Surprise…

So many people have said it so much better than I can. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to jump in and say it all again – less eloquently perhaps, but no less heartfelt.

He’s alive!  The stunning reversal of Friday’s death and darkness.  On Friday I talked about entering into the pathos of Jesus’ death. Sunday is supposed to be a day of joy, of surprise, of newness, of openness, of awe. He is ALIVE! Jesus, the man who was dead, is dead no more. He lives. He breathes. The heart that grew still and cold beats once more. The blood that thickened in his veins now runs warm and fast. His toes crinkle. He sneezes. His chest rises and falls. He begins to sweat and itch and hunger and thirst.  John Updike speaks of the cells’ dissolution reversing, the molecules reknitting, the amino acids rekindling…  Down to the cellular level, Life has returned.

It’s too much for me to take in.

Why is that? I think that in my heart of hearts, it’s because I want it to be true so badly. But I am so afraid of getting hurt. I am afraid of fully committing to this belief because I fear what it will draw out of me, and what it will require of me.  I equivocate, hem and haw, and commit to it 95 percent, always keeping that bit in reserve so I can try and keep my heart safe. I want Jesus’ resurrection to be true. I believe it is. But I can’t comprehend what it looks like…

I can’t picture Jeferson standing up, laughing his laugh and smiling his smile and singing with his voice, and being stubborn and a brat and angry and hurt and tired and cold and happy and joyful and just so fully himself. I want to. But that hope seems so far away. I can’t wrap my mind around what it would be like to see my mom walk into the room again – to hear her laugh with her entire body, to see the love in her eyes, to have her put her arms around me and feel like a little child again – to grin when she gets frustrated again, and be sad when I’ve disappointed her and to have her be her old self, before she got sick – to hear her scream when Dad would throw her in the water or watch her glow with righteous indignation and action when the poor, abandoned, and weak were left without an advocate, and were abused and exploited and taken advantage of… Oh, to see them again…

But here, in this life, all we were left with is memories. Only their absence is present. Until that day two thousand years ago when something new happened.  Something unexpected and surprising and mysterious and confusing and earth-shattering – Jesus came back to life, defeating death. Two thousand years ago, something changed. The disciples, who cowered in numb broken fear, received the scare of their lives. Their hope had been dead. But in the blink of an eye, everything changed… He’s alive. He’s alive!

We hear the disciples whisper:

“What’s happened?”

“Have you heard?”

“I don’t believe it…”

“Do you really think…”

“No.”

“But…”

“What if?”

“What if?”

And then the appearance of Jesus in their midst. The one who was dead and now lives forever. The one they watched crucified. The one they had loved. The one they had abandoned. The one they had buried. The one they had mourned. This one was in their midst, and he laughed with them, and reassured them and said, “Do not be afraid… Mmm, that fish smells good. I think I’ll have some…”

He was alive. He defeated sin, and hell, and death. Sin could not conquer him. Hell could not hold him. Death could not contain him. He was back – and he was himself – gloriously, surprisingly, unbelievably present and alive!

He is alive!  And those who saw him, accepted him, believed in him – they were never the same.

What does it mean for us?  That because of his resurrection, we know that death has been defeated. There is hope, not only for the life to come, but for this life now! His eternal, Kingdom life spills back and forward through time, transforming us into something beautiful – flawed and broken, yet being renewed – helping us become who we were born to be… Because of the events of Easter, we have hope. Because of who Jesus is – his beauty, his promises, his life, his death, his resurrection – we have hope. Because of him, everything has changed. And there’s no going back to the way things used to be…

 

1st day on the job

Heading in to new work, which I am super excited about…  Reflections on work and meaning and passion and stories are all brewing in my mind as I try to transition well into this new, exciting place.  So thankful to be in a place where my desire is meeting just a bit of the world’s deep need.  More soon.

Shalom.

Celebrating Epiphany

Today, January 6, was the last of the 12 days of Christmas – the end of the season of Christmastide. This is the day we remember the visit of the Wise Men from the East, and in a broader sense, the revealing of Jesus to the non-Jewish community and the reminder that the Kingdom of God is open to all, no matter their tongue, tribe, or nation. Brian Zahnd mentions that after the Magi encountered Jesus, they went home another way… And therefore Epiphany is the day that we celebrate the truth that an encounter with Jesus will always lead us to take another way – a NEW way.

At Epiphany, we celebrate once more the birth of Jesus – the gift of newness, the unexpected “thrill of hope” that shoots through us when new possibilities are revealed, new opportunities are before us, and new life springs up where before there was only death. Because of this, we have hope – and we are reminded once more that “He is making all things new…

Walter Brueggemann reminds us of what it means to celebrate this epiphany:

There is a time to be born, and it is now

There is a time to be born and a time to die.
And this is a time to be born.
So we turn to you, God of our life,
                   God of our years
                   God of our beginning.
      Our times are in your hand.

Hear us as we pray:
     For those of us too much into obedience,
          birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
     For those of us too much into self-indulgence,
          birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
     For those too much into cynicism,
          birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
     For those of us too much into cowardice,
          birth us to the courage to stand before
               principalities and powers.
     For those of us too much into guilt,
          birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
     For those of us too much into despair,
          birth us into the promises you make to your people.
     For those of us too much into control,
          birth us into the vulnerability of the cross.
     For those of us too much into victimization,
          birth us into the power of Easter.
     For those of us too much into fatigue,
          birth us into the energy of Pentecost.

We dare pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
     what is needful for newness.

Give us the power to be receptive,
     to take the newness you give,
     to move from womb warmth to real life.

We make this prayer not only for ourselves, but
     for our school at the brink of birth,
     for the church at the edge of life,
     for our city waiting for newness,
     for your whole creation, with which we yearn
          in eager longing.

There is a time to be born, and it is now.
    We sense the pangs and groans of your newness.
    Come here now in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

For birth is not easy. It is painful. Frightening. Unsettling. But it is worth it.

May we have the eyes to see that which longs to be birthed in our hearts and in our lives in this coming year, the courage to welcome it, and the grace to persevere…

A prayer for the New Year…

 

I’ve been reading and re-reading this prayer for the last week – reflecting on the last year, and planning for the next… May it speak to you as it has spoken to me…

I Hold My Life Up to You Now

Patient God,
the clock struck midnight
   and I partied with a strange sadness in my heart,
      confusion in my mind.

Now I ask you
   to gather me,
      for I realize
         the storms of time have scattered me,
            the furies of the past year have driven me,
               many sorrows have scarred me,
         many accomplishments have disappointed me,
            much activity has wearied me,
               and fear has spooked me
                  into a hundred hiding places,
                     one of which is pretended gaity.

I am sick of a string of "have-a-nice-day's."
What I want is passionate days,
   wondrous days,
      dangerous days,
         blessed days,
            surprising days.
What I want is you!

Patient God,
this day teeters on the edge of waiting
   and things seem to slip away from me,
      as though everything were only memory
         and memory is capricious.

Help me not to let my life slip away from me
O God, I hold up my life to you now,
   as much as I can,
      as high as I can,
         in this mysterious reach called prayer.

Come close, lest I wobble and fall short.
It is not days or years I seek from you,
   not infinity and enormity,
      but small things and moments and awareness,
         awareness that you are in what I am
            and in what I have been indiffferent to.

It is not new time,
   but new eyes,
      new heart I seek,
         and you.

Patient God,
in this teetering time,
   this time in the balance,
      this time of waiting,
make me aware of moments,
   moments of song,
      moments of bread and friends,
         moments of jokes
            (some of them on me)
               which, for a moment, deflate my pomposities;
   moments of sleep and warm beds,
      moments of children laughing and parents bending,
         moments of sunsets and sparrows outspunking winter,
   moments when broken things get mended
      with glue or guts or mercy or imagination;
         moments when splinters shine and rocks shrink,
            moments when I know myself blest,
               not because I am so awfully important,
                  but because you are so awesomely God,
                     no less of the year to come
                        as of all the years past;
                     no less of this moment
                        than of all my momnets;
                     no less of those who forget you
                        as of those who remember,
                           as I do now,
                              in this teetering time.

