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

Alive

So I’m waiting in the restaurant area of a Flying J trucker’s stop.  The buzzing noise from the harsh fluorescent lighting competes with the sickly sweet ballads of love songs playing on the radio, the floor alternates sticky patches of spilled soda, brown slushy ice, and yellow “Slippery When Wet” signs to mark the areas that have been freshly mopped, while the smells of stale donuts, slowly roasting hot dogs, and burning french fries wrestle for dominance in my nostrils.  This is not the most beautiful place I have sat, yet the presence of God is here.

There is a beauty in colors and murals painted on the wall, the lyrics to the sappy love songs contain glimpses of transcendence, and the veil of the mundane that shields the faces of the cashiers working behind the register slips, showing glimpses of their true nature as the beloved daughters and sons of the King who created them in his image and loves them.  Beauty and glory are around, and gratitude and awe pour from my every pore.

I am so thankful for life – to be alive – to move, breathe, taste cool water on my lips, feel the soft warmth from my jacket, marvel at the chemical processes and electrical impulses that move my fingers on the keyboard, and seeing each and every moment as the precious gift that it is.  I am so thankful that words just don’t seem enough.

—–

The police officer who stopped on the side of the road and asked me what happened, shook his head, and told me I should buy a lottery ticket, because today was my lucky day.  Two hours ago, I was driving from Grand Rapids back to Rockford – my car full of practically every possession I own on this earth as I completed the move from Philadelphia back to Northern Illinois (for those of you whom this portion of the story catches you by surprise, just roll with it – I’ll explain more about that transition next time).

As I came around the corner on the highway going about 70 miles an hour, my phone rang – my eyes darted to see who it was, and when I glanced back up I saw the car ahead of me slam on the brakes.  I’m not sure what they were trying to avoid – I never saw it in any case.  I was able to swerve and miss hitting them, but as I cleared their car my tires hit a patch of ice and the car started fishtailing.  I was controlling the slide when the ice stopped, and my tires all of a sudden had traction again.  Unfortunately, they were no long pointing down the west bound lanes, but were at about a 45 degree angle to the road.  This managed to propel me across the lane of traffic to my left into the snow covered median, where I and my car were suddenly airborne and spinning.

I’m still not sure how many times we flipped as we bounced over the median: it could have only been once, or it could have been up to three or four.  Regardless, I managed to roll my way across the median, landed the car right-side up, then slid across three lanes of oncoming (eastbound) traffic before lightly coming to a stop on the guardrail at the far side of the highway.

I got out, shaken but otherwise completely unhurt, pulled my car completely onto the shoulder (it still runs, even though it is completely missing the back windshield – lost somewhere in the flipping and bouncing), and was greeted by an off-duty police officer who called it in.  Within a few minutes, I had three officers there who all expressed amazement  that I was unscathed (from the aforementioned “lottery ticket” comment to another officer exclaiming that my car should be in a Honda commercial for protecting me that well and coming out of it still running.)

The rest of the story is strangely anticlimactic – tow trucks, figuring out the logistics of getting the car looked at and deciding if it’s drivable, Abby driving down from Grand Rapids (over an hour) to pick me up, along with her mom (which made me tear up with gratitude when I heard it), to sitting in truck stop writing this.  My family is currently in Korea (except for Jon, who hasn’t picked up his phone yet), and the adrenaline is wearing off.  And above all, I needed to get it down and process my gratitude once more.  As he drove away, the police officer called me over and said, “Seriously, if I were you, I would buy a lottery ticket.  You are one lucky man.  I’m surprised that you’re still alive.  I’ve seen people MUCH worse off from much less serious accidents.  Count your blessings.”

So this is my attempt to stop and express my thanks.  Thanks to God for protection.  I am ok.  Thanks to people for picking up and driving 90 minutes each way to be with me.  Thanks, thanks, and more thanks.  Gratitude overflows.  Grace abounds.  And if you’re reading this, you too are alive.

Know I’m thankful for each of you – the family, the friends, those whose lives have touched mine and who have been touched by me.  So humbled.  And so, so, so thankful.

