Slowing Down to a Stroll

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You may not be able to tell from this picture, but neither Theo nor I had slept well the previous night.  That previous day I had traveled from the coast to Smith Rock, about a 6-hour trip, with a few detours and rush hour traffic along the way, so the drive had taken me 9 hours.  img_3066 I had come from being ill, and 2 nights in a personal prayer retreat. I had had a great reunion with Susanna, Collin and the kids that night, and we had all gone to bed at dark.  But I had not slept. Something about the day, the night, the wonderful stillness kept me awake.  Then there was Theo.  He awoke around 10 and was up screaming for what felt like hours.

His screams felt like the screams of a child who is done —

the schedule had been wrong!

The place was wrong!

The bed was wrong!

The night was wrong!

There was no light!

Ever been there???

He couldn’t communicate any of this, but he was mad letting, what we thought must be, every other camper in the place know that THAT was the case.

The next morning we were all exhausted. While washing the dishes I had asked a man from Canada if he had heard Theo screaming.  “No,” he said much to my relief,” but all I could hear were the two snorers in my tent. And now that you are sharing, I’m thinking, I ought to be grateful for them instead of irritated.”  🙂

“Yes, giving thanks would be a great choice,” I advised, amazed at how a simple shift in perspective can change our thinking about a situation.

The previous day Theo had missed a decent nap, on top of not having slept, and so if nothing else, we all knew that Theo needed a real nap on this day. He would not be getting it where the Susanna and Collin wanted to go climbing, so I offered to stay with him at camp and hopefully get him to take that nap, while they climbed.

So they left, taking Gregory and Antonia with them, while I finished breakfast with my tired buddy, and we took a walk.

Now with the pace of the previous day especially, and looking back, of the past couple weeks, walking at a tired 2-year-old’s pace, was wonderfully slow.  He could take four steps to my one, and img_3118his steps were not moving quickly, so, I got to slow WAY down.  We strolled down the Rim Path and he thumped his feet on the boards of a bridge, climbed the fence and pointed over the canyon.

At one point we saw a marmot sitting on a rock and Theo was fascinated.  img_3076

He looked at the marmot saying,

“I want to hold it! I want to pet it!”

That was so sweet to me.  He was so honest, so willing to just “be present” to that marmot.  He was not rushing past. He has not learned the so-called art of not really experiencing anything but just taking a picture and moving on.

I told him, “Well, perhaps not hold him, buddy.  Mr. Marmot would not accommodate your desire and might not be the safest creature to get near to.”

He and the marmot eyed one another unmoving, for quite a while.  Both exhibiting a patience with just being.  They lasted much longer than I expected for either of them.

While there an older woman (to even write that makes me chuckle, as I am now at the age of what many refer to as old!) came up telling us of an eagle sitting on her nest with two eaglets around the bend of the trail. After Theo had bid goodbye to the marmot, we walked along the trail to see this huge, magnificent bird sitting on her nest. We were still a distance away from her, and no camera could catch her, but Theo loved this.  “Poppou, could we go closer?” He asked.

After we had crouched there, eyeing the eagle, for some time, Theo said:  “Poppou, I’m feeling kind of tired.”

“Really?” I said, cheering within.  “Would you like to head to the tent and lie down?”

“Yes,” he said, certain.

So we made our way there. Once we arrived, he wanted a couple stories. I read those and then we received a video sent by his mommou (Gramma Karen) from Mexico.  We watched her video, and he kept trying to respond to her as she spoke to him, as if he were seeing her on FaceTime.  So, I asked if he would like to send her a video in return.  He wanted to, but once I started the video, exhausted, he stopped talking!  You’ll hear me prompting him.  But one thing this video does capture is his tired eyes and voice.

Look at those half-closed eyes!

He watched himself on video time and again.  I realized that with that form of entertainment he would never sleep.  So, I suggested he just put his head on his pillow for just 10 minutes.  He responded with a question:  “And then I watch the video?”

“Yes, then you can watch more video.”

With that, he put his head down, and fell sound asleep in 2 minutes and was out for 2.5 hours.  Yes!

This slow morning was such a gift.  It was wonderful to walk at that 2-year-old pace. It was great to see the world through his eyes.  While he slept I journaled, prayed, and sat quietly.  It was quite simply blissful.

Days can get too full, and become too heady.  Yet with Theo life was reduced to a simple stroll.

It was life at the heart level.

I know well that every moment with a two-year-old is not at such a pace.  But, that day it was, and it caused me to wonder how often I allow my life to slow down like that.  When do I really slow down in a focused way so that my life is reduced to a stroll as if holding his little hand and walking at his pace?  I even type “fast.”

Again and again in my own listening to God over the past months, the message has been for me to simply learn what it means to be, to abide, to slow down.

For that matter, when do you stop, put down the electronics, shut off the TV and radio, and see what is around you, experience life at a breath’s pace?  When have you stopped to observe some creature in nature and have been a child at heart wondering if you can hold it? img_3058

 

 

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Silence…

img_8941For four Sundays I have been sharing out of my experience walking the Camino de Santiago de la Compostela.  That is the journey which birthed this blog. I have already written about the days of that journey here, extensively, both in posting day-by-day reflections on the journey and in the ongoing posts birthed by that life-changing journey.

But what I hadn’t done is preach about it. And I have a congregation who has been patiently waiting to hear me speak about my experience.

I think that in some ways I thought to have written might have sufficed. And also, I think that I believed that there was nothing really to “share.”  Like when my wonderful daughter grace joined me on the Camino for 10 days, img_8790she had said, “Dad, tell me everything, I want all the details, the moment-by-moment experience…”  and I had begun to speak, but then realized that the journey thus far had seemed very ordinary, routine, uneventful, with no brilliant story illuminating it.  To speak about “I got up at 7, ate, took the bus, and started in Irun,” seemed like a minimizing of it.  It was this strange feeling of both; it was too ordinary to describe and too profound to minimize by placing into spoken word.  So at that point, I said, “I can’t do that, but I will be happy to describe the parts that come to mind. So, if you wouldn’t mind, could you tell me first about yourself?”  And she had obliged. We’d traveled for 10 days and she got to experience the Camino and hear many of my stories as I recalled them.

