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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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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.'”

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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”
     -Dennis Prager

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

Last summer our family and my husband’s sister’s family went to Lassen National Volcanic Park. We spent almost a week taking small hikes to thermal areas, eating lunch by mountain lakes, and creating wonderful memories together. It was a perfect family vacation.

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On one of our last days, we took a 3 mile hike to some beautiful lakes so the kids could swim. The hike began at about 7,500 feet elevation and it was almost all down hill, which meant the hike out was going to be a tad more difficult for the kids and my sister in law, who was carrying my 1 year old niece on her back in the ever-so-handy Ergo. When we arrived at the lake we saw several thunderheads approaching, still we stayed at the lake until the kids had their fill of swimming. Once they had swam enough and reached the point of exhaustion, Paul, Jason, and Isabella decided to hike a bit further to look at another lake while Jessica and I gathered the rest of the kids for an uphill hike back to the car.

We began the hike back directly below the ominous sky and we weren’t too far up before I heard the very loud thunder directly above our heads. Immediately, I looked back at Jessica with an expression of “WE ARE GOING TO DIE,” on my face and without waiting for us to come up with a game plan of how not to die, I picked up my 4 year old, cradling him like a baby and grabbed Gracelyn’s hand and ran, leaving my sister-in-law to save her own life. I realize now, this wasn’t the most selfless of decisions.

Meanwhile Paul had Isabella, who is very fearful of storms, and I knew this was going to be a challenge for her. When they had first heard the thunder they were crossing some rocks with Isabella several paces behind him. He looked back at her and seeing the fear in her eyes, he told her that it was okay.  He took a few more steps ahead and all of a sudden she was standing next to him clutching his hand. Throughout the hike back, she continued to act scared off and on and Paul told tell her the facts about the storm and in what ways they are safe. At one point it began to rain and after coaxing her a bit, this is the picture he took.

 

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Arms outstretched in the middle of a lighting storm on a mountain top.

Once we got to our van, I waited for Paul and Isabella to arrive, convinced that they were struck by lighting while I was trying to catch my breath because it felt like I had swallowed a golf ball. This was due to the 7,500 ft altitude with lungs not accustomed to being in this high, let alone running.

I saw him sauntering up the hill and once he got in to the car, I told him how scared I was.

He asked “why?”

Me: “Because of the lighting. I thought we were going to die!”

Then I started crying. Sobs and all while he told me the many facts about the storm. The main fact being “the second rule.” Count the seconds between the thunder and lighting to determine how far the lighting is from the thunder, which is 10 seconds per 2 miles. We were out of the danger zone.

I realize that this story of frantically running up a mountain to outrun a lighting storm while carrying one child and dragging the other by the hand, leaving my sister behind to fend for herself and her two children, simply because I had forgotten the “second rule” can be told as a funny family story from a great family vacation that we will never forget.

However, it tends to be moments like these that my Father removes the curtain to shed light on something deeper and in this case, He used it to show me how I have wrongly believed who He is when I go through life’s storms. I believed that even if lighting doesn’t strike anyone else around me, it will strike me. And that is why I have to run. And not just run, but I have to do it all on my own.

On a February day, 12 years ago, we were told that our two identical twin boys were not going to survive outside of my womb because they had an autosomal recessive disease that affected their little kidneys and the chances of a child having this disease were very small. Both parents had to carry the mutated gene which was a 1 in 100,000 chance and even then, the child only had a 25% chance of getting the disease. And to be pregnant with identical babies is only a 1 in 285 chance.

We lost those two sweet baby boys, Joshua and Kaleb. The twins I asked God for since I was a little girl and then prayed for healing while they lived in my womb. They beat the odds and stayed with us for longer than the doctors anticipated. We held Joshua for almost a day and Kaleb for a day and a half. We buried these boys on a bright day in May in a little plot under a tree. I think of them every day. And not only do I miss them, but I remember the reason we lost them, chance.

These life altering, heartbreaking, never-be-the-same-again moments that were caused by chance. I knew I had to run to beat my odds by reason that these rules of being struck by lightning don’t apply to my life.

And so my Father asked me, “Do you want to run up the hill trying to outrun a storm with fear gripping your heart or do you want to be like your daughter? Holding my hand, as the rain pours, and the lighting strikes around you, while I tell you that you are safe?”

The answer is easy. I want to be safe with Him. Not because the lightning isn’t going to strike, but because when it does I am wrapped up beside Him and He tells me that my heart is safe. He tells me that He closes up the wound and tends to the scar by reminding me of His promises. His promises of redemption.

We aren’t guaranteed a life without any lightning, without any loss. However, we are promised a life where our Father walks with us on a mountaintop during our storms.

 

 

  • Anne Sexton

    Anne, This is just lovely. You have such a gift with the written word. Growing up in Michigan, I am well aware of the seconds rule! I actually love thunderstorms. It brings me home to Michigan again.
    Aside from that, your message and lesson learned is very powerful. I know there are and will always be moments when I just say, and then pray, “I’m giving this one to you, Lord.”
    I look forward to more of Kindred Wilderness. All the best to you and the family. xo AnneReplyCancel

 

As I write this I have in my mind a small group of guys whom I call brothers. I use the word brothers not friends, I do it on purpose. I’m not sure that I’d be comfortable drawing too fine a definitional border between the words, but in the case of these men, the word friend is overshadowed by the word brother. These are not just guys I enjoy being around. They are not just guys I backpack with, or discuss books with. Not just guys I have known for many years.

These are brothers that I trust.

If one of these brothers brings me a word of criticism, I do not take it with a grain of salt. I take it.
I freely admit to them my faults and my self doubts. They are allowed to call me on my crap – and they know it. They know it because I’ve told them so. We don’t always agree, in fact we’ve had some great arguments, but they are safe arguments. We can be at odds and still honor one another. We can become passionate without attacking one another.

One of these brothers I meet with weekly. Most every Wednesday morning at 6 am we fight over who gets to pay for the cheap mediocre coffee at the local fast food dive. Then we sit, rubbing the sleep from our eyes, and talk. Sometimes we just just shoot the breeze, others we dump a weeks worth of burdens on the table and sort through them together. We encourage one another, we remind each other who we really are and where we’re each heading. We advise one another and pray together.

Now, he would put up an argument about this, but the truth is, I have gained more from him than I have yet been able to give. I have admired this man for more than half of my life. When he compliments me I usually smile and respond with, “I learned it by watching you”, and it’s the truth.

I am grateful, so grateful for this man.

How about you? Does reading this bring to mind your own band of brothers (cadre’ of sisters?) or does it leave you cold? Too many people are going through life without these kinds of relationships. Lacking these close (more than) friendships, they hermit themselves away. To the hermit type this might sound uninteresting or even frightening. Others might genuinely want some brothers of their own but find it difficult to form such close relationships and have given up on the idea. I sympathize, I really do. I can understand how easy it can be to get into either of these ruts. The thing is, remaining in a state where no one truly knows you will leave you stunted. We were created for relationship, true, gritty, naked relationship. Without it we become ingrown and, well… odd.

Ask yourself:

Who is allowed to call you on your crap?
Can anyone speak to you honestly without the threat of your anger, or worse, your cold silence?
Who knows you well enough to encourage you in the ways that really matter?
Who cares enough about you to bare your burdens and your victories as if they were their own?

And on the other hand:

Who trusts you?
Are you able to confront close friends in a humble and truly interested way?
Who are you watching over?
Whose concerns and joys do you carry with you on a regular basis?

 

It’s true that I’m blessed with these relationships, but being blessed doesn’t explain how it happened.
I set out to to find these guys and with great intentionality to form these brotherly relationships. This almost never just happens. As our friendships have formed, I have told each of them in one way or another, specifically what they mean to me and that they are allowed to speak into my life.

Becoming transparent can be frightening and incredibly difficult. But once we are truly known by our brothers and sisters, and even by our fathers and mothers, we enter into a wild and wonderful landscape. We become free to take greater risks because these close ones are there to tell us that we might just pull it off, or to inform us that we’re being plain dumb. Our victories become bigger and our burdens become lighter because they are shared with people who are ultimately always on our side.

So, I encourage you to begin looking for your own brothers. Don’t expect them to fall out of the sky, or pop up out of the carpet in your living room. It’s time to reach out. Ask the Father to give you these kinds of relationships. He will begin to point people out to you with whom you should spend some time. Not everyone will fit. It will take time, but I promise you’ll find your own cadre’. Your Father doesn’t intend for you to go it alone. He wants you in a family. What good father wouldn’t?

 

 

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  • Tammy B

    Paul,

    After reading this excellent post, I think of salt and light. The salt,, the beauty of these relationships , the light, the doablity of this tight, transparent relationships.ReplyCancel