A Voice in the Shadowlands

Latest

Careful What You Ask For

You have to be careful what you ask for sometimes. When I was in second grade, I desperately wanted a part in the school Christmas play. I desperately wanted to play the father, the main role (I’ve always been a shy person). I wasn’t what the teacher was looking for but I begged for my shot. I got it and, for one of the very few times in my life, froze up. I tried to say the lines but could only get out, “Baaa.” I pulled myself together, opened my mouth and tried again, “Baaa.” Instead of just singing with the rest of the class, I was cast as a sheep. Thankfully, I happened to have a costume already.

Trying to buy a house has been a roller coaster experience. There has been awesome highs and, lately, some crazy and frustrating times. We have watched our closing date come and go. We have waited…and waited…and waited. To it’s credit, it has strengthened my prayer life – which I like, but for reasons I had rather not experience. The last several nights I’ve been praying that God would come through. I had in mind an 11th hour phone call where just when things didn’t seem to come through, they did and everything magically worked and Becky and I traipsed off into the sunset at our new house just before we had to move out of the apartment. Well, God came through…just not like I thought.

Never underestimate the power of a crying woman. We got a phone call today that was not all that surprising but frustrated both me and my wife. Frustrated her so much, in fact, that she was moved to tears. The odds of an 11th hour rescue are nil and we were preparing to have to move next week…except for a last ditch effort to see if the apartment management which isn’t known for being the most merciful will let us stay for another month – during which we will hopefully get to closing. Never underestimate the power of a crying woman, especially if they are desperate, angry tears. We don’t have to move now until the end of July (or closing whichever comes first) which is a great relief.

Is it how I wanted it? No. Do I understand? Not really. I can appreciate certain aspects of it. I really can. There are aspects of this where God is protecting us from some different difficulties. Still, today in the middle of all of this I was reminded of all the folks who experienced this to a greater extent. Abraham, expecting to be a father of multitudes, had a handful of kids. Mary and Martha expected Jesus to come before Lazarus died. David thought God had abandoned him at multiple points and he was supposed to be God’s anointed. Tons of people in the Bible didn’t sign up for what they ended up doing. I suppose I should be glad that I’m not being asked to sacrifice my child…or really sacrifice anything other than my own timeline. It sets it all in perspective when you look at it that way.

Perhaps I should have been more specific in what I prayed for? But God came through when I asked and I do feel a weight taken off to a certain extent.

And, I don’t have to wear a sheep costume this go round.

Advertisements

Trying to Figure Out Prayer While Waiting

Well, I am juggling one less ball now and, thankfully, it is quite possibly the most terrifying of all the balls that were up in the air. I’ve had a weekend to breathe a sigh of relief and today I’m right back to the waiting game. While I don’t like the waiting, I can’t say that it isn’t a familiar bed-fellow by now. While I woke up this morning, almost tingly with expectation that, since something happened on Friday something was sure to happen today, I have slipped into a bit of a “meh” today because nothing materialized…heck, even emails went unanswered.

I did catch myself as very surprised with something today though. I realized that I had already let my prayer time start to slip. I had been rather proud (dangerous ground, perhaps) and pleased with myself that I had actually been doing a HECK of a lot better with praying going through all of this. When things came through on Friday, I tossed up a major prayer of thanks and then just started walking away. It’s a bit like I was treating God like my concierge and I didn’t even bother to tip him well. So, I tried to pick right back up where I left off, but it sort of felt…off.

Here I am, realizing my weak point, wanting to pick back up but afraid that part of it is the ulterior motive of two other issues still unresolved. Prayer is hard for me anyway. Being near-ADD, trying to focus on something like prayer can be the equivalent of trying to find the real purpose of a pinball game when I try my hand at it. There’s a goal…but there’s a whole lot of bouncing around, lights and weird sounds. It took me a while to wrestle with it all.  In the end, after some wrestling, I remembered while God isn’t there as a “personal shopper,” he does want a relationship and does want to know what is going on with me. The waiting is, largely, what is going on…and parts of it are stressful, somewhat scary, frustrating, have the potential to be exciting if I could just get to them, and affect the one I love most. He wants to know all of that. He also has been using all of that to teach me things.

I don’t want to be here. I want to be past this so badly. Most of my life, I have felt that all I have done has been waiting and I want some sort of action. LIke I’ve said many times before, I’m not patient and I realize that as Christians we live “as if in the not yet” to a certain extent…but I firmly believe that the Kingdom is here. Now. And and silly as it seems, closing on a house and an email about something very important to my wife can certainly be a part of that. So, I wake up every morning and look out like Israel did when they had to gather mana every morning. Some day, there will be a house out there and, boy, will that be hard to have to gather into a basket.

Bad Jokes and Inner Peace

I am not the kind of person who embarrasses easily. Honestly, I can probably count the times I have been truly, completely red-faced and at a loss for words on both hands. One of those few times happened when I was still in elementary school. I was allowed to come to my church’s choir Christmas social with my parents. It was at a restaurant in town, in one of those big banquet rooms. They played Dirty Santa and while that was going on, I was trying to kill time (seeing how I was, oh, 50-65 years younger on average than most people there) with one of my favorite people there. He was several years older than me and I looked up at him with that awe that only a third grader could to a guy who had a driver’s license who didn’t talk to you like you still needed a baby sitter. In an attempt to impress him, I decided to whip out a killer joke I heard at school. I delivered it with amazing skill but when I hit the punch line, he just nodded and turned back to what he was doing. This wasn’t like him and I was a combination of perturbed and devastated.

When I got home I mentioned it to my parents. Again, I delivered the joke and afterwards my parents had the same response. That was when I was informed that I had just told a dirty joke. Which was fairly hard to explain to someone who hadn’t had sex ed yet. I just understood that I had done something that was wrong without understanding that it was…and at a church function no less…did I mention it was to the pastor’s son?  Thinking back on it now, it wasn’t even a particularly well-crafted joke. I thought I understood it. I had my own understanding of it. My understanding, however, wasn’t the reality of the situation.

Life, lately, has been interesting. Things keep threatening to happen, they just aren’t following through, which is becoming horribly annoying. I find myself screaming at each of them, “For better or worse, just happen already! If you happen, I can deal with it! Just hovering, all I can do is stare at you.” I’m not horribly patient. I’m happy with that. To get patience, you have to go through trails and I don’t want to go through them. Some of these hovering issues are blessings that I just want to come and quit tempting me with potential. Who likes that kind of tension anyway? After a while of waiting, you even start to get bitter. You just want it to get there and you get resentful that it takes too long. You know that it’ll be here…eventually. It’s like knowing someone you’re dying to see is coming and finding out they decided to walk from New York to New Bern when they could have flown. You’re still happy to see them, but that might not stop you from hitting them in the back of the head a few times after the first hug.

Some of the things that I’m waiting for are fairly scary. Or have the potential to be. Because of that, God and I have been spending a lot more time together. I’m a worrier. That’s no surprise, if you know me. What’s surprising, is that, through spending more and more time with God (and not just worrying in front of him) I’ve had a feeling of peace about things. I always thought that peace meant that everything was hunky-dory and there were no worries. I’m learning that my understanding of peace wasn’t the reality, just like that misunderstood joke. I’m learning that peace isn’t all happiness, rainbows and unicorns, which is a little bit of a surprise. Things are still scary and the storm is still raging around it, but in the middle of that, it’s like I’m carrying around a small eye of the storm. Granted, some days the eye is more stable than others, but heck, I’m human and I’m still fairly new at this. I’m growing, though. It’s one foot in front of the other. Like Winston Churchill once said, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.” He’s a guy who should know.

I’m learning through daily experience to put Philippians 4:6-7 to practice – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I have not achieved the not being anxious about anything or always being thankful, but I can tell you that when the peace kicks in, you really can’t explain it or understand it.

…And no, I won’t tell you the joke.

Inspired by G. K. Chesterton

“He’s ready to see you now.”

I gulped. It isn’t every day that you really do meet your Maker. The Guards on either side stared at me. One looked ready to give me some not-so-gentle encouragement with the flat of his sword. Obviously, they were not used to the idea of someone not just hopping to when summoned to the presence of the Maker.

“I’m going. I’m going,” I said, gathering what little bit of dignity I could. The massive doors before me opened up and bandy-legged I went through.

The courtroom was an atrium. I passed from marble floors to lush grass. Rows of trees served as living columns and tapestries of ivy and flowering vines swayed in a breeze only they felt. In the center of it all, was a raised dais with an enormous crystal throne and on the ground before it was a toddler. I would have used the term cherubic to describe him, except that having seen actual cherubs the term will never quite have the same meaning. Rosy cheeked, a mop of curls for hair, eyes that seemed to hold a whole universe, this boy. He was slapping his hand on the ground and a flower would pop up; all very similar but slight variations in each. After he was done, he would giggle, clap, cheer, “Again! Again!” and go right back to work. He already had quite the carpet of them.

Not wanting to destroy this new creation, I worked my way as close to the dais as I could and took a knee. “Oh, most gracious Heav—“

“Hi! Wanna flower?”

“Why, I’d be honor—“

“Wanna see me do it again?”

“Well, you’ve done it a lot already…”

“Wanna see it again?”

“Will it be different this time?”

“I like these flowers.”

“Then I’m good, thanks.”

“OK.”

I stood and went to one of the Wise Ones standing by. “What is going on here? You told me that I was finally going to talk to the Maker today.”

“And you have.”

“This three-year-old flower child is the Maker.”

“Oh, goodness no…and yes. This is apparently the aspect that he felt you most needed to meet right now.”

“But, I wanted comforting! I needed the mighty warrior. The just judge.  The ones who make everything all right or at least assure you that they will be.

“Ah, but you know them. Even if you haven’t met them face to face, you’ve had experiences with them or know they exist or you wouldn’t have expected them. The benefit of the Maker is that he made you. He knows what you need and he must think you need something here. Let’s look at this shall we?”

“My Maker is a child,” I grumbled. “That explains the state of things.”

“Don’t be fooled. The Maker is no one thing besides the Maker.”

“All he is doing is the same thing over and over again. That’s the definition of madness. My Maker is insane.”

“He’s been called that by more than one,” the Wise One chuckled. “No, he is simply doing what children do. They get joy out of the same thing. Monotony is not, at first, in your life boring. It is discovery. It is exciting. Although things are the same, they are not identical. Each flower is different. Every raspberry your father makes by smacking his cheeks together sounds a bit different.  So, the Maker handcrafts every sunrise and set, each flower because he can still delight in that. He is the Maker, after all, it is his nature. Your kind, in the middle of your trials and your pursuits for bigger and better, often forget the joys of these simple everyday blessings.”

“So, when he asked if I wanted to see him make another flower…”

“He was asking you to watch him do something he loves to do. You were invited to see the Maestro at something he excels in. After all, how many flowers are there?”

“I was invited to have personal time with him and I passed it up because it seemed blasé.”

“Don’t sound so defeated. He’s still making them. You can always see if the invitation is open.”

I wandered back over towards the dais, though I couldn’t get as close as I could before.

“Uhm…excuse me?” I called over.

“Hi!”

“What are you doing? Making flowers?”

“Yeah. You wanna watch?”

“Would I ever.”

Saddling Up

Tomorrow has the potential to be a big day. Well, tomorrow is a big day that is pregnant with potential. I’m not sure if it’s pregnant with a cute six-pound bundle of joy that everyone applauds the mother for getting back to her pre-pregnancy weight in three days or a twelve-pound hulk of a child that everyone sees the mother and smiles while thinking “Good Lord, woman! You ain’t ever getting your figure back.” Come to think of it, the day may be one of those odd women who shows signs of being pregnant, belly and all, without actually expecting. Who knows? I digress a bit, though.