My Camino, that journey of some 32 days on the Way, had changed the trajectory of my life, adjusted my thinking and shifted my days.  And since I had returned I had not spoken about it.  So, when planning my preaching schedule for this year, I planned in 5 weeks to speak about the Camino.  And thus I began to share on April 15th, the first lesson I had encountered “Stay with your Feet.”  That phrase had come from Grace before I departed and was the best gift I could have been given.

As I have spoken, it has brought up all kinds of emotions, as I have encountered all the feelings of how ordinary the days were and yet how phenomenally I had been shaped by those ordinary days.  I have encountered the feelings of shame as well, that accompanied the walk, connected to not doing it well enough, etc.  And I have had the joy of seeing shame released as I have shared it with the congregation.  And something else has occurred as well — people have connected. I had woman connected to our congregation come up to me at another retreat and say, “Brian, those phrases have been keeping me in check. ‘Stay with your Feet,’ I tell myself, and ‘What’s in your pack?’ as I encounter trials.  It has helped so much.”

As of the second day on the Camino, walking by myself, trudging up and around those huge mountains that lined the coast of Northern Spain,IMG_8662 I had lamented to God, “Who am I if I don’t speak?” and God had responded, the joyful clarity, “MINE.”  Over the past weeks, I have shared this experience and reminded them of it, for it was crucial in all that I learned on that journey, and it underlined a very basic lesson: “I am enough.”  That’s been a hard lesson for me to learn. Like the horse in the George Orwell novel Animal Farm, my motto I think has been “I’ll try harder.”

God wanted me to move into me resting in the value of being– who I am already in Him.  Clearly true, but I find the heart is the slowest member of the body to believe. Jesus had declared to those two disciples on the road to Emmaus (another Camino of sorts found in Luke 24:13-35), “How slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken…”  Slow of heart to believe.  What God had shown to me on the journey:  I didn’t have to speak for God to speak through me.

And then, after speaking about this for four weeks about my value when not talking, not long after church yesterday, my voice left totally.  Gone.  Only a whisper.  I’ve been left in silence.

This week I had already planned a prayer retreat from Tuesday through Thursday, which I guess will also be a silent retreat for me!  And then am going to hang with our kids at a campout on my days off at the end of the week for two nights.  I went swimming this morning and greeted people with smiles and gestures.

I find it a fine bit of humor that I get to walk in silence these days as I have been talking and talking about what I learned about value by not speaking on the Camino!

Today I phoned someone to check in on something and having sat in silence totally forgot that when I open my mouth I cannot speak until they said “Hello,” and I tried to respond!  That proved a challenge on the phone.  We made it through the brief, oh so brief, conversation, which was rather one-sided!

While working on this I received this phone call from my good friend for life, Ken Mosesian (check out Mosesian Strategies).  We first met at age 2 so he is totally my longest friend. He called in response to an email I had sent him regarding his recent blog.   He was surprised that I couldn’t talk, but with my great raspy encouragement, he shared with me the most amazing story on his heart.  It was a powerful experience with Jesus meeting him in an answered prayer which surprised and staggered him, even though it had been his request.  This experience underlined for me the reality of how much we have just in being who we are.  It underlined the gift of receiving the gift offered not striving to gain something.

So today I’m silent. I’m dwelling in all that I already have in this relationship with the Beautiful One who flung all the stars and planets into place.  I am sharing with you, but in a house that’s silent. I went outside and noticed that the flowers and plants and our little garden all silently grow.  img_3032They perhaps produce sounds I cannot hear, but to my ear, they are quiet while shouting of the glory of God in their img_3031colors and joy.

img_3033And as I head to the beach for retreat, I’m entering the opportunity to dwell, to be, to rest which has long been an assignment God has laid upon my heart.

I’m hoping you friends can take some time to rest and be as well.  Certainly, those are crucial elements in this life that is so filled with noise.

 

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Don’t Commit Stupid

I sat in the middle seat near the front of the plane on a flight from Portland to Ontario in February.  The man next to the window, dressed in a dark suit, with a purple shirt and blue and purple tie had his eyes closed and hands folded in his lap.  He was not asleep, but just resting, and did not look up as I took my seat next to him, nor did he ever open his eyes the whole trip. Whereas the woman on the aisle joyfully welcomed me like she had been looking for someone to come and take that middle seat. She was gracious and welcoming.

I’d guess she was in her 60s with long, grey hair with blue and purple highlights in it matching her purple and blue toenails showing up in her flipflops.  (Also matching the man’s shirt and tie in the window seat, but who was noticing!)

She was wearing lots of jewelry. There were necklaces around her neck, rings on her fingers and toes and bracelets on her wrists.  She looked kind of eccentric, and, exuded joy. We started joking around immediately, as I thanked her for saving me the seat, and she said she had been looking for me.

We began to talk about things in life that we had experienced that day, first in the airport and then the reasons why we were traveling.  She was heading to see her adult daughter and her son-in-law and told me the story of the estrangement she had experienced from her sons and daughter after she and her husband, their dad, had divorced years and years earlier.  Her daughter had forgiven her and restored the relationship.

We talked about an article by the CEO of Southwest she was reading on the Southwest flight magazine, and I was reading over her shoulder.  She asked me, in a whisper,  to reach across the man next to me to open the window shade so she could see the clouds.  I did so, a bit sheepishly, but he never opened his eyes.  We began to talk about clouds and the shapes she had seen and photographed in clouds.  She loves to take pictures and has traveled much doing so.  She showed me many of her favorite shots.

We eventually exchanged names — hers was Robin. We had chatted much, and I felt prompted to tell her a story.  Jesus had been pushing me to trust him and take risks.  So I asked, “Hey, would you mind if I told you a story while we are traveling?”

