and suddenly, you're home…

It hit me out the blue today – but Chicago really feels like home.  A combination of thoughts as I reflected on today and the past week boiled over and left me feeling content, restful, and settled in so many ways.  Here’s a couple vignettes of why this place has all of a sudden felt like home:

– Sunday morning Dad and Heather came over to my apartment – we spent time getting food ready, the ham in the oven, and then off to church…  worshipping together in a space that celebrates beauty and truth, with friends and brothers and sisters – cello and bass and mandolin fusing with bagpipes and chorale echoing through the spacious cathedral, stained glass and liquid light and warm sound as we celebrated the victory of Life over death…  Then everyone back to my place for cooking and laughter and stories and an abundance of food – my heart overflows…

– Lunches at hole in the wall pubs and Jewish delis, cheese and wine with friends before small group, fasting and prayer and awareness of lack – and all those shared with friends old and new.

– A job that is challenging, growing, fulfilling, and loads of fun – newness and variety and opportunity – and all of that with a great fit for who I am, what I value – conversations with teenagers about what it was like being smuggled across the border, their families, their hopes, their fears, their problems and frustrations…  Laughter and games and bad movies and bad haircuts and temper tantrums and breakthroughs…  Amazing coworkers and laughter intertwined through it all.

– The lake – a running path from my door to the waves and the water, the skyline of Chicago floating behind me or before me, wind and sand and sky, races and smiles and the joy of movement…

– My church – small group – a people who value questions, and prayer, and food, and worship, and service, and action, and justice, and faithfulness, and each other…  Volleyball and soccer and teaching and praying – beauty and pathos – life…

– Friends – from roommates who have become like brothers to coworkers, people from school, church friends, and the like – helping move and sharing meals and laughter and prayer and movement towards the ineffable.

Tonight, I’m thankful that this place is becoming home…

Beyond the Blue

Yesterday afternoon my car died.  (Actually, let’s be honest here – I’m driving my sister’s car cause mine is giving me transmission issues, and I hate cars…)  Thankfully it was rush hour on the highway, and so I was only driving about 5 miles an hour when the car stalled.  I threw it in neutral, and tried to restart it as I coasted.  No dice.  I almost had a seamless transition as I flashed on the hazard lights, unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door, and swung my feet out to push the car off the left lane into the shoulder.

It was dead.  And as frustrated as I felt as I rode in the tow truck to the auto repair place, I was reminded of all I do have to be thankful for:  I have food, shelter, a warm bed, friends and family that love me, abundant provision, a fascinating job, classes that challenge and develop me, a church community that envelops me, a body that is healthy…  And even with a dead car, resurrection life is here and now and I swim in it every day, if only I have eyes to see it.

—–

This afternoon as I ran along the lakeshore I prayed…  A friend with cancer.  A child that is slowly fading away.  Broken relationships.  Hopes that have died.  There is so much brokenness and the broken shards of this world can’t seem to work themselves free from my heart.  Instead, with every beat of my heart, they work themselves deeper and remind me that the price you pay when you love someone is that you suffer with them.

But even with the shards burning, I felt myself being whispered to by a voice from beyond the blue – beyond the blue of the lake, and the sky, and my heart, whispering words of life, of hope, of faith.  It whispered to me from the blazing sun, through the chill air that burned my lungs and made my ears numb and my nose run, through the wind that whipped the waves to a frenzy, through the crashing of spray and froth, and the words of a song that I played on repeat for the last half hour of my run…

“Yellow and gold as the new day dawns
Like a virgin unveiled who waited so long
To dance and rejoice and sing her song
And rest in the arms of a love so strong
No one comes unless they’re drawn
By the voice of desire that leads em’ along
To the redemption of what went wrong
By the blood that coveres the innocent one…

So lift your voice just one more time
If there’s any hope may it be a sign
That everything was made to shine
Despite what you can see
So take this bread and drink this wine
And hide your spirit within the vine
Where all things will work by a good design
For those who will believe…

And let go of all we cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue…”

~ Josh Garrels

—–

I biked to church tonight as the sun burned it’s way down in firey oranges and burnt golds.  We had a Maundy Thursday service, remembering the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by all the rest.  And as I sat in the quiet of the cathedral, I was drawn in.  The juxtaposition of life and death, of beauty and darkness, of hope and despair can leave me shaken and breathless.  I was drawn into the story of Jesus, the tragedy and the pathos that it must have seemed at the time.  For those watching, with no benefit of hindsight, it was the crumbling of all their dreams, the death of all their hopes, the disintegration of their deepest desires.  In an instant, it all turned to ashes.

From the intimacy of the Last Supper (shared wine and bread, the washing of feet, the prayers of Jesus for these men and women who had given up everything to be with him) to the clash of swords and cries of a mob and the kiss of a traitor.  And the flavors of wine and bread turn to ash in their mouths…

—–

12 years ago we were studying abroad in Jerusalem.  I remember going to a Maundy Thursday service at a small church right inside the Zion Gate.  After the service, a few of my friends went to a prayer vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane.  For some reason, a couple of us went back to JUC.  In one of the basement classrooms, Danny and I broke out guitars and djembes and began to play.  It wasn’t rehearsed, but it flowed.  Classmates and friends trickled in to the darkened room, lit only by candles.  A basin of water and a towel sat in the center.  As people felt moved, they would step into the center, cradle the basin and towel, and kneel before a friend, a brother, a sister, an enemy…  They would untie shoes, slip off sandals, peel back socks…  Dirty and calloused feet were gently lifted, placed in the warm water, washed and dried with the towel.  As we played, reconciliation happened.  As we washed each other’s feet, the weak were encouraged, the tired were energized, the hurting were soothed.  And as we followed in Jesus’ footsteps, we felt his presence.

—–

Presence.  May we feel his presence as we enter into the darkness of Good Friday…  And may we have eyes to see that beyond death lies so much more.

“All the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup…” ~ Buechner

Taco Fridays

When I was growing up, Fridays were “taco days.”  Friday morning, while we kids were in school, my mom and Hermelinda would make homemade flour tortillas, delicious guacamole, fresh salsa, and all the fixings.  It was there that I learned to pile on the toppings until my tortilla threatened to burst, and slowly learned to enjoy tomatoes and onions.  Tacos were my favorite food growing up, so Fridays were a little bit like Christmas for this missionary kid.

But it wasn’t just the food that made Taco Fridays special.  My parents practiced hospitality often – inviting others over, into our home, to stay, to celebrate, to laugh and worship and tell stories, to eat good food, and to enjoy each other’s company.  My parents practiced hospitality generously – with other missionary families, with our neighbors and friends from church, with the co-translators and their families, with orphaned boys who had been abandoned in the hospital, with fugitive terrorists from the Sendero Luminoso.  And my parents practiced hospitality in a way that drew us kids into the practice.

Everyone was allowed to invite one friend over each Friday.  So our family of six would often turn into 10-12 people around the lunch table – eating, laughing, enjoying table fellowship together.  And each of us, from my parents to the children, was a part of being hospitable – of opening our home to others, and sharing our lives together.  It was a beautiful, delicious, sacred experience.

As I remember Taco Fridays, I realize how all too often I’ve waited to practice hospitality.  I’ve waited until I’m no long alone, or until I’m settled into a place of my own, or until things are better, things are easier.  But lately, I’ve been challenged to ask how I can create those spaces for community to flourish – for Shabbat to enter my life and my home and my community – and am excited to intentionally begin putting into practice the lessons I’ve learned from Taco Friday.

Wanna come over tacos and stories and laughter?  I’d love to have you…

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.

Overflowing

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…

…they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…”

I am one of those who, like the song, all too often doesn’t recognize what I have until it is gone. I want to change that – I want to be mindful, thankful, and grateful as I admit that Yes, my cup is filled to the brim. One more drop, and it will overflow with the sweetness and bitterness, the joy and sorrow, the heart-stopping beauty that means you are alive and breathing and seeing.

I moved to Philadelphia in August, not expecting that I would find a family, a community that would surround me, laugh with me, speak into my life, and allow me to speak into theirs. I didn’t imagine their lives and mine would intertwine so quickly. And last night as we sat around the living room, sharing our highs and our lows of the past week, sharing a meal and laughter and music and prayer, something shifted in my heart, and I really saw those around me. In just a few short months, these (plus a few more) have become a part of me and my heart – my community.

