High Places

Our bus roared up the side of the mountain as the announcer introduced our tour. The buses, he informed us, were specially designed for the steep inclines and sharp descents. As the intercom spoke calmly to us, telling us some history, the bus navigated turns with terrifying familiarity up a very winding road.

My palms began to sweat as I glanced at quaint villages shrinking below me. My stomach dropped and that familiar feeling of fear invaded. I believe I felt my adrenal gland squirt out all its adrenaline.

I’m not so good on the high places.

My children noticed my growing anxiety and jumped at the opportunity to claim superior courage. They were fearless, mom was not. They reminded me that clutching the armrest provided absolutely no help if the bus left the road and tumbled down the mountain. We were all goners.

Yes (tightly), I know!

They estimated how far we would roll and why we would need the tool hung up on the side of the bus to break the glass since, of course, there would be no survivors. They deduced the tool was there to calm the passengers on the ride.

Thank you for pointing that out. Good job on the deductive reasoning, children.

I became the focus of the ride as they did their best to exacerbate my fear and have some fun. We finally came to the top and the kids ran to the open fence that any large adult could slip through to see the views of the valley way, way, way below. They turned back with sly grins to wait for my inevitable, uncontrollable, completely expected, tense reminder.

Do not climb the fence!

It took me awhile to adjust to the high places. My view was initially limited because it was mainly the ground in front of my feet. By sheer will, I looked out tentatively. The villages below so tiny. The fences so non-existent. The air that stretched out before me when there should be hard ground.

I knew I was missing out on enjoying the spectacular sights because of my fear. Fear is so overpowering and irrational, it steals the moment. I didn’t want to miss out on this moment. The beauty, the grandeur, the awe of the high places.

I had a choice of whether I was going to embrace the high places with all their danger and beauty. My memories could consist of dirt and rocks below me, or vast distances of beauty before me.

When I did start looking farther out, I saw deep blue shimmering lakes nestled between mountains. Green and yellow patchwork fields rolled between quaint cottages. Blue skies stretched far with white clouds and jutting grey mountains meeting.

It was spectacular.img_7517

My husband and I agreed that the kids needed him to fully enjoy climbing the rocks. I wandered the high places, a bit farther back from the edge than some, reflecting on that book I love, Hinds Feet on High Places.

The ascents to the high places with God are terrifying. Medical issues suddenly come to light, conflicts arise, disasters happen and we’re on a red bus screaming up to the high places where we are forced to trust Him or be miserable.

No one wishes for these things. On those ascents, I often live in the very immediate circumstance rather than lift my eyes up and out to look at the expanse of His creation, the beauty and the majesty.

After many ascents, I know the views from the top with the experience of His faithfulness on the way up, they are not to be traded. When I clutch the armrests of life, thinking I can save myself, the control I exert ends up controlling me.

The trip down the mountain in the special red bus was better. I looked out the window and enjoyed the views. My palms didn’t leave as much of a slimy residue on the armrests. The kids gave up their antics as they saw mom had finally gotten a grip on reality.

I suspect surrender always involves a battle, a reckoning, and a white flag. My regrets looking back on those ascents are that I didn’t acknowledge God’s sovereignty sooner.

I might have experienced more freedom and seen more of His wonder had I surrendered earlier.

The Outsider

For 40 days a giant came out and challenged the army. 80 times they heard the taunt. 80 times their king failed to answer. Talk about a morale buster.

One. They’re in a valley. A low place, not the high ground I understand as being preferred in battle.

Two. There is a real giant with huge weapons ready to battle.

Three. The king has no answer. The king is not leading. The king sees no soldier volunteering and he is not choosing the option to volun-tell one to fight the battle. The king seems afraid, overwhelmed, and desperate.

Then comes the runt of a family. A shepherd boy on an errand.

As my pastor read through the passage in 1 Samuel, my mind slanted to a new realization.

David came into the battle as an observer. What must he expect to see as he got to the top of the hills surrounding the battle? Probably a battle!

