Touch a Rock

I’d been using stories less than a year, back in 2012, and flew to Fresno to participate in a workshop there. I floundered.

I found myself not recalling the simplest and plainest details in stories. The issue, however, was not so much the actual facts I’d lost but the feelings of shame that engulfed my heart:

“What was I doing? Why did I really believe I could do this?”

The accompanying thoughts ran a familiar course:

“You’ll not get this. This will never be for you. This is a dead end. You’re a failure.”

I took a break and walked outside and texted a friend at church asking for prayer. She texted right back saying:

“Touch a rock. Sit in the sun. Feel the earth. Breathe.”

I sat down on a hot rock in the warm California sun and leaned against it. I ran my hand over its surface. I thought about what the texture of the rock felt like. My fingers warmed. The rough, hot surface soaked in. And as I did this simple thing, focused on something tangible like that rock, the feeling of shame dissipated.

It’s a simple fact that our brains cannot literally think of more than one thing at a time, and when stuck in our heads, spinning with thoughts and feelings, it helps if we can pull our brains back into our bodies.

Whenever I’ve helped others do this with any simple exercise of pulling the head out of the clouds of spinning thoughts back into being aware of the body, it has brought them peace. Often to their surprise, the anxious thoughts settle. The racing hearts calm. The feelings dissipate.

One time on the phone I instructed the woman I spoke with to stand barefoot on the cool tile floor in her home, and describe what it felt like to me. As she did so she suddenly stopped talking and said, “My heart has calmed down.”

At a workshop another year, a woman was panicking about the story she was about to present. I asked her to step outside, to touch the side of the building, breathe and then describe it to me. As she did so, again, her anxiety lessened.

Back in 2012, my friend’s text reminded me to do what I knew– ever need reminders? And it worked. My heart settled. And I could breathe deeply and focus on being present to the experience at hand.

Fast forward to 2017.

I was preaching at the week-long Redwood Christian Ashram in California. I used storytelling to root the listeners in a scriptural story and allow the Holy Spirit to speak and then shared some out of it myself.

The first night I vulnerably shared a more thorough story of my abuse than I’d ever before spoken publicly. It was a great night but I got slammed by shame as I finished.

Instead of realizing that this probably was the best evidence that I’d done exactly what God wanted, I at first believed the lies whispered into my heart. I walked to my room and battled through the night. I texted friends requesting prayer.

One friend texted back:

“The old man is dead. You are a new creation, a new prototype. Never been created before. Lazarus was a new creation. Jesus told them to take off the grave clothes and set him free. Grave clothes stink. But they are not who you are. Look from Heavens’ perspective and our Father’s eyes and His heart. You are new DNA. Praise The Lord.”

This was true and a great reminder, although difficult at that moment to receive.

I breathed into this, prayed long into the night, journaled, and eventually slept.

The next day at breakfast I sat next to a young man who began to share, to my surprise, how he’d been impacted by my story. He’d also experienced childhood sexual abuse. I was able to share with him how shame had hit after I’d shared. He heard this empathetically, my vulnerability met his own and all those voices of shame, diminished in the light of a new day, dissolved like morning fog.

Then, later, when an opportunity came to rock climb as a free time activity, I took it. I enjoyed meeting the college students overseeing the climbing wall. They were doing a summer internship at the camp. Our random conversation turned to Jesus and who He was. I was able to pray with one of the girls and see Jesus touch her with His love. Interesting how my own brokenness begot healing in another.

They harnessed me and I began my first climbing-wall experience. The sun had beat down on the wall during the first part of the day. It was warm out. Climbing took all my concentration. I felt nervous. My heart rate was way elevated with my first tentative steps up the rock wall. Would the rope that felt loose as I climbed really catch me if I fell? Up twelve feet or so, I lost my footing, and the rope caught me. Ah!

Suddenly what at first had felt scary became a great game. Truly I couldn’t get hurt. I climbed again, reaching, stretching muscles, making it past where I’d previously fallen I reached the very top of the wall. It was exhilarating.

Looking back I realize how incredibly cathartic this activity was on the day after all those negative emotions. Touching, climbing that hot rock wall, the focus, the physical activity, the stretch of muscle and mind, totally freed my heart.

Now, although I do know this, I do not always remember to do it. I think that is the most difficult thing about what we know. It is easier to assist someone else than it is to remember to apply it to myself.

I went camping with one of our daughters and her family in May. It was awesome. Among my favorite moments was watching our then five-year-old granddaughter rock climbing up this 60′ wall with rope and harness. I was staggered by her courage and saw that she hit the moment of panic as she reached the last obstacle on her way down. Here she had successfully climbed to 60′ and at around 10′ she hit a wall, burst into tears, while clinging to the rock, and cried: “I can’t!!!”

She was stuck in her head. She had plenty of ability. But whatever thoughts preceded the words had stymied her.

Her dad was beautiful.

