Wednesday, November 29, 2006

sometimes it comes while we're sleeping

God has so many ways of quieting his world. He reminds us through the world around us that creation was meant, at its very core, to rest. In Hawaii, I heard his call to quietude in the endlessly crashing surf on Sunset Beach, or the afternoon showers in the valley and the subsequent, brilliant rainbows. On the plains in Okahoma, he called me to stillness through sunsets over a horizon so broad and vast that it demands pause--the amber glow it casts on everything in sight filters the light into an absolutely calming hue.

Here in these precious Colorado winters, he calls me into a quiet deeper than I have known anywhere else. He does it through the silence of falling snow. I am always awed by the way that fresh snow muffles all sound and hypnotizes as it falls in giant flakes. I was thinking last night about God's promise to make me as white as snow, and I found myself hoping that he would make me as still as snow, too. He says in Zephaniah that he will quiet us with his love; If it is anything like the world outside my window right now, that is a wonderful promise indeed.

A few years ago, just such a snowfall came upon my hometown on Christmas Eve. I walked outside with my dad for a while (pelting him with an abundance of snowballs), until he went back inside and I stood alone in the stillness, huge flakes falling silently around me. That night, I found myself thinking of Christmas in a way I never had before, a Christmas that came on the most silent of nights.

My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night. It speaks of a world that has been pining away in sin for so long, weary of waiting to be pulled from the mire. Another favorite, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, speaks of captive Israel, mourning in lonely exile, waiting for the promise of God to appear. I imagine that the shepherds we read of in Luke had long heard the promise of the Messiah, yet had grown numb to the idea that he might actually come and end what seemed an eteral delay. This is the world, I thought, that fell asleep the night that Mary and Joseph were settling into the stable. This is the world that lay silent and still under a sky bright with stars.

I imagine then, on that silent night, the promise of God spoken softly into the quiet. Into the night, as his people slept through another night of centuries of waiting, God speaks: "He's here." They did not know then that their promised Savior had come, that the Messiah was sleeping in a manger in a small town in Judea. It was a whisper. "Take heart, my people Israel, my created children. He has come." Only the shepherds heard it as a grand announcement, ushered in by the singing of angels. How thrilled and yet dumbfounded their hearts must have been! "Let us go see," they said. Let us go and see if it could possibly be true.

And the world would never, ever be the same.

So many times I go to sleep, aching for the promise of God. I wait for days upon days, and grow weary in what seems to me to be a long delay. I wonder how many times the gift of God has come like a whisper while I slept, how many promises have arrived when I didn't know it, to be discovered at the proper time. Whatever it looks like in my life, I don't want to lose the wonder and anticipation of what happened that silent night in Bethlehem: "Then he appeared and the soul felt its worth... Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel will come to thee..." In fact, He's here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

scared to death

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about a quote I heard some time back; essentially, it says, "Each day, do at least one thing you are afraid of." Ever since I heard it, the idea has seeped bit by bit into my life--more and more often I look at opportunties that stir up fear in me, and I think, "This is my chance to do something I'm afraid of. This is where I grow."

The opportunities abound when you start looking for them. Some of them are more obvious. For example, I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Moab biking with a friend, and the Slickrock trail offered some hills that any sane person should be afraid of going down. I looked at those with a mixture of "This is my chance to do something I'm afraid of," and "I am probably going to die." But for the most part, I sucked it up (gripped my brakes for dear life) and rode down them. And true to the promise, I grew in some small way. (Slickrock also presented an opportunity for another favorite goal of mine: I don't just want to embrace opportunities to do things I fear, but also to do things that I may not necessarily be afraid of, but am pretty sure I can't do. The uphill sections taught me about tenacity, just as the downhills had shown me something of courage.)