She was open to this.  So, I said, “It is a story from the Bible, is that ok?”  It was.

After giving a brief introduction to who Jesus was, and the fact that illnesses at that time were a signal culturally that God was punishing you for some sin in your life, I began.  I told her the story of the Bent Woman (Luke 13: 10-17).

On the sabbath, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue.  A woman was there who had been bent over by a spirit of infirmity for 18 long years.  She could not straighten at all. Seeing her Jesus called her to Him.  “Woman,” He said, “you are loosed from this infirmity!” And then he laid hands on her and immediately she straightened up and glorified God.

Seeing this the synagogue ruler was indignant that Jesus had healed on the sabbath.  He said to the people, “There are six days for work, come on one of those to be healed, not on the sabbath.”  To this The Lord responded, “You hypocrite! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or donkey and lead it to water? Should not then this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound these 18 long years, be set free on the sabbath?” Having said this his adversaries were humiliated but the people praised God for all the wonderful things He had done.

Then as is my practice, I said, “I am going to now retell it, and ask you to help me fill in the  story when I pause, ask a question or say something ridiculous.”  She totally played along with that, and totally “got” the story.  Then I began by asking, “What might it have felt like to be this woman, perhaps rejected by society for her condition yet showing up for a public event, like the sermon in the synagogue?”

And her response was this: “It really depends how this woman approaches her situation because she could be bitter and angry.  Yet, here she was coming to the synagogue, so she still had some relationship with God, and when Jesus then talked to her and called her, she came forward and didn’t go away.  So she was a woman of hope and of purpose.”  All this was from the first question.  We were off!  We had this amazing conversation prompted by this passage.

She totally connected to this woman because of her own situation.  I had not noticed when I had sat down that she had a cane, folded up and stuck in the seat back in front of her.  It was as decorative as she was.  She uses that cane because, as she said, “I committed stupid.”  “Stupid” was committed 10 years previous when she tried to move her refrigerator-freezer by herself, rupturing two discs in her back, then suffered nerve damage in a botched surgery, so she suffers chronic pain in both legs.  

Her doctor said she would never walk again, but she refused this prognosis. I totally loved her spirit, her spunk, her strength.  She volunteers with a nonprofit for which she brings a written statement from her doctor.  When asked by the doctor what he ought to write, for there are many things she ought not to do, she simply said, just write, “She is not allowed to commit stupid.”  So, she has turned this injury and chronic pain into a joke which is even official now.

This totally incredible conversation birthed from the woman’s story in Scripture.  It focused on how we choose to approach the things in our lives that are difficult and how Jesus is real.

I sat there amazed at how handicapped I can become inside without any handicapping condition such as hers.  Just ten days before this conversation about committing stupid, on the 36th anniversary of my dad’s death at age 59, I had journaled what I titled that day “the Abyss called stupid.”  Below the title was a list of the various shame messages reigning that day which sought to cripple me.  No cane, no chronic back or leg pain, but I too spent time “committing stupid” by embracing those lies.  No one is immune.

Then she began to tell how she had celebrated her recent birthday.  It was the celebration of her passing the age at which her mom had died many years previously, and it felt odd since she was passing that age.  She had a birthday and celebrated that with a year of celebrations.

I sat there astounded at what she was saying. I had been thinking lots about my own dad and the fact that he had died 10 months after his 59th birthday. Prior to the celebration of my 59th,  (March 22nd), as I have mentioned in other posts, it had been challenging for me.  It felt ominous on the one hand since I was the same age, and on the other hand strange, for 59 suddenly felt young, not old. This had been a heaviness for me.

Her words were such an encouragement to me as she said, “I really decided that I was thankful to God that I got to live longer and got to celebrate this life.”  So she made and bottled her own wine, and did other events to celebrate.  This gave me a vision for celebrating my 60th year with events that help me express the same level of thanksgiving.  It gave me the desire to live long and well.

We did eventually exchange names, hers was Robin, but I never had an opportunity to tell her anything about myself.  I did see many of the great pictures she had taken using a glass ball before the lens. She had some she had taken at Commonwealth Lake Park, just a few blocks from the church where I pastor, and I really believe that we will meet there sometime again.

Until then I plan to join her in not committing stupid. How about you? 

This song is a great reminder for me…

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I don’t like that story…

img_2983Whatever I had just said, Grace (30) responded, “I don’t like that story you are telling yourself.”  I loved that response.  What a unique way to say, “that ain’t the truth you saying.”  And it wasn’t.

I suppose if there is one area of my life where I need to continue to do the most maturing it is there, in truth-telling to me.  It is believing the way in which Jesus believes in me, that is the growing point.  You’d think after 40 years following Him, I’d have that one wired, but I’m still in process. Like the children’s song says, “God’s still working on me.”

In Matthew 5 Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them, “You are the light of the world…”  He doesn’t say, “If you hang with me long enough, there are hopes for you to become the light of the world.”  Nor does he say, “If you try really, really hard you might be a glimmer of light for the world.” Nope, to these four newly called fishermen he says, “You are the light of the world.” They’d arrived because of their relationship with Him.  That was the single requirement.  The most surprising thing here to me is that these guys don’t respond at all, perhaps that old “deer in the headlights” thing, but they do not say a word.  And on the part of Jesus, what this might have told them is what Jesus thought of them. How much He believed in them. “You are the light of the world,” right now, “let your light so shine…”

After the conversation with Grace last night, and with how God is encouraging me to live in this day, I know,  God has brought me onto a new path. I remember one morning two weeks ago journaling just how low I felt, and the phone rang and it was our daughter Gabrielle calling in.  We had this magnificent conversation and “love lifted me,” literally, from my pit to the glory of the gift that comes through relationship.