O Patient God,
make something new in me,
   in this year,
   for you.

via Ted Loder
~Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle

A thrill of hope…

It’s a few days before Christmas, and I’m sitting at my parent’s home in front of a roaring fire on a dark winter’s night, sipping a glass of wine while listening to Christmas carols, writing and reflecting a little bit on this past year, and taking a break every now and then to mute the music and pull out the guitar and play a little… Tomorrow morning I’ll fly out of Chicago for sun, warmth, the ocean, the Cameron/Miller/Floyd/Smith/Temple clan, family time, and a big heaping scoop of crazy (with sides of laughter, games, pranks, and some of my favorite people in the world). While I love it, it often isn’t the most conducive to reflection, quietness, and solitude… And I wanted to take a few minutes to send out this “newsy-reflective-thoughtful Christmas-y letter,” to update you on life, ask for thoughts and prayers, and reach out to many of you I haven’t touched based with in a while.

This past year has been formative in ways that I never would have imagined – but above all, it’s been a year that has been full of beginnings, of newness, of promise. However, usually things can’t begin until other things end. So while it’s been a year full of beginnings, it has also been a year full of endings – of letting go, of surrender, of transition.

This year began for me when I was living in Philadelphia – at a time when I was trying to discern if the master’s program I was enrolled in was the correct one, and was a part of a sweet community and a life-giving church. Through prayer, listening, and reflection (as well as a healthy dollop of advice), I came to the conclusion that while the program itself was interesting, it wasn’t leading me anywhere. There was no end goal in mind as I meandered down the path, and while that might be OK at some points, I think I realized how staying there would have been simply me looking to stay with the familiar and known rather than to follow the direction that I wanted to go, the direction that I felt God was leading.

At the same time, a serious relationship I was involved in was coming to an end, and neither one of us (but probably more me) wanted to let go of it, even though it was what we had to do. After a complicated beginning, a long term friendship, and 8 months of long-distance dating, we were taking time apart to pray and listen to what we both really wanted, and what (if anything) we felt the Lord was saying to us.

It was a lot of endings to take in a short time.

Yet God was faithful through it all. And as these two things were ending, God was in the process of bringing new things into my life – new beginnings and possibilities – which resulted in a melancholy, confused, bittersweet mess at times.

Some of those new things include:

– beginning a master’s program in mental health counseling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. This has been a great fit – loving the program, the professors, my fellow students, and am seeing a continued clarification of where I’m headed. At this stage, I’d love to be involved in some capacity working with children and adolescents who have undergone trauma (like many of our friends in Brazil). We’ll see what doors the Lord opens regarding that. And I’d also like to work with cross-cultural workers dealing with transition, adjustment, sustainability in vocation, etc. Trusting that those will come together in the right timing…

– moving into an apartment w/ 4 other amazing, quality guys in Chicago that has been loads of fun.

– feeling a sense of clarity and direction as I pursue something that is life-giving to myself and to others.

– finishing my first half-marathon (13.1 miles) in May.

– finding a new church community that has been a breath of fresh air in so many, many ways.

– connecting with friends both old and new in surprising ways.

– slowly acclimating to mid-Western winters again (I even went for a run this evening in 34 degree weather, and didn’t complain hardly at all!)

– a slow re-discovery of myself – who I am, who I want to be, the things that I want my life to be about, and what that looks like in the context of living once again in the United States.