 

———-

 

A Post-Script – So I am under the impression that my car (Eustace) has been trying to kill me.  On Monday night, en route from Philadelphia to Upland, I spun out on a slushy, snow-covered highway in Ohio going 50 and did at least one full rotation (it might have been two – I’m a little hazy and all I really remember is spinning) before stopping on the side of the road, facing the direction I was originally headed.  A few days later, after clearing off almost an inch of ice frozen to the car, I was driving from Indiana up to Michigan when the last of the ice melted.  My hood flew open as I pulled onto the highway from a rest stop, cracking the windshield, bending the hood in a few places, and generally scaring me half to death.  I was able to pull off the highway, bend the hood back down, and keep driving the rest of the way.  And then today, this happened.  Seriously Eustace, what is your problem with me, and why is it that you’ve decided I should no longer be among the living?  I think I may preemptively get rid of you in order to avoid any further attempts on my life…

A Post-Post-Script – I hesitate to admit this on a public forum such as the internet, but I will confess to you that as I walked, watched, and waited by the side of the road for the tow-truck to come, the song that kept running through my head was Amy Grant’s “Angels watching over me…”  Check it out.  It is amazing.

Prayer of a Wayfarer

So I’m in Philadelphia – last night I spent a bit of time wandering home, thinking, a little overwhelmed, and asking myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”

But after a time of prayer, heart-settling, reflection, laughter, and connection with those I love, feeling excited and hopeful once more.  Sometimes, I think that because I have been transitioning for my entire life, I should be better at it.  Yet each major transition still seems to rock me to my core, revealing how I am not yet who I imagine myself to be, who I want to be.  It throws me back into my deep need to rely on the Lord.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”

Is. 48:17

Then this morning, I came across the following prayer:

Father of all humankind, who keeps my journey and marks the horizon of my destiny, love me through my journey towards tomorrow.

Son of God, leader and keeper of the maps, show me not the whole road at once, but give me the distance to be gained in single steps.

Spirit of God, who holds my inner compass, may your presence on the journey awaken trust within me when I don’t know what lies around the bend.

Father, bless to me this day, then I shall make my journey by sunlight and know the way.

Christ, bless to me this uncertain step, then I shall find the step more certain.

Spirit, bless to me this lonely moment, then I shall not be alone.

O Three-in-One, do guard my steps.

Travel with me, Father, and I shall travel with the darkness at my back and the sunlight on my face.

Travel with me, Christ, and I shall mute the thunder, and walk through the lightening unafraid.

Travel with me, Holy Spirit, and my solo anthem shall have accompaniment throughout the journey.

I am coming to you, O Three-in-One,
one day at a time,
one hour at a time,
one step at a time.

Source: Unknown.

—–

via Dave Bayne @ Prayers and Creeds.  Thanks Didi…

Boom-shaka-laka… etc., etc.,

So at about 11:35 PM, Feb. 17, 2010, I pushed send on the last one of my applications.  25 of them.  Finished.  Completed.  Done.  It feels nice.  I might have to throw a party or something…  Anyone wanna come over and celebrate?

And for those that read this and pray, please be praying for me if you think of it tomorrow morning – say around 11 AM – as I will be sitting for an admissions interview at Northwestern in Chicago…  It’s a little intimidating, as I get to be all dressed up in my grown-up clothes, and be articulate and sound smart…  But also exciting – to find out more, to let them see more of who I am, and figure out if I would be a good fit there.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  But now, I should go to bed, so I’m not bleary eyed and exhausted tomorrow.

Oh, and for those of you in Indiana – I’m going to be heading down to Upland and Taylor afterwards – spending Fri. and Sat. there.  Be seeing you soon…  And hopefully, now that my mental energy isn’t being sapped by applications and essays and editing and “just one more draft”, maybe the blog output will increase correspondingly.  You can always hope…

"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 may experience mercy;
to begin questioning the unquestionable
that I may know truth
to begin disciplining
that I may create beauty;
to begin sacrificing
that I may make peace;
to begin loving
that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning to 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.

…from Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder

Hmm.  It appears I might have to track down this book and purchase it…

Tip of the hat to the amazing David Bayne (no, not David Blaine. David Bayne.) and the site “Prayers and Creeds” (a wonderful place to pick up on some unique, challenging, profound, and beautiful prayers).

Thought for the day

“The great commandment is not ‘thou shalt be right.’ The great commandment is to ‘be in love.’  Be inside the great compassion, the great stream, the great river.  As others have rightly said, all that is needed is surrender and grattitude.” ~ Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs