God Continues to Speak…

God speaks…

…in the heat of the day when my shirt, hat,  and top half of my trousers are soaked with sweat, and I am wondering why 94 in Florida is so much different than 94 in Kansas City, as the sweat pours into my eyes behind sunglasses so fast that my shirt sleeves are eventually useless to dry them, and my vision is blurry and eyes stinging from the salt.

God speaks…

…as I roll down the window while I drive to my next appointment so I can smoke a cigarette, and realize simultaneously how good the hot wind feels against my wet skin and how thankful I am to feel God’s…

…patient…

…persistent…

…nudge towards the day that I will quit smoking…

…not because God is angry that I smoke…

…but because God’s love is…

…patiently…

…persistently…

…convincing me that I am both worth loving, and worth having around on earth for a few more years.

God speaks…

…as the workday ends, and I drive home listening to Bill Withers knowing full well that when I get home, and after I organize my schedule for tomorrow, that I will argue with myself about whether I will go to the gym to sweat some more.

God speaks…

…while my mind composes beautifully articulated, well chosen words and phrases that communicate perfectly what I would like to write, except I am driving, so cannot record them, and the only ones to hear them are God and me…

God stops speaking…

God listens…

…and I realize…

I am praying…

Advertisements

God Speaks…

God speaks…

…in the early morning, during the final dream state of the night, as my Unconsciousness magically expresses my deepest longings or greatest fears in a symphony of emotions, free from the…

commanding…

demanding…

structuring…

influence of Consciousness.

God speaks…

…as my mind slowly climbs out of the clinging, inviting arms of slumber, and the enticing gaze of the snooze button, then regretfully instructs my arm to wrestle the covers off my body, and swing my legs over the side of the bed.

God speaks…

…while my muddled steps wind their way to the waiting coffee maker, and my fingers fumble with the filter after partially spilling water poured into the reservoir, followed by coffee spilled both in the filter and into the water on the counter.

God speaks…

…as I grumble about needing to clean the spill, but lose the argument, push the “Start Brewing” button, then wander to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

God speaks…

…when the aroma of brewing coffee  brightens my optimism for the day, all the while trying to desperately grasp, or shake loose the retreating emotions of my final dream.

God speaks…

…when I remember that the dream wildly leapt from one unfinished storyline to the next in a disconnected ramble which elicits a response of, “What was THAT all about?”, while the toothbrush rumbles away in my mouth.

God speaks…

…in my first taste of coffee…

…which energizes me to clean the mess surrounding the coffee maker, and order my thoughts about the day before me.

God speaks…

…when my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day work perfectly, and I begin to progressively feel like I have a handle on this thing called Adulthood.

God speaks…

…as the events of the day conspire to crush my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day, and I am left hearing Life laugh at my audacious attempts to control the future.

God speaks…

…graciously, on the days I have NO plan, and events work perfectly in SPITE of my incomplete preparations.

God speaks…

…when I am listening…

God speaks…

…when I am NOT listening…

God speaks…

…when my response to Parker Palmer’s wise counsel to “Let Your Life Speak” is, “But my life speaks a language I don’t understand, and I could use either an interpreter, or a ‘Life-to-English’ dictionary! Is there a Gibberish interpreter in the house?”

God continues to speak…

…and I will too…

Later!

 

 

Peace in the Present…

One morning this past week, as I was beginning my morning routine before heading off to work; I was sitting outside on the back patio drinking a first cup of coffee. I woke up a little early, so my mind was active for some reason. In recent years, my mind is slower to get running in the morning, and slower to shut down at night. On this particular morning, however, my thoughts seemed to be reaching out for….something.

There is a cat that usually meets me on the back patio. My neighbors told me the cat was part of a herd of cats fed by the woman who lived in my house previously. Some of them were feral cats that she fed in a little workshop which borders the patio on the left. She cut a hole in the door to install a cat door, and left food inside for them to eat. Although this seems nice at first glance, once she moved, she left them without the food source they had come to depend on. The last time I saw the woman, she asked if I wanted to continue the practice. I responded, “No. Although I love animals, my life style doesn’t allow me to be a good pet owner.” So she put a piece of plastic in the door, to obstruct entrance to the space.

(Eventually, I found another reason not to keep feeding those cats. I bargained with the property manager to allow me to clean, and re-paint the interior of the house as long as I could choose the colors. I had help with both the cleaning and painting. My sister and brother worked with me to get the house ready for me to move. One task that I accomplished on my own was removing the carpet… It was a heavy Berber carpet, and it STUNK from cat urine! The lower parts of the walls bore the stains of male cats spraying their territory. By the time we were finished cleaning, I was CERTAIN I made the correct decision about feral cats outside!)

The cat that meets me when I go out on the patio, is interesting. Reportedly, it was born in my house. That is easy for me to believe, because the manner in which it first approached me was as an offended owner of the house. All the other feral cats eventually left the yard (someone else in the neighborhood started feeding them), but THIS cat walked into the yard, and immediately began to yell at me! I had to respect that, so…..I eventually began putting cat food on the patio in the morning.

Yeah…

I know…

I’m a sucker for anything showing pluck!