I feel like in the last few months, I’ve slowly been coming to life again after a long time spent dormant – shut down and hibernating. It’s a great feeling – and there is such a sense of hope that I feel about the coming year, what God has been doing and will continue to be doing… I see his fingerprints all over the place when I stop to look closely, and am blessed, and excited, and hopeful (and honestly, pretty full to the brim of anticipation and expectation to see what it is that God will do next…)

As for the family… Dad and Heath are doing well – spending several months a year travelling and consulting with language programs, and the rest of the time doing so remotely from their home base in Rockford (where they can garden, be involved in our church, and enjoy hot water, electricity, and not having their bank account emptied by criminals in Columbia).

Kaitlyn is now living and working in San Diego as an OR nurse, and seems to be keeping herself busy (mostly with trips back up to the south bay area to connect with people… ok, well, one person really in particular.) I’m excited to spend a little time with her (and him), as I haven’t seen her since August when she was back here in the mid-west for a dear friend’s wedding.

Carly will be missing from our family celebration (boo!!!) as she’s once again teaching English in South Korea – and is unable to get time off to fly over for a couple of days. But she is loving it there for the most part (except for missing her family at the holidays), and has wonderful colleagues, friends, church, and community there that have really made it feel normal and home-like for her to be there. I treasured the adventures we were able to have this fall when she came back to the US for a few weeks.

Jon is back in Hawaii safe and sound (thankfully) after 6+ months of being deployed in Iraq… And I’m excited to sit down with him and play a bit, as we haven’t seen each other since last Christmas.

We’re all doing well though, and are grateful for your presence in our lives… =) more than words can say.

I’m feeling in so many ways the presence of Emmanuel – God with us – the promise that he will be and is present through all of our endings, and through all of our beginnings. And I want to leave you (and me) with a prayer for this coming year – to remind us all to be looking for the new things that are beginning in our lives – for no matter the stage of life we find ourselves in, I believe he is always doing a new thing. Let us have the eyes to see it.

"Help Me to Believe in Beginnings"

God of history and of my heart,
so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
   I've known death and birth;
   I've been brave and scared;
   I've hurt, I've helped;
   I've been honest, I've lied;
   I've destroyed, I've created;
   I've been with people, I've been lonely;
   I've been loyal, I've betrayed;
   I've decided, I've waffled;
   I've laughed and I’ve cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history -
and now another day begins.

O God, help me to believe in beginnings
and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I've failed before.

Help me to make beginnings:
  to begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams,
    daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now;
  to begin forgiving
    that I might experience mercy;
  to begin questioning the unquestionable
    that I may know truth;
  to begin disciplining
    that I might create beauty;
  to begin sacrificing
    that I may accomplish justice;
  to begin risking
    that I may make peace;
  to begin loving
    that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning for others,
   to be a singer to the songless,
   a storyteller to the aimless,
   a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
   of assurance for the doubting,
   of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
   of comfort for the sorrowing,
   of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
   of sweetness for the soured,
   of gentleness for the angry,
   of wholeness for the broken,
   of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
  to make a beginning,
    to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
  but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
  you call me to live
    with the passion of Jesus Christ."

Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace

I think we are continually being called into new things, if only we have the eyes to see them… may we be able to see the things that call out to us, that move us, that break our hearts, and not hide from them out of fear or uncertainty.

I heard a reflection the other day on Abraham and Sarah – who at the age of 75 and 66, left their country, their people, and their family. They traded that which was known for that which was unknown, and traded certainty for relationship, risk, and trust… They began something new, and out of their obedience and faithfulness, hope flowed and flowered. This is what they heard God saying to them, and this is what he says to us, each and every day:

“Do not be afraid of endings, or beginnings.
Follow me with abandon at every age
with the eager expectation that I can use your life for my purposes.

Risk often…
Never completely settle…
Be different…
Be mine…
And die gloriously,
attaching our story to the good story that God is telling…”

~ via Jacob’s Well (Isaac Anderson – “Birth”)

Believe in the beginning – in the new thing I am doing – in the fresh hope, life, and possibility I have placed in front of you…

Believe, and act, and be free…

—–

Praying that this new year is full of beginnings, hope, life, and freedom in ways that surprise and delight you…

with much love,

Ben

Celebration

In just over a month, my friend Josh is getting married. He’s a favorite person of mine – thoughtful and deliberate, curious, intelligent, full of life, and always up for an adventure… So we met up at a state park in central Wisconsin – a bunch of guys who were drawn together for one reason – to celebrate Josh, his friendship, his upcoming wedding, and take some time to have an adventure.

The entire week before I was overwhelmed and feeling swamped with papers and projects that were due – my perfectionism loves to rear its ugly head at times like these – and nothing was quite good enough until I absolutely had to turn it in. (It’s worse when it’s stuff I really care about, which is pretty much all my classes… sigh…) But, I promised myself, if I could get through the week, this camping trip/adventure/celebration would be my reward. Of course, a couple days before, Josh emailed us all and in passing mentioned it was going to be in the low 30’s and raining. But hey, who ever let a little cold and rain stop a bachelor party from being celebrated?

Dan and I pulled into the campsite a little after noon on Saturday, to find most of the rest of the guys already there, huddled in a semi-circle, rain jackets on and hoods pulled high. Gray. Foggy. Drizzling. Humid. Everything was damp in minutes. Windy. And cold. It felt cold.

A quick round of introductions, handshakes and smiles and a few bearhugs, and we were off. Originally, the plan was to go climbing, but the rain made the rocks a little treacherous in places – and no matter what anyone tells you, moss does not turn sticky when it gets wet… Kinda the opposite, actually. So we left the climbing gear in the cars, and instead we just hiked around the lake – through the woods and up the bluff, stopping to play whenever we felt the urge. Some trees just scream out to be climbed (especially when they are growing out of the side of a cliff 200 feet above the valley floor.) And sometimes we just stopped and stared off the cliff edge as the rain fell and the cloids boiled and swirled around us, and we fell silent at the strange beauty… And sometimes, we laughed and told stories and pretended we were hiking through the forests of Lorien, and orcs were about to come streaming over the hill… And sometimes we stopped to skip rocks in the lake and see who could throw them the farthest and who could balance for the longest time on the railroad tracks without falling off… But the whole time was sweet, and full of laughter and that deep sense of joy – of all being right with the world. And the whole time, the rain fell. Sometimes sprinkling. Sometimes drizzling. But always falling.

We got back to the campsite around dusk, and the rain stopped. It’s always easier to set up camp when it’s not raining. It’s also usually easier to set up camp when the ground’s not churned into a muddy froth. But you can’t have everything. Me and a couple other guys set up tents while Dan built the fire, and Josh and Zach and Terry got the venison stew heating up on the camp stove, and we gathered around the fire. Of course, it being December, by 5:00 it was pitch black – by 6:00 it felt like midnight…

The rest of the night was just a bunch of guys around a campfire – telling stories, laughing, eating food, cooking things in the fire… When you put it into words, it loses some of the magic that was there: the smell of wood-smoke, the crackling of the fire, the chill of December air, the glimmering stars peeking through the clouds, the taste of warm stew heating you up from the inside, the pitter-patter of rain falling through the bare branches onto the bed of leaves in the forest around us, sizzling in the fire, slowly drenching through our multiple layers of clothing… And it’s even more than that. You lose some of the magic of a few men who have taken a night to sleep outside in the mud and rain because we love our friend, and want to celebrate him. You lose the magic of hearing Josh talk about the woman he can’t wait to spend the rest of his life with, and laughing about the predicaments he has gotten himself into (and out of again.) You lose the magic of a bunch of strangers gathering and becoming brothers because they are all friends with Josh. There’s so much you miss out on. But that’s ok – ’cause after all, it was just a bunch of us huddled around the campfire, kicking at the darkness, telling stories of hope, and love, and joy, and life. It was life-giving – and just what I needed. I hope it was what Josh needed…

By this point, it was raining pretty hard, so we decided to call it a night. Dan and I went and threw sleeping bags and pads into the tent, only to discover that due to a combination of inferior tent (probably mostly this, if you ask me) and shoddy tent pitching (maybe more of this, if you ask Dan), the tarp that was supposed to keep the bottom of the tent dry had instead captured the water, turning our tent into a miniature indoor swimming pool. Spare clothes were soaked. Sleeping bags were dampened. Sleeping pads were drifting along, crewed by tiny woodland creatures on fantastic journeys of discovery. Thankfully, Dan had an extra tarp that we spread inside the tent in the vain hope that it would prove water-proof enough to let us make it through the night. And it did a pretty good job keeping what was not already soaked mostly dry. Except for our sleeping bags… You know, the things that are supposed to keep you warm when the temp drops below freezing… The synthetic material acted like a sponge, and slowly throughout the night the water wicked its way up the sleeping bags until by morning the bottom third of the bags were sopping wet. Let’s just say it was a long, cold night with not much sleep – and sleep, when it came, was fleeting. Every few minutes I’d wake and hear the rain beating down on the rain-fly, dripping into puddles that surrounded our tent, or rushing in rivulets down the hillside into the lake.

By the next morning, Dan and I were both curled up into balls in the top half of our sleeping bags, trying to keep toes from drifting into the icy depths of wet sleeping bag. And to finally give up all pretence of trying to sleep, and peel the damp wet sleeping bag off your legs and step out of the tent into a dry down coat felt heavenly. It had stopped raining at some point near dawn, and even though the sensation of not having freezing water drop down the back of your neck feels really good (especially after a day of it drip, drip, dripping), I found myself missing the rain.

All day as we hiked through the woods, leapt from rock to rock, swung from branches and sat in silence and awe, I was aware of the rain, and it was God’s love song. All evening as we sat around the fire, and the rain fell on my shoulders and then evaporated into a swirl of steam from the heat of the campfire, I was conscious of the rain falling, and it was God’s whisper. All night as I lay on the cold ground, and heard the rain pounding on the rain-fly, and felt the drips sneak through the sides and soak into my bag, I thought about the rain, and wonder threatened to overwhelm my heart with beauty. All day, all evening, all night, I was thinking of this:

 

“Water is always an invitation to imersion [for me], an immersion with a quality of totality, since it would accept all of me, as I am…
No rain falls that I do not at once hear in the sound of the falling water an invitation to come to the wedding. It is rare that I do not answer. A walk in an evening rain in any setting is to walk in the midst of God’s loving attention to his earth, and, like a baptism, is no simple washing, but a communication of life. When you hurry in out of the rain, I hurry out into it, for it is a sign that all is well, that God loves, that good is to follow. If suffering a doubt, I find myself looking to rain as a good omen. And in rain, I always hear singing, wordless chant rising and falling.
When rain turns to ice and snow I declare a holiday. I could as easily resist as stay at a desk with a parade going by in the street below. I cannot hide the delight that then possesses my heart. Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and snow…
Most people love rain, water. Snow charms all young hearts. Only when you get older and bones begin to feel dampness, when snow becomes a traffic problem and a burden in the driveway, when wet means dirt – then the poetry takes flight and God’s love play is not noted.
But I am still a child and have no desire to take on the ways of death. I shall continue to heed water’s invitation, the call of the rain. We are in love and lovers are a little mad.”

~ Matthew Kelty, Flute Solo,
Reflections of a Trappist Hermit, pp. 117-19

 

We broke down camp, loaded up the cars, and drove into town for breakfast and coffee (and dry warmth) at a local greasy-spoon diner – a great end to a time that was just too short. And in spite of my complaints about the cold, and the rain, and how my tent turned into a boat, I’m thankful it was raining. It fits Josh and DJ – who they are, and who they will be. And my prayer for them – my hope for us – is that they continue to take the time to go out and sit in the rain… to notice the poetry of God’s love play, to hear the call of the rain, the call to be in love, and just a little bit mad.

Drink deeply…

Yesterday:

5 miles as the sun set on a warm, blustery, fall day with this as the setting…

Tonight: the Civil Wars & friends…

Tomorrow morning:  Mr. Tom Wright…

Later this week:

1 paper in Doctrine.
1 test in Marriage and Family.
1 presentation in Counseling Theories.

Life is good.  Busy.  Full.  Rich.

And I am thankful…  in the midst of being nearly overwhelmed…  there’s still so much to be grateful for.

New favorites

The last two months have felt like trying to ride a bike on a treadmill – fun, but you just know it’s going to end badly.  Lots of stuff on my plate as I transition slowly from and to: complicated (in good ways) by beginning school again, work, and the delightful visit of my favorite Korean speaking sister (which included bike rides through the woods, visits to the apple orchard, road trips to Indiana, Peruvian food in Chicago, and lots of laughter and good conversation.)  But in light of all that (plus a few other things here and there), I haven’t made time to write.  But here’s the deal…  I want to.  I need to practice gratitude – search for beauty in my daily life – and live intentionally – and writing here helps me do that.  So, in light of all that, here’s a few things I have been delighting in about this transition:

– fascinating classes, exploring family dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and delving into theories of the mind…  challenging both my mind, heart, and spirit.  I’m loving it.

– four fun guys to share a home with – an oasis (and occasional place of celebration) in the middle of the city and the busyness.

– runs down by the lake, enjoying the play of colors on the water, the way the city looks like a different place depending on whether it’s a gray rainy morning, a blustery fall afternoon, a crystalline sunset, or the contrast of city lights shining in the darkness – the interplay of light and shadow…

– a cohort of solid, passionate, compassionate students who are learning with me.

– the gift of being with people who know you and know you well, even if it’s unexpected and short.  Spent a weekend w/ Liz and Car – we’ve been present in each other’s lives for over 20 years, and sharing a plate of ceviche and lomo saltado while savoring a pisco sour just made it that much sweeter.

– glimmers of community, belonging, rootedness, worship, and a place of service that I’m VERY excited about.

– reminders of beauty, hope, adventure, laughter, community, creativity, and play, such as this video by Ben Howard:

 

 

– near daily reminders and challenges (both in class and out of class) to take risks, to engage, to move forward, to enter into relationship and life with others, and not simply be content with safety and comfort…

Today in class, we talked about C.S. Lewis (in The Four Loves), who says:

          “To love at all is to be vulnerable.  love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung, and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Sobering words, as I ask myself, what do I really want?  Comfort?  Safety?  Normalcy?  Complacency?

Or do I want risk?  Adventure?  Movement?  Growth?  Discomfort?  Failure?  A life lived for others?  Giant slip-and-slides down mountains?

Yes.

I’m thankful for the big “Yes” that this transition has been so far.  And I’m excited and eager to see what unfolds as I continue to respond “Yes…”

 

Joy

In the midst of the craziness of life, when busy-ness threatens to overwhelm, one of my most useful disciplines is to slow down and name the things that are bringing me joy…  There are so many.

A few of them from the past month would include:

Tough Mudder (a 10 mile adventure race up and down a mud-covered hill, full of obstacles to climb over, jump off of, swim under, run through, slide down, and generally try to not hurt yourself too badly…  so much fun, and so glad to share the day w/ Josh.)

– The reminder that our world is bigger than I remember.  Wanna go explore somewhere?

– Rafting in Wisconsin w/ friends – laughing, swimming, telling stories, and enjoying being outside in the sun on the river (w/ my favorite part the waterfall at the end.  If you jump through the waterfall from the right spot, you end up behind it, feeling thousands of gallons of water pour down all around you, all noise drowned out by the roar of the rushing water…  and then you go under and it shoots you down the river so hard that you don’t pop up til you’re 30 feet downriver…)

– This, and what it represents about our world and the people in it…

– Celebrating life with family that I don’t get to see all that often.

– Freshness, newness, and continued hope as I step with eager anticipation into the next good things God has in store…

There is much to be thankful for.  And joy all around.  Even here, where you find yourself today, if you will only stop and look…

Birthdaes and life

I was 20 when I saw American History X.  We watched it and spent the next few hours processing what we had just seen – a story of hope and tragedy – but what I didn’t tell anyone was the premonition that came over me as we watched the film.  And from the moment, I knew – KNEW – that I was going to die (probably violently) before I turned 30.  I didn’t really know what to do with that feeling, and I felt a little weird telling others about it, so I just put it on a shelf to come back to at a later date.  Over the next 10 years or so, the memory of that feeling would haunt me every now and then.  My mind knew there was nothing to it – but my heart wasn’t really sure.

Fast forward 11 years later – I am turning 31 today, and I am still here – and oh so thankful for the gift of life.

A friend posted 32 near-death experiences for his 32nd birthday…  Sadly, I don’t have that many – but the ones I do have remind me once again what a gift it is to be alive, and how I cannot take it for granted.

The first time I almost died I wasn’t even two years old.  My parents were travelling cross-country, and as they stopped on the median to check a map, I was pulled out of my car seat to spend some time on my mom’s lap.  Minutes after they placed me back in my car seat, as they prepared to get back on the road, they were rear-ended by a pick-up truck.  Their car was totalled.  My mom’s glasses, which were resting on her lap (the exact same place I had been minutes before), were ejected from the car and never found.  I didn’t even realize it.

Fast forward a few months later – Peru, a hotel, a room on the 8th floor.  My parents leave me in the custody of a the daughter of another missionary couple.  When they come back, they find me playing on the balcony, head between the bars, seeing if I can fit through.  I can, but they get to me in time to stop me from trying to climb down.

When I was about 9, we lived in a red zone (declared a no-go area by the US embassy) because of the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla movement.  The judge down the street had a car bomb explode outside his home.  Every week bombings would take out electrical towers and power plants.  We got to be able to distinguish between the big fireworks and the bombs by sound alone.  Probably the most frightening thing were the extortion letters my parents got, threatening to kidnap and kill their children if they didn’t pay a ransom.

16 year old me was riding to the movies in a taxi in Lima with some friends of mine when a car swerved in front of us, slammed on the brakes, and out got 2 men with machine guns and two others holding pistols.  This was in the heydey of the MRTA (a different guerrilla movement that, just a few months before, had succeeded in storming the Japanese embassy, taking hundreds of people hostage, and holding them for months).  As they walked toward our car, we were sure we were going to die, but the armed men (we later found out they were police – not necessarily a good thing when the government killed as many people as the terrorists) pulled the driver out of the car next to us and waved us on.

There was the night we spent sleeping on the streets of Rome (a bad idea – even though the steps of the Pantheon will provide a dry place to sleep during a rain storm).

There were countless run-ins with the police, drug-dealers, gang members, boys and girls who lived on the street and could get high and violent.  There were the fights we broke up before they could really escalate – the times standing up to corrupt cops who were looking for ways to abuse their power.  There were the times of running from tear gas and the armored cars, ducking into cover with the neighbors as shots rang out, and deciding that maybe today wasn’t the best day to go to the beach.  There were multiple times being searched at gunpoint.  There was the time I was stuck outside the community I lived in, and my neighbors and I waited for a lull in the shooting so we could get home quickly before they started fighting again.  We made it.  All part and parcel of living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Even in February, I had my accident where I flipped my car, rolled it across the median, slid through three lanes of oncoming traffic, and came to a rest on the far median without a bruise or a scratch on me or anyone else.

And I know I am not unique.  Each person has 5, 10, 20 stories like this.  We have stories of how our lives could have ended, how fragile they are, and what a gift life truly is.  So today, on my birthdae, I’m going to rejoice.  I’m going to go sit outside on the porch, open up my Magnum ice cream bar, watch the moon float overhead, and celebrate life, for as long as I draw breath.  It’s worth celebrating.