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Chapel of the Upper Room, Nashville

Last weekend I had the privilege of traveling to Nashville as part of the Board of Directors for the International Christian Ashram Movement, with which I have been involved since 1982.  I did not expect the board meaning to be great after all “board” is a homonym with “bored” and I truly thought it would be boring.  As I took the flights there, I sought to clean up my attitude.  I sat at the PDX airport and wrote:   “Show me what is good about Ashram.  Display what you are doing.  Help me to discover what You are accomplishing.”  And returned these prayers fully answered, not only regarding the Ashram but in regards to what God is doing in my heart and life.  What happened there was a renewal like I didn’t know I needed.

I arrived at 9 pm and connected with an old friend from California, Donna Sanders, who like me had just arrived.  Tom Albin met us at the airport and offered to take us to dinner, but I said, “Actually, thank you, but what I need more than food is a bed,” so he relented and took us to our rooms. We were staying at the Scarritt Bennet campus, what was a college of worship and evangelism.  Some of the buildings still have that sense of God’s presence in them from the praying, singing, and praising and preaching that happened within those walls.  The next day, Donna and I met up for breakfast and had this conversation that rang with such joy and depth, I was shaking my head in wonder thinking, “Jesus, what do you have planned?”

After breakfast she took me to meet Dr. Sam Kamaleson at his room, who would be preaching at the three times of worship we held over our days together.  img_2988Sam is in his 80s, and Donna wanted me to meet him so that I could come back and escort him to lunch.  We sat with him in his room for a few minutes, and I immediately felt like I was sitting in the presence of Jesus.  Sam is self-effacing, deeply in love with Jesus, and shines with that love.  He drips grace and mercy.  With that meeting, I realized that there is much more in this time than a Board meeting, there were opportunities to connect with people who had been in Christ so many more years than I have, and people from whom I can grow.  img_2987

At 3 pm that afternoon, before the meeting opened, I got to meet some of the others seated near me and saw there was something special at this time for me.  In the evening we had a worship time after dinner and began with one of the pillars of the Ashram model, the Open Heart.  It is an opportunity to say, “Why have I come? What do I want? What do I need?” They were wrapping the meeting in the fabric of meaning, allowing the Holy Spirit to move into our time and begin to work on our hearts.  What God prompted me to speak about what I wanted and needed, surprised me, for I had not previously said it aloud to anyone except within the family. I sat there, knowing it, but afraid of it, with my stomach flipping inside of me. How was it possible that YOU God showed up at a board meeting.  Forget boring.  The result of bringing that need and desire into the open was such support and huge answers to prayer in those couple days that by the end, I was overflowing with thanksgiving.

God had taken me to Nashville onto the board, in order to get to a place in me. With that start, the birthing of new friendships, the gift of prayer and conversation with some of the great leaders in the church, I returned home refreshed, renewed, challenged and empowered.  This one dear man, Gordon, struggling with Parkinson’s disease, looked at me before we left and said, “Thank you for what you spoke. Beautifully spoken. You have so many gifts. God is using you for great things.”

I realized the “story” I was telling myself about the Ashram was as incomplete and as untrue as some of the stories I “tell” about myself.  I had allowed my opinion to be colored by so many things.  And this opinion Jesus wanted me to clean up.  The experience there underlined the gift of this movement and reminded me of the gift that I am as well.  All in this weekend at a place I had not wanted to go!  Oh, silly me!

All this Jesus used to help me reclaim the light he had made me to be and to walk into that more fully.  May I do so.  And may you do so as well.img_3002

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Discouragement and Hope

img_2894In the middle of a prayer time, January 23rd, the Lord spoke:

“Son, I am FOR you.  I love you.  Sometimes you give in to the doubt of Moses (see Exodus 4) — that you are not good enough, strong enough, not eloquent enough.  All about not measuring up. Yet you measure up to my hopes for you, child.  You measure up and I love you.  It is not about measuring up or being enough — it is about realizing that although you are NOT God, you are Mine and I love you. You and I can do great things together, and we already have.  So it is a process of trust.  Trust.  One step on this Camino. On single step.”

If you read my journal over the first couple months of the year, you’d notice that I am good at receiving and poor and following what I receive from Jesus.  And those months especially were challenging ones.  I was noticing in journals over the past many years that the first two months tend to be darker than the rest, but this year, it was quite a ride, perhaps since I spent the first six weeks preaching about shame.

The beginning of February I wrote: “What battles!  All day I was In and Under them.  The line of attack was familiar. ‘I don’t measure up. I cannot do this any longer.’  I know it is shame, but find even acknowledging it doesn’t make it dissipate.  I’ve tried many times to simply step out from under it and then I’m back under it again.”

That day partly it was impossibilities with people that pushed me over the edge.  You know, those kinds of relational things that feel like dead ends.  I was also overwhelmed with dealing with the new building — that ongoing, never-ending journey of rebuilding!  Who knew that would be such a journey? Our education building burned down May 4, 2015.  The process of the rebuild had been a great journey of brainstorming, dreaming, designing, and achieving. But, in the midst of that, and towards the end of that, it had been a long series of delays, all that ended up with blessings at the end, but that day, it all felt stalled… again.

Another day, at a training event, I had a random conversation with a colleague who immediately began applauding himself, bragging about his accomplishments.  I know where he possibly lands on the Enneagram (see 9types.com for more information) and he seems to model that addiction to intensity known to what might be his type.  But that day, his story about himself became a comparison within my own head to how much I don’t measure up to him!  It was a nail into my worldview of myself.  And the lights went out inside.  It was totally dark.

On a break from the event, I walked away from that encounter and wandered the streets of Portland.  As I walked, I watched as a young teen was walking downhill on the sidewalk toward me, while I walked uphill on the street.  The sidewalk ahead of him incorporated two sets of stairs to accommodate the hillside.  He was busy on his phone but seemed to be looking up occasionally as well, so I thought he was seeing the stairs, but he missed them.  His first misstep took him down two steps, he stumbled, but caught himself on the railing before tumbling, while his phone went crashing to the next steps down.