But, there was no battle. I picture him walking through the camp, observing, confused, trying to figure out what in the world is going on. The men were waiting, afraid, demoralized. Its one thing for this to go on a day or two. But 40? That will do something to a soul.

David came in from the broad fields filled with sheep, daily trusting God to deliver him and the sheep. Daily seeing God do just that. He came in with a fresh perspective and it was not welcome.

There’s been times in my life where I’ve felt like David’s brothers. 40 days in the valley being taunted. Scared and stuck. Then, someone comes into my life, looks around and says something to the effect of don’t be discouraged by this, fight! God can win this one. 

Its startling. It usually grates a little. But, when I’ve let it sink in, its moved me out of the valley.

By the way, does anyone else think its pretty crazy that Saul let David go fight Goliath? I mean, he put the whole fate of the nation on the shoulders of a boy he didn’t know who couldn’t even wear his suit of armor.

Talk about desperation.

Or, God at work, rescuing His people through the most unlikely of heroes and working through the most unlikely of people.DSC_0002

Ah, that sounds like a familiar story line in the Bible.

My gut check in this story is looking at how I respond to events.

Am I in a valley and in need of an outside perspective, that of a warrior who sees the battle as winnable?

Or, am I acting like an older brother, neglecting the input of the younger because of age, rivalry, or jealousy? Yikes, I hope not, but I won’t rule it out. I know myself enough to know it wouldn’t be the first time.

Or, am I like the king in some way, not leading, allowing the troops to get beat down because I won’t believe God is capable of winning?

Or, what if there’s a time where I’m the outside perspective, seeing things differently, more clearly and needing to speak up even at the risk of annoying and provoking those that are understandably beat down?

A lot of food for thought in this story. The Bible is old, but it never really gets old, does it?

 

The Zombie Apocalypse is Real

I always flip the channel when the zombie previews air. With three youngish kids around, I notice a direct correlation to sleepless nights and the walking dead. I don’t sleep and I like sleep. They don’t sleep so I don’t sleep. Nobody sleeps and we become the walking dead we tried to avoid by flipping the flippin’ channel! DSC_0153

Ok, joking and sleep issues aside. There is something to this whole zombie apocalypse thing. As much as I want to call foul, evil, and bad every time the walking dead comes on air, it strikes a deeper tone to me.

Whoever conceived this idea of zombies is saying something important. There are the living dead, and they are among us. This show is a major, major hit. This message is resonating with people.

In the show its real zombies and, of course, we all know…hahaha…they don’t exist and you are only really afraid when your brothers prank you after your wisdom teeth are extracted, right?

I think it goes deeper than that, though. Artists write about these things because they think about them. They think about them because they are imaginative. They imagine them, I suppose, because they sense them. People watch this stuff because it is entertaining, and it touches on reality.

There’s some truth in what all this zombie stuff says.

People feel like zombies. I feel like a zombie in the early morning before coffee, late at night when I’m played out, and all times of the day when I’m jet lagged. I can identify physical reasons for my zombie-ness.

Many times I can also identify spiritual reasons for my zombie-like state. I’m mad at God. I’m mad at someone else. I’m sad. I’m grieving. I’m hopeless. Life is overwhelming. We go through the motions and no one notices we aren’t alive.

Some feel like zombies most of the time because their soul condition is fatal and their bodies are still alive. And they know it. And its true. They’ve never seen the cardiologist, they just know. Impending doom. Dead dread.

It’s the opposite of the living hope offered to us. Living hope is life-giving blood running through our spiritual veins, soft hearts of flesh, and woundable bodies because there is more to this life. Living hope comes through the blood of Jesus who died for us and provided the cure for the virus of sin that overtakes us.

My hope is those that feel like the walking dead in their soul and bodies would tell someone who understand the cure and extend it.  It is the antidote to the death that will come to all of us in the flesh.

Our flesh speaks to this death. We all know we will die. It is a horror. It is shocking. And it is scary to watch.

While we will all die one day, death need not come to all of us in the soul. And, when the soul lives, the flesh will live again one day, too.

That is the living hope. Because of Jesus, though we die, yet we live.

The hope is not just for the deathbed, though, it is for the now, too. I may feel like a zombie sometimes, but it is not my true and permanent state.

That’s also the living hope.

 

Walking the Shadows

Time is ticking and I want to make plans. I want to write on my calendar what happens what days and every time I lift my pencil, I think of what I do not and cannot know. I do not know the path of my father’s growing brain tumor. I do not know when he will die. I am not in control.

I long for certainty. Certain of attending a graduation event with my daughter. Certain of attending a dinner with my small group. Certain of chaperoning my son’s field trip. Certain of something.

The only thing I feel certain of is death.

My hand stalls in midair but I press through and fill blank space on the calendar knowing death may interrupt every thing I write.

I do not know the times God plans for my father and his brain tumor. I cannot know the measure of days for him, for myself, for my husband and children, for anyone. So much uncertainty and I want to know, to make a plan I feel certain I can fulfill.

But I cannot. God forces me to open my clenched fists and receive what He gives for today. To sacrifice plans I make if necessary to accept the ones God hands down for today. He forces me to release so much so that I can take hold of what He gives.IMG_1410

I do not like what He wants to give me. I do not want to release my plans, because I think they are better than grief and mourning. They certainly feel more comfortable.

Years of practice and many difficult farewells overseas and I know a shadow of grief. I know it’s pain and  I’d rather not. I’d just rather not write grief, mourning, sadness on my calendar in ink for the next few years. But, that is God’s plan for me.

He’s walked me through the shadows before. Can I trust Him to walk me through the reality of a more final farewell with my father?

 

Walking the Blind Side

His plate sat there half full of scrambled eggs as he reached for more. I watched as he spooned some more on the right side. Then he ate the right side leaving a line straight up the middle. Eggs on the left. No eggs on the right. I turned the plate and it was like a magic trick.

The brain is fascinating. When signals don’t come from the eyes, it fills in the blanks, interpreting from what it’s learned. My dad doesn’t realize he can’t see his left side. That means walking into walls and furniture, knocking things over.

Now he often needs help on his blind side to prevent a fall or running into things. It’s a lesson in humility, I’m sure. For me it’s a lesson in service.

I’m constantly watching and adjusting on the blind side, learning his limits, walking the fine line between parent and child. Sometimes I tell him like it is, and he follows. Other times there’s no leading him anywhere, only hanging on for the ride. Like when he wanted to do a pre-op snow angel outside the hospital.

Walking the blind side is a privilege, but he’s a man not used to being guided. He’s led where he doesn’t want to go. Like Peter in the Bible.

When you were young , you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go. John 21:18

At this point we’re not tying him up. Its a tempting option when he’s home alone and inclined to test limits that are steadily changing.

He’s not the only blind person. I’m as blind as my dad about what’s next. My mom less so, but this is the first brain tumor in our family. We pray it’s the last.

None of us wants to walk this path. We’re learning and we’re taking faltering steps into unknown territory. I’m growing wary of what I can’t see ahead, like my dad.

Follow Me. That’s the big question, bound on this path, will I follow Jesus? Will I go where I don’t want to go, because that’s where He’s going? What does faith look like on this path?

I will walk the blind side again today and tomorrow and for a long time to come. At least, it will feel long. Doctors say it will not be nearly long enough.

God knows the path. Will I follow?

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The Side View

You would think that dodging motorcyclists, pedestrians, and lane-crossers that my capacity for the relative calm and peace of the American roadway would usher in less stress.  I sure believed such things.

I believed I conquered driving stress as a road warrior in Asia, or at least I believed my experiences driving in Asia at least increased my immunity to stress on the road.  Oh, how wrong I was!  Driving in the U.S. of A. ranks among my most surprising sources of stress upon re entry.

I realized the level of my defensiveness, my learned behavior in Asia, was making me dangerous.  My husband and I joked about my PTSD on the road but it wasn’t a joke.  My inability to remain in a lane for fear the car next to me will drift into my lane was, among other behaviors, highly dangerous and I knew it.