While I don’t exactly feel at liberty to discuss what tomorrow holds in this forum, I do feel a need to explore my feelings a bit more. Perhaps by doing that I can better understand them. I am excited. That’s a given. Curious to be in the positions I’m in. A bit at a loss for some reason, still can’t get around that one. I believe, more than anything I’m nauseous. And not, “Ooo, there are butterflies in my tummy.” Oh no, my friend, this is one of those, “If I move too fast I am going to be forced to revisit my last meal in reverse and might have squishy shoes.” Yeah. Mull that over. Are you with me?

I’ve found myself trying to draw comfort from the M.V.P.’s of the Bible when it comes to facing the great unknown. Abraham gets God tapping him on the shoulder and saying, “Head ’em up and move ’em out, little doggie. I’m leading you to a new land.” (God, having no concept of time, had apparently just finished watching every Spaghetti Western ever created that day. Darn TBS and their marathons.) Joseph, who had to have been a little nervous about getting married anyway, gets told “Mary, your gal is pregnant. You’re not the father and, here’s the kicker, the real dad is God. Now, go, get married!” Peter has a really weird vision of a sheet filled with unclean animals and God telling him, “A la cuisine!” (Yes, God is a fan of Iron Chef.) There’s tons of others.

No one knew what was in store or how the road would go. I’m sure they felt like me or worse. The Bible is strangely quiet when it comes to the puking habits of the patriarchs. I would really love for there to be a verse in Exodus that went something like, “And the Lord God thus spoke unto Moses saying, “OK, dude, here’s the deal. You’re going to go back to the country where you’re a fugitive for killing a guy, tell the king you’re taking his main workforce and then physically lead this horribly whiney group of people back to the Promised Land.” And Moses, being verily greatly green in his gills, didst reply, “Pardon me, sir, before I go might you have a bucket? I am afraid that I am about to ruin your holy sandals with the mutton and flat bread that I just had for lunch.” That’s probably what happened but God, in his infinite wisdom, thought that we would focus too much on the spiritual application of what Moses had for lunch than what he had been called to do. Which, if I was honest with myself, is the important thing. He was called, he was nervous (what else would you call getting God to supply you with not one but two miracles on demand before you go), but in the end he faced the unknown. We forget a lot of the time that just because we know the end of the story doesn’t mean that Moses or any of those other guys with big beards and big staffs had a clue what was going to happen. Abraham gets scared he’ll be killed and half-lies about his relationship to his wife (they were half-siblings after all, it seems). Joseph thinks of ending the engagement. Still, in the end, you saddle up and ride into the sunset. That’s all we’re called to do.

Here’s hoping I don’t get saddle sores tomorrow.

Pax, little doggies.

Splash or Crash?

I dislike heights. I’m not scared of them. In fact, I like them a bit too much. There’s something that runs in my family that when we get up high, not closed in, that makes heights dangerously alluring. I love looking over the edge, feeling the breeze caress my face and ruffle my hair. I start imagining what it would feel like to jump, have the scenery rush up to meet me, feel the rush of the wind ripping around me. I can get fixated on it, so much so that the siren song gets to hard to fight. I’ve been pulled back into a scissor lift when the other guy with me realized I was starting to climb the railing. I don’t have a death wish and so that is why I tend to avoid high places.

When I was working in California, however, I had a chance to take full advantage of what I had always wanted to do. One weekend, in between campers coming, my team was brought to a manmade lake that had once been a quarry. The water was beautiful and extremely deep in some areas. We all hopped on a boat for a ride around the lake. At one end of the lake there was a high rock cliff. We were invited to join the milling dots that were climbing the rock and jumping back into the lake. Cliff jumping. A few of the gang, immediately jumped ship and swam to the rocks. I hesitated. It took a good bit of prodding and eventually, I gave in and swam towards the thing that was making me nervous. We reached the rocks at the bottom and joined the crowd that was finding footholds to scale up to the highest cliff. I decided to try to wipe what was quickly becoming terror off of my face when I realized that the person behind me in line was 8. The tough act wiped away when I passed a few teenagers who were perched on the side of the “path” that had abandoned the ascent.