I think that 90 percent of the time, I blunder through life unaware. Yet there are moments the veil is lifted, and the warm, rich, buttery light floods in and illuminates the darkness. My heart and my limbs thaw a little more, and the chill of frostbite that has me frozen recedes a little bit. Last night was one of those moments.

I saw men and women admitting their brokenness, doubt, and pain. I saw honesty and truth piercing the lies that would keep us apart. And I heard words of love, of hope, and of faith being spoken over each person there. Last night, spring came just a little bit closer for each of us – spring and the promise of new growth, of green, of life, of warmth, of dancing and rain and beauty. And I saw it.

My cup – my heart – my life – is overflowing. And I just want to shout it from the treetops – or at least sing it in the forest…

Thankful


I’m sitting here on the balcony of my grandparent’s home in Redondo Beach, barefoot and t-shirted, watching the sunset, and suffused with a sense of contentment and rest.  “Why?”, you might ask…  Let me tell you just a few reasons:

– the oranges, golds, pinks, and infinite shades of blue reflecting off the clouds as palm trees are silhouetted in the fading light.

– celebrating and feeling the weight of the Advent and birth of Emmanuel, the God who is with us.

– enjoying rich time with family (immediate and extended, except for Carly and Erik).

– much laughter, games, stories, home movies, and crazy cousin antics (our cousin Nick putting Kenny G’s “Silent Night” on repeat, slowly increasing the volume while we had family Christmas for almost 45 minutes until Josiah finally snapped and switched it off, or wrapping items in Grandma’s home and giving them to her for Christmas)

– walks on the beach, flips and cartwheels and acrobatics with the pounding surf in the background, feeling gloriously alive.

– getting sand everywhere.

– chips and salsa, hot showers, and having sand nowhere.

– being with people who know you deeply, and still love you anyway.

– family chess tournaments.

– a day out on the ocean paddle-boarding.

– reconnecting with old friends.

– cross-country skiing, falling in Lake Michigan, and chopping down a Christmas tree in a Michigan winter.

– pink birthday parties with the laughter of children.

– good friends (might as well be family, really) who you can call up on Christmas Eve and they will have you over for Christmas cookies, dinner, and home.

– truth, honesty, grace, and wholeness that pursue me and will not let me go.

– my wounds, scars, and other evidence of growth (as painful and challenging as it is).

I am richly, richly blessed, and the words of Julian of Norwich echo through my mind and my heart:

And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well…  our wounds shall be as worships!

It is well with my soul.

So what are you are thankful for right now?

Job and the Psalms

I’ve been trying to stay up to speed in this “Competitive Reading Group” I’m a part of…  I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.  I’ve discovered how much stupid, mindless things I read, which I guess is good to be aware of, but a little disappointing to realize.  There have been a few good books in the mix however, and I noticed similar themes in a couple that I’m finishing up (rather, one finished, and one kinda stuck halfway through…)  They are Richard Rohr’s “Job and the Mystery of Suffering,” and Walter Bruggemann’s “The Psalms and the Life of Faith.”  (I’ve also been putzing around trying to finish “The Cloud of Unknowing…”  It’s a dense one…)

One of the common themes that I’ve noticed running through all three of these works is the primacy of relationship.  Ultimately, it’s not about figuring things out, about getting answers, clarity, or control.  Without clear answers or control, we are left with mystery, faith, and trust.  And at its core, all of reality boils down to relationship, for how can you trust someone that you don’t know?  And how do we know the God of the universe who “spread the North above the void, and poised the earth on nothingness (Job 26:7)?”  We know him through the text – through Jesus – through his body (the Church) – through “the other” – through beauty – through suffering.  We know him through experience.  We know him through falling in love.  As Rohr said, “People are always falling in love with God, especially after they recognize that God loved them when they were unlovable, God trusted them when they could not trust themselves, and God forgave them when no one else would.”

Therein lies the beauty of the Psalms, of Job.  They don’t explain things clearly and concisely, wrap things up in 3 points and an application.  They introduce us once again to the one who is the Lord of the Starfields, but at the same time can be known.  They dare us to enter conversation, to have a dialogue with YHWH and expect an answer.  And they leave us uncomfortable, unsettled, and taken aback.  They defy easy answers, rigid categorization, and certainties.  They invite us to know and be known, and to fall in love.  And what could be more exhilarating?