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Category Archives: Life Everyday

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.

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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?

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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 Grand Teton National Park

 

The photo above is of The Grand Tetons.

I owe much to my mother but one of the most lasting lessons she taught me is how to appreciate hushed and subtle things. From time to time in my early childhood, my mother would pack us three kids into our yellow 1970-something Honda hatchback and drive us in the direction of tranquility. When we reached some well-wooded spot, she would turn off the engine, roll down the windows and say, “Let’s just listen to the quiet.” As we listened we became aware of the small, uncomplicated wonders that surrounded us. The wind in the leaves. The creaking of elderly branches. The chittering of a hidden bird. “I wonder what it’s saying,” my mother would whisper. And as our minds spun off to consider the language of wild things, the world grew bigger and more wonderful.

Now that I’m grown up, I find that it’s far too easy for me to forget about “listening to the quiet.” I get disoriented within my own crowded mental space. We literally have at our fingertips the most enthralling things our world can offer. All day long I carry a device in my pocket that can feed me an unending stream of breathtaking images from all over the world. I can call up and enjoy the best music ever recorded anytime I want. Literature, philosophy, theology, natural history, it’s all ready to be read, watched, listened to and commented on at my whim. There are so many competing things for me to feed my attention to that sometimes it becomes difficult for me to value any one part of the clamor. My sense of wonder gets stifled in the noise of endless options.

Over the last couple of years The Father has been reminding me to seek out the quiet. Particularly when I’m overwhelmed with life I hear Him calling me, compelling me, to get away to some lonely place. For me that means getting outdoors and into simple, pure nature. I have often found myself interrupting my commute home to park next to the river for five or ten minutes of peace. I have carved out occasional mornings or afternoons to hike a few solitary miles and not for the exercise. I never fully appreciate how much I need a respite until I’m alone with my Father in some hidden place. It’s there that the world regains its context and my heart gains enough space for wonder to dwell.

Wonder is that sense of awe that draws us not just toward beauty but into beauty. It’s one thing to drive past a forest, it’s another to enter the forest and discover its secrets. This is why I so love those sacred set-aside places we have called national parks, national monuments and wildernesses. They are sacred not just because they are pristine; it’s our experiences of wonder that imbue them with value and significance.

They are places, belonging to all of us, where we can go and listen to nature testify about God. They are places where our wonder can grow and compel us to press further up and further into the reality of God.

 

“What brings meaning is when you can combine a sense of wonder, undergirded by truth, experiencing the richness of love with the knowledge of security. Those four components bring genuine meaning to life. And the older you get the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder.”

-Ravi Zacharias

 

The heart of the explorer is in all of us. I sometimes pine after those days when there was still a true frontier and a great unexplored expanse beyond it. I would like to think I could have been one of those companions of Lewis and Clark, pointing my canoe westward through the vast mysterious wild, hopeful to reach the certain shores of the Pacific Ocean. How easily they could have been swallowed up never to be heard from again. Wonder will eventually ask you to risk all.

But our world has been mapped. Every corner has been touched for good or ill by a human foot. Still as we explore these already tread-upon places for ourselves, we can discover windows that look into the untouched lands. The boundless secret countries of our Father, are open to the brave.

Just like those explorers of old who had to conquer their fears of unknown lands, we must conquer our fears of the mysteries of our Father’s lands. The questions we have asked that have not been answered can keep us from venturing beyond our own frontiers.

Wonder is the energy that pushes us forward. Wonder says now is the time, you won’t be disappointed. The answers aren’t on your frontier, the answers are out there in the mystery.

I have come to love those unanswered questions, and I have quite a few of them. Some people talk as if they love mystery just because it is mysterious. But that isn’t enough for the heart filled with wonder.

I love mysteries the way Lewis and Clark loved uncharted rivers. I love mysteries because they are promises of future discovery. It’s true that some things unknown will not be graspable within my 80 or 90 years. But that glory will have to lie in the promise of our good Father.

True wonder, the kind cultivated and breathed to life by God, pushes us past the quiet listening moments we make for it, past the days of discovery here on earth and past the quiet graves we leave behind. Our Father is preparing for us not just houses or estates but, if you will, entire mountain ranges and forests. They are already planted for you. They are growing now, watered with peace, colored in joy. Shading over and clefting in the mysteries that were placed for your discovering.

Quiet now and listen. The wonders of God will point you westward.

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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.

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