Category Archives: Kingdom Family
All of us walk around with a need pulling at our insides. Some of us are more aware of the need than others. Some of us allow it to draw our minds ever more inward, as if self obsessed thoughts could fill the void. Some of us try to pave it over with the busy production of our lives. Some of us carry the need away; abandon homes and families to search meandering roads and far off corners hoping to find, we don’t know what.
I spent the 19th year of my life schooling with YWAM in Tyler Texas. That year was a pivot point for my life in more ways than I could list. I highly recommend any young person to take a year post high school and serve with an organization like Youth with a Mission.
For my first months, as I had done back home in Oregon, I occupied my mind by trying to purge away everything that carried the tang of regret. Like many young believers I became obsessed with every imperfection, every immoral impulse, every memory of a bad choice. I walked through steps of confession, true repentance, promises of future goodness, everything I could think of. Still, I could not shake feelings of unworthiness and shame. They stayed with me. I hid them away like unwanted contraband. I was terrified that someone would notice my struggle, and realize that I didn’t belong; that I wasn’t as strong as I should have been.
The broken cycle that seized those days was hard to take. But when the brokenness would finally overwhelm me and I became too exhausted to keep up my efforts, the Father’s kindness would edge in. It surprised me every time. Only in those surrendered hours was I able to lean on the Father like I should have done all along.
This fighting, stubborn-standing, breaking and finally surrendering was an ugly process that I knew I needed to leave behind. I just had no idea how. And admitting I wasn’t strong enough always felt like a defeat. Admitting felt like quitting on a responsibility.
One night I took a walk alone on the acreage of the rural campus. I was in the middle of yet again trying to think my way out of the place I’d been. Suddenly I clearly heard the Father say to my spirit, “I love you.” My heart’s fleeting response might as well have said, “Love you too, now let me get back to work.” Walking on, I heard the persistent, “I love you,” two more times. The third finally halted my mind and I allowed the thread to pull. I felt Him say, “I love you, I have always loved you. There was never a moment of your life when my love for you was diminished and there never will be.”
Now I had long owned the fact of this statement. The math of it was filed away in my head right next to that story about the floating ax head and an out of context James 2:20. But the tenderness of this truth was gaining new ground. As His thoughts unwound inside of me, they wove through all my toilsome shame and regret.
A newly close, living knowledge of His kindness worked its way backwards into my memory. Every monument of failure that stood up out of my brief history was toppled by this declaration of His constancy. I surrendered to it. I gave up the lie of my own strength. I felt Him there with me, in the Texan air, His hands on my shoulders, speaking new life to the heart of a son.
The weeks and months that followed brought a lightness of heart that I could hardly remember ever having before. Joy was no longer something that surprised me; I carried it with me. Working towards excellence was no longer about trying to deserve something, it was a gift to the One who loves me without fail. That year I learned that my need for Him could never be answered by my own striving. I learned something else too, something just as important:
Repentance: quitting on sin and walking in the opposite direction, is an absolute requirement. Throughout our lives there will be times when the Holy Spirit will bring a pressure to bear on our hearts, drawing us aside for a serious talk. But that interaction is not the whole of our lives as sons and daughters. Not even close. It’s so easy especially for young Christians to think that their early encounters with the Father are all there is. I believe that some of us get stuck in a rut where we only know how to interact with the Father on the grounds of brokenness and repentance.
I don’t think He wants us to just come to him out of desperation. He wants us to come to Him out of joy.
What if we stopped putting our need for God only in the context of our moral failings? Might we need Him for a much deeper and older reason?
Try this on: if mankind had never sinned, we would still need Him. Not because we are wretched but because He is our Father; we are His sons and daughters.
It’s not our brokenness or even our depravity that first causes us to need Him. Need has to do with our smallness in comparison to Him, it mightn’t have a thing to do with sin.
I want to lean into Him every day. Like Joshua, I want to be the man who never left the tent. I want to be strong because He is strong, not because I’ve held up under the lonely pressure. That stubborn part of me needs to hear, again and again, that it’s ok to just lean on God.
