Woven Weekly – Right to be Angry?…

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“And the Lord said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” ~ Jonah 4:4

Seriously, aren’t some things in this world/life absolutely MADDENING!?  For instance, the other night I just stayed up to the wee hours of the morning to watch the Wisconsin Badgers lose their sweet 16 March Madness basketball game at the very last second.  I grew in Madison, WI and I was back and forth from elation to total irritation the whole game.  The end seemed almost unfair and wrong.  Also, the defense was terrible!  I felt like I could see the sequence of events unfolding from a mile away and then as the shot went up it seemed almost destined to go in.  As the shot sunk I was sunk right along with the rest of Wisconsin’s team.  I couldn’t believe it.  How disheartening to watch!  Much of the game was frustrating, and on top of that I had to contain any sort of outburst throughout as my wife and two kids were already in bed for the night.  Side-note… It’s rather funny to me too how our dog will tuck her tail between legs and walk around ever so nervously when she can tell I am frustrated with a sporting event.

Anyway, so in some ways, this is a very poor example of something maddening in this world.  It’s more what some call a first world problem, or not even as many people couldn’t care less about sports.  This is similar to technology infuriating you because you suddenly lose something you were working on or it’s being abnormally slow.  There are definitely extremely worse problems in the world like human trafficking, abuse, murder, steeling, terrorism, oppression of the poor, racism, etc.  And I don’t even want to talk about politics.

Many things are disheartening and leave one maddened.  Anger, though, presents some struggles for me.  I don’t like anger, and a lot of bad things can happen because of our responses to it.  As a child anger seemed to always equal terrible things.  I can even remember specifically concentrating on learning how to control my own anger growing up because I didn’t like many of the results of it in my own home.

And another thing, isn’t anger a sin?  And that brings me to the actual point of this post.  Being March Madness season and all, it seems rather appropriate to write about my own anger of the last few years during my wilderness journey.

Writing about this is tough for me though.  In fact, I’ve had a hard time putting words to paper over the past couple week (hence why this post is later than usual).  I am scared to talk about it and nervous.  Also, at times I feel as though I am making a colossal confession about myself that is heinously wrong.  I’ve gotten really self-conscious about it.

It’s possible some of you might think this is silly.  Maybe some of you have even seen or had better responses to anger than have been mentioned.  See, really, I don’t think all anger is actually sinful.  Anger can actually lead to good things as in response to it we might choose to act in such a way to help a certain injustice.  Also, say we just choose to harbor all of our anger within.  That can eat away at us or leave us as like a ticking time-bomb about to explode.  Even the Bible actually says in Ephesians 4:26 to literally “Be angry but do not sin.”  Here anger is an acceptable emotion, not inherently sinful.  Sin is dependent upon how we act in response.

What about anger in a different light though?  And here comes the kicker at least for me in terms of this post.  The thing I’ve been the most nervous and self-conscious about admitting here is that I have been angry with God!  And when I say angry, I mean intensely.  I’ve been downright peeved, irritated, and annoyed!  This is probably less of a secret than it seems for me to share as I imagines it’s been rather noticeable by some, but now I want to go hide myself underneath a rock.  Or at least I feel as though major repentance is in order!  This hasn’t been by any means constant, but I can definitely say I can sympathize with Jonah and his anger and disheartenment towards God who I mention at the beginning of this post.

Most of us remember Jonah as the common childhood story character who was swallowed alive by a huge fish and then later spit back out onto dry land.  Jonah disobeyed God and actually ran away from him in the very opposite direction.  Often the story is told to tell of him recommitting himself and then following through with what he was told to do in the beginning.  And he lived happily ever after.  WRONG!  For many people the story ends with chapter 3 and Jonah’s remaining anger and resentment go unnoticed, overlooked, and/or embarrassingly forgotten.

Anger as I’ve already said though is troubling.  I think we can be comfortable not noticing or avoiding it in the story and therefore also in ourselves.  God always wants to cut right to our hearts within us in everything, and Jonah has a glaringly bleeding wound within his that God doesn’t want to go unnoticed and left untouched.

So let’s look at this question God asks Jonah—“Is it right for you to be angry?”  The easy answer seems to be ‘No’, I mean, isn’t this what God is ultimately getting at?  Well, I think that’s too easy of an answer.  Think about this with me for a moment.  Isn’t Jonah somewhat justified in his anger toward the people of Nineveh and their behavior?  Isn’t it just and right for people to get what they deserve in this life?  Aren’t we supposed to be alarmed, appalled, maddened toward sin in this life, and also ourselves?  Romans 12:9 tells us to Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.”  God doesn’t always operate though within the construct of right and wrong, punishment and reward, etc.

What can we then take away from this story and Jonah’s anger, even anger toward God, and also our own?  One, and I imagine this is controversial, our anger is ok in and of itself.  What’s sinful is our action(s) in response to it within us.  In terms of anger towards God, we are encouraged, even told in the bible to grieve, mourn, and wail while in prayer toward God so many times.  Also, so many people throughout Scripture lament and rail against injustice and utterly horrid things experienced in their lives.  God wants us to lay our hearts out before him, whatever the state of them, beyond all our understanding, disappointment, sadness, and rage and trust him to make everything right once again (see Prov. 3:5-6).

Secondly, let’s take to heart God’s response shown throughout Scripture as his people cry, mourn, and wail before him.  God doesn’t condemn.  He often doesn’t punish.  He may respond strongly and sternly as with Job starting at chapter 38 of his story.  He also may respond in sheer, disheartening silence.  But I can’t think of one example where God is not just as who Jonah says he is from his very own lips and heart—“For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing (Jonah 4:2).”

As I write this I am reminded of an experience in my own life with me and my daughter.  3 years ago right around this time I had tell my daughter we had to move once again.  We had hardly gotten settled in our new town just a year earlier.  She was already torn away once from a home and friends she was in the middle of fostering relationships with and now about to be hit with this devastating reality once again.  “WHY!  THIS ISN’T FAIR!  NOT AGAIN!” must have railed within her only 4-year-old heart.

As I told her standing beside my wife in our bedroom, she in a split second turned and ran out of the room, down the hallway, and collapsed to her knees on the living room floor.  I followed just behind and collapsed to my knees beside her and said the very first words that came from my heart—“Its ok for you to be angry.”  And we knelt together in silence, and I can’t remember if I cried, but I am right now as I type this out.

Brothers and sisters, as I am reminded of words from a song I know based on Hosea 6:1-3, “Let us press on to know Him, let us press hard into Him, then as surely as the coming of the dawn He will respond!”  (If you’d like, listen to the whole song by recording artists Shane & Shane here)

O Lord, as with the people of Nineveh, Job too, and even possibly, hopefully Jonah himself as well…  I turn to you in this here Lenten season, in light of your steadfast love and mercy, and sit and repent in dust and ashes!

Therefore brothers and sisters, in view God’s mercy, let us offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” ~ Romans 12:1

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Woven Weekly – With Me, With Me Not?

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“O Lord,… when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” ~ Psalm 30:7b

In this week’s edition of Woven Weekly I want to ask the question, has your daily walk with God ever been like the kid’s game of plucking petals off a flower and siting, He loves me, he loves me not?  Did you ever play this game as a kid?  More commonly the practice is to think of a love interest and while plucking off petals you alternate saying the two phrases with each petal you pull off until you reach the las one.  If you pull off the last petal saying He loves me, well then you have your answer.  Simple, right?

Well, it seems to me like I’ve been playing this game with God, but only in a slightly different manner.  I’ll take certain circumstances into consideration and use them to discern whether God is with me, or with me not.

If you’ve been following along with this blog for the last few weeks I’ve kept you in a little bit of suspense.  Some of you will remember that I mentioned a job interview I had toward the end of my post 2 weeks ago.  This was peculiar as I was reached out to about the interview on the very same afternoon of a significant date for me of the last few years, February 16th.   Well, I am saddened to once again be giving you the update that I was turned down yet again for this position as well.  Sigh…  I think one can easily wonder what is up with this repeated outcome.

That’s something I don’t have an answer for.  In Fact, I have a hard time drawing any conclusion.  I easily feel discouraged.  Irritated too.  I wonder, why is it going like this?  Am I doing something wrong?  Am I not seeing, hearing, or listening to God as I should?  Do I need to try something different?  Or, is this all I should expect?  Are you with me God, or with me not?  Am I with you, or with you not?

I’ve really had a run in when it comes to seeking employment over the past year.  As 2016 began I had the two part-time positions I currently have—daytime hospice chaplain Monday-Thursday and third shift hospital chaplain every Friday and every-other Saturday nights.  That’s not particularly ideal, especially with a young family.  While I like what I am doing, it’s still been unsettling as I still feel like I haven’t found my exact place and/or niche entirely.  As I’ve journeyed with God the past 3 years he’s provided in certain ways, but it’s also been the hardest time I’ve ever had in sensing his direction, presence, and voice.  There’s been quite a bit of uncertainty and unknown.

This past year then has been something else vocationally.  At the beginning of 2016 I received 1 rejection early on of a full-time hospice position I though seemed rather promising.  Given certain things that happened at the time as well I interpreted receiving some messages from God that I was going to receive the position as well.

A couple months later and I got asked for another interview with a nursing home looking for a chaplain.  They performed an extensive process.  Over the next few months into June I interviewed 4 different times with them and then actually was offered their position.  Circumstances were such though by this time that I was also just about to interview for another position I had much more interest in and I was in the midst of completing the final leg of further necessary chaplaincy training that I needed.  After agonizing over the offer for a few days I actually turned it down saying I didn’t feel I could fully commit right then.  This decision does haunt me to some degree now, but I still mostly feel I made the right decision at the time.

Right after this then I interviewed for the next position I mentioned just above and after another week they contacted me to say I was their top choice.  This was surprising to me because I wasn’t sure I interviewed exceptionally well.  I thought it was ok.  They then wanted me to interview with some staff from a unit I might be working on.  That interview then came and went about a week later and I figured I just had to wait for next steps.  Well, things then remained silent for a week and half thereafter.  That got me a little nervous so I chose to send an email to HR requesting an update.  A day passed and I receive a reply message saying, “We’re moving on with other candidates.”  Now, did you follow all of that?  I think you can understand my dismay!  What in the world is that all about?  Looking back, I am not sure how I pulled it together for the weeks thereafter.

From there then I finished my chaplaincy training at the end of August.  Just as I finished a full-time position at the hospital I currently work at came available.  Seems perfect, right?  Well, I cautiously withheld total judgment while applying and sitting for an interview.   I knew it would be competitive and I felt this interview went very well.  One of my best.  I was told the process to decide would take quite a few weeks and that I wouldn’t need to interview again since they knew me.  About a month passed and I sat down with my supervisor to learn an outside, very well experienced candidate received the position.  Once again another year was coming to a close and you feel like you’re back at square 1.  Some progress is there as you read the above, but easily overlooked.

That then brings us back to today.  Another seemingly promising opportunity has come and gone.  I thought I interviewed well.  Another petal has fallen to the ground.  The question still remains—He’s with me, He’s with me not…  What do I conclude?

With this the other day a scene from a favorite movie of mine came to mind, Grumpier Old Men.  These movies cracked me up when they first came out, and I’ve felt a certain kinship with them as I attained my undergraduate degree from a university mentioned in the film, Winona State University of Winona, MN.  The film takes place in a town just north of there, Wabasha, MN.  Anyway, there’s a scene in this sequel where Walter Mathau’s Character, Max has a love interest.  The interest becomes mutual, however one problem arises towards the end.  It comes to be known that she’s been married already 5 different times already and reaches the conclusion that she must be cursed in love… (you can watch a clip of this scene here).  In the last year then, I’ve now received the same number of rejections employment-wise.  Should I conclude the same?

Thankfully, though, God is still more like Mathau’s character when it’s all said and done.  Max stays on the pursuit and won’t let her dismay have the final say!  As my own love interest (A.K.A. wife) said to me recently, couldn’t all of these circumstances together communicate the single, loud and clear conclusion from God as well—“I am with you!  I have never left or forsaken you.  Do not be dismayed or discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8)!”  Of course, her words to me weren’t in response to hearing of this last interview result.  They came as I was hesitant to be hopeful in light of being asked to interview on February 16th in the first place, and also in connection with so many ways God has proven himself faithful and involved these past 3 years.  Maybe I need to wake up and smell the roses, instead of being so concerned with the petals.

Quickly, then two additional conclusions have surfaced in this regard over the past week as well.  The first is that it came to my attention a couple days ago that this very week happens to be the Hebrew festival of Purim.  Why is that significant?  Well, this festival is held each year to commemorate the sparing of God’s people in the story of the Old Testament book of Esther.  How does that fit with the above?  Throughout the whole book of Esther the word God or his name is not mentioned even once.  This doesn’t mean that God is absent or vacated his people in their time of disarray.  In fact, the story is remembered and commemorated for just the opposite.  God may seem absent, but he is very much present.  Some day I/we may very well look back and notice everything was purposed for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).

Finally, secondly then, maybe the tables are turned just a little bit.  Instead of my relationship with God being like a flower and its petals as described above.  Maybe I’m a tree planted in a certain vineyard needing ongoing and fresh tilling and fertilization.  A friend of mine just yesterday reminded me of the parable Jesus told of a barren fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.  As I looked it up, the parallels to my story seem quite profound.  A man plants a fig tree, but for 3 years it bears no fruit.  Like what some of the last 3 years have felt like for me vocationally.  The man proclaims, “What a waste!  Cut it down!  Throw it away!”  Much like what I pointed out that Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes two weeks ago as he cried, “Vanity!” or “Meaningless, meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!”  How does the Gardener (in this case, God) respond?  “Let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.  If it bears fruit next year, well and good.”

I have to admit, when I read that parable to myself later a flood of hope and assurance re-entered my spirit.  The prospect of yet at least one more year had entered my mind in the last week, but I’ve avoided dwelling on it much.  This experience though helped me have confidence again to say, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” ~ Psalm 116:7

“Why so downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” ~ Psalm 42:11

Woven Weekly – Worthy In the Wilderness

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“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness…” ~ Matthew 4:1

“So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness…” ~ Exodus 13:18

Last week I shared a post wondering about the meaning of it all.  I shared that nowadays when the month of February comes around I start asking what does it all mean?  Feel free to revisit that post and notice for yourself the peculiar things that have happened for me mostly centered around one date, February 16th.

During my post last week I singled out a portion of my story where I showed that on the 1 year anniversary of February 16th after 2 successive years of significant life events happening on that date certain things seem to keep occurring on or around this date ever since.  During the 1st year 3 years ago I had come across a video before the anniversary where I noticed the very day after, February 17.  Also, two more things were that February 17 was significant from my youth and I happened to be scheduled for a final session with a career counselor for that same day that year as well!  All of this was way too peculiar.  What I forgot to mention last week though however, is that the very next day following this during this 1 year anniversary, February 18, 2015, was significant as well.  It was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent…  And this could signify what has seemed to follow for me in these 3 years since—being led into the wilderness.

Looking back it doesn’t seem farfetched to say that following that I entered into an extended season of Lent.  And it seems that my Easter is still yet to come… (Feel free to read a poem I wrote that fits with this experience entitled “In the Meantime” by scrolling to the end of the post found here).

What does it mean to be led into the wilderness?  Well, if I knew the answer to that it may be less of a wilderness-like experience.  I think being led into the wilderness means to head out into the unknown.  You don’t know what’s ahead.  You can’t even hardly see anything of significance that’s in front of you, or around you for that matter.  When it’s dark, its pitch black and lasts for hours.  Light helps, but it’s still hard to see your way through the trees and terrain.  You feel alone and lost even though you are somewhere and you may be traveling along in a group of other family and friends.  Mainly I think it’s that overwhelming experience of feeling lost and alone.  Where’s the opening, the clearing, or the destination?  Where is there even food or drink or sustenance along the journey?  Where is there encouragement and reason to forge ahead?

Something that is disturbing when talking about this is noticing that people don’t always head out into the wilderness of their own volition and desire.  The 2 passages I reference in the beginning of this post mention in the first case the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness and then also God himself purposefully leading his people into the wilderness.  What is up with this?  Why would God do that?  If that’s how God treats his beloved (that’s you and me) is it even remotely worth following, hoping trusting, believing in, or being his children through Christ at all?  In terms of the second reference above with the Israelites in Exodus, how is that freeing them from captivity?  And in terms of Jesus, God’s beloved son, how is this being fatherly, loving, protecting, or saving toward anyone?

All of these are good questions.  You may have more.  I’ll tell you, after what all of this has felt like over the past 3 years, if it seemed like I really had someone or somewhere else to turn to right about now, the temptation is real.

Amazingly though there are also things that are rather endearing even amidst such disturbances as well.  Like what?  Well, firstly I notice that God doesn’t just only subject us his people to such things.  The first Scripture reference above tells us of Jesus also being led into and withstanding the wilderness.  God doesn’t refuse to subject himself and even his much beloved son.  In fact, he counts the experience as very much worth it and purposeful even for Jesus.  It prepares Jesus.  Hones and stretches, bends and throws, but does not break him.  Jesus too goes through an enduring process when growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52), when becoming mature.  This not only accomplishes this task, but also sets him as a worthy one to draw strength from in our own wilderness experiences since he is able to sympathize with our very weaknesses, having been tempted like us in every way, yet stood without sin  (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Secondly, another thing I find endearing in all of this has been already briefly mentioned: there’s a worthy purpose also amidst the wilderness-like experience.  A few years ago I noticed an interesting verse within the Old Testament book of Lamentations amidst the anguish and grief strung throughout it.  Lamentations 3:31-33 says, “For the Lord will not reject forever.  Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”  Did you see that?  There’s a purpose behind God’s affliction.

Nowadays I can often think that it’s quite cliché to say “Everything happens for a reason.”  In fact, as a Chaplain by trade I tend to shy away from actually suggesting it to anyone.  I’ll go along with people just fine if they bring this up themselves.  But I also don’t want to in any way minimize their own experience of their wilderness or somehow suggest that they’re feeling wrongly or too heavily in their own wilderness as well.  Maybe I am too cautious.  To link this to the first thing above then, it is comforting to know that the means by which one, even Jesus, is made perfect is through suffering.  In Hebrews 5:7-9 we read that Jesus offered up prayers with loud cries and tears amidst his suffering for us on the cross.  With this he also learned obedience and was made perfect through suffering as well.  And so such are we as well—James 1:2-4.

Thirdly then, another thing that can be endearing amidst the wilderness is that there is an actual end to all such circumstances as well.  Some won’t be reached in this lifetime.  Some are only allotted a certain amount of time before completion or fulfillment of promise occurs.  Saying that is not to minimize one’s experience in the wilderness no matter the number of days, weeks, months, or years therein.  One can take heart that Jesus’ wilderness lasted 40 days and nights.  As far as the Israelites go, 40 years is definitely a long time.  Some didn’t survive the whole time, in fact a whole generation had to pass.  Their wilderness, however, wasn’t only of God’s doing.  They had their own faults along the way as well.  That brings up another endearing thing–God never left or forsook them.  He kept his promise and remained.

Along with this too there are also so many things, gifts really, that we too easily overlook as well along our wilderness experiences as well.  Amidst any hardship there is reason to praise, be grateful, have joy, and be hopeful if for nothing else because of God’s already acted upon love for us on the cross.  Also, other often overlooked gifts can include family and friends, health, everyday met needs, and maybe some modern conveniences.  Each of these things are easily taken for granted amidst the trees.

Finally then, in all things through Christ there is full redemption secured for any and all sufferings one could ever endure in this life because of the life Jesus lived, the death he died on the cross, and then also his resurrection from the dead on the third day.  It is in this way that what we read in Revelation 21:3-4 is accomplished—“Now the dwelling of God is with mankind, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (in other words, died, and new life fulfilled).”

In conclusion then, as I pondered what I might possibly consider in my writings for this past week, given Lent I was first struck by the wilderness experience.  Not only that, though, as I looked further I noticed something that surprised me.  What was the purpose of God leading his people into the wilderness in the first place?  Worship!…  When calling Moses, God said to him, “I will be with you.  And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt you will worship God on this mountain (Exodus 3:12).”  Put another way, a little while later God also told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness (Exodus 7:16).”

Lately, every night at bedtime for my kids, my daughter has now been asking me, “Daddy, can we sing songs out of the black binder in the living room?”  This binder is full of songs I was once learning to play on guitar but have now neglected for some time.  One of the songs in it goes, “Blessed be your name in the land that is plentiful; where your streams of abundance flow; blessed be your name.  Blessed be your name when I’m found in the desert place; though I walk through the wilderness; blessed be your name.”  You can listen to the rest of the song here.

It’s extremely endearing to me that as my daughter and I sing this together at night she belts it out like no one’s business.  It has also come to my attention as well that my wife and I chose this song to be sung at our wedding.  I remember singing with so much joy and exuberance that day.  So often though it can be hard to sing when in the wilderness.  God is though, just as worthy, even then.

 

Woven Weekly – What Does It All Mean?

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At the time of this post I have now taken a close to 3 week hiatus from posting anything on here.  I’ve been well aware of this.  I did try to write something a couple weeks ago, but had trouble finding rhythm and pulling things together.  Also I’ve been occupied.

As I wrote in my last post, on the very first day of this past month things spun out of my control.  My Dad went into the hospital on February 1 and he didn’t leave there until last week on Tuesday and now has been moved into a facility closer to me and my family.  It’s hard to believe that has all happened in a few short weeks.  My Dad has actually lived in a facility 3 hours north of where I currently live for many years and I’ve wanted to move him closer for quite a while.  Suddenly now in 1 month’s time that has become a reality, and almost seemingly outside of any of my own doing at all.

What I haven’t yet told you as well, is that February itself over the last so many years has come to hold a lot of meaning for me for a few reasons.  This is what I started writing about a few weeks ago but stopped as even then it seemed like too much.  Now too, with all of this happening with my Dad during this particular month as well, it seems in some ways to only add to it all once again.

As February comes around though, nowadays I find myself asking the meaning of it all…

Have you ever wondered, how do we know whether something is meaningful?  And if something is meaningful, well, how do we know what meaning that something actually holds?  Ok, I may be getting too heady, but I tend to think about such things.  I’ve been one to draw meaning from all sorts of things.   Movies, things I read, everyday events… And then there’s certain dates.  Take for example June 14 in my own life.  That date holds already meaning for many people in our country as Flag Day, but it’s also my Dads birthday.  Not only that, it’s also my son’s birthday and our dog’s birthday.  I found out this past week too that it’s the birthday of a new social worker working with my Dad’s case as well.  Lastly, it also happens to be the day that my Dad’s mom actually died some years ago as well.  Isn’t that all just a little strange?  Can it be a coincidence?  Does it all mean anything?

I will likely never be able to fully answer that, but it’s definitely all very peculiar to say the least.  Then there are these words from the Bible (a particular book I find a lot of meaning in) in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes…

“‘Meaningless!  Meaningless!’  Says the Teacher.  ‘Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!’” ~ Ecclesiastes 1:2

That’s hopeful, huh?

That settles it though, doesn’t it?  We call the Bible “God’s Word” and I remember hearing a slogan many years ago that says, “God says it.  I believe it.  That settles it!”  We have to take that line in context though before we can draw such conclusions.

What I think has happened here for the writer of Ecclesiastes is that he has become strung-out on meaning.  He’s weary of it!  Fed-up with it!  He’s tried to contemplate meaning in so many things for so long that he now has tired of it because he just can’t know it all.  And neither can we.  About mid-way through this present month I also found myself in a similar place.  Keep reading to find out why…

I already mentioned above that February itself has come to be quite meaningful for me over the past many years.  Why is this?  Well, also like above, it mostly centers around certain dates and events in this month that have occurred as the years have gone by.  For me, both the day that I first met my now wife and certain events having to do with my career have each happened in this month.  To me that makes it stick out like no other.

11 years ago this year my wife and I had our very first in-person date on a Friday night on February 10th.  A strange thing about this particular date this year is that it occurs on the very same night of the week as 11 years ago.  Is there meaning behind that?

Then there’s February 16th, and this date is even more peculiar to me for a few reasons.  4 years ago on February 16th my family and I sadly left the town of my first pastorate following seminary.  We moved to another town 4 hours away where I was to begin another pastorate not necessarily too different than the one before.  All of this already made this date memorable to me as certain heartbreaks and hopes came all wrapped together into one.  Then exactly 1 year later to the day I was also then agreeing to resign from this position as things didn’t go nearly as we had hoped.

I can still remember my drive as we moved to this new town that one year.  I was in one care and my wife and kids in another.  Certain music played over the radio that gave me chills and moved me to tears at times.  This new opportunity seemed to hold so much promise.  Then at about the same hour that we arrived in town one year prior, all and any meaning somehow came to seem completely dashed.  What’s up with that?!  Every year since this date has loomed, even haunted me as each new year begins.

Has this ever happened to you?  I imagine it has.  I know I am not the only one to have certain dates that stand out above all the rest.  Also though too, I am not the only one to think such thinking is silly as well.  Now, as 3 years have passed too, there’s even more has become hard for me to shake as February comes around each year as well.

To add fuel to this already smoldering fire then, as the 1 year anniversary came about two years ago a few interesting things occurred.  Firstly, I was already looking at this date from afar long before its pending arrival. Then also at some point I came across a video a friend of mine had posted on Facebook that really got my attention.  It was a video detailing the story of this couple who believed they were to have a daughter and also were to give her a particular name as well.  They ended up waiting many years.  They struggled with infertility.  They had all but given up, but then things started to miraculously fall into place.  They were led to ultimately adopt and when they met the mom of their soon to be daughter they learned she had already been calling this child by the name they had believed in many years prior.  You can watch the video for this story yourself here if you’d like.  Then what made this story all the more crazy to me is noticing the date of the child’s birthday.  Did you notice it during the video too?  It wasn’t February 16th, but 17th, the very day after.

That then came to hold great significance for me.  One more thing too yet is that as this 1 year anniversary approached I was also meeting with a career counselor at the time and our final session together came to be scheduled for, you guessed it, February 17.  Still something else is that February 17 is a date I singled out many years prior in my youth tied to my favorite athlete I idolized back then.  It happens to be Michael Jordan’s birthday.  Ok, I nay have just lost many of you as this has just surpassed your silly-o-meter, but stick with me a little bit longer.

That first anniversary did come and go, and I did end up disappointed.  One thing it led to though, was the writing of a poem I still return to from time to time to as I think it describes well my many questions and emotions (you can read that by scrolling to the end of this post from 3 years ago here).

Then February 16th came about the following year once again, and you know what I read that morning?  Exodus 23:29-30 which says, “I will not drive them out from before you in one year, or the land would become desolate and the while animals would multiply against you.  Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land.”  Now, can that really be a coincidence?  Again though the date came and went.

As the date has once again approached then this year, of course I’ve been watching yet again.  At one point I noticed that, as I mentioned above, the night of my wife and I’s first date was set to occur on the same night of the week as before.  Also, this is now 3 years afterwards and some months ago I came across this video of an interview with Tim Tebow recalling a significant 3 year anniversary for him some years back (watch it here).  As he says, “a lot of people will say coincidence.  I say big-God!”

This isn’t all then…  Come just a couple weeks on February 16th this year you might imagine that all these things considered led to a difficult day in heart and mind.  In fact, come that afternoon, I basically reached my breaking point and I found myself repeating along with the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless!  Meaningless!  It all has just to be meaningless!”

I don’t think you’re going to believe what happened though shortly thereafter.  Once again at about the same hour as the successive events of just 3 and 4 years prior within minutes of each other I received 2 separate emails from 2 different employers I had applied for about a month beforehand.  I had all but given up on both of these positions as about 4 weeks had passed.  Now they were each asking me for an interview in the week to follow.  Again I have ask—Coincidence?  Well, suspense still lingers as of today I am still waiting for an answer following the interview for one of the positions just mentioned.

Ok, well I’ve written a lot, and the above about sums up the matter.  How then do I conclude it all?  Interestingly the end of Ecclesiastes seems rather fitting here as well… “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of everyone.” ~ Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Woven Weekly – Calm, Be Still

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Sometimes I swear I can be one of the most indecisive people ever.  This isn’t true every day (thank goodness!).  When it is though, it can be overwhelming.  There are days when I feel less anxious, more confident and seem to roll with how things go.  Those are rare though.  I often wish I could bottle that up and have it available for every day.

In relation, in the past it’s seemed apparent to me that I’ve been a better baseball defender as an infielder than an outfielder.  As an infielder there is less thinking involved.  Of course you have to have an idea of how to respond in each situation.  But all I ever had to do was rehearse things in my mind before each batter, breathe, and then assume a ready position.  From there I just responded accordingly.  As an outfielder sometimes there’s time to get anxious as you wait for that pop fly to reach you.

Also then, as I begin writing this, I am just watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Raymond’s brother, Robert, is obsessing over whether he should remain a cop or switch and accept a full-time gig selling home security systems which he has been doing on the side part-time for a little while.  He can’t decide.  He obsesses.  He thinks of every possible angle.  He makes a decision, and then reconsiders.  He asks the opinion of everyone close to him.  He takes hours and days.  It’s funny to watch, but also tiring.  Welcome to my brain… Get the picture?  I am suddenly reminded of this commercial.

This past week it seems as though my indecisiveness has been on full display.  My Dad went into the hospital on Wednesday morning.  He lives 3 hours away from me up north.  He has a traumatic brain injury and has resided in a nursing home there for many years.  Over this past weekend he started refusing to eat, drink, and also take his medications, thus dehydrating himself.  I just happened to take over guardianship for my Dad again this past week on Monday and a plan of mine has been to see about moving him closer to me and my family.  I didn’t know things would suddenly go erratic in just a few short days though.

Come Wednesday morning I was suddenly pressed into doing all I could to find out what was going on from a distance.  Then I stressed over going to see him and when.  As I was leaving a day later I stopped for gas only to find that I couldn’t find my credit card in my wallet.  That unfolded into a crazy scene of me backtracking and trying to locate it.  When I did it was just in a different place in my wallet that under normal circumstances I would never put it.  That ever happen to you?

Lastly then, now that I’ve arrived up north to be with him I’ve spent a lot of time stressing over him progressing, being willing to eat and drink again (which so far has only had small success), and ultimately be able to discharge him from the hospital hopefully directly to a new nursing home closer to me and my family.  I’ve been told that under these circumstances it’s easier to find placement for someone in my Dad’s condition so it seems like an opportune time.  However, I just wish I knew that this is how things will definitively turn out.  And I want to control it in that direction as much as possible.  As things happen as I’ve described here though, we easily recognize how little things are ever in our control, if ever at all.

Do you ever wonder how God makes decisions?  Does he ever analyze, consider, research, obsess, stress, ask for advice, etc?  Does he take every prayer or wish into consideration and every occurrence in your life and the world?  Some of what I just said seems wrong to think or wonder about God.  I imagine he doesn’t stress and obsess.  He must do something though.  We claim he has infinite knowledge and doesn’t make mistakes.  I don’t think there’s an example of Jesus ever being indecisive either.  The closest may be when he’s praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before he’s about to face the cross.  Even then he handles his emotions well in retreat and prayer and then decides “Not my will, but yours be done.”  Right here is a clue for our responses as well.

Back to my Dad.  His frontal lobe is severely injured and partly removed.  Much of our decision making and impulse control is housed here.  This has caused him to be less able to reason and restrain himself in his words and actions.  Can you imagine being a parent and less able to restrain yourself with certain things you want to say and/or do to your kids each day?  Now maybe you can imagine some of what I am hearing as I sit next to him the last couple of days. 😉

Psalm 77 asks some of the hardest questions of God.  “Will the Lord reject forever?  Will he never show his favor again?  Has his unfailing love vanished from the earth?  Has his promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has he in his anger withheld his compassion (vs. 7-9)?”  Tough questions!  Raw, real, no-holds-barred type questions.  One needn’t look too far to wonder such things though.  Natural disasters, traumatic events, war, famine, drought, or our current political culture name a few.

As I ponder on these thoughts of mine and write a few songs then come to mind.  One is an oldie by the band The Eagles called “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.”  Originally this song is written about a woman in Don Henley’s life, but the chorus speaks to this post as well.  It goes, “I got a peaceful, easy feelin’, and I know you won’t let me down.  ‘Cause I am already standin’ on the ground.”  That’s basically how Psalm 77 turns.  Starting at vs. 10 it says, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider all your deeds.  Your ways, O God, are holy.  What god is so great as our God?”  The Psalmist ultimately remembers that God hasn’t disappointed (let his people down) in the past and thus ultimately never will.  This gives him a solid ground and firm foundation to stand on.

Another song is one I just heard today thanks to a friend on Facebook.  It’s called “Control” by Tenth Avenue North (you can listen to that here).  A part of this song goes, “I’ve had plans shattered and broken.  Things I have hoped in fall through my hands.  You have plans to redeem and restore me.  You’re behind and before me.  O help me believe.”  Then part of the chorus says, “God, you don’t need me, but somehow you want me.  Oh how you love me.  Somehow that frees me to open my hands up and give you control.”

Yet another song is by Jonny Diaz called “Breathe.”  You can listen to that here.  This song really gets to the hustle and bustle of every day life and how so easily we can never pause and breathe, relax, take in a moment, and be present with God.  The chorus goes, “Breathe, just breathe!  Come and rest at my feet.  And be, just be!  Chaos calls, but all you really need is to just breathe.”

Finally, one more song is one I see to hear only once every so often by Scott Krippayne called “Sometimes He Calms the Storm.”  I encourage you to listen to that here.  In the last couple of years I can definitely say I’ve reached the point of darkened skies and gentle wind gone strong.  Fear, worry, doubt, and grief drench the soul, but somehow I sail on trusting he is in control.  The last line of the chorus really closes things well as it says, “Sometimes he calms the storm.  And other times he calms this child.”

So these are some of my thoughts as I’ve gone throughout this week.  It’s felt like a challenging one.  It’s always good though to be reminded who is in control!

“Commit your way before the Lord; trust in him, and he will act… Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret…”  Psalm 37:5&7

Woven Weekly – Closer Than You Think

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You ever wonder if you’re doing it wrong?  This reminds me of when I was living with some roommates of mine in college.  I lived with 4 other guys in a house we called “The Pit”, which has many connotations of its own.  Actually, we took pretty good care of the house, even having a weekly cleaning rotation between us.  Things got iffy sometimes, and we had quite the assortment of old, well-used, but comfortable couches.

One night though, me and another roommate were getting on the case of the youngest of us in the house while I believe he was doing some math homework.  He was like the little brother of the household and yeah, sometimes an easy target.  I think he was working on some complex equation and we were peering over his shoulder and occasionally jabbing him saying, “You’re doing it wrong!”  We were having what we thought was good-hearted fun, but he only took so much of it.  It didn’t take long and suddenly this younger-brother roommate blurted out this ugly, loud, annoyed-like groan or growl (that’s the best I can describe it).  My other roommate and I knew we had pushed him too far

I wonder if this at all describes how David felt in Psalm 22 or the writer of Psalm 88. Am I doing it wrong?  What is up or going on?  Why do you (God) feel so far from me and my situation?  Am I crazy or just different than everyone else?  GROAN!…  GROWL!… 

Last weekend I was listening to the radio while driving when a broadcaster made a comment that got me thinking about such questions.  I usually listen to Christian radio and appreciate much of the music, conversation, encouragement, and messages I hear.  I also drive a lot nowadays too so this keeps me pretty in-tune with the Christian mainstream of today.  Sometimes though something comes across the airwaves that makes me feel different and doesn’t seem to totally line up with me and/or my experiences.  Now I know life isn’t just about me and my experiences.  It’s much, much bigger than and beyond that.  Sometimes though people make sweeping statements that mark something as seemingly always true for everyone, when it’s just not really always the case.  This Leaves some to question whether they’re strange, different, or maybe doing something wrong.

This past weekend I heard a radio broadcaster say, “When we’re going through hard times we grow closer to God.”  He was responding to a caller who shared a story that basically lined up with that.  I had a difficult time with his response though because I don’t feel like that’s been my experience in these past 3 years or so, especially the past year or year and a half.  I have felt far from God. And instead of closeness gained, distance gained seems more correct.  This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this statement.  Actually, I know I’ve heard it multiple times, and that likely has something to do with prompting this post.

Anyway, when I heard that statement I remember that I sighed long when in my car. This wasn’t a sigh of relief either, but more a sigh of anguish, and then frustration.  Anguish because I’ve felt the opposite, and then frustration because I know this isn’t everyone’s experience.

Job in his despair once languished, “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone around my head and by his light I walked through darkness! Oh for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me (Job 29:2-5).”  Job knew what it was like to feel far from God, to feel as though some chasm has suddenly grown between him and God.  Other examples include King David, Moses, Elijah, and likely Joseph in Genesis as well.  Even Jesus when on the cross cried the words from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Just yesterday morning as part of a funeral I led the singing of the much beloved hymn from days of old, In the Garden.  I like this hymn.  There have been many a time I’ve felt empty in much despair and Jesus has met me there—walking and talking with me, and telling me I am his own.  Again I was touched when singing this hymn yesterday, but I also found myself longing like Job above.  I’d really like Jesus to meet me in my present circumstance and relieve the burden I feel, and have felt for some time now.  He has met me at different times in the midst of it, but I’d like it to be once and for all.  I will say that lately, since the new year, I haven’t felt quite as bad, but a longing still persists.

Where is there some hope though?  Is there any?  Will the closeness return?  Is there hope for the distance to dissipate and be replaced?  Here I am reminded of the message in the side review mirrors of our cars here in the US—“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”

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God is actually closer than he may appear, and likely you are as well.  This is true for Job and others mentioned in this post as we read more of their story.  In fact, this particular weekend is a reminder for me of such things.

Exactly 11 years ago this very weekend (the dates even fall on the same days of the week as 11 years ago) I reached out and heard back from my now wife for the very first time.  Some of you know our story, but we met through an internet dating service.  A few months prior to me stumbling across her online I had just gone through a hard break up for me.  Also, I was in a new town, attending seminary, and I wondered, how many more chances am I going to get?  On a whim, I filled out a profile for myself on Yahoo! Personals of all places and 2 days later when I received compatible profiles in response there she was–#1 on the list!  

In that instance, and I believe my current one too…  God proved to be closer than what appeared to be true.

Woven Weekly – Leave it to…

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leaveittobeaver

“Hope deferred makes a heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree life.” ~ Proverbs 13:12

“And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet…” ~ said 3 different times in reference to 3 different prophecies in Matthew 2:13-23

Ok, well I’m about out of time for this week.  In fact, I almost just threw in the towel on this writing thing because time was slipping away and there has kind of been another big thing happening this week that has our nation’s attention (actually, that certain thing kind of goes along with this post as well).  I’ve actually had an idea of something to write about since the end of last week so I might as well get to it.

Do you ever wonder why things happen as they do?  How they happen?  Why certain events unfold as they do?  Even, why did God choose that to happen or come about?  I know, deep questions, and one’s we can’t really answer.  This is what came to my mind though as I meditated on the second Scripture reference above as it came up in my bible reading during the past week.  As I read the repeated phrase of “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet…” my mind wandered and thought, “now why did God choose that (those events or even prophecies)?”  I mean, what’s the significance of Jesus being called out of Egypt or his parents having to escape there after his birth?  Or, did Jesus have to be a Nazarene as it mentions after the phrase is repeated the 3rd time.  The 2nd prophecy mentioned is the hardest as it pertains to all young boys 2-years-old and younger being killed.  Did that really have to happen!? Could God have chosen something else?

As I was thinking along these lines I was then reminded of the first verse I list above as it’s one I’ve carried with me these last few years as well.  That led me to think, “I wonder what God has fulfilled for me along the way that I maybe haven’t noticed? Or, and this is what really got me… that I’ve questioned him on, complained about, or pissed and moaned over? 

These events in Matthew 2 are actually things that lead up to the best event in history, Jesus dying and rising again.  That’s what we celebrate as God’s most loving act.  Also the events show the fulfillment of certain things in history and the Old Testament, which then shows that God is faithful and has a plan and a purpose.

Early on last week (now almost 2 weeks ago) a part of Psalm 40 stuck out to me as I read it as well—“Happy are those who make the Lord their trust (vs. 4).”  It was about a year ago now that a mentor of mine made the observation of me that I have a hard time with trust.  This actually surprised me at first, but I did come to agree with him.  Especially after I read the book The Shack shortly thereafter.  You’ll have to read it, or see the movie coming out in March, to see what I mean.

Well, to get to my point about this post.  I imagine many of you recognize the picture at the beginning of this post and the TV show that goes along with it.  Although, it does age me.  Actually, I knew the reruns, and then there was a version in color that came out in the 80’s with the Beaver, Wally, and the gang all grown up.  When I played baseball in high school, as I approached the batter’s box once a parent shouted out, “Leave it to Weaver, he’ll hit the ball!”  This caught on and became a regular chant I’d hear as my high school career continued.  I came to love hearing this.  It gave me confidence, and I loved to prove the parents right and come through.  I even miss it today.  Anybody want to get that going again 😉 ?

Actually, that’s the point to this post right there.  When it comes to this life and the events or circumstances therein, I don’t dare leave it to this weaver or any other for that matter.  But to the Grand Weaver, himself.  He’ll keep his promises and prove to be right, good, merciful and gracious, faithful, loving, and true.

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand. ~ Psalm 31:14-15a 

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” ~ Psalm 13:5-6 (following the Psalmist’s lament)

Woven Weekly – When the Going Gets Dark

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“Arise shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.”
~ Isaiah 60:1-2

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Wisemen from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to worship him.'”
~ Matthew 2:1-2

Well, another week into the New Year has arrived and I’m pressing forward with certain things I’ve set out to possibly do in 2017.  More than just the 2nd week into the New Year, on many church calendars this week is also recognized as the 1st week of Epiphany season.  What is that you ask?  Epiphany Day is marked as the day the Wisemen from the East saw a great light and came looking for the child born king of the Jews.  Every year January 6 is recognized as this day, after the 12 days of Christmas (yes, like the children’s Christmas song).  The Scripture passages shared above are commonly used as well to mark Epiphany.

The word Epiphany has come to represent a sudden meaningful occurrence.   It’s that sudden moment of understanding, aha moment, or light bulb that goes off in our heads.  It marks the coming of our Savior, the Light of the world.  The Wisemen saw a great light rise in the East and it pointed them to the true king of the Jews being born one night.  Somehow they recognized this with great clarity, although they didn’t know exactly where this child king was born.  Logically they go to Jerusalem, the home of the Jews.  Of course they would know and be aware of this sighting being that it signifies their king.  Well…

Have you ever felt duped, out of the loop, or left in the dark in regards to something?  Suddenly I hear a nagging voice in my head saying, “I know something you don’t know, I know something you don’t know.”  Anyone know where that’s from?  Anyway, I’m also reminded of my football team, the Green Bay Packers here also.  You may recall, earlier this current season they looked about finished.  They had lost 4 in a row and were almost looking stupid out there.  And star quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked more like Don Majikowski than the great successor to Brett Favre we’ve known him to be.  The Packers seemed destined for an early exit on the season and a minimal, disappointing record to say the least.  People were calling for coach McCarthy’s head as well.

But don’t tell any of this to Aaron Rodgers!  Following their 4th consecutive substantial loss Rodgers confidently sounded off during his post-game press conference, “I think we can run the table!”  Where does he come off?  Has he witnessed the same games and team I have for these past 4 weeks?  I sure wasn’t feeling it!

Now, 7 weeks later and it seems he’s a prophet or something as they haven’t lost and entered the playoffs atop their division after everyone about counted them out.  It was only a couple years ago too when Aaron Rodgers after another rocky start by the Packers, confidently sounded off again saying, “Relax!” before they went on another run and quieted their naysayers.  What does Aaron Rodgers know that we don’t know?  Right now it seems like an awful lot, and many are alarmed seeing them as the hottest team left standing.

This sounds quite a bit like what King Herod, along with all of Jerusalem with him, felt as these Wisemen from the East came to Jerusalem looking for the child born king of Jews.  If you read further in the story it says that a great fear rose up within Herod, along with all of Jerusalem with him.  Who are these wise guys?  Do they know something we don’t know?  How could they?  Where do they get off coming to our town and asking about such things?

When was the lost time you’ve felt lost and in the dark?  Either physically or metaphorically?  When these Wismen arrived in Jerusalem it’s like they come out of left field (really, the East).  King Herod surely had no recollection of any king being born, and nonetheless to his throne.  The Jews too seemed in the dark on the matter.  They were only aware of the prophecy.  These wise guys show up and seem to know something they don’t know about their long awaited Messiah/Savior and now the text says they’re frightened!  Did we miss something?  How do these people from the East know about OUR Savior and seem to have gotten a notification that we didn’t?

Have you ever felt like you’ve been left in the dark in terms of your relationship with God before?  Has your way ever gone dark as you’ve followed him? I’ve felt that way this past year.  Never before have I questioned the voice of God and the prompting of his Spirit more than this past year.  However, I still cannot shake the fact that God is still on his throne and working on my behalf.

Just about a month ago now I was in the running for just the type of position I’ve thought I’ve been waiting for that also fit what I’ve basically been working towards as well.  My chances seemed promising, but I really didn’t know.  As the week approached when I expected to hear back from the employer, something peculiar happened that Sunday morning in church to begin the week.

My family and I attend a church where we pass out prayer cards between everyone in the pews.  We then get into small groups with those around us and pray for what’s on our cards.  Lo and behold, when I turned around and started praying with the family behind me one of their children began reading his card and it was for me and the position I had been waiting to hear about.  This thrilled me!  Could it be a sign of what’s to come?  I guarded myself from totally jumping to conclusions, but it definitely got my attention. The week moved forward and sure enough I heard from the employer.  I didn’t get the position…

What?  Again?  How can this be?  Did I miss something?  It seems obvious to me that there’s no way the above could have happened other than by the hand of God.  I again was disappointed.  I did however hold on to hope, as whatever the outcome, that occurrence on Sunday morning still reminded me that God is with me.

Then the very next Sunday another interesting thing happened…  I was scheduled to sing with the praise team and since we finished practice early I sat down near the front for some quiet time with God.  I prayed and shared me heart with him.  Then I opened my eyes and noticed the baskets with prayer cards for that morning stacked in the pew in front of me.  There, in the top basket, atop all the other prayer cards, was another card with my name on it requesting prayer in light of the position I didn’t get.

My heart rushed again.  How can this be?  Does God know something I don’t know?  The answer seems quite obvious to me.  I guess, at least to a certain degree, I am still in the dark as I still don’t know where all of this is leading. Such occurrences though keep a light burning within my heart, able to keep believing that God is with me, Immanuel, like Christmas confirms.

So, what do we do when our going gets dark?  The Wisemen seem to have it right.  They kept watch for God’s promised coming, came seeking the truth about the Christ child, continued to follow the Light (see John 8:12), and worshipped Christ (revered, honored, glorified).  Whenever your going gets dark, this is how you keep going.

“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading.” ~ Oswald Chambers

“The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.  To him belongs eternal praise.” ~ Psalm 111:10

My Word for 2017

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“God did not give you a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
~ II Timothy 1:7

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure…
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson

A new year is yet again upon us and I’ve been thinking.  Imagine that! If you know me you know that’s an understatement, although I think it’s accurate to say that I’ve kept much of my inner thoughts to myself for quite a while now.  What will this year be like?  What do I want to do?  What do I hope for?

One thing seems for sure to me as I consider these thoughts.  Something has to give in terms of this last year, 2016!  If 2017 resembles this last year too much in certain ways I am going to go insane, or at least my depression and discontent will likely reach greater depths.  Somethings are going to have to be different.  The hard part is deciding what those things are and then actively doing them.

As 2016 has neared its end I almost didn’t reach this point. I’ve thought, “What’s the point?  is it worth it?”  For a while now I think it’s accurate to say that I’ve felt very leery about doing just about anything that I’ve felt any sort of inclination to do.  Can anything come from doing anything?  What do I do?  There are no guarantees.  I wonder how much stamina I have.  I wonder about my current capabilities.  After months, even a few years of certain disappointment and hopes dashed I guess that’s where I’m left.

I’m coming up on 3 years in February of leaving congregational ministry and I’ve still felt lost without any terms of sure footing yet in the past year.  Sure, a lot has happened. Moving onto healthcare Chaplaincy has been a fairly good transition and a decent fit for me.  As of August I completed 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) which are needed for Chaplaincy certification.  We just passed a years time in our new home as a family.  Also, we’ve been provided for in our needs and financially as well.

Still, currently I am working two part-time Chaplain jobs both at different shifts and spanning much of the week.  Especially the weekends when I want to be home with my family.  2016 also felt like a torrential roller-coaster in the job search department.  Right now I feel spent in this too, and stuck.  Lastly, certain aspirations sit dormant and unfulfilled as well.

3 years ago when things started unraveling a trend was emerging in replace of New Year’s resolutions that caught my attention.  Since then myself along with others I know have chosen a word to focus on and be a guide during the new year ahead.  I still like this idea.  I don’t know how vocal I’ve been in sharing my word of choice the last few years, but for 2014 I chose Peace, and 2015, Patience.  Truthfully, for 2016 I might have thought of a word early on, but I basically scrapped it or forgot about it altogether in disillusionment.

What about 2017?  Well, for the past few days as I’ve prayed and considered, the one word that has consistently emerged and stirred my heart is, Courage.  A close second has probably been the word, Contentment as discontent has colored much of 2016 for me. Courage though feels more prominent to me as I said above that I feel some things just need to be different going forward into 2017.  Actually, contentment can probably be included as for me choosing to be content doesn’t come easy.

Front and center emotions I’ve felt as 2016 has closed have been disappointment, sadness, fear, frustration, lostness, uncertainty, despair, and with all of that, timidity.  I need courage to break out of that.  I need courage to believe, trust, have faith, remain patient, and be active, even take risks in the year ahead.  In certain ways I think I reached a point this past year of idly waiting as well.  Sure, I did and accomplished much in 2016, but I held back quite a bit as well, holding out for something to happen or change first before doing some things.  That I feel is where a good amount of my frustration and discontent came from in 2016.

On the outset of 2017 I hope for things to be different in this regard.  I’m thinking that instead of idly waiting for some things to come to me, I’d be better off acting in certain ways in the midst of my waiting.  Besides, often things don’t just happen for many of us.  Certain pursuit is necessary, good, and even stimulating.

I am still figuring out what this looks like as well.  Firstly, there are some things I’ve aspired to do for much of the past year that I sort of gave up on.  One of those things is blogging and I hope to do this more consistently through 2017.  Right now I am thinking about a weekly post.  Possibly titling it something like The Woven Weekly” as although we may be wounded, we are also already woven into God’s greater story and work among us and throughout history as well.  Yet another thing as well is that I’d like to see this blog, or at least the concept of Wound Weaver in relation to God gain more exposure/traction as the idea itself is really intriguing to me.  This I’m really not sure how to do, but maybe God can help me find out.

There are still other things and I imagine more will trickle into my head in the year ahead.  I want to have courage to hope, believe, trust, and even do no matter what’s really ahead for me in it.  As what I feel is a prime example to close out this writing, just a couple days ago on the night of New Year’s Eve my wife mentioned a few things to me.  One of those was what we had in savings currently on that last day of 2016.  She then logged into our student loan account and had me guess the balance.  As she shared the actual balance my heart felt quickened to actually just go right ahead and pay it off as we had enough, but it would knock down our savings once again after we had only just gotten it up to a comfortable place for us.  This last thought almost made me just say nothing and just succumb to waiting once again.  Then I remembered the word I had already felt inspired toward by that night; Courage.  That was enough for me to turn to her and say, “Do you want to go ahead a pay it off?”  We hesitated for a moment then took the leap of faith.

In what way(s) could you courageously take a step towards something or God in the year ahead?  What may God be calling you to do or focus on for 2017?

Hit Right Between the Eyes

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Paulie: “Who fixed you up with your first woman? Me, Paulie!”

Rocky: “She was pregnant.”

Paulie: “So what? You was no prize either… You know, I always give ya. I give ya.  What do you do? You buy a new house. You move Mick in.  Did you ask me? ls there somethin’ the matter with me?  I got feelings. This ain’t cardboard!”

Rocky: “Everybody’s got ’em, Paulie.”

Paulie: “The hell with everybody!”

Rocky: “Maybe it’s the hell with you.”

Paulie: “I don’t wanna listen to this crap.”

Rocky: “You talk like everyone owes you a living. Nobody owes nobody nothin’.  You owe yourself!”

Paulie: “You’re wrong! Friends owe.”

Rocky: “No! Friends do because they wanna do.”

Paulie: “Shut your freakin’ mouth. You keep me down.”

Rocky: “Down? You’re like a crazy brother to me. You really are…  So I wanna tell you somethin’.  This is comin’ straight from the heart.  You ain’t down.  And you ain’t a loser.  You’re just a jealous, lazy bum.”

~ Dialogue from Rocky III (watch clip here)

“Who then is able to stand against me?  Who has a claim against me that I must pay?  Everything under heaven belongs to me” ~ God speaking to Job, Job 41:10-11

You ever feel like you’ve gotten hit right between the eyes?  I mean figuratively, like something suddenly knocks some sense into you, convicting you and giving you some perspective.  I felt like this happened to me last night, and interestingly enough it happened while I began watching Rocky III on television briefly before having to get ready for my overnight shift at the hospital.  The dialogue I share above between Rocky and Paulie hit home with me and unexpectantly.

During this past year and a half while I have been minimally employed and trying to figure out what’s next for me and my family I’ve had certain amounts of angst and have often felt disgruntled and down.  Most of my blog posts thus far have stemmed from this to some degree.  I’ve protested, been a brute beast before the Lord (Psalm 73:22), lamented, mourned, etc.  A fair amount of the time I’ve felt justified in these ways.  Other times though (and less often) I’ve feel guilty in my own discontent and lack of gratitude.

It was a couple months ago now that I remember lamenting some to my wife one night in bed when she boldly proclaimed, “You act like God owes you something!”  This caught me off guard.  That’s not what I was looking for.  I wanted her to listen and show some sympathy.  She was completely right though, and I really needed to hear that (seriously — Thank you, Honey!).

Time has gone on since then, but that hasn’t left me.  In all sincerity, I don’t think I’ve hardly improved much in my contentment and gratitude, and I fear I’ve mostly remained as before.  This has seemed to come to a head for me in the last couple days again though.  I’ve been really bothered by it and was last night.  Then WHAM!  It was like Rocky was talking right to me.

“Nobody owes nobody nothin’.  You owe yourself!…  You ain’t down.  And you ain’t a loser.  You’re just a jealous, lazy bum.”  OUCHThat hurt.

Now, you might be thinking, “Stop being so hard on yourself”…  Or, “About time you noticed ( 🙂 )!”  This has made me realize some things though.

One being, the main one keeping me down, discouraged, and at times angry is myself.  Also, I am not a loser or no good, and nobody’s saying/said that.  In fact I am very much the opposite.  I have a lot going for me and a lot to offer.  I think we all do, but we can often be too blind or preoccupied by our hurt, guilt, or shame to see it or live into it.  And in the midst of that I know I’ve been jealous and can turn lazy and demotivated.

Like Rocky said, “You owe yourself!”  And I owe it to myself to know and see this and maybe put it to use as I am able to see the good in me, even the good of these last few years and beyond (as it’s not like I don’t have some astounding blessings in my life – my wife and kids rush to mind), and God’s goodness within and through it all as well as yet to come.

Speaking of God’s goodness, I have an announcement to share.  On Thursday of this past week I was offered an additional job.  I am now also going to be a part-time hospice chaplain during the week along with my part-time weekend overnight hospital chaplain position, and this is a great opportunity!  What I do hope as I move forward into this position is that I can more so see it for what it is rather than what it isn’t.  It IS a great opportunity to serve and come alongside others and walk with them and get to know them.  It IS a great opportunity to gain more (and different) experience as a chaplain.  It IS a great opportunity to be used as I am and who I’ve become and am becoming.

In the dialogue from Rocky III above, Paulie, after lunging and throwing punches unsuccessfully at Rocky, stops and comes to his senses asking, “Can I have a job?”  to which Rocky responds, “All you had to do is ask.”