Now, part of my morning routine encompasses putting food out for the cat…which also becomes food for birds….and the occasional opossum and raccoon at night. On this particular morning, as I was drinking my coffee, a dove flew down and lighted on the roof of the house no more than ten feet away from me.

Four years ago, shortly after I moved into the house, I noticed the yard seemed to be a haven for doves. At the time, I was attending an online master’s degree program in Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and my vision for using the degree, was to become a Spiritual Director and develop a program for Spiritual Formation specifically for the pastoral staffs of churches. The presence of the doves in my yard spoke to me about the house being a place of peace for others as we learned together how to experience and pursue Shalom. One day, when my brother was there the doves returned. I said to my brother,

“I want this house to be a place of peace for other people.”

My brother responded simply, “I am hoping it will be a place of peace for YOU!”

In the succeeding years, I have found this statement to be both insightful, and prophetic.

Prophetic, not in the sense of telling the future, but in the biblical sense of confronting people with Truth which is dissonant with their current perceptions, actions, and life.

Ok…

Back to the dove on the roof…

I began to talk to the dove, telling it that it was safe, and that I wouldn’t hurt it…

…and eventually, a second dove lit on the roof next to the first. The two moved impatiently upon the roof while looking at the patio and the grass next to it, as if seeing all the insects in it…..food. Finally, the late-comer lept softly down onto the patio, and began feeding on the grass seed, or insects, on the concrete. At this point, the dove was within five feet of me, and about six feet from the cat which was facing away from the bird and feeding on what I had put out.

Quietly, I spoke to the dove…

“You better be careful… you’re awfully close to this cat!”

When the cat moved, the dove on the patio softly flew upward to a limb of a tree beside the patio and patiently watched me, the cat, and probably the cat food.

At this point, my attention was distracted by a bird sitting on an electric line about 30 feet away.

I thought, “That looks like a dove, but it looks different, too.”

While I fixated on the bird in the distance with features like a dove but also not like a dove…

…the doves closest to me flew away…

Disappointed, I realized how the experience felt like a metaphor for my life to this point.

I have often become so…

distracted…

fixated…

obsessed…

by a shadowy future, that I miss out on the beauty closest to me.

I often ignore and neglect the gifts of the moment in my pursuit of a fantasy built by an unhelpful definition of perfection, and the comfort I believe will be…

…in the future…

I don’t like this habit…

I am robbed of the present by this habit…

Now…to be fair…

Dreams and visions are not bad.

They help us imagine how the world could be.

That can be a VERY good, and generative, perspective…

But…

Dreams occur when we are asleep…

and visions occur when we are transported out of the present…

So, in some ways, dreams and visions are a criticism of the reality of the present, and when we are transfixed by them, our mindfulness of the present can be distracted so that we are blind and deaf to the ways God comes to us in THIS moment!

So…

What can I do differently?

What can WE do differently?

We can:

Observe our peace…

It would be easy to say that violence is the opposite of peace, but that’s too easy. As I have thought about it, I have come to believe that being numb is the opposite of peacefulness. Peace does NOT mean the absence of conflict. Peacefulness is a process which involves a recognition of conflict, and a determination to look for generative and sustainable resolutions to conflict. Living peacefully is a way of seeing and living life in a way that acknowledges all the tragedy in the world surrounding us, chooses to embrace the uncomfortable emotions we feel in response, and learns to find God in the midst of it all. Often, our best way through conflict, or tragedy, is to wait…

Stop…

A good practice is to allow the emotions and thoughts to wash over us without trying to deny, numb, or ignore them. I realize that some people during crisis events must act immediately in order to protect others or themselves, but eventually there needs to be a time we acknowledge how these events have affected us personally. We need to carve out space to “feel what you feel.” I’m not saying that life will stop to wait on us, but we must realize that what we feel is a biological part of being human, and denying them will NOT stop them from being expressed in a physiological way. Acknowledging our own emotions is a step of trust, in ourselves, and in God.

When I am conscious about my life, I notice how often I try to run from my feelings by numbing them rather than acknowledging them, feeling them, and soothing, resolving, or expressing them. If I numb them, they don’t go away. Often, they sneak out when I least expect them, which can be embarrassing, given the circumstances. Peace invites me to let down my guard, become honest about and identify what I feel, and in vulnerability, express them.

Look… 

Its amazing how often I miss seeing things that are right in front of me. I have always used the metaphor of a bulletin board when I talk about becoming more observant of our life. A bulletin board is a tool used to communicate something visually to people. However, it is my experience that a bulletin board, because it is so “normal” becomes part of the wall. Often, I view it as part of the visual blah, blah, blah of an external space, such as in a break room at a jobsite. So, that which is meant to communicate important information is ignored, because I am pre-occupied with something else. If I am not careful, I can become so pre-occupied with the visual cues in the world…

the media…

an angry driver…

the sameness of my physical surroundings…

that I miss entirely the beauty and significance of the gifts I have been given:

health…

a job…

a home…

family…

friends…

the world around me…

To guard against this, I have to find ways to slow down my constantly shifting gaze. Photography is one way