It’s ok to need Him.
We have permission to admit that we’re not strong enough. We were never meant to be strong all by ourselves. It’s ok to lean on Him. It’s ok to sit and be with Him, no agenda, no work to be done. Just be with Him. It’s ok.
This photo was taken at Mount St. Helens and is our brother in law sitting near a 35 year old log mat left from the damage from the eruption of 1980.
There is this place we can visit to remember. Two names are etched on a square stone and their short life is measured in hours. There is a promise written on the stone, a promise that we will be with our sweet Joshua Paul and Kaleb Stephen one day. We don’t visit this place often; the first and most recent time we visited was 6 years ago to take our children to see where their brothers’ earthly bodies are buried. We choose to keep the memory alive in their minds with framed photos of our boys’ tiny faces and shared stories of the hours their brothers were held by us.
But sometimes it’s important to visit the place that reminds me of how broken my heart was (for what seemed like eternity) because when I remember the brokenness, I get to remember the way my Father put it back together.I also get to remember the conversations I had with my Father following the boys’ loss. Specifically one conversation we had for many years. I know He remembers it because he answered it.
I asked him for miracles.
On this past July 4th, after many years of praying that familiar prayer, I saw this side of my Father. Our 7 year old daughter Gracelyn was riding on a flat bed trailer in in our local Independence Day Parade. She was sitting on top of the hay bales on the float and was passing out candy with the other kids. Then she impulsively decided to get off of the float and in one quick instant her foot caught under the tire and the tire drove on top of her leg and up over her hip. Paul heard her scream and picked her up and ran a few blocks to the fire station where she was eventually life flighted to the hospital and underwent surgery for a broken upper femur.
The mere recounting of the story void of the miracles our Father performed doesn’t do it justice. I’ll tell it again.
As the float began to turn a corner, about a minute before the accident, two of our friends separately felt that they needed to pray for the safety of the float and those riding on it. And when our sweet girl decided to step off and her foot caught under the tire, the driver felt a very small check to stop the vehicle even before people began screaming for him to to do so. If he would have driven any further up her small leg, she could have suffered life long injuries – or worse. Once Gracelyn arrived at the ER and was admitted for surgery, we found out through a friend who works at the hospital that we had one of the best surgeons in the area performing this difficult surgery on a type of break uncommon for children.
You see, it’s important to add to our stories where we see our Father walking and touching and healing. Even if that story doesn’t end where we want it to end.
I see my Father walking in the hospital room as Paul and I said goodbye to our boys and weeping with us. I see my Father sitting with me in my garden as I talked with him all day long those months after losing Joshua and Kaleb.
I see my Father walking amongst the laughter and warm summer sun of that 4th of July Parade and once he sees my little girl want to step off the float, he tells our friends to pray. I see Him walking to the driver’s side of the car and telling the driver to stop.
There is another place, a place I can see. It’s a scar on my little girl’s leg where the surgeon cut her open and screwed a plate to her femur. It’s a scar that says “I see my Father here.” I see it often. I get to see it when my little girl runs and jumps. I see it when she is snuggled on my bed in her nightgown while I read a bedtime story. And when I see her rubbing it or looking at it I say, “What does that scar mean?” And she says, “Jesus saved me.”
Shouldn’t that be what we say at the end of all our stories?
I took the kids to Joshua & Kaleb’s grave today where we made daisy chains (their little sister’s idea) and I told more of their big brother’s story to them.
I have been reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis for the first time. If you aren’t familiar with this book, the story takes place in a realm between what we would call heaven and hell, a place where people choose if they want to go further up the mountain to heaven or back to hell. I came across a passage in the book where a mother was visiting this realm and was met by her brother who had come down the mountain to persuade her to return with him. The mother had come with hopes of seeing the son she had lost on earth years before. Her brother soon realized that she hadn’t grown past this loss that had enveloped her while she lived her final days on earth. She still wanted nothing to do with moving past this emptiness and believed the only healing would be to see her son again. The mountain was merely a place to climb to see her son, not to see The Father of all good things.