The surge of my foot to the brake when any car pulls up to enter traffic from a parking lot is lightening quick.  I break whenever a car even looks like it is thinking about pulling into traffic.  Why?  Drivers in Asia never stop on the way out of a parking lot, trusting that all other drivers will just make room for them.  So, I have deep trust issues.

I drive slow.  Traffic in Asia is mostly pretty slow as it all happens in highly congested cities.  Most of the time I drove at about 30-40 miles an hour.  I was unprepared for traffic to move at 60-70 miles an hour on weaving highways with concrete barriers blocking out the shoulder.  Add to that, drivers seem to trust that others will stay in their lanes which makes them completely comfortable to hang out right next to me at high speeds.  This reckless behavior just sends adrenaline streaking through my body.

To make it worse, sometimes I wasn’t driving but my husband was behind the wheel.  Such losses of control in areas of fear are true tests of character.  Well, I failed them all.  My efforts to grab hold of anything in the car and my convulsive movements into crash positions when he was driving made me dangerous even in the passenger seat!  Fortunately, my husband is understanding and did his best to patiently ignore his crazy wife in the passenger seat.

There is always something unexpected in transition and I began to clue in that driving was my unexpected stressor this time.  Did not see that one coming!  Ah, pride, what a blinder of the soul.  I thought I owned the road and maybe I did just a little…in Asia…but in Texas?  Not at all.  The road was owning me.

So after much soul searching I began looking out the side window instead of looking out the windshield (only when I’m not driving of course).  It took me awhile to do this because, for some reason, I thought that yielding my ability to look forward would somehow negate my control of the future.  So silly!  But, fear usually does not go hand in hand with calm logic.

In this season of fear, I’m struck by the simplicity of living in the present.  Our present is full of boxes, half unpacked or in transit or in a storage unit.  It is also a season of road trips and visiting family and friends.  We are in transition and the longing of my soul is for that future point in which we are settled, so it is difficult to say the least to live in the present.

Living in the present is looking out the side window observing and noticing what is right next to me rather than reacting to all that might could possibly happen.

Even though the present passes by quickly it is beautiful and not to be missed.

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The Chair

DSC_0231Faith is like sitting in a chair.  Ever heard that one?  The speaker demonstrates their point by looking at a perfectly good, sturdy chair theorizing about how it looks capable of holding his weight.  I usually hear it in the context of a sermon or talk on faith in Christ.  Then, it goes on…faith is actually sitting in the chair…trusting the chair.  The speaker sits in the chair and, of course, it holds him.

Now, this chair…I’m fairly certain no speaker in his right mind wants to demonstrate this deep point using this chair.  It is a very cheap chair to begin with and, note, wire holds the chair together.  Because we repair broken things, we know this chair is broken…but it still might hold a person.

This chair compelled me to take this picture.  I couldn’t not take this picture.  This poor chair is so bedraggled and, yet, so easily and inexpensively replaced that I must wonder at the poverty that motivates fixing it.  It is undoubtedly extreme beyond anything I know.

I often think this is how it really looks like when I exercise faith.  I see a dirty, cheap chair held together by wire and I decide if I want to sit in it.  This speaks volumes about how much I trust the Lord but it also explains a reality…often the circumstances do not make it easy to walk in faith.

Seldom does the chair look secure.

I did not sit in this chair so I cannot write something witty about how I fell or how surprised I looked when it did hold my weight.  I do keep remembering this chair as I ponder faith.  It reminds me that faith is risky yet the One I choose to place my faith in is not.

He is sure but His ways are not my ways.  He sees things differently than I do.  And, I see things shaded by my fear and imperfections.  Sadly, He looks more like this broken chair and what He asks of me looks more like this too.

I look for security…crave security… and He asks me to live by faith in the things that are not seen.  But every time I sit in what looks like a dirty broken chair, I learn He is trustworthy.

What comes to mind about faith when you look at this chair?