“Man, are you ok?” I called down from the street level looking across the railing down at him on the staircase below, helpless to do anything but watch.

“Ya,” he responded, looking flustered and slightly embarrassed, “I’m great.  No damage just a surprise.”

“I almost said something to you but thought for certain you had seen the stairs, that is until you began to fall headlong! I am grateful you’re ok!” I responded.

“Thanks!” he smiled, as he traipsed down the stairs.

The Spirit used that incident as a parable to speak to my life.

 “When that boy stumbled, you did not think of him as an idiot but only distracted.  You didn’t think lowly of him.  He simply stumbled.  You too can stumble and need not believe you’re therefore a failure. To stumble is ok, son.  You will.  Remember:  ‘though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,’ (Proverbs 24:16).”  

I love it when the Spirit quotes the Word!

At family night dinner toward the start of February, Grace stayed later than usual to talk with me.  Asking me how I was doing, I honestly told her of my ongoing battle with feeling discouraged.  The sense that all is just hard, that I disbelieve what I know is true about me. At worst, believing that I’m just taking up space on the earth.  I shared vulnerably. As I spoke, this 30-year-old, amazing and accomplished woman began to cry and said,

“Dad, don’t get discouraged…”

She reminded me of the people by name I have blessed just by being me.  Her tears and her words were like a healing balm to my soul. I began to be uprighted some, believing that I am enough, I have something to offer, I am a child with authority. It was like the lights came on again.  I could see truth over against the lies.  And the line from the book A Horse and His Boy (CS Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia) came to mind,

“…go straight ahead: always straight ahead, over level or steep, over smooth or rough, over dry or wet. I know by my art that you will find King Lune straight ahead. But run, run: always run”(here).

I realized anew that this emotional stuff was a battle and I needed to count it as such and fight.

The next morning I looked up and wrote out all the verses listed under the topic of discouragement in the Bible.  There were 43 passages that mention that word. Taking up a few pages in my journal, writing out one reference after another, I began to see patterns.  One was that discouragement and fear are often joined together.

“The Lord God has said, ‘Fear not and neither be discouraged'” (Dt 1:21).

and

img_2984“The Lord will go before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged” (Dt 31:8).

and

“Have I not commanded you, son, be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). 

This told me something about the darkness — that it was sourced both in the feeling of discouragement but was strengthened by fear.  That the two work together. I also noticed that these are the two emotions we are not told to feel but to push away:  Do Not Fear.  Do not become discouraged.  I had not done that well, I knew.

Writing these out was powerful to my heart that day, but still, I had another month of needing to take daily action to push away that which was not true and embrace what was.  It was a journey which included multiple conversations, times of prayer, encouraging words, and diligence, and times when I just felt discouraged!  Writing this out here I recognize that one action which would be good to take is simple:  to read these passages daily.

I love how God said this:

“This is what the High and Exalted One says; the One who rules forever, whose Name is Holy: ‘I dwell in an exalted and holy place, but also with the discouraged and humiliated in order to cheer up the humiliated and encourage the discouraged'” Isaiah 57:15, (NET).

img_2892March 14th, a Wednesday, I was really low again. After talking to a couple friends, and realizing that I was not processing life in the best light, I called Twin Rocks Friends Camp, where they have this excellent prayer lookout cabin.  I hoped to find something for that Friday and Saturday.  I reached Leann in their office, who said,

“Friday and Saturday are booked, but I just got off the phone from someone who canceled for tonight and tomorrow night.”

“Put my name down,” I said, “but I cannot come until tomorrow night, that’s Thursday.”

After I hung up, I called Karen for input.  She said,

“Brian, take space for you. It is ok.  Just go. Everyone will understand and applaud that you are taking care of yourself.  Go.  If you delay until Thursday night late, you will lose out on the benefit that would be achieved by having two full nights away.”

I’m married to a wise, encouraging and beautiful woman.

I took the plunge, sent emails and texts canceling my obligations, which everyone received graciously, then went home, gathered food and clothing and left for the beach.  The weather cleared at the coast, incredibly, just as the skies were clearing in my heart.  I walked into the Prayer Lookout and breathed in such a peace.  The time gave me such clarity and peace and joy in my spirit.

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This is the view from the Prayer Lookout

That night our youngest grandson went into the hospital and ended up in ICU for 5 days fighting for his life.  Since I was already away, I could fight with him, without distraction for hours.  In addition, I got to walk on the beach, take a hike in the forest, be still and quiet, and listen for hours as well and in that quiet, I encountered the Presence and Goodness and Mercy of the God who knows me, loves me best and calls me by name.

 

img_2891Part of that time was accompanied by the call to take such prayer retreats monthly.  So, I booked my next time while I was there.  It needed to be in May since April was filled to the brim already.  But I will eventually make one retreat monthly.

The continuing message has been to “Stand. Rest. Be.” It is a call to trust, and trust takes surrender.  When I am not surrendered, then I fall into the comparison trap, and step into the slime of discouragement, and find defeat.  When I do surrender, when I “run, run, always run” straight ahead (meaning to fight that battle for truth), fixing my eyes on the purpose and calling I have rather than on those around me, then discouragement has already seen defeat.

A few days after Easter Sunday, on a particularly challenging day, I received a text and an email.  The text came from Debbie, a member of Westside,  and she wrote:

“Your Father’s love for you is infinite.

He is so proud of you and

Isn’t disappointed in you.”  Jeremiah 1:5. Ephesians 1:3-4

In the email from Rebecca, a woman in the greater Beaverton church community, she wrote:  “How are you doing?  Why do I feel the odd need to ask you the question of Are you standing tall? or something to do with tall and standing?  Does that mean anything to you?”

Need I write it meant so much to me for standing tall is exactly what I needed to be doing in the fact that I am loved.

Trust.  When I trust, I dwell in hope.  The lights are on.  May the same be true for you.img_1161

 

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This Camino

img_8953The reason my blog site is called Camino2016 is rooted in having walked that path then. However, walking that Camino taught me that all of life is a path, a Camino that we each are walking at our own paces. And these many Caminos encounter mishaps. One of these when we “run out of gas.” Now, on the Camino, I “ran out of gas” daily physically— I felt like I had no energy. But last week I heard story after story of folk who had “run out of gas” in their cars.

Talking to a friend he told me the story of traveling with his sister across the country – he was around 22 and she was 19. In the middle of nowhere Nebraska at 9:30 pm at night, they ran out of gas. gas gauge on empty They had been watching the fuel gauge and my friend had double-checked the owner’s manual and decided the car was equipped with a gas light that would warn them when they were especially close to running out of gas.  But, still, they ran out of gas, and no light had popped on. Turned out the car was not equipped with that light after all!

They were literally in the middle of nowhere.img_8844  They did have the AAA card their mom had gotten for them for just such emergencies. This was the era before cell phones so there was no “phoning from the car.” Isn’t it strange to be among those who can say “before the era of cell phones?” It is like our grandparents who would say, “Well, we took the horse-drawn carriage…”  Some days I feel ancient.

They decided that the 19-year-old sister would walk back (by herself, in the dark) to the Rest Stop they reckoned was about 2 miles back, while her brother remained with the car and all her earthly possessions.  He said how he still wonders the wisdom of this plan, but figured she would be no better off alone, waiting in the car!dark country road  And they did not want to abandon the car and both walk back. Cars zoomed passed him while he sat on the side of the road, emergency flashers blinking. He imagined one of them swerving slightly and nailing him and the car in one explosive event.  This thought got the best of him, so for a time, he stood in the bushes further off the road!     Rob at car rest area

At one point a semi-truck pulled up, lights blaring down on the small car. The two guys who got out looked like characters from a crime novel.  Tattooed, burly, and huge, one of them with a black patch over his eye, the other with a scraggly beard, seeing them, my friend feared for his life. Discovering the need for gasoline, they couldn’t help but offered to ask someone to head back.

Meanwhile, the sister did make it to the Rest Stop, and using the pay phone called the number on the AAA card.  The operator said, “Ma’am we have no one we can send out this late at night.”

The sister responded, “This is why we have the card so that you will help us!”

Still, the AAA dispatcher said: “But we are unable to dispatch anyone at this hour.”

The conversation went from bad to worse.  Finally, the AAA operator offered to contact the sheriff in that area and see if they would bring some gas.  Frustrated, the girl began the long trek back to the car.

Once there, another pickup stopped with a small family in it.  Emblazoned on the side was “Tom’s Handyman Service.”  The young guy who popped out said he would siphon some of his gas from his tank into theirs.  This worked and then he followed them to the next town where they could fill up their tank and replenish his.  It all worked out. And to this day my friend swears off AAA—as if they were the problem!

That story reminded me of my own story.

My one and only time running out of gas occurred when I was 16 in June 1975.  An upperclassman and I were scheduled to drive to San Mateo from Turlock, California, and I was to pick her up.  It was summer. I remember awakening to the ongoing, annoying ringing of the phone.  telephoneI ran downstairs, answered and was shocked, hearing her voice, to then remember I was supposed to be picking her up, and I was 2 hours late. She had called dozens of times!

I threw on clothes, raced downstairs and probably looked and smelled the worse for wear, picked Sharon up in Turlock, who was kinder than I deserved, and we sped out of Turlock, through Modesto, across to the Interstate 5.  In the process, we whizzed past a friend and his family heading to the same event.  I felt this glee at being ahead of Ken, knowing now I would be vanquished of the shame I felt for having overslept and been so late.  Instead of just pulling in behind them and following them to the event, rather, I raced ahead, chattering with Sharon about the event and the day.

We were heading to a special training day preparing for this dream of going to live overseas the next summer.  This had been a dream of mine since I was a freshman sitting across from my best buddy Ken (whom I had just passed) in our Physiology class and there had dreamed up the idea of heading to Europe to work after our Junior year of High School.

So Sharon and I traveled, and then the engine began to sputter and to my dismay, as I pulled to the side of the road, I realized, we had run out of gas.  We ended up having to walk to the next exit, buy a gas can and gas, walk back, and then drive to the station, fill up the tank, and hit the road again. My glee evaporated, for clearly, we were no longer ahead of schedule.  We finally arrived at the event nearly 2 hours late.  But at that point, we both decided we felt too ashamed to go in, so, we left and drove all the way back home!

But these experiences prompted me to hear from others:

Anna wrote:  My dad once ran out with the truck, towing a boat for delivery on a trailer… as he came into the parking lot for the ferry across Lake Champlain, it was a downhill roll to get on the ferry, and the employees all pushed the truck and boat off the ferry on the other side. Then my mom had to go for gas in the car and bring it back.

I have not yet run out of gas but do have miraculous stories of my tank holding out across many more miles of nowhere than anyone has any right to expect in southern Israel and West Texas… I have been known to push it with that little orange light on.

Bonnie wrote: New Year’s Eve, in Minnesota, at 30 below zero. I ran out of gas at a truck stop restaurant. I guess God didn’t want me to freeze to death looking for gas. I was 20 feet from the pump. That was my first and last time.

Joshua wrote:  My mum always fills at half-tank. I try to do the same. I’ve never run out of gas, but perhaps I should sometimes, just for the experience, LOL.

            Anna responded:  That is a very wise rule for a whole lot of reasons!

Scarlet wrote:  During a difficult time in my life financially more often than I would like to admit. However, God always provided.

Debbie wrote:  On my way to church 1983 – thankfully the church was close by and I had the stroller in the car so pushing my infant daughter, I could walk the rest of the way. When I told one of the ladies I needed to call my husband and tell him she said: “Oh no dear, you don’t want to do that – get someone else to help you.” I still think that was funny advice. I called Greg (my husband) and after the normal grumbling, he helped get gas. I haven’t done it again – and I will call AAA if I do.