This resonated with me, but in a different aspect.
A couple of years ago, the Father asked me to stop thanking Him for healing my heart from grief each time I reflected on His goodness. He told me that He had even more for me, and after doing this I soon realized that what He had for me wasn’t a thing, it was Him.
He wanted me to only want Him, not the beautiful, mind boggling, miraculous thing He did by healing my heart. I began to slowly see that He is much more than a Father who heals hearts.
More than a Father who provides.
More than a Father who heals our bodies.
More than a Father who parts the sea.
He is our Father.
When I was young and my dad worked late nights, I would stay up until I heard the creaky front door open and close; the heavy, sweetly familiar footfalls thump through the house. Then I would come out of my room as my dad was rummaging through the kitchen for some late dinner and wrap my arms around him and feel his scratchy sweater as I buried my face to him. He would wrap his arms around me and hold me for a long time and tell me how much he loved me. That is the only reason I stayed up late. I only wanted the familiarness of my dad.
And that is where I want to be with my Father. I want to walk this earth with Him, knowing that He is more than a giver of gifts, even of gifts that reveal who He is. He is our Father and that alone should be the place, the refuge, where we rest our souls. A refuge of knowing that if we received no other gifts, the gift of Him walking with us as our Father is the greatest gift of all.
And when I climb that mountain one day, it will not be a climb to thank the Giver of good gifts. I will climb – no, I will run up that mountain to wrap my arms around my Father and breathe in deeply His scent of familiarity and mystery.
The photo above is of The Grand Tetons.
I sit here, 3,000 feet above the ground, looking out at the tops of the mountains below me. I see the ridges, lakes, and valleys. The clouds are touching the tops of the mountains and the light is just beginning to stream through, and I think, “This must be what the tapestry of our lives looks like.”
My feet have walked through the lush green grasses and my sore legs have climbed up mountain peaks that are unattainable on my own. I’ve been thirsty in the desert with my heavy heart in my chest and I’ve been refreshed by the river’s edge where my Father showed me who He is.
There are times when I am on one of my mountain tops and look out at the seasons behind me and my valley doesn’t look as vast as it felt. The grief didn’t last as long when compared to the clear water and green grasses that waited just beyond the bend. The mountain that I climbed, daily battling areas of fear, wasn’t as high as it felt while I was climbing its sheer face. However, when looking back upon my landscape, there is something I see even more clearly than before. The summit. I see the many summits that I have pulled my tired, beaten, discouraged self up to and they look more vast and grand than I had once imagined. I had felt so frustrated because I had to climb this mountain in the first place. Frustrated that the mountain was there because I’d rather be in the valleys, or discouraged because I thought I had climbed this exact mountain before. And I am reminded of something that my YWAM school leader told us: “God cares more about the process than He does the end result.” God wants to know that when we are faced with life’s obstacles, obstacles that He did not intend for us, we are still going to walk through those parched places and scale the mountain side despite how badly we want to quit. He wants to know that we will stop at the river’s edge to sit with Him.
One day we will stand atop one of the peaks and we will only be looking behind us at our landscape. There won’t be any land awaiting us beyond the mountain and what I want to see is not only where I laid my feet, I want to see the footsteps of my Father, the prints of His hands next to mine as we climbed and the imprint in the grass where we sat by the still waters.
I want to hear Him say that after all the obstacles I faced, the battles I fought, and the heartache I felt, I want to hear my Father say He saw what I did with them, and He is proud.
So, you’ve reached the age when time starts speeding up. Days are slow but weeks and months fly by and just forget about years. Life has been galloping circles all around you, and you’re not as good as you used to be at ignoring certain nagging questions. “Am I too old now?” “Did I miss something along the way?” “Are cargo shorts still cool if you live in the Northwest?”
You’ve got all these dreams knocking around inside your head. When you were younger you thought everything would just happen. Your life’s course would unroll before you like a red carpet. Destiny was unstoppable, God had a plan. But wasn’t God supposed to drop that plan into your inbox about ten years ago? You feel like you’re still waiting to get started.
This is not a post about giving up on your dreams. Well, maybe it is just a little bit.
Charlie Peacock has long been one of my favorite artists. He’s an eclectic, imaginative musician whose lyrics are vivid and meaningful. I have fond memories of my teenage self puttering around in my room with his album, Love Life, streaming out of my bulky CD player. You know, the ones with detachable speakers, so great. He is better known today as the producer of bands like Switchfoot, The Civil Wars, and The Lone Bellow.
As I plunge ever deeper into my thirties, one of his songs in particular often plays on my internal soundtrack.
The chorus of William and Maggie goes like this:
“…I’ve been thinking about you and me, and everybody in between,
It seems we’ve suffered one too many dreams of things that weren’t so bad,
It’s just they were never things that we could trust,
Are we still pretending they’re enough?”
We human beings are natural dreamers. We can’t help it. They start at the earliest age.
“When I grow up…”
Often our youngest dreams are wild, wonderful and unlikely. It’s a hard truth but the fact is, no matter how much we pined away and proclaimed our intentions to the world, Dinosaur Wrangler is just a dead profession.
As we got older, the world came into better focus and our dreams became more realistic, although “beautiful” and “unlikely” were still closely connected elements. Dreams, as they grow, tend to take on an increasingly noble attitude. We discovered that the world needed saving. Our dreams took on more definite shapes. We began to love our dreams, so much so that we infused them with the substance of our identities.
Artist, entrepreneur, athlete, missionary.
The more we dreamed, the more we saw ourselves not just doing these things, but being these things and that’s where the trouble lies. That’s why it can be so terrifying to think about giving up on a dream.
Listen, this is something I have to remind myself of often; we are much more than our occupations. It’s only natural for us to allow our personalities and idiosyncrasies to inform our vocational aspirations but we must not allow our vocations to define who we are. We are relational beings. Relationship is the most fundamental, most valuable thing we are capable of. I am not a minister, a photographer, a worship leader or a tile setter. I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a friend.
These roles are infinitely more valuable than the most noble vocation. It’s time we stopped pretending our dreams are enough to define us or justify our lives.
The only thing in life significant enough to give us that definitional gravity is relationship. Ultimately the only titles that can satisfy the questions of our identity are the titles, son of God and daughter of God.
So, time to give it up?
“Maggie, by whom all hearts were measured, kissed William softly on the cheek and said,
‘Sometimes William… William sometimes you’ve got to open up the windows
And let the wind blow through.'”
Dreams change over time. Sometimes it’s not the dream itself that changes but the version of the dream that we had been chasing.
For some of us letting the wind blow through means realizing that we have some more subtle dreams, just below the surface. They are so constant that we don’t always realize they are there. It’s time we rediscover the everyday passions that we take for granted. For some of us it may mean an adjustment of scale. Maybe you won’t ever be a rockstar but you may be a wonderful local worship leader. You might not become the nation shaking evangelist but you could become the only christian voice your neighbors are willing to listen to.
“The famous are rarely significant and the significant are rarely famous”
Maybe, we need to allow the Father to shed some light on the true motives behind our dreams. If we are willing I believe He will remind us why we love a given dream, or He will reveal what deep internal hole we’ve been trying to fill up with our aspirations.
Perhaps we’ll find we need to dream bigger. God may blow the dust off a dream and say its time to step it up. He might ask us to change a casual pursuit into a set of goals and calculated risks.
Never stop dreaming. Don’t neglect the callings of your life. But from time to time, can we be brave enough to let God’s wind blow through so that those dreams can be dusted off, cleared away, or maybe born again?
“When your fondest dreams die… Jesus opens up doors to greater glory”
-George Washington Carver
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