“Girl, you got this,” he said. “You’ve actually achieved the entire wall — all except this last little bit. Breathe a few deep breaths there, and take it one step at a time.”

She did so and made it without a hitch.

I watched and remembered the many moments of overwhelm I’ve encountered and wondered if they also would have brought such a response from Jesus – “Brian – you’ve got this! You’ve nearly made it. Take a breath. And now continue just one step at a time…”img_3152

 

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Jersey – The Tunnels and The Bays

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My friend “Pops,” David Luce, and I visited his home turf in June 2018, and on Thursday of our week there, we visited what is called the “Underground Hospital” also called the War Tunnels.

The island of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, occupied by the Germans during WWII is a museum of the Nazi War machine.  Noirmont is the headland above S. Brelade’s Bay, where we stayed, and is much encased now in concrete left by the Germans

This reality and this history behind it was captured by one of the characters in the wonderful book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows,

Hitler was fanatic about fortifying these Islands. England was never to get them back. His generals called it Island Madness. He ordered large gun emplacements, anti-tank walls on the beaches, hundreds of bunkers and batteries, … miles, and miles of underground tunnels, a huge underground hospital, and a railroad across the island to carry materials.  The coastal fortifications were absurd. The Channel Isles were better fortified than the Atlantic Wall built against an allied invasion. The installations jutted out over every bay.  The Third Reich was to last one thousand years in concrete.”

(quoted from chapter 3, Random House Audible Edition, c. 2008, ubp).

These fortifications were built mostly by the more than 16,000 Todt workers, named for the head of this workforce, Fritz Todt, but interestingly enough, his name means “Death” in German.  And this was an effort to often work these men and boys to death.

They were fed sparsely, based upon the diet determined necessary for a man to still do a full day’s work. After every work day, often covered with the dust of cement, they were free to forage for food.  Some of the islanders would take these workers into their homes, hide them, feed and care for them, moving them from place to place so as not to be noticed by neighbors or reported.  If discovered, such Islanders would be arrested and deported to camps on the continent.

This history is a ubiquitous contrast to the beauty around every bend.  img_3334

One of the massive projects was the construction of the Underground Hospital, now called the War Tunnels.  Some locals also were hired by the Nazis to fill out the workforce, and they would be paid a salary that was better than what they would make in other island employment.  This involved dangerous work, 100′ underground, dynamiting, shoveling, taking out rocks and finishing the tunnels.  There were many cave-ins, burying many workers in the construction.

Today, the War Tunnels on Jersey are a point of tourism.  As you enter you are given the identity of an Islander who died during the war.  And the tunnels are now a very cold, underground journey into a historical replay of the occupation.  There are many actual recordings of pronouncements made during the War and countless reproductions of letters and experiences the islanders had.  It is incredible.  Below, Pops is speaking with a couple who upon discovering that he had lived through the occupation were fascinated and caught up in his stories of his family’s experiences.  They peppered him with questions and others stopped to listen. img_3445

Our smiles felt far from the experience of what these tunnels represented in the lives both of those who died in the making, and those who had suffered during the occupation.  The hospital was never completed.  The war ended and work was abandoned. So today it is a kind of memorial to the losses of war and a reminder that war is not an “answer” in this world, it rips, tears, destroys, and dismembers. It is certainly a part of our world.  To find the name of the man’s identification I carried, realize he had died while trying to escape the island in a rowboat and make the 90-mile journey to England, was sad! There had been an islander who had actually made that journey, and upon arriving in England was arrested by the English, his story distrusted.  Ah, war!

And what a contrast the dark underground hospital was to the beauty of this place.  It was truly a journey from darkness to light, from hopelessness to hope. I swam in this beautiful water again and again.  What a privilege and contrast to what others had experienced in the same place.  For me, it was like a visit to some of the concentration camps in Germany, also surrounded by exquisite beauty yet, such darkness had reigned within.  This reminded me of the passage from Paul’s letter to the Christians in the town of Ephesus where he wrote:

“Be imitators of God therefore, as dearly loved children. And live a life of love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” They he continues, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light  (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5: 1-2;8-11).

To walk in love and walk in the light both bear fruit and change this world, “for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.”  For me, looking back on the beauties of the Island of Jersey, such a walk would look this beautiful, and more so.

What Paul seemed to lay open in his writing was a path, a choice — how will you respond in your life?

Will you choose to walk in love and be part of light in this world, as those islanders did, who sought to love those around them even during the occupation?  For some that meant living as they had, day to day, loving neighbor and enemy alike. For others that meant seeking to work against the occupying forces, seeking to rescue the Todt workers, etc.  But both were seeking to walk in love and being part of the solution, not the problem.

Or will you choose to take another path — to react to others, blame, make others responsible for your life, and not take responsibility for your actions?  This can be as simple as road rage, blaming others for every hard thing in your world and taking it out upon them, or internet rage, that ridiculous belief that by naming, labeling, and using heartless words in the isolated world of the social media, words you would never speak face-to-face, you are actually going to accomplish something good.  Or it can be any one of many other darker paths of destruction.

I’m reminded of how a friend reacted once when someone on the sidewalk screamed from the side of the road at her, driving, on the road, blaming her for some unknown offense, as she drove by.  This friend wrote to me, that the woman’s reaction had momentarily angered her:  “What did I do to you?” or another unkind, uptight response.

This friend then stopped herself and asked: “I wonder what might have happened in that woman’s life today?” And as she asked this question and listed many horrible options, a sick child, a dying husband, an enormous bill, suddenly empathy replaced anger, and she gave generosity, and the “benefit of the doubt,” which released her and rather than anger, instead, found herself praying for this stranger to experience love. 

Daily we have such opportunities.

Each of these becomes a simple chance to love or hate, to bring light or darkness, to spread joy or sadness.  What I loved about traveling with my friend Pops is that he inevitably chose love and light. No matter the situation, nor how tired he might have been, still, those with whom he dealt experienced their lives blessed by the encounter.  His life bears what Paul says is the fruit of light: goodness, righteousness, and truth. May your life and mine bear the same.

 

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Speak Life

My friend Rebecca starts her day by getting a diet soda at her a local 7-11. I tell her it is one addiction that continues to bear incredible fruit!

Here’s what occurred a few months ago:

An interruption of a loud explosion invades the sounds in her mind. She is a spiritually sensitive person and felt the sounds of fear, trauma, and intimidation which came to a hault as she realized “these aren’t my emotions!”

Here’s how she described the experience:

“My eyes cannot believe it. Standing before me is a large crowd of people who have just witnessed only feet away from them a rear-end accident of what looks like a Honda mini van trying to take on a full size Silverado truck!

The newer mini van had poured itself into a very dominating truck that didn’t take on much damage. However, the Honda exploded itself into a desperate mess of uselessness.

The engine was leaking and the steam looked dangerous. If the van could talk, it was certainly throwing a fit! It looked angry!!! 🤔

I’m standing across the parking lot and could barely see through the crowd of men standing around. These were the same people I saw in line at 7-11 that reminded me of The New Kids on the block band! Certainly they would be old enough to help out!

There had to be at least 10 people standing there, yet no one stepped into the scene?

Crazy!

Surely, “someone from the crowd will help,” I thought?

I glanced again and within seconds, the crowd was gone! They’d witnessed this accident and walked away. No one checked if anyone needed help?!?!

I thought “Where did everyone go??”

I walked toward the van. I can see that the airbag had deployed. But where was the driver? Then, I see her, a mom, heading towards the back of the van and I go running towards her.

Her car is smoking and leaking something gross, it doesn’t look safe to me. I’m not a mechanic, but I knew I could pray! How could I turn away? I couldn’t.

I tried to open the passenger door, but it was broken. It was jammed shut. My heart was racing, wondering, would this van explode?

Sure, I was over-thinking in that moment, but there was a huge panic upon touching the car. I was praying to Jesus, “please let her receive me!”

I started thinking what if she freaked out on me and I scared her? I was so thankful Jesus guided me and showed me her emotions.

I tried opening the sliding door, it wouldn’t open, so I gave it a harder shove.

There she was, the mom was inside the van, she looked shaken, disconnected by shock, yet frantically trying to get her kids out.

She had just been hit with the air bag! Can you imagine the trauma you might be feeling as thoughts invade and overwhelm your senses?

I got door open and said, “Hand me your babies. I am here to help.  Let’s get you all out safely.”

She had four kids with her. Those babies were terrified and all trembling with fear. The look on each face was heartbreaking. Snot was dripping by the buckets! They couldn’t stand. The ground was hot and their little bodies were riddled with emotions. The two girls I took from the van, grabbed ahold of me and didn’t let go. They held my hand as I rubbed their little fingers and just spoke peace back into their fragile souls.

I knew Jesus was with me because I felt an abundance of peace. I had enough to give away and always have laughter and comfort for the kids. The mom allowed me to sit in her space of confusion and just trust that I was safe. Truly I saw such beauty!

I really felt a strong presence of God with me to just give them all life and how to really remind them of how blessed they all were to be alive.

I know it’s hard to give glory to God when things go terribly tragic, trust me when I say I KNOW the wilderness well.

But, if you can spin it and view it from a completely different perspective, you’ll find God’s glory! To be a carrier of God’s glory is an honor, a privilege but it’s something earned through the wilderness of suffering.

I am humbled, amazed at the Glory of God and how it radiates over any circumstance of life regardless of the situation.

God is THAT big. We forget, don’t we.

To witness an accident and have the privilege of speaking trauma away was humbling.

I told the officer who sat with me that I wanted to frame him in this moment. He was holding the youngest child probably 18 months and helping her with a slurpee.

I framed him with compassion. I actually took my fingers and drew it in the air. I painted it with a timeless movement.

I couldn’t hold them all and the mom had to tend to towing.

I wondered if maybe the officer needed a reminder? Don’t we all?! Life is so precious.

I greeted the dad who came on the scene later who came with anger (the mom expressed concern) and I told him how blessed he was that his family was all okay and today was a good day!

He said nothing to me. It’s okay, I’m not offended.

I pray Jesus moves in his heart.

I told the little girls I held named Evie and Tabitha to speak peace to their hearts and tell their parents too.

A fireman told the girls the seatbelt marks they had would be hurting in the morning and they would awaken to pain.

They started crying again, saying, “I don’t want that pain!”

I said to them, “Me either, it won’t hurt in the morning, pain go away!”

It amazed me how many statements are spoken over people in an accident. So many “What if’s” that lead to paranoia and agreements with trauma.

You could clearly see trauma trying to take ahold and I wouldn’t let it. Jesus is teaching me how to speak against the spirits of trauma and fear.  It’s so interesting that we say “yes” to such things without knowing it.

I have learned that when Jesus shows up, he speaks life and life abundantly! John 10:10: “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I have come to give life and that abundantly.” Where Jesus is, the oppresser is trying to steal.

So be careful how you hear. I spoke away the trauma, because thankfully I had eyes to see and ears to hear the trauma. Thank You Jesus! Your counsel soothes my soul and soothes others through me.

The tow truck man came over and started telling me about his 15-year-old child and their estranged relationship. I told him to apologize for the hurt.

Sounds simple, but true. I had the chance to invest an hour in so many lives. And that all because I opened the door of a car, while many others refused.

Truly, there were many witnesses who saw what happened but I believe Jesus wanted a witness of him who’d sit and speak life to his children, not one who had seen the accident.”

Rebecca concluded:

“I came to speak life and hold babies.”

And what a gift she brought!

Today, take the opportunity to speak life wherever you are.

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Encountering Redemption

The island of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, was occupied by the Nazis during WWII from 1940 to 1945.

This summer while vacationing with my good friend David Luce there, I experienced some of the ways the folk on the island have worked to heal from that season.

David, who grew up on the island and is a Jersey man through and through, was 7 when the Nazis landed and took hold of the islands. Britain had chosen to leave them undefended. David has been asked by many groups, on many occasions to share his stories of the occupation.

The families of Jersey had 24-hour notice of the invasion and had to decide quickly if they would stay or take the offered boats to England. Some families chose to go as a family, others sent the moms and children, and still others sent only the children packed like sardines into cement boats. The crossing of one of these boats took 15 hours for the 90 mile journey.

Some families who chose to leave went to the harbor only to discover there was no room on the ship for them. For some, they returned to their homes to discover neighbors, thinking they had left, had stripped their homes of belongings, furniture, sometimes even the carpet. What stress this caused! What pain!

David’s family chose to stay together and remained on the island.

For David and his family, on the one hand life just went on but got somewhat tougher with new unusual and enforced laws, curfews, and harsh judgments. On the other hand with an addition of over 11,000 troops there was one Nazi for every four islanders, life was very different. German was taught in school. The entire island was shifted an hour later than Britain, to German time. Their lives were closely monitored.

There were intense food and supply shortages for the islanders. David’s dad, the parish baker (and grocery store owner) eventually made bread from ground bird seed and potato flour. Coffee was made from dried, ground parsnips, and bike tires wore out so bikes were ridden on rims. Shoes had holes or were literally tied together with tire rubber.

Forgiving the enemy and their own neighbors who had collaborated with the Nazis was difficult after the war. And in a sense after they were liberated in 1945, the islanders never did that hard work, rather, they sought to put the experience behind them. They sought to forget.

But similar to the heart of an individual when a hurtful season of devastation is buried, the pain remained. Often buried memories lead to illnesses in individuals. For these islanders this experience remained yet an open and festering wound.

When they were approaching the 50th anniversary of liberation they wanted to commemorate the occupation recognizing the need they had to heal. In 1988 they chose to have each parish (a geographic division of the island into 12 districts) make a tapestry each around a specific theme.

This project took 7 years. The 12 tapestries were ready for the 50th celebration. Each tapestry measured 36″x 96″. In total the 12 tapestries are made up of 7.5 million stitches! And each took over 2400 hours of work to complete.

With drawings made by hand by a gifted artist, Wayne Audrain of the Jersey Museum Service, and colors assigned, each parish assigned a co-ordinator who organized the teams who worked, six at a time, on the tapestries. The first to begin was David’s Trinity parish in February 1991, co-ordinated by a friend of David’s, Ruth Picot. Imagine the close proximity of each of the women as they worked on those stitches! (Yes, only women did the stitchers according to the record. Many of them had survived the occupation.). They needed to face and walk through memories as they stitched the officers, the children, the stories of the occupation, the woman who hid her pig in her bed, the neighbor who turned in her friend.

The result on display in St Helier is stunning, moving, and incredible.

As I heard the story and experienced what had been done with the Jersey War Tunnels, which I’ll cover in another post, I realized what a deep healing had been achieved through color and creativity.

For the 70th anniversary another tapestry was commissioned, as the people of Jersey stepped up forgiveness. They launched a “sister city” relationship with Bad Wurzach, Germany, the location of a WWII prison camp, where some islanders had been sent and few returned. It was a tearful moment when a group of survivors whose relatives had died in the German camps traveled to Bad Wurzach, and walked the path their relatives had walked from the train to the camp. Only this time they were greeted by the mayor asking forgiveness for the atrocities of the past.

Healing is happening here.

Yearly there is now a commemoration of the liberation and groups come from Germany or travel to there every other year.

With tears I heard the stories and read the testimonies. I thought of all the people who had lost their lives, and all those still suffering from the scars experienced because family members had never recovered from their camp experiences.

But also, I cried for here people had forged a deep healing into the scars of the past. They’d looked back, held hands, worked side by side and experienced what could only be termed as redemption. Jesus died and resurrected for such healing to happen between people. It is part of salvation. That others would be more open to the possibility of allowing forgiveness to cleanse old wounds! That others would take the tough journey back into the past to come forward into healing. And that more would allow art to be a means to such healing.

Jesus certainly used this journey into the past through art, stories, and creativity to bring healing.

The beauty of Jersey increased as I heard this story. How the waters of our lives are cleansed as well by the healing Jesus brings as we open to forgiveness.

This quote by Brené Brown from her book Braving the Wilderness struck me in relation to this:  “Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience and transform despair into hope.”

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Jersey — Friendship

One of the best gifts in life is friendship.  There is so much value in the face of a friend, who can look you in the eyes, and say “I love you just as you are.”  There is beauty, simplicity, and grace in this gift.  I have many such people it seems who do this, but none quite like the brother I call “Pops.” His real name is David Luce, but to everyone, it seems, from grandchildren to children, to my children, to friends his age, he is Pops.  He’s one of those delightful people in this world, with eyes that sparkle, a heart full of joy and the love of Jesus, and a depth of love for life that is expressed simply and graciously.

Back in 1998 on our first family trip to England, the kids met and loved Pops. They’d met him first eight years previous on his trip to the states, but they were super young then. So staying in his magical “Dad, this feels like a gateway to Narnia” home, called “Orchard House,” equipped with wardrobes and all, spending time with his children (my age) and grandchildren (our children’s ages), well there was nothing to compare.

Our second daughter Grace, then 11, was enamored: “Pops, when I grow up I want to come and take care of you in your old age!” He couldn’t stop chuckling over this.

Recently, one waiter, who likes waiting on Pops in a local restaurant where Pops now shares a home with his children near Nottingham, told his daughter, “When I met your dad, it restored my faith in humanity.”  Yes.  That’s what this man does just by being the person he is.

Pops produces such laughter through comments, gestures, his unique take on life, and the way he plays at regular games with the family.

Traveling in the car with Pops, he will narrate which hymns from the Baptist or Methodist hymnals the numbers on license plates represent.  Upon request, he will sing the hymns.  “That’s the great Charles Wesley hymn, ‘O For a Heart to Praise My God.'”

He tells the story of awakening once and noting that the time on his digital, red display clock read “4:09” and he prayed to the Lord, knowing that #409 was the hymn titled “Art Thou Weary,” saying, “Yes, Lord, I am weary and I think I will go back to sleep.”  Who does this?

Once playing the English game Articulate with his family and mine, Pops had the word “Warship.”  In this game, you are allowed to say anything except any portion of the word you have been given in order to elicit that word from your listening team. For most of us, this means saying a stream-of-consciousness kind of list of word associations. Pops first gave the clue, with a triumphal sounding voice: “Danger upon the Sea!” That was it, and then he waited.  Pops felt this ought to do it.  Seeing our baffled expressions, and our hand gestures asking for more clues, he then added, resolutely:  “Remember the Enemy!”  As the timer buzzed, we all burst out laughing.  And he, ever a good sport, laughed with us, saying,  “Ah, what Sweet Merriment!”

A rich part of Pops’ history is that he was born and lived his first 18 years on the Island of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands.

“See Brian!  There below that’s the lighthouse!  We are approaching from the west as I predicted!” 

He is fluent in French and still reads the scriptures in that beloved heart language. At the age of 7, the Nazis took and occupied that and all the Channel Islands for the five years.  He and his family chose to stay together rather than ship the children to England, so as a unit, experienced the deprivation and challenges that accompanied the occupation.  His dad, also the village baker, manager of a general store and postmaster, tried to continue his work.  At one point he made bread from ground bird seed as the impact of the occupation worsened.

 

Pops is a Jerseyman through and through. Although college and his Baptist ministry all happened in England, he still finds his roots there on that beloved island.  I’ve known Pops for 40 years, so have heard much about this “homeland,” but it was only this past June that I had the privilege of traveling there with him.

What a privilege that was to travel with this dear brother, 26 years my senior, an elder statesman at 85, with a heart of someone in his 20s.  Our adventure began as we sat by a woman on the bench awaiting the bus in Nottingham to take us to the East Midlands airport.  I asked her where she was heading, since she also had a suitcase, and she said, “I’m heading home to Jersey.”

“Jersey?” I said. “That’s where we are heading. Pops was born there.”

At that, they began to exchange greetings.

“Which Parish (the island is divided up into 12 parishes) are you from?” Pops inquired.

This blond, young woman named Catherine, in her white raincoat, answered, “Trinity.”

“Well, so am I,” said Pops.

“Really,” Catherine responded, and thus they began to narrow down where they had lived and where her parents yet lived, which part of Trinity, which crossroads, etc, and as impossible as it seemed, this woman’s parents lived (and she had grown up) in the house next door to where Pops had grown up. Her family owned and lived in the house where his grandparents had lived all his growing up years.

Seriously.

The bus came and we chuckled at this impossibility, and joyfully boarded and traveled to the airport. As we rode he commented upon the bus, appreciating it’s design, etc, saying: “What a civilized bus!”

I asked, “Pops, what would an uncivilized bus be like?” He just chuckled.

We flew from East Midlands to Jersey, on a packed plane and my tour started from the air,

“There, Brian, there below, that’s the lighthouse. You see we are approaching from the west, as I predicted.  Beautiful day, it is, what a blessing from the Lord.”

Pops had such joy in his heart as we arrived.  I had not seen such vigor in him for a while. He was home.

There are few gifts in this life greater than having the privilege of touring this island with this Jerseyman as my guide.  What laughter we shared, as we rented this tiny red car for our island tour, I mentioned to the woman helping us at the Avis counter that Pops is a Jerseyman and fluent in French, as was she, and with joy, they launched into a conversation in that heart language.  She bid us “Au revoir!” and we launched onto the tiny Jersey lanes that joined to the main “highway.”

That is a two-way Jersey lane! It was good we didn’t rent a wider car!

Pops had created a two-column list of the sights he wanted me to see while on Jersey. Every one of these was connected to memories of life as a boy when he’d bicycled around much of his part of the island and certainly to his favorite Jersey bays for swimming.

View from our balcony at the Biarritz overlooking St Brelade’s Bay

He had booked us into the Biarritz Hotel, his favorite place.  This is a Methodist-run establishment had upgraded us to a bay view room. This place offers three meals a day and still offers morning prayers and a Sunday night church service.  We took these in.  We also dove into another devotional together, shared Scripture readings and sweet times of prayer on our own during the week.

This visit marked the 40th year of our friendship. We met the third Sunday of September at Muswell Hill Baptist Church 40 years ago in 1978! Back then, I had walked in on that Sunday seeking a place to be part of a worshiping community, while studying in London. Little did I know that this randomly chosen congregation would embrace me and embark me on a friendship that would teach me joy and free my heart from many layers of hurt.

That Sunday when 45-year-old David Luce entered the pulpit and shared from his heart the message of Jesus, what struck me most was the joy that shone from his face as he spoke. David then and now overflowed with love for Jesus and the joy of Jesus within him.

How could I know that first Sunday that I’d be frequently eating lunch with his family that term, and that we’d be hosting him in our home a decade later and that a mentoring, growing, deep friendship would launch.

But now 40 years later, we were traveling to Jersey. Pops hadn’t visited for six years. As we would meet up with people there he would tell them he’d left the island fifty years ago for college. Finally, I said, “Pops. 50 years ago? You left at 18 and you’re 85. I count 67 years.” He protested that he was rounding the number. “Well Pops,” I told him, “that would never work in math class! When rounding most of us would round up to the next 10 not down by that number!”

He laughed and laughed, and said, “You’re a terror! I tell you! A tonic!”

It was a pleasure to explore jersey and see it through his eyes.

Sunday we visited his home church Ebenezer Methodist Church where his dad had played the organ for 60 years. We were greeted by Ruth Pinot, a friend of his,

Ruth and David engrossed in conversation

who had organized the stitching of the Trinity Parish tapestry (check out that link to the Aug 27th post). The church was this eclectic mixture of old and modern and trying to decide what it would be in this era.

 

But meeting those who’d known Pops as a boy who were still there was incredible One couple invited us to tea a couple days later. That day my swim was in Bouley Bay.

The journey to visit with John and Rosalee was my favorite journey across the island. We were running late, and Pops got a bit turned around so we ended up, on this Tiny Jersey lane which was two-way, apparently, traveling across the island at what felt like 60, when 20 mph would have felt fast, zooming past fields, cows (“Pops! There’s a Jersey Cow!” Woosh!), crops along hedgerows and rock walls of jersey granite. It was harrowing! We arrived only ten minutes past the hour!

That conversation between these three octo+genarians, with memories of Pops’ parents and grandparents, was delightful. Rosalee served us traditional Jersey treats and tea.img_3353 She and he had grown up together and sat there reminiscing on their lives. The “remember when” stories were unending.  She and Pops had met in Bouley Bay while both in the water for a swim a decade back, and she chuckled recalling how they stood there, deep in the bay chatting away.

Another day we visited the main town of St Helier. There he’d taken organ lessons, and there also he had gone to school from age 6 to 18. As we arrived at his school, I was not certain what to expect. The gate to the establishment was grand enough-

But I was not prepared for what awaited as we walked up the path and rounded the corner. There on this imposing hill stood what could have been Hogwarts! “Pops! You never mentioned you’d gone to Hogwarts?!?!”

Actually called “Victoria College” with school for boys through 18.  It was founded by Queen Victoria and completed in 1852. To visit this place was like a step back in time to ancient England. To get into this school, Pops had received the last of the five full-ride scholarships offered. He chuckled recounting how as he attended there, he’d one year received the “classics” award, yet he was the sole person in the school studying Ancient Greek for the classics curriculum. He truly was “top of his class!” We eventually found the office and were told: “You can’t just wander around!”

View from the Library Window 

While illegally wandering, here, in front of the school crest 

Here’s that “boy” with official visitor’s badge in entry hall

JK Rowlings description of the fictional school could have been based upon this massive place. The school had “houses” and competitions between them. Quidditch, anyone? When the administration discovered there was “a boy” from the school visiting, the Headmaster came to greet us and we were given a tour.

Pops, me and the Headmaster Mr. Alun Watkins of Victoria College

There was even a great hall upstairs, in use for exams, so we couldn’t go in! Might have been struck by a wand.  Since it had been so long since Pops had attended, his professors now have rooms and halls named after them. Our tour guide was a bit in awe, pointing to the name above the room we were entering, “You studied with him?”  “Oh yes,” Pops responded, nonchalantly.

 

We left the school and after a tea, caught the bus back to our hotel. That day I swam in our bay.  We always sat in the same spot for dinner, our assigned table, next to these three sisters from Ireland. My favorite moment with them was when one of them asked for a bit of custard to go on her dessert and the waiter had brought her a “boat” of it.  She literally applauded and smiled and had such joy seeing that custard.  “Pops! There’s a woman with the same love of custard you have!” I said. Later he was going to chat with her after dinner about her experiences working for a famous English evangelist with whom Pops had been acquainted — this is back in the 1960s.  I told him he as out for his hot date.  “You’re a terror!”  he laughed.

Time. Conversations. Laughter. Prayers. Swims.

These were elements of this trip but were ingredients in our friendship as well.  Pops was super patient for me to swim as much as I’d like in the 60F waters.  He often just waited on the shore.  Never in a hurry.  Once he even stretched out fully clothed “sunbathing!”

img_3306“Love is patient,” wrote the Apostle Paul, and from the number of times Pops waited and waited for me while I swam, clearly I’m loved.

When we left to fly back to London our dinner friends came out to wave us off.

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Life is filled with memories and adventures.  Places.  Experiences. Sights.  Encounters.  But people, friendships are what make a life.  What a gift to live known to others and loved by them.

“Friendship is unnecessary,” wrote CS Lewis, “like philosophy, like art.  It has no survival value, rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”  (brainyquote.com) 

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Just Show Up

I arrived at the hospital parking lot later than I had hoped to get there.  The situation was critical, I knew, indeed, it was life-threatening.  I had been on the phone with this couple while en route.  The woman predicted that I would get there in time.  We had prayed then while on the phone.

Jesus gave me a song to share with the woman as she lay in that bed when I reached the room.  I was in plenty of time.  I played the chorus of the song.  As she listened, tears streamed down her face.  It ministered as I sensed it might. But something I had not expected ministered so much more.

Loss and pain were in that room.

So much loss. So much pain.  Too much.  She said, “You know when you wrote asking if you could be here with us, it was such an answer to a need.  I couldn’t have asked for you to come, but that you offered, that you came…”  her voice trailed off swallowed by emotion. Then she continued,  “No one has ever been with us any of the times we have faced surgeries.”  I was floored.

This couple had been through some major surgeries and losses:  three brain surgeries for her, the suicide of a best friend, the death of a cousin, a critical birth of one of their children, and the reason for us being there that day. On top of this, they were estranged from parents, because this couple believed in Jesus.  So, in all the crises and surgeries they had faced, no family member had come. No one from their church communities had demonstrated care.  One of their children had arrived on an emergency basis.  This woman phoned her mom and begged her to come be with her, but her mom refused to come be with her daughter as she was giving birth to her granddaughter.  That’s the level of rejection they had felt.

As this woman shared this, she teared up.  “That you came…” she again said.

Literally what meant the most was this: I had shown up.

To me, it was a no-brainer. It was a life and death situation. These were precious people in the middle of immense hurt.  They are not members of the congregation I pastor. They are people in the community who attend multiple congregations, but we have had the opportunity to connect deeply.  But her response clearly told me, I was in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons.

They shared their experiences of the lack of support.  We talked more about the way those experiences had created narratives in their hearts about “those people” and about people in general.

Later during lunch, I asked the man if he could share more about how he had communicated with me about coming to the hospital.  He had never said, “We would really like you to be there,” or “We need you there.”  Instead, he had said, “Whatever you want.”  I couldn’t tell if it would be a blessing for them or was a need for them, or not.  But sensed this was a heavenly assignment.  So, I went.

Asking him about this style of communication, he teared up as he talked about the multiple times they’d been disappointed.  “It is safer not to expect, not to ask,” he choked out while trying to eat his salad.

Safer not to ask and be disappointed.  As he spoke and tears brimmed his eyes, filled with pain, I so understood.  It is so hard to travel with pain.  It is so tough to have these places of memory and hurt that have become reopened wounds filled with bitterness.

“What might it be like to forgive these many people who have failed you?”  I asked.

He said he thought he had forgiven, really.

We talked about pain and about how pain shows us so much about where our hearts really are.  I spoke briefly with him about forgiveness, as much as he could here.

But to explain to you reading this today:

The first step in forgiveness is to totally release others from our harsh judgments because of the work and reality of Jesus.  “Lord I forgive …. because they did … and refuse to hold them in my harsh judgment.”  (you can add anything to that, but that’s the basics).  The second step is to tell Jesus just how bad you hurt because of what they had said/done to you.  This is honest emotion time– get the emotions out.  The psalmists were good at this.  And the third step is to not rehearse what they did, time and again. That’s the “keeping no record of wrongs” part.

The pain was just so raw still for this guy.  I gave him some tools and we walked into the surgery waiting area.  As we did so, I started.  There on this empty blue vinyl chair in this waiting area full of people was a black, loaded handgun.

It was such a strange sight, so out of place in that area of people waiting to hear that others were healed, saved, well.  And stranger yet than seeing it there, no one else in the waiting room had yet noticed it sitting there.  I said to this brother, “Um, that’s a gun, isn’t it?”  He looked over to where I pointed and said, “Man, it is.”

I went to the receptionist and said, “Someone has left their gun on a chair there.”  Her face blanched.  I got a napkin from her and my friend gently picked it up and handed it to her. She took it, put it into a drawer and called security.

That gun on a chair, I realize was just somehow dropped by someone, perhaps fell from their pocket?  I totally wondered why anyone thought a gun was needed in a hospital in the first place, and unholstered, second!

But beyond it, as we have been too frequently reminded, guns in the wrong hands, used by the wrong hearts create so much unnecessary pain.  That gun was a picture for me of the pain we cause others.  For this man, it was not because some actual weapon was wielded against him, but because of the power of words and actions.  It is written that “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21).  Don’t we know that that is true?  As he and I shared that “deadly power” was evident.

Two weeks ago, I was talking with someone else who was carrying so much pain that her body hurt.  The body is so much more honest than our mouths often are. It tells the truth. We had spoken about forgiveness and she had said, “I know, I must, Pastor Brian.  I know I must. It’s just so hard.”  With her, I could joke and say, “Well, you have to decide, for Jesus didn’t give the option of not forgiving.  It’s a command, not a suggestion. Just move their hunk of meat over to God’s side of that meat locker. Let him have it.” The meat on a hook image is a picture of that wrong against us.  Forgiveness is to move it.

Divorce.  Sexual abuse.  Abandonment.  Rejection.  Loss.  Pain.  Last night my daughter Grace and I were talking about what she has observed seems to be an “ocean of pain” evident in so many other people’s lives.  

She is a counselor under the title of “hair stylist,” and hears it all.

An ocean of pain — seemed apropos.  The bottom line to all this pain, the answer, begins simply when we show up to others.  That’s where the best help occurs.  Of course, those in the ocean need to walk through the pain, to find healing for themselves.  But any healing begins when someone else shows up.  That’s what made the difference for this first couple, I mentioned, what meant more than any word I could have spoken, or did speak, was simply that I had shown up.

Recently in our church, we have been holding onto that idea, which we got from a book by Elaine Heath, inviting people to:

“Show up.  

Pay attention.

Listen to the Holy Spirit.

Leave the results to God”  

(check out:   God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church, Upper Room Books, c. 2016, p 76, ubp.).  

Perhaps showing up will be like a boat in that ocean of pain to some, and to others, you showing up may be an island in the middle of their experience, granting them firm soil to stand on, and to still others that fact you showed up might be a bridge out of the pain altogether into a new experience of life.  Again, friends, show up.

Posted in camino, discouragement, Encouragement, Faith, family, favorite things, Fellowship, follow, God with us, hope, Jesus, Joy, light, Presence, Steps, Trust | Leave a comment

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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