I made it to the top with two friends. A local at the top gave us the lay of the land. This cliff was apparently over one of the deepest parts of the lake. We would be fine if we jumped out from the cliff. Just jumping off would mean we might not have enough distance to keep from landing on the rocks below us. So, 1- Jump out, 2 – Fall Straight, 3 – Point your toes. Falling straight and pointing your toes would help cut a hole through the surface of the water. Bellyflopping on the surface after falling from that height would hurt like bellyflopping into concrete (or so I was told). This is all incredibly comforting when you are trying hard to remind yourself you want to do this because it is fun, even though if you do it wrong it could kill you.

I walked to the edge and looked over. The old feelings started creeping back in. The wind, the view, the distance. It started to calm me down. I’d always wanted to do this and I finally was given the chance. I experience what I had always wanted while being cheered on by others, not having them grab me by my belt. I can’t remember if I was second or third. I know for certain that one of my friends went before me. I know that the other friend’s first response upon surfacing was “I got water up my butthole!” The thing I remember most was that fantastic slow-motion feeling I had falling, how I had never felt more alive, how the cold air from falling made the water feel that much warmer and how blue the water was when I was under it. I went back…twice.

I feel like I’m in the same position again. That I am almost at the edge of something that I’ve wanted for a while. It’s not a sure thing. It’s not what I’d like it all to be eventually. Honestly, I don’t think it would make my life easier, it may very well complicate things. Did I mention that it isn’t a sure thing? Still, I feel like that this could be the beginning of something new, something that I’ve felt led to for a while. I could almost wet myself though. What happens if I’m not prepared. If I don’t jump out far enough, or if I bellyflop? How do you brush that off like I meant to do it? Still, what’s life without risk? A little egg on your face is a conversation starter. As long as I don’t lose my swimtrunks I think I’ll be all right. I’m scared, though. I’m excited. In a few days time, I think I’m going to make the jump.

1…2…3…

Pax.

Iron on Iron

As you might be aware, I started this blog as a way to help me get my act together. Part of getting my act together included writing both here and in other places but part of it was also to develop a habit of setting apart some of the day to just have God and me time. It’s funny how hard that actually can be, but the more you do it the more you enjoy it.

This morning, however, I was in for a shock. I pulled out my guide, settled in with my breakfast and opened it up. I realize now that I misread the words at the top of the page, but in a bleary, first-thing-in-the-morning haze I looked down at the page and took a double take at the words on the top of the page. “Welcome to Hell” it said (or seemed to). With my experiences in the recent past, my first reaction was, “Thanks but I believe I have been a citizen for a bit now.” I proceeded to skim the rest of the page, figuring that this would be one of those mornings where you do it just to check it off of your list and move on with the day. Funny, though, I might have been ready to leave my coffee talk with God but God wasn’t done with me.

It was as though he said, “Hell? Really, mate? (Yes, God tends to speak like a Brit to me. It’s more posh, plus I watch a large amount of BBC America) Yeah, it’s seemed dark recently to you, but hasn’t it gotten a bit lighter of late? Did you forget that there might be an opportunity on the horizon? More importantly, hell is lonesome and didn’t you realize you weren’t alone in all of this. Yeah, I might just have pushed you to some minor crashes around some key people. Wake up, man!”

And, properly smacked in the back of the head by the hand that created the world, I smiled a bit. I started going over in my head the verses about friends and the stories about friends. David and Jonathan, best bros ’til the end. Paul and Silas, missionary duo par excellence. True, there are the spectacularly bad friends there as well. Job’s friends meant well, God bless ’em, but were utter rot (sorry, BBC is on in the background). Jesus’ pack all decided to take a nap and ran away when he needed them most.

That, thankfully, has not been my experience. I have found myself surrounded by loving, encouraging friends. You’ve let me ramble like so much verbal diarrhea, seen me cry (often when I didn’t even suspect it), comforted me, encouraged me, and reminded me that this is all part of the process. You all know who you are and I can’t say thank you enough. I’m in debt to you all and I am happy to count you as friends. You have made experiencing a dark night of the soul not as dark and a good bit shorter.

Pax.