Jean wrote:  I have never run out of gas. Been really close a couple of times but where I live now I would be wildlife dinner, that thought doesn’t appeal to me, so I err on the side of a full tank as much as possible! LOL

Christy wrote:  August 1986 4am Oakridge. (Can’t you imagine there is a story here?)

Sybella wrote:  Had 2 small boys in the car, as we were headed back from seeing Grandma in Novato, CA.  It was at night. Didn’t have my gas cap key, and was hoping I wouldn’t run out of gas.  We were in an older Vanagon. I Loved it.  However, I did run it out of gas, on the freeway with no shoulders and cement edging to keep you from going over!  I was stuck! A very nice HWY patrol officer pulled up behind me and using the bullhorn, shouted: “Stay in the car! Put it in neutral – I’ll push you!” God bless him! He pushed me up over an overpass and into the gas station – I pried off the gas cap and got the boys and I got safely home!  (And I imagine has not run out of gas again.)

 Barbara wrote: 19 years old. Right after our wedding. Barely got around the block from the church…

I loved the last story for all kinds of reasons. Like some of the others above, it had the power of a 6-word story. It said so much with so few words!

I realize that to “run out of gas” is a small thing in the realm of life, but sometimes the littlest things can trip us up.  Scripture does say that “The little foxes spoil the vines,” (Songs 2:15).  Like walking on the Camino proper and easily walking around and over boulders but then tripping on a small stone in the pathway, small things can trip us up.Image-12 Indeed, small things can become large if we allow them to be.  One negative comment can strike down a day of all positive experiences. One bad moment can erase many good ones. So what’s the secret from all these car experiences? It’s simple, right?  Learn to keep the tank fairly full. 

This is true in life.

If we are really caring for ourselves, our emotional capacity, our needs, the stuff of our hearts, our spiritual health, if we are really taking time to breathe, to enjoy, to laugh, to play, then when the little rocks in our path do trip us, that’s all it will be.  We may even stumble and fall, but we will also have the strength to get up again. Next week I have a story to share on myself when I haven’t done that well…

But for today, like one of the writers above shared:  “Err on the side of a full tank.”gas gauge full

 

 

 

 

 

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I sent her to you…

img_1143In storytelling, most important is for me to find my own connection to the story. For then, I will convey a different sense of ownership when sharing it.

So, I had worked and worked in preparation for a funeral I was to lead with Psalm 23. Perhaps you know it:

“The Lord is my Shepherd.

I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He Leads me beside still waters,

He restores my soul.

He leads me in the paths of Righteousness for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”

Now, this is a powerful bit of story in scripture and very familiar to some so it can be bypassed as not offering anything new.  So, I had sat with it, prayed through it and then there it was. I noticed that in this Psalm the author moves from “He” to “You” and the point at which the author says he is walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

The other thing I noted is that this Lord was leading the psalmist even into and through the darkest of places and that at the darkest point, the Lord was closest. As the Psalmist wrote: “…for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

On that day, this reached into my heart as an insight.  It felt new, substantial.  The darkest times were the most intimate times.  Those were always the times of greatest growth.

This was not “rocket science” or especially deep theology, but I knew, that if people could be led to see this, it could impact their relationships with the God who is with them, intimately connected to them and walks before and beside them. I felt ready with all the other preparations that had been done, for this funeral.

img_2163As sometimes happens at events, things didn’t go as planned. Leadership shifted and changed during the event. I felt like I was more of an MC for multiple things than the pastor. The things that did happen at the funeral were beautiful in and of themselves, but I think like a kid with a special present planned who never got to give it, perhaps, worse, like a toddler frustrated at a change in plans, I ended up having to truncate my thoughts to the point of absurdity for other things took precedence. This left me frustrated. The brief, five minute, and the very summarized message I offered felt cluttered, not clear, and certainly not impactful.

I had to leave immediately afterward. I drove to the airport kind of kicking myself as if I could have led differently. I felt I could have communicated better perhaps beforehand which would have waylaid much of the issue I felt had happened. I was frustrated with ministry by the time I got to my parking place, and with this brooding, kicking myself attitude, I boarded the economy parking Blue Airport Bus at M, the first stop.

Usually, I am a chatty passenger. If no one else is on the bus, I will chat with the driver. But on this day, with a dark cloud over my head, I sat down in the section of seats in the first half of the bus, nearest the luggage, as the sole passenger.

The bus driver, a strong woman about my age, with curly blond hair, looked back, smiled and said, “How’s your day going?”

Who does she think she is, talking to me? I wondered. Clearly, I don’t want to talk. I’m not looking up! I am not happy! My day is not going well! I am having a pity party. Don’t interrupt!

I bypassed all the internal shouting, and responded, saying:

“Well, It has been… ok.”

“Ok, huh?” She said, seeing right through my answer.

So I ventured,

“Well, I’m certain it will improve.” But I actually was not expecting it to improve at all.

To which she said,

“Are you heading toward something or coming from something hard?”

Who sent this woman? I wondered as we had passed P and Q and were driving down to the next section of stops. I knew there was no avoiding a conversation. No one was yet on board the bus with us. So I opened up, pried open as with a can opener, I told some of my story, of the funeral, of the connection to the dear woman who had died, of my frustration.

She connected right in.

“My dad is 85. I am anticipating the fact that I don’t have him too much longer. And he doesn’t have any connection to Christ. You are a Christian, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am a follower of Jesus,” I replied.

She continued, “I thought so.” But I was thinking HOW ON EARTH? I’ve not been acting anything like one!

 She said, “I couldn’t do this life without Him.”

“Me either,” I said, thinking about what I had learned from Psalm 23, about how this Shepherd is most intimate when things are toughest.

So I shared that.

Just sharing that brief portion of the 23rd Psalm and what we might learn about the Lord that that language of the Psalm changes when the path gets dark. And with that, the insight came out, about how in the darkness, in the toughest path, the Shepherd, the Lord is most intimate, closest, called “You” by the Psalmist instead of the more distant word, “He.”

And God showed up on that bus, around stop U, and the bus driver began to cry.

“That’s so true,” she stammered out through tears, and then said, “I guess I can’t talk and drive!”

“Ok, I said. I think driving is really important now.” At which she laughed.

img_2907And finally, there was someone to pick up. I marveled that for probably 10 minutes, it had just been the driver and me so we could finish that conversation. As this tall woman in long green trousers, red shirt and loose-fitting blue jacket got on the bus, at stop W, the driver greeted her, welcomed her onto the bus, and this woman sat down far from me in the back of the bus. And then we picked up more and more people until it was standing room only as we headed for the terminal.

After we reached the terminal, I stepped forward to the driver, thanked her for the conversation, saying how she had encouraged me.

She affirmed the same and said,

“Would you be praying for me?”

“Absolutely,” I told her.  We exchanged names.

Then, she started to say something more but started to tear right up again, so said, “Oops! Better stop talking.”

I got off and walked into the terminal, through security, astounded at how my day had changed, at how near God had come to me in the place that felt dark, having prepared fertile soil in this woman’s heart, for the seed of that Word given.

As I sat in the airport, I was quiet, drank tea, and ate some food. The interior voices that had been yelling on the drive to the airport all were silent. I was tired and quiet. Silent. Peaceful. I just sat, observed people, and prayed for others.

After about two hours, I walked to my crowded gate. I sat for a few moments, then stood and was stretching when as I looked across the gate-full of people, I saw this woman standing by the far wall, who looked surprisingly like our Bishop, and then I noticed someone next to her, and thought “Is that John Tucker?” He is a pastor in my geographic area whom I have known for years. He saw me and waved me over. Indeed that was our bishop standing with John!

I greeted Bishop Elaine, telling her about how I had seen “the woman who looked like the bishop.” And we had this random, joyful conversation.  Karen Hernández was there and she had a story from the visit Karen and I had made to her church back in January. I connected with Gwen Drake and heard her plans for retirement. And greeted someone else there whom I didn’t recognize at first, but with whom I had worked on a board two years back. For someone who had been quiet for two hours, these conversations were a gift. I felt encouraged and more centered. Karen H. offered a ride to my destination in Boise with her husband Ed, if my ride didn’t work out. And then we boarded.

As I boarded the plane a girl got in behind me who was slender, wearing a blue stocking cap, with her shoulder-length brown hair sticking out from beneath it. She carried a green, lightweight backpack over her shoulders, was in her mid-20’s, wearing a nose ring, and wore a long necklace that looked like prayer beads.  She had joyful eyes and a great smile. There were two seats on each side of the center aisle, and she sat in the window seat next to me.

As we sat down, immediately she began to talk to me.  Introducing herself:

“Hi, I’m Alex. I always talk to people on planes. What’s your name? Where are you headed?”  And we began to share. I was deeply grateful that God had used the previous conversation on the bus and the one in the airport with friends and colleagues in order to prepare me for this time now. I was thinking I would not have been as ready to talk and be present without them.

After a while, since she had mentioned that the beads were Buddhist prayer beads, I asked her to tell me her spiritual journey. That was a wonderful story of life. She had been on quite a journey!

She’d been blessed, as she said, by “Love in her high school Young Life group,” but had lost hold of the Christian faith in college and was migrating toward Buddhism.  I prayed and I listened.  I asked questions and realized how Jesus was very much still a part of her life.  She was just needing to recognize Him there.  She asked about our kids and grandkids. We talked about time and how it is fleeting.  She asked what it felt like to hold a child’s child!  “Surreal,” I told her. img_2936Remembering back to when I held our first granddaughter, Antonia,

 

for the first time and feeling like this: how was it possible that nearly 23 years had passed since I had held this child’s mother in the same way?  (Cannot locate a picture from that season — trust me, it looked exactly the same, except I was younger looking!).

We began to talk about what it was like to walk in and through difficult times, the hard things she had encountered in her life, the places of pain, the friends who had dealt with abuse. And I told a slice of my own experience with sexual abuse.

I asked if she had heard Psalm 23 before, and shared it with Alex. As I shared about how it said how intimate and close the shepherd was in hard times, she was impacted. We shared more about dark and light, about hope and hopelessness and about how a Person, Jesus, walks with us in those places.

Then as our plane began its descent, cloudsshe looked at me and asked, “What’s your favorite story in the Bible?”  Seriously, that’s what she asked.  I think I have dreamed someone would ask me that question for years!img_1135

I told her the story of the Bent Woman (Luke 13:10-17). She loved it. She had never heard it before.  I asked her questions about the story. Could the woman had been doing something other than coming to the synagogue where people would have viewed her as having sinned to be in that condition? And what it might have felt like for this woman in that place? And what might we learn about her that that’s where she had chosen to come?  We looked at how Jesus responded to the woman and then how the synagogue ruler reacted against the woman after Jesus healed her, “indignant that she had been healed on the Sabbath.” In all this, we discussed the story as the plane was landing, and then taxiing and finally stopping at our gate. Engrossed in the story, we hardly noticed. She began to apply the story to her own life. It was beautiful as Jesus took over and brought light to the Word for this woman, His precious daughter.

We deplaned and were standing beside each other in the dark, wind and rain, awaiting our luggage, and I got this picture of praying for her. So, I said, “May I pray with you?” She gladly received that. So, we prayed together all before the luggage cart arrived outside in the wind and rain. She hugged me and said how it had been a pleasure to meet me and then we got our luggage and parted.

As I was thanking God for that encounter, and praying for more Alex walking through the Boise airport, the Lord whispered, “I sent her to you.”

And I answered back, “Thank you, Lord.”

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Posted in camino, Camino de Santiago, del Norte, Encouragement, Faith, family, Fellowship, God speaks, God with us, hope, Jesus, Joy, silence, Steps, Trust | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments