark Basement

I was dating someone recently and something happened that tells me that I either need medication, my mind is getting soft, or God’s work is beginning to take shape.

The first or last options are more favorable than the middle.
Then again, maybe they’re all happening to some degree.

So I was dating this woman and I got into an argument with her. It was our first one, and it was a good one. A day later I was still kinda stewing about things…and then it happened.

I saw myself.

I mean I REALLY saw myself.
What I mean is that we usually see ourselves as the ‘victim’ or some caped crusading seeker of justice with our “justified” thoughts and actions as WE THINK they are.
…but
Once the blinding light of my own pride, my own indignation faded…I saw there, outside of the light…a shadow…a darkness you don’t see unless you REALLY look.
I saw it.

I saw my motivations and selfishness.
I saw my anger.
I saw a hurt child lashing out in his confusion and pain…
That child was me…and it was not pretty.

As I was writing this, God reminded me of a story….so I’m going to switch gears for a second and then I’ll come back to the argument…

When I was 9 or 10, we lived in Lebanon in an old mansion that sat on the corner of Cook and Deerfield Roads. Across the street from a housing division that was being built from that corner towards the YMCA. There was dozens of houses all being built at the same time for several summers. Being the entrepreneur I was, I used to go collect the returnable pop bottles the workers would drink and discard every day. They were returnable glass bottles worth maybe 10 cents a piece and I could collect a couple bucks a day to spent the money on fish for my aquarium, orange Fago sodas, Star Wars cards, and candy.

One day a couple of us kids were playing in the houses…we must’ve been playing some kind of cops and robbers sort of game, when something I’ll never forget happened.

Someone was chasing me, think it was Kevin Revis (but could have been Mark Mason) and I was darting through a couple houses to get away. All the houses were just studs and plywood, many had no roof and I ran into this house thinking I had enough of a lead to safely hide, so I decided to duck into a basement. So, I ran through this house, jumped into the square hole cut into the first floor for the stairs, and ran down the steps.

It was summer and must’ve been mid-day on the weekend because the sun was bright and overhead, so as I got to the bottom of the steps, there was a square of bright light formed by the hole in the first floor where the stairs came down. Standing at the bottom of the steps, I stood for a second just looking into the darkness. Coming out of the mid-day sun, my eyes could not adjust, and darkness was all I could see. I could not see the walls, the floor, or ANYTHING just outside of the square of light.

I must’ve heard my pursuer enter the house, because I stepped into the darkness and put out my hands and walked blindly forward until I touched the cool damp surface of the wall. I felt around in the darkness for a place or way to hide myself but the basement was completely empty…I was trapped and turned back to the stairs and the square of light.

Whoever pursued me raced through the house and then bounded down the steps to the bottom, stopped and stood, in the square light, looking out into the darkness searching for me.

I remember seeing him as clear as if it had been yesterday…I could SEE his excited face as he scanned the dark where I stood. He took a step out of the square of light, then stopped. I could SEE and FEEL his fear of leaving the light as he tried to bring himself to challenge the darkness..and then shrank back. I could FEEL his triumphant victory slipping…slipping into fear.
…but I stood perfectly still and quiet.

He screamed out into the concrete basement claiming victory!!!!! He had found me!!!! He knew I was there!!!! His shrill child voice was amplified by the concrete walls. He had stopped at the base of the stairs, and standing in the light, he was maybe 15 feet from me and I was standing RIGHT in front of him as he faced my direction.

In those brief seconds…in that moment…I could see him PERFECTLY as he stood under the sun’s square spotlight
…but he, in his blindness…
he could not see me.

So, back to my story of needing medication or getting soft (…or both…)

Pulling these stories together….in my argument with the woman, I was the child at the base of the stairs in the spotlight of the sun. And at the base of the stairs, I was yelling in the darkness. In my self-righteousness, I was calling out my victory!!! MY win! I was demanding surrender!!!!
….but all the while, I was blind.

Now today, a day later, I am the person in the darkness. I stand in the shadow of the basement, in the shadow of time, and it’s like I am looking at myself, observing that child standing in that square spotlight and arguing with her as one in the same.

I’m looking at myself arguing with her and i can clearly see today what I did not then.

I can see my fear.
I can see my hollow victory.
I can see me searching in the darkness.
I can see myself afraid of what I cannot see.
…And it’s not a good thing to watch.

Relationships are not easy. There’s the good like comfort, love, support, companionship, affirmation, touch, camaraderie, friendship
But the good often comes with the bad like betrayal, abandonment, distrust, anger, hurt, confusion…all of these are based in fear…

In relationships, like the child in the spotlight calling into the darkness, a lot of times we have to press into our fears, our hurts….abandon our island of light and hollow victory and step into a place of discomfort and disorientation. Like a child bathed in our own blinding light, we have to step into the dark…
…that we might see the other person.

In relationships, like the child in the dark where I could clearly see my friend…God’s light often illuminates them (or ourselves) and we see clearly that they are scared and fearful. They cannot see us as they are blinded and unwilling to step into, and through their fears.

God continues to work on me and my life. It’s often hard and painful to work through dark places in my heart, places where I got hurt, where my pride has blinded me, places where someone was supposed to be safe, where someone was supposed to be our friend betrays us…but God loves us enough to take our burdens and help us lay them down.

Light is a funny thing…
Sometimes the light makes us blind.
Sometimes the dark helps us see.

I Corinthians 4.5. …”wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”

The Story of Boaz

To most the book of Ruth is about, well, Ruth.
Not to me. Not at all…it’s a story of Boaz.
Boaz was one lucky guy.

An older man, seasoned, wise, and past his prime. Not bitter, not selfish.
He was Righteous, influential, and wealthy is what we’re told.
He took care of business.
He kept his affairs in order, and watched over his interests.
He learned to be faithful with what God had given him.
…but…
for whatever reason, he did not have a wife.

Maybe he squandered his early years with riotous living…maybe he HAD a wife, but she had left him or he left her…maybe she had passed from this world into the next in a shattering tragedy of losing a beloved.
Maybe his story is much like mine, where his anticipatory spring had ticked away into the ‘less than perfect” fall of his life.

Whatever the reason, the results were the same. He was alone living without a wife and we know that Boaz was not in the spring time of his life, but what we do know speaks volumes. He owned fields and had workers under him… so we do know that he took care of what God had given him. He probably had a good work ethic and good management that put him in a good financial standing. His example stands for all of us who are waiting sometimes oh-not-so patiently, to be good stewards of the “little things” that God has given you because money, wealth, and resources we are stewards of are oh-so-inconsequential compared to the being entrusted with the wealth of a human heart.

What else do we know about Boaz?

He took notice of a younger widow woman that showed up in his field one day. She was a widow taking care of another widow who was a foreigner, a Moabite, in Israel. Moabites were a detested race so she was an outcast and reject ..most would not want her in their field and some…some would have their way with her, because, after all, who would take up for her? Who would defend her?

But Boaz did.

In the story, he put word out that none was to touch her. We don’t know how powerful Boaz was nor do we know how much he had to impress upon his workers his “wishes”, but what we do know that no harm came to her. What he willed to happen was made to happen. What we also know is that he wanted her to be provided for as he told his workers to leave a little extra food in her path in the fields she was working. He made sure that not only was she taken care of but her mother-in-law’s well.

Now, Boaz did a good thing here, taking care of a couple widows, but did he go out telling everyone how good he was, patting himself on the back? Surely this was his golden opportunity to made himself look good, not including a chance to impress a girl maybe get a little something for it?

No, his order was simple leave some food for her to find, don’t harvest so completely and efficiently where she was. He did what was pleasing to God…the Bible says to camouflage your good deeds with humility, let no man praise your work so that God can lift you up. She was never to know the reason for her good fortune.

This may show a little something about his heart, something of his character. I personally believe that Boaz took notice of her, admired her from afar and deep down inside saw someone he really liked. Maybe he was in love with a beautiful young widow who worked hard in the fields to provide for a mother-in-law that would die if she left. Maybe Boaz saw a woman whose character and beauty captured his heart. I believe he saw something of beauty and I believe he wasn’t the only one who saw this. If this had not been so, why would he have had to put out word to keep her from harm right?

But I believe Boaz knew he was no young stud, and that woman like this were always meant for someone else, more blessed, less years, less wear, less tare.
So he did what he could do for her and left it at that…and then went about his business.

It could just like all the other stories of yesteryear, you know, the traditional boy meets girl, they fall in love and so on… but it wasn’t. This was a story of God’s love for a man who wished for a wife, the story of a young widow looking for a second chance and a kind man. God writes this story because He loves a redemption story…He loves to make his servants whole again, in the heart and soul.

There’s a lot of us who think that God has forgotten us and we ended up in the lost and found at the divine dating service…we’re kind of like Rudolf The Red Nose Reindeer at the Island of Misfit Toys. Maybe our “one and only” has never come around, or has come and gone leaving us to mourn in the “would’ve”, “could’ve”, and “should’ve” of yesteryear… then this is OUR story, a story of lost love… and then found. Story of God and duty first, story of boy meets girl written God’s way.

In the story several things are out of place. The girl offers herself to him, puts herself at his mercy to offer the only thing she had, her body. Boaz resists, and, because he was honorable and just, and turns the situation over to God to place her into his hands, or to place her where she would be taken care of. You see we are often called to release something so that we can be given the right things in the right way. Boaz could have taken Ruth at any time but he chose the higher road, asked God into it, and reaped a wife.

Ruth saw a kind, gentle man who she entrusted her purity with.. and he adores her for choosing him. She SEES him and says “your people will be my people, your God will be my God”. They gave each other everything because I believe God knew their hearts were ready to love, ready to surrender, ready to give up the cheap counterfeit for the authentic….maybe because they were both ready to partner with His chosen.

Boaz was a lucky guy and Ruth was a lucky girl, but their story didn’t start that way…could be kind of like our story…only we’re in the middle…we’re Ruth or we’re Boaz and we’re doing what we’ve got to do to survive. This is a story from God, for us.

When Boaz and Ruth came together, I’m sure they were the talk of the town…brokenness made whole by the only One who could.

For many of us…this is our story.

…and I can’t wait to meet you Ruth

Screwing Up Dad’s Car – Part 1

When I was about 16 or 17, there was a Saturday when my dad had decided that we were going to put mulch around the trees that we had planted along the hillside next to the family house.

There were A LOT of trees… and we used a few trailers full of mulch. The ‘mulch’ we used was a pile of wood chips that the city of Lebanon had accumulated from cutting down or back trees from the power lines and putting it through a chipper. They dumped it on the backside of the cemetery and anyone who wanted or had use for it was welcome to it. On this particular day, I was assigned the task of taking the family station wagon and taking the trailer to the pile and loading it up.

As I said, the pile is in the back of the cemetery in a field next to the cemetery. It was summer and dry, so you weren’t worried about driving the car in the field. You drove past the pile, driving into the weeds a little and then would back the trailer into, or very close to the pile. You then would take a pitchfork and fill the trailer and take the load back to the house.

After several uneventful trips…well…an unfortunate event happened.

On the last trip of the day, I pulled past the pile and into the weeds a little. I was planning on driving into the field a little and straighten out the trailer in relation to the car and then back towards the pile. I was in the weeds a little ways, rolling forward when the front end of the car violently dropped into, then bounced out of a hole or rut as the car rolled forward. I was freaking out a little at this point as the car came to a halt.

I don’t remember if I got out and looked or if I just opened the car door and looked out, but what I realized is that there was a decent sized rut in the ground, mostly hidden by weeds. It was maybe 12 inched wide by 8 inches deep as I remember…just enough to ALMOST swallow the tire.

In my 17 year old mind, what I decided to do was to pull the car forward another couple feet and get a little bit of a running start to make sure I had enough momentum to get back through it going in reverse. Seemed logical enough, right?

Well, I put it in drive to move a couple feet forward when the front tires both fell into the second rut in the field with a thud. After trying to move forward and reverse I realized I was in deep and the car wouldn’t pull the front tires out.

Panic had not completely set in…yet…but an anxiety started to rise in me. I don’t quite get my dad’s love of that old station wagon, but I knew if I did not find a way to get it out, that my life was about to get a whole lot shorter.

I got out, thought about it, looked at my situation…weighed running away from home and joining the French Foreign Legion or buying a Greyhound ticket west…but then got back to trying to solve the problem without drastic measures.

I took out the car jack and tried to jack up the front end of the car without good results…the jack kept getting driven into the soil by the weight of the car. So then I tried jacking up one side and got a couple rocks under the tires. I couldn’t or didn’t get the tires equal to the ground surrounding the tires, but I got enough that i thought I might be able to get the car to pull itself out. When I tried putting it in gear the car rolled a little bit but I couldn’t get enough traction on the rear wheels to back itself out. I put the car in drive and it rolled forward a couple inches but not enough traction to push itself out going forward. I put it in reverse and gunned it and it rolled a couple inches and the car rose just a little that gave me hope that it might come out…..but then did not. I slammed the transmission into drive and gunned it forward. The car went forward and up just a little.

I thought I was onto something as the violent rocking motion was about the free the car. I revved up the engine and proceeded to slam it into reverse and forward a couple times…

…when something snapped underneath the car.

Putting the car in forward and reverse had no affect as the engine would rev, but there was no longer any connection to the wheels ….Gravity was now the only force moving the car and it settled into the rut.

As a kid I distinctly remember several times in my life where I knew my life might end that day. This was one of them. I would have to disappear for a while… Foreign Legion or Colorado? I sucked at French and didn’t know where I would go if I went west….so I walked through the cemetery to a house next to the cemetery and asked to use a phone to call my dad.

I don’t remember much about the walk through the cemetery or what my dad said on the other end of the phone when I told him…but something like that never could go well at my house. I had screwed up dad’s car and the punishment would be some form of death…I just hoped it was quick and painless.

I walked back and waited for the storm that was about to break on me when dad arrived.

As it turns out, I had sheared off the driveshaft and not destroyed the transmission as I had suspected…and my dad and I both lived through it. Looking back I find it poetic where this happened. After all if you’re going to get killed, having it happen in the cemetery adds a funny convenience to it, right?

At 17 years old, this was a terrible awful lesson that would just as soon forget…however, as I look at my life, I still do this.

I get stuck in places in my my life…we all do some times, right? Sometimes it’s career or relationships or finances where things aren’t going the way we want them to, aren’t playing out as we had expected or just flat out won’t move forward and we can’t back out. Like that old car, we get stuck.

In order to free myself I usually do one of the two extremes….I either put my nose down and move forward at any and all costs, or I stop all forward momentum and do nothing at all.
Let me explain a little.

If I put it in drive, I have a mindset that I AM MOVING FORWARD, and I WILL MAKE THINGS HAPPEN! I pay no regard to signs, roadblocks, or obstacles and I use my muscle, my intellect, my DRIVE, and my will to push things forward. In this mindset, there is no other option, there is no holding back, there are no relationships that will hinder this goal.

When I’m in reverse, I stop pushing, stop working, stop trying and completely and totally take my hands off the wheel and stop all pursuit of the end game. In this mode I have completely given up or ‘turned it over to God’, most of the time resolving that God must come through and I take myself out of the equation. Normally we think that this was a good thing however, In this mindset I am often in ‘defeat’ or ‘surrender’ mode. In this mode I am often often trying to prod God into action by my inaction….reminding Him over and over that I’ve turned it over to him….and that He should do something.

When one of these doesn’t work, I often go from one extreme to the other in an effort to get myself ‘unstuck’. I repeatedly go from one extreme to the other in an effort to see results at any cost. Because, while both of these look like the opposite of each other, they are actually the same in that in both cases, I am straining, exerting my control over the situation…or I should say exerting my efforts in the illusion that I control something whether that be physical control over the situation, or trying to control God.

…and if I’m honest, there are areas of my life where I have sheared off the drive shaft because I have slammed my life, my efforts, and my emotions from forward to reverse and back….over and over and over to the point where the rut, just by shear gravity, keeps me held captive. Not only that, if I spend too much time there, the back and forth often makes the rut deeper.

There’s not a “one way fix” here, no one point wrap up of this story.
Maybe I could’ve called my older brother or a friend to help me…maybe we could have spent a little more time jacking up the car from side to side to get the wheels level with the ground around the rut.
Maybe just calling my dad would have been painful, but after the tow truck that ended up getting the car out would have been able to drop the car and we could have driven it home.
Maybe with a shovel, I could have dug a little ramp out of the hole.

Looking back, maybe the moral of the story is get help before we do damage…before we spend too much wasted time.

Often times your friends or family can help you see solutions to the problems you are facing…especially if your problem might shorten your life.

There was a preacher I used to listen to that had a favorite phrase, “a rut is a grave with the ends kicked out”.
Where are you lying in a rut, a grave with the ends kicked out, that you cannot get out of? Where are you desperate for answers and change?
Where is your deepest struggle?
Where are you lying in a shallow grave…alone?

I don’t know whether you’re in full throttle ‘drive’, full throttle ‘reverse’, or fear gripped sheared-off-the-driveshaft…but stop and invite a friend into that space…invite God into that space.

It might save you from damaging your Dad’s car.

Man Camp: MASH-Fall 2016

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(Photo courtesy of David Slaughter)

Man Camp, for those who don’t know, is this thing around Crossroads we’ve been working on. It’s about 30+ hours of men getting out to be men with other men. In this case, it’s camping overnight with 1900 of your closest friends, it’s giving them manly tasks with other men, doing manly things, handling manly projects, with encouraging men and charging men to be MEN(!)
And drink a beer while doing it.

Now as part of Man Camp, there is a group of men who are in a separate tent called the MASH group. We work in pairs…listening to guys as they come in and work with them to pray over what they came in for…sometimes. But more often, guys come in and we dig a little deeper, dig into their wounds, their tears, their hearts….and we pull stuff out and pull chains off…and ask God into deep things in their hearts. I’ve never been part of something that digs so deliberately and surgically into men’s lives…it’s a pretty weighty honor.

Now, I mentioned beer. I know this causes a lot of deep hard questions from some people…I mean it’s a Christian based thing…(so maybe it should be wine?) but you charge men to be men and give them freedom in this…. and sure there’s a risk that it could get a little messy but then again, there’s risk in anything.

Now, the kegs are set up around the MASH tent.
Yes, you read that right, we set them up around the prayer tent.

(Stay with me people, don’t turn on me so early in the story)

We set two stations around the MASH tent pretty much ALL day long, men are coming over for beer. The lines crawl around the tent…and let me tell you people, the lines stretched for 30-50 people at times….and they are standing there, waiting for beer gabbing away, as we pray for people. There is a tension there…sometimes you can feel it. There are people trying to focus on having a good time, grabbing a beer….and they are 20 feet from teams of men in deep prayer for other men. There was more than a couple times I got really annoyed with people…but whatever.

As the day wore on, we got pretty used to the beer line stretching around the tent….as as the day wore on and activities and things ebbed and flowed, we had a few people that might wait a few minutes for prayer, but the lines for beer stayed pretty steady

At some point Saturday night, as men went back to their fires…the beer lines were not so long and MASH was slow I went out to look at stars and relax a little, had a beer, talk to some friends at different fires.

I came back in and someone said ‘hey we have a line out there’, and I was thinking out loud that it was a line for beer, but someone corrected me…it’s a line for prayer. I was thinking it was a few people, and I actually walked outside to discover that YES, in fact there was a line to get into the MASH tent…and it was actually pretty long…as a matter of fact, it stretched out into the darkness. I thought ‘wow’.

I looked at the kegs and thought, ‘well we must be out of beer’ and literally went over to the kegs and checked the tap. They were working properly with plenty of cold beer…and no one was there for beer. The line, that had gone around the tent all day for beer…
…..was now a line to get prayer that stretched into the night.

I’ll say it again if I that doesn’t register:

Men were standing in line over 40 people deep, in the chilly fall air, having left the side of a warm campfire surrounded by friends on a Saturday night… were now waiting for other men to pray with them.

I’m kind of sorry to say that I was shocked by it, I mean I shouldn’t be, right? I mean I was one of “the prayer guys”, I shouldn’t be shocked….but I was.

Men were there for forgiveness
Men were there to confess
Men were there to get grace
Men were there to have 20 years of chains loosened from them
Men were there for a kind word…an affirmation as a son
Men were there to know God loved them…no matter what they had done
Men were there for salvation

The picture at the top of this post is an actual picture of men waiting in line for prayer at Man Kamp taken by David Slaughter. Take a look at it again…

I don’t claim to have a deep prayer life or live as a saint…but God took the mustard seed of courage that I had to pray for strangers…and He grew it a little when I stepped out. You see, I have this little bit of faith in me that said “if they take me, I’ll do it, I’ll pray for these guys”. When I said yes, I had no idea if God would use me or if I would be any good at this…
But God took my little bit of faith and He worked with and through me to multiply my effort and results.

There’s an old saying that I love:
God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

When it came to being on the MASH team, I didn’t think I was qualified…but I felt called. I stepped out and watched God’s work unfold in front of me.

God could very well be calling on you to step out to do something you’re not qualified to do.
Let me say that again,
GOD could very well be calling on YOU to do something you’re NOT QUALIFIED TO DO.

Why?

When you do something that is within your abilities, then the results are natural results. When you do something where God calls you beyond your abilities, HE steps in to fill the gap between your abilities and the need, the results can be supernatural.

If you want to SEE growth, change…experience something different, then you must DO something different. I had to step into a gap to see God work in a new way. It’s often necessary not for His sake, but for ours, for growth.

Step out into the uncomfortable place you are being called…there is a part for you to play in God’s story…and it’s where your growth will occur.

Kam Tarkington

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You know, I wish more of my posts were about me doing something smart, something intelligent, something brilliant…but this won’t be one of those posts. This post will be about me doing something stupid and it will be about the loss of one of my good friends. SO, I’m going to apologize and warn you early as I’m an idiot and this was hard emotionally to put this together…and if you knew Kam, this might strike your heart.

Keith has been a good friend of mine for over 20 years. He’s a man from the hills of Kentucky…and when I say the hills, I mean deep Appellation heritage with a Kentucky drawl, stories about his “kin”, and stories from the ‘coal’ country. He’s also the man that helped me turn my life over to Jesus. Our friendship runs deep. But let me get back to this story…

Keith calls me one day about a month ago with an idea. He’s got to be in Las Vegas in late July, why don’t he and I go into Vegas, spend the weekend riding motorcycles around Vegas.

This was a good idea but I had a better one.

..why don’t we ride to the California coast and ride part of the Pacific Coast Highway? The PCH was on my bucket list and was rated as one of the best drives in the world. Two days later I had a ticket, a general plan, and I had no clue of what was to come.

A couple days before departure, I had a rental Harley Davidson Street Glide on reserve in Vegas and I checked temperatures. Vegas was supposed to be over 100 and where we were staying the first night, Bakersfield, they were supposed to be 108.

On a motorcycle, over 100 is miserably hot…but I’m thinking about the dry air, the brief time I would spend in the desert, and thought, ok, I’ll plan a little bit and make sure to take some extra water. Sounds like a good plan, right? (Wrong)

I land early, get to the rental agency, pick up the Street Glide, and while still early in the morning, the temperature is approaching 100. After 20 minutes of riding in town, I realize that my plan needs to be modified a little because heat and hydration is already an issue. I stop at Target to buy a camel back hydration back pack and get it filled with water and Pedialite, an electrolyte powder for infants that helps with dehydration.  I get my gear settled and get started out on the bike to kill a couple hours.

In Vegas, at about 10am, it’s already 100, but riding out to Mt Charleston the temperature drops to a perfect 80-85 degrees. Ok I thought, meet up with Keith, get started and get the hot part of the trip over with because in my finite intelligence, Vegas should be the hot spot and once we climb out of the Vegas valley, it should be cooler.

So I’m on my bike and Keith has decided to drive a car because his body will not let him ride a motorcycle.

We start out in a straight line for Bakersfield California…which skirts Death Valley, but directly goes through the Mojave desert….which one might think would be good information to research ahead of time. But I’ve already told you I’m not smart in this post…so bear with me.

An hour out of Vegas, I’m hot, like seriously hot but the time on the bike is short on this quick leg and we stop for dinner…I get a breather and cool off and we start out again. The bike and chrome are hard to touch as I hop back on. At this point the temperature has climbed again and Keith tells me the temperature according to his car gauge is around 115. We climb out of a valley where we had dinner and the temperature drops slightly….I mentally take a deep breath thinking that the worst is behind me.

What I didn’t realize….

What I didn’t realize was that on the other side of this little range of hills/mountains was the Mojave desert…and when we crested the mountains I saw that the road drop again into the depths of the desert and my heart sank.

Have you ever been cooking something in the oven…and you lean over and open the oven door at the same time? You know that blast of awful heat the hits you right in the face? I rode into that hair dryer heat at 80 miles and hour for the next two hours….struggling mentally and physically.

As I road, I could feel the temperature rise not only of the desert, but also of my body. My jeans burned against my skin and the sun cooked my long sleeve shirt. I drank more and more from the camel back, trying to pull in the liquid and the coolness it brought to my body that was struggling with the heat. I got to the point that I kept sipping on the fluid continuously…yet it wasn’t enough.

I had a GPS on the bike and I had plugged our destination of Bakersfield and I could see numbers ticking down as I struggled for the next hour…trying to hold off stopping until the approaching turn off the highway. At a mere 20 miles left, I pulled over at a gas station unable to take anymore. I was shaking, nauseous, and severely overheating. I parked the bike and crawled into Keith’s car with the AC on. I sat in the car, straining to cool and relax…stating I couldn’t hold on for the last 20 miles, as we’re almost there. Keith looked at me and a look came over his face that looked like dread.

“We’ve got 2 more hours”.

I was in shock and denial. I realized that the GPS I was watching was telling me about where the next turn was….not where our destination was. It was an awful moment to realize that what lay ahead of me was another 2 hours of hell.

I stayed in the car for the next half hour as Keith and I made a plan to stop every 30 minutes if needed until we got to the other side….the temperature was 120 and I wasn’t sure I had the inner strength to step back into the heat and complete my journey through this hell.

But I didn’t have a choice…and I got going.

About an hour later, the road climbed a little and the extreme heat dissipated slightly. I stopped again at a rest stop to soak my shirt with water, put more sunscreen on, and stretch. It turns out it was 110 (I knew it had cooled off!) You know it’s bad when you are relieved that the temperature is a mere 110 instead of 120. That 10 degrees is huge though.

So…I almost died… which is becoming not unusual in my adventures with Keith.

(I am using poetic license in exaggerating my near death experience because I can now use it as blackmail against Keith…it’s what he and I do to each other)

The next morning in Bakersfield, CA we woke, got breakfast and headed out, we were a couple hours from the coast.

It was hot, but not brutal. As we approached a mountain chain, the sand and rocks turned to brown scrub… and scrub turned to a brown scrub with some green…then to a yellow grass, and then, out of nowhere, it turned to groves of almonds trees and tomatoes and fruit trees.

There was a moment when Keith’s red Camaro was ahead of me in a fruit grove and the moon was still visible just over the mountain range ahead of us….I pulled out the camera and took a shot from the bike. 2016-07-23 09.15.47

In that moment, I saw that I had a text. Paige had sent me a text to call her immediately…I knew that meant something bad.

I pulled to the edge of the road and called Paige. She had some shocking news that struck me to the core…one of my close buddies had passed away from a heart attack earlier that morning. Kam Tarkington, a good friend to me and so many others was gone…1 week before his 42 birthday.

I wept for a moment over the gas tank of my bike. It’s one of those moments that you know you will never forget….the moment a great friend ceases to be someone you know, to someone you knew. Something deep in your heart breaks at that moment and you know the world, and the world of your friends, will never be the same and a Kam shaped hole is punched in your heart forever.

I wept for a moment and Keith and I stopped for a while so I could get myself together so that we could continue. Kam’s journey had ended but mine had to continue.

As we left the groves, we headed into the mountains that turned and challenged us with dangerous curves and beauty that I have never seen before. A distance just north of LA, we emerged from the mountains to turn onto the Pacific Coast Highway. I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced the beauty of the coast like this before. To engage with the environment, the sea, the sky, the crashing waves, the different blue colors, the butt pucker of riding along cliffs high above the ocean, and the cool merciful drop of the the temperature from 110 to 75 that takes place within a couple miles of the coast….words and pictures cannot express the beauty and breath of life to your soul that comes from such a ride that is heightened by the hell you just came through. It was soul filling and heart breaking at the same time as emotions crashed against my heart, soul, and spirit.

The parallel of what was happening to me struck me with the strong but gentle way as God overlaid His will and vision over a painful situation almost immediately.

As I was struggling to pass through the desert, as I was dying in the heat, the oppression, the exhaustion…fighting through pain and struggle…my friend had struggled through this life like we all do. As I had passed through my valley of death to the ocean of life…

….Kam passed through his.

In this emotional storm, there was also a peace about it.

The bible says that the mind has not seen, nor mind can comprehend what lies ahead for those who serve Christ. Similar to my journey, we go through the desert, not understanding how things will look, how our world will change once we come out of the valley. While we suffocate in the desert, we cannot comprehend the beauty and refreshment of standing on the shore of the ocean with the merciful coolness soothing our mind. The sun that we thought was unrelenting or unkind in the desert….is actually majestically beautiful and warming as it sets in the ocean.

I don’t know what happens when we cross over, but I caught a mental glimpse of it…and I know that he’s standing on the edge of the ocean far away from our desert, and I’m ok with that. Where he is standing there is no more heartache, no more pain…no more loneliness or depression. No more struggling with the brokenness of this world.

I am still in the desert…still in this world with it’s ‘heat’ and struggle and war…and I want my buddy to be here with me. He was a comfort, he was a brother, he lived beside me in the trenches of spiritual warfare, he encouraged me, he lifted me up, he rode with me, he broke bread with me, worked beside me, he constantly prayed for me, for my wife…he spent vacations and weekends and motorcycle trips and work details and Man Camps with me….and he will join me no more in any of this…he will not join us anymore, but we will go to where he is and join him.

In the desert here, we will miss him.

But Kam has stepped into eternity…his days in the desert are over.

 

I will be at peace with that.

Homeless People Don’t Always Want Your Sandwich

Real estate can be a funny business.  One day you’ve got 15 hours worth of work to do, the next you’ve got 4.  It can swing wildly at a moments notice.

Last Friday, I was working and went over to Panera for lunch.  As I was sitting there, I realized that I had a couple of hours in between appointments and really didn’t have a lot to do for a little bit. So, I asked God if there was anything I should be doing, please bring it to my attention.

I was sitting there long enough to have forgotten that I had offered out to God to change up my day.  As I was sitting at the front window and this guy walks past the front of the store on the outside on the sidewalk.  He’s older, hunched over with obviously a bad back, stained tshirt and pants that don’t look a lot better.  He was thin, unshaven, and looked ‘well worn’, like someone who was homeless.

He walks past once, then again.

On the outside of the Panera store there are tables for customers and the trash can with bins to put your plates, cutlery, and bowels into once you are finished.   He goes over to the bins and trash and starts to rummage through, finds a half eaten bowl of soup and goes to sit down to eat it.

I have an “OH” this is where I’m supposed to do something realization.  It’s not normal for me to do this all the time, but I got up and went to the register and bought a sandwich. Seemed like a no brainer.  I had asked God to fill the space and He was. I even thought, do I get a half sandwich?  No….I got a whole sandwich.

As I have sandwich in hand, I exit the store and he’s right there, like he’s getting ready to come in.  We exchange a couple words…I’m not exaggerating when I write this….it’s as close as I can remember.

Me:  “Hey buddy, I got you a sandwich.”
Him: “I’m not hungry.”

(I just saw him rummaging through the trash)

Me: “You can take it and eat it later?”
Him: “What kind of sandwich is it?”
Me:  “Bacon Turkey Bravo”

(In my mind: Are you really going to be picky?  I’m slightly confused)

Him: “I’m going inside”
Me:  “You don’t …want the sandwich?”
2 second pause
Him: “Did you play baseball?”
Me: “Um, no…?”

(I’m no longer slightly confused.  I’m FULLY confused.)

Him:  “Can I get around you?” he motions to the door.
Me:  “Sure”

I step aside and he walks past me into Panera.  I stand there for a second with my Panera bag in hand, that has a bag of chips and full bacon turkey bravo, dumbfounded.

In my mind, I’m like, “Ok God, thought I was listening to you on that one…I mean…you don’t need to be a rocket surgeon to see this one. (Yes, rocket surgeon is a joke)

HUNGRY BUM) – (SANDWICH) = GOD MOMENT
But the equation actually was:
(HUNGRY MAN) + (SANDWICH) + (Tony) = REJECTION

That interaction stuck with me for 2 days.  I felt like I was missing God completely, I was misunderstanding what I thought He was telling me, and I was a little bent out of shape, feeling like I was ‘benched’ when what I really wanted was to be in the game.  This just seemed like the way things are going lately in my walk with God.  I’m asking for help and understanding and direction….and feeling like there’s nobody listening.

So, I don’t mean this as blasphemy, please don’t take it that way…but have you ever seen the street hustler who has three cups spread out onto a flat surface and there’s an object that he shows you and then covers it with a cup, moves them around, and then asks the ‘sucker’ where it is?  (I saw a good ‘ol boy from Kentucky get taken for $150 once, right in front of my eyes.  Hysterical!  But back to God.)

Honestly, some days I feel like I ask God into a situation or ask for help in directions and He’s playing this game with me.  Like looking for a wife.  God tells me there a wife out there for me…shows me she’s under one of these cups and does the whole mixing of the cups…I think I know which one, point to the cup and He lifts the cup….only to find I was wrong again.

I ask Him for direction on something simple like with the guy and the sandwich, and then there’s nothing under the cup again

I was a little salty about how that had played out.

Couple days later, I’m with a buddy, we’re talking about life, and I tell him the story….it seems to represent my walk with God lately, thinking he’s going to give me the “hey sorry, that sucks” and a follow up, “yeah, it’s tough some times”.

But he doesn’t.

Instead he says that it’s our job to be obedient, and I had done that.  “but the guy didn’t take the sandwich?” I protested.  The rest is up to God and that it’s not up to us to produce fruit, he said.  I said something along the lines of “yeah, guess you’re right” but it didn’t sit well with me.

A couple days after that, I again was with another friend, we were bicycling after work one day and I told the story about the guy and the sandwich again.  Her response?  I was being obedient, and that was the thing that I should be doing….the results were not up to me.  

In my head, I’m like “Ok God….I get it” but truthfully, I really wasn’t completely convinced.

On Sunday, at church, Paco, (the youth leader)  spoke about being obedient to what you think God is telling you.  He told multiple stories of how sometimes God tells you things….and how some times you’ve got to stay true to that, even when things are not lining up with what you think should happen….matter of fact, ESPECIALLY when things don’t look right, you gotta push through.

Ok God.  
I get the message

In hindsight, I see that God was talking to me back at buying the sandwich.  It wasn’t completely obvious, and the outcome was questionable…but He was.  It’s very rare that He gives me an ‘impression’ or thoughts in my mind that I’m like, “wow, is that you God?”…but it has (very rarely) happened

I think MOST times for me, there’s an opportunity and risk and a ‘nudge’ that you should do something…because maybe you’re the only one who sees what’s going on.  In this case it was some guy rummaging through the trash for something to eat and I felt like ‘someone’ should do something.  Usually that someone is YOU.  Usually for me, that nudge is God.

You could say there are a few lessons here.

1)  If you’re going to buy a guy a sandwich, buy one that you would like to eat yourself…and get made the way you would want it to be made.  Because you may eat that sandwich twice in one day.

2)Be obedient. God used three different people to tell me that, without question, I was supposed to do what He ‘told’ me to do.  This is also about looking at your life as a WHOLE where God is speaking to you.  This is huge: IF you’re hearing the same thing from different parts of your life…then maybe you should pay attention.  Because, if you’re ONLY paying attention at church, you’re missing out on SOOOO much.

3)The outcome is not up to you.  This is probably a very important lesson for me to relearn.  Just because God’s using me doesn’t mean that I get to determine the outcome….doesn’t mean I get to see or taste the fruit.  Sometimes God uses you for a purpose that is a detriment to you, and it could cost you something.  Actually, it could cost you everything.

You’re called to pour your life out for others, some times you will have to do that

Sometimes God nudges you to buy a sandwich.
Sometimes God uses your friends to tell you something important.
Sometimes God uses a sermon that seems to be directed right at you.

Sometimes I’m just not that bright and I need Him to use them all.

Settle Your Soul

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Take a moment and see yourself at the edge of a body of water with clear water. It’s the shore of fresh water lake you’re familiar, the beach in the Bahamas, or the clear cold water of a mountain stream in Montana. The water stretches before you, you feel the sun on your face and you stand ankle deep in the water barefoot.

See yourself there for a second…the air feels warm…the water feels cool against your feet and shins… you curl your toes into the bottom…

In your hand is a mason jar..and you reach down and dip the jar into the water….digging slightly into the gritty bottom to scoop up some with water.

You bring the jar up to your face…the heavier sediment falling immediately to the bottom,  the water is murky, with mud, silt, and sand also stirring through it. It’s neither drinkable, nor can you see through it.  You put the cover of the jar on and you turn the jar upside down and watch the settling debris in the water fall through it, making it murky and brown.

If you shake the jar hard the water, rocks, and sand make noise as they hit the side of the jar.  When you stop shaking it, the rocks and sand settle immediately, but if you wait….if you’re still…the sediment, the haziness starts to separate. If you could wait for hours and you’re still…everything would settle and the water would becomes perfectly translucent, perfectly clear.

It is only through time, patience, and stillness does everything separate.

 

Our minds are kind of the same way.

Our lives have interactions that are like water with a big scoop of rocks, sand, and silt.  In my mind, I constantly turn things over and over and over…like shaking the jar.  He says “be still and know I am God” for a reason.  He uses time of solitude with Him to settle those things that naturally settle without us shaking the jar.

The small rocks in the jar that drop to the bottom immediately…they’re easy to identify. They are the immediate disturbances in our life that do the most damage, cause the most noise in our minds as we shake the jar…but are also the quickest to settle once we stop giving them our energy, stop turning them over. Things like this are the latest argument with your buddy, your wife, the mini-road rage that happened on the way to work, the business deal that just tanked or the parking ticket you just got. Without us shaking the jar, they stay at the bottom.

The second layer is the sand and heavy grit…it’s the running problems in your life like broken or strained relationships, a job that you hate, a situation that can’t be resolved easily or that is not within your control. Some of these things are heavy, some are less heavy, but they settle quickly if we let them.

The last layer is the fine silt that takes time to settle…it’s always there, always distorting the vision of the water…always just altering the taste enough that you know it’s not pure…but you’re not willing to wait for it to settle. It’s like a program always running in the back of your mind that you cannot get to stop. It’s the fear, the ‘am I worthy’ or “do I have what it takes”….it’s the broken heart or the heart that will not heal, it’s fear, or unworthiness. It always seems to hang in the water…and we never let things settle long enough for these types of things to drift to the bottom.

The problem in life is that we never stop shaking the jar, never give it a chance to take time and intentionally let things settle. We are always taking so much in, so much new dirt and debris through bad interactions, the songs we are listening to, the arguments with spouses, messages in movies, the news, THE ELECTION…and the water is turned over and over…the rocks and sand falling from one side to the next…it’s constantly turned over, constantly agitated.

It is rare that I see with complete clarity that should be normal to us. What would life be like if you could see completely clear of any fear? What would life look like if you could walk through it without regrets or fear of the future? What would like look like if we were free from the past hurts?

In your mind, go back to the river you were standing in and look at the water. If He can settle this giant body of water that is before you that is constantly moving and changing, he can help you with your little mason jar. It’s just a matter if you will take the time and if you will let him.

Invite Him into your quiet moments and be still. You’ll be surprised by what will settle out of the cloudy mind.

ALC

There are times when life lands a 1-2 punch on you.  There’s a first punch that hurts you, knocks you off balance,  you lose your senses, and your world spins.  You’re standing trying to keep your guard up trying to stay standing….because you know if you get hit again in this state, you’re in trouble.
Because the second punch can be deadly.

About 7 years ago, I dated Amanda.   She was gentle, warm, beautiful and I had to hang around the coffee booth at Crossroads a few times to get to meet her and a couple more times to have the nerve to ask her out.  We dated a while but it didn’t turn out.  Over the years, we were in contact on and off.  There were times I erased her number from my phone vowing never to call her again…times when she erased mine…only to find a time later that it was in my phone again.

Early 2015 (I think? Late 2014?) she reached out to me and I had her number again and there was a couple phone calls that never went anywhere.  In my frustration, I deleted her number again.

Even though I had deleted her number, her memory kept coming back to me, kept me going back to Facebook and checking from time to time to see if she was single again…see if we should try again.  I let it go.

About a month ago I went digging on FB.  Nothing had changed on FB, so I wanted to know what was up with her.  What I found was heartbreaking.

I learned that some time after we last spoke her life spiraled out of control and that days after her 35th birthday, she took her own life.

 
In writing about this, there are emotions that flood and overload my soul…a cup that flows over with hurt, loss, confusion, hopelessness, yearning…even anger.  There are so many questions that will not have answers on this side of the Heaven.

I have wrestled with things, I have written, I have grappled with my past with her, I have lamented some of my interactions with her.
I have wondered if I had missed an opportunity to save her like so many others in her life did.  Was she on my mind because I was supposed to be praying for her, asking God for her safety and health?   Maybe some day I will know.

I have come to peace with the past…but I wanted to write to say this.

There are times when God places someone on your heart and we often think about that person in light of the story of our lives or our purposes.  We often have someone on our mind but then decide if our interaction with them with benefit us or not.

But…we forget.

We forget that this is God’s story and that person that God put on your heart could need a desperate touch of friendship or forgiveness to make their day a little better…or maybe even make the difference at a critical moment in their life.  We forget that they, like us, are carrying burdens.

I read a book a while back about Vietnam.  In the book there’s a story about a group of soldiers that have a Vietnamese soldier that works for them.  This little guy would carry their radio gear…and he was unstoppable.  He would lug gear around all day and  have the best smile, the best attitude, and never seemed to get tired.  Well, one day this group is out on patrol and this guy is carrying their gear just like always but this time, he sweating and struggling with the weight of his pack.  The lead takes notice of this unusual behavior of this guy and stops the patrol to let this guy rest a moment which never happened.  As this guy is bent over the leader takes a look at this guy’s pack and finds it’s full of small rocks!  Seems a couple of the regular army guys didn’t like this guy’s great attitude on life…so on the patrol, they started tossing little pebbles into this guy’s pack one at a time.  All day, as they hiked along, unknown to him, they filled his pack with rocks.

The relationships we have in our lives…the people we’re in community with, the people we interact with, the guys at the gym, the person who serves our coffee or diner, the girls we date, our family…do we add to their burdens?  Are we filling their packs with weights…or do we try to lighten their load?

When God puts someone on your mind…do you ask Him why before deciding if or how this benefits you?
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about”