Other opportunites are less obvious to those around us. Being afraid to sing a song upon request, or to ask for help, or to share a story you're less than proud of--I got to do all of those and more just in the course of a few days. And of course, something in my soul grew a little each time. Other times fear is hiding right on the flip side of where we'd expect it to be. Sometimes it's not the fear of doing some crazy thing that I need to overcome, but the fear of looking weak when I follow my common sense and walk away. Fear is not always where we'd expect to see it--in many ways, it is as individualized as a fingerprint.

If the enemy loves to steal, kill, and destroy, then I am convinced that fear is one of his favorite tools. Fear steals adventure and opportunity, it kills joy and passion, and it destroys much potential and many a beautiful relationship. If we are to refuse its evils, we'll have to open our eyes to the myriad ways fear creeps into our lives. It is not just the sensation you get when watching some horror film (which I hate) or those butterflies that rise up when you narrowly miss a car in oncoming traffic. It is also the little voice that says it's too embarrassing, or that you'll be rejected, or that you might fail. It is the hesitation that caused you to linger just long enough to watch opportunity slip by.

God tells us clearly that he has not given us a spirit of fear. Jesus offers us abundance where the thief can only rob us. So I pass on to you what was once passed on to me: every chance we get, my friends, let us do the things we're afraid of.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Solomon and Starbucks

(a poem for big life decisions and the need for wisdom)

A coffee date with Solomon would suffice.
I’ve got nothing that would add to his fame, really,
no battles over children that I don’t have.
Just a chat over mocha,
you know, get some things off my chest.

You told me to go ahead and ask for insight,
so I guess he and I aren’t all that different, really-
both of us young seekers,
promising to sacrifice wealth for the wisdom we need-
he, to rule a people,
while my own request seems a little silly;
I just want to know which exit to take off of I-70
when I drive east this fall.
Or west?
You are full of surprises.

I think he’d probably chuckle at me, old Solomon,
tell me to chill out,
and that You weren’t joking about giving generously
to those who ask.
To which I’d reply,
“Easy for you to say.”
But thanks for the talk, Sol,
and good luck with that “many wives” hang up.

I’ve done my best not to let my hope get waterlogged,
you know, “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the….”
the instability of doubt, that’s it.
I’ve tried to fight that off.
And I think I feel it coming, that promise of Yours,
even without the coffee
[though I hate to miss out on a good latte].
Not so much a roadmap, or the exit sign I should look for,
but a garland of grace.
You know, like beauty for ashes-
much cooler
than good old-fashioned advice.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

it's not always about going with the flow...

I can be pretty anal about speed limits. I try to obey them and often get rather angry at those who treat them with reckless disregard. It's part conviction about integrity and part respect for safety. Whatever the reason, I must confess that at times I am that annoying person in front of you who attempts to show some regard for the speed limit.

We all know, though, that there are times when those limits are a little ridiculous. Case in point: the two lane highway that stretches across the northeast corner of New Mexico, running from Raton to the Texas border through open, empty land. On my last journey across that strip, there were signs both for construction (which was not actually going on) and some sort of safety zone (located miles and miles from anyone who might possibly need to be kept safe). I just could not bring myself to drive 45 mph for over an hour on that lonely, straight stretch of highway. Of course, a more recent (and constant) example is the crazy limit going north from here on I-25. Again, 45 mph. Now, most of the time traffic is so bad you can't even go 10. But when the lanes are open...I mean, it's a stinkin' interstate, people. And ultimately, you're supposed to go with the flow of traffic, right?

Driving up 25 a few days ago, I found myself thinking about the whole thing. Let's say I decided, "Screw the flow of traffic and my need to get somewhere; I am going to obey the speed limit!" Possible (ok, probable) consequences would include 1) annoyed drivers riding my little red chevrolet rear, 2) nasty looks when said annoyed drivers finally decide to get off my butt and just pass me, 3) possible irritation from whomever might be in the car with me, and 4) having to get myself out of the house earlier to avoid being really, really late. Sounds great, huh?

But the idea goes beyond a silly speed limit. What about some of the other standards God has set for us that aren't exactly in keeping with the world's flow of traffic? What about the places where faith and integrity demand that I go slow when the world goes fast? We all know that following Jesus wholeheartedly brings about these kinds of countercultural decisions--decisions to obey God's law when we would blend in fine by falling in line with how it's normally done. I guess the question God had for me as I drove that day (probably not going 45) was, "Are you willing to endure being tailgated in life, to endure getting nasty looks and disapproving sighs to follow me? Are you willing to face inconveniences if that's what it takes to really obey me and represent me with integrity?" Am I?

The choice will present itself: obey God or ease into the world's flow of traffic. What are we willing to endure to choose what's best?

But I mean really, Mr. Department of Transportation...45?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

things they don't know in Hawaii

(written while sitting outside Starbucks in downtown Honolulu)

I’m watching this lady,
[maybe sixty]
wrinkled and too thin,
with hair shorn to no maintenance,
wearing her hideous muumuu and dragging on a cigarette
(extra long).
She is quirky in her movements,
smiling at the little dog under the table next to her,
then glancing back up,
hoping for conversation.
Its owner
[sporty, tanned and pony-tailed]
reads her novel, looks annoyed.

Maybe they don’t know about this
in Hawaii,
but she is really a truck stop waitress
asking in a gravel voice (with attitude)
if you want cream and sugar in your coffee,
[a sickly black potion in a thick, white mug, slightly chipped-
guaranteed to get you through to Memphis by morning]
And did you want the cherry, or the apple pie.
She wears a blue diner uniform,
a messy used-to-be-white apron,
a pen behind her left ear.
She’d most likely call you honey,
[even now]
would call anyone honey,
if someone would just talk to her.

But around here,
[what is a truck stop?]
she doesn’t remind anyone of fresh baked pie,
greasy, down-home goodness.
She is just an elderly lady
[the Starbucks black sheep]
wrinkled and too thin who,
cigarette in hand,
just makes us wish she would stop smiling at our dogs.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Friday, November 03, 2006

lessons learned from a pimple

Pimples are just obnoxious things. Nasty little impurities rise up to the surace of the skin, and then just kind of linger there and scream, "Look at me!" To the zit-bearer, it seems like everyone is answering the call, looking long and hard at that embarrassing blemish that's reminiscent of Rudolph. Most of us don't have the patience or humility to endure waiting for the little fellow to go away on its own, so we pick and pinch and pop. Unfortunately, we often turn a little red pimple into a bleeding mess and then a permanent scar.

Ugh. It's just gross. But I've discovered I have a lot to learn from zits.

See, if we are letting God do his thing in our lives, he is going to be faithful to bring impurities up to the surface. He's going to be faithfully getting out the junk. Downside? Sometimes the nastiness just sits there on the surface for a while. I walk around with some weakness or sin hanging out like an embarrassing blemish screaming, "Hey! Look at me!" I want a bag over my head.

My most common zit is insecurity. It's always a battle, but most of the time it's manageable. Every once in a while, however, it all comes to the surface, and I turn into a jumbled mess of needless disclaimers, nervous comments, and generally annoying, overtalkative weirdness. And it's irritating--I mean really, I know it is. So I scratch at it...disclaim the disclaimers, make up for nervous comments with silly apologies. Oh, what a mess--an embarrassing blemish, most visible to those closest to me. But really, insecurity is just a special cocktail of lies, an bunch of junk that needs to get out of my system for me to live more and more like Jesus wants me to. It's got to go, and it's just going to have to show up in all its awkward glory sometimes during the process.

I don't know what it looks like to just let it hang out on the surface until it mends on its own, but I know that's what I need to learn to do. I need to let it get out and heal , no matter how much I feel like everyone around me is looking on in disgust. I have a feeling what I need is a dose of humility. And let's be honest; if our faults really are anything like zits, then they are probably much bigger and redder in our eyes than in anyone else's.

God doesn't want to scar us, he wants to heal us. He wants to give us lives with constantly improving complexions, lives that are more and more like his own. We just need to learn to avoid the bloody, panicked mess so we can humbly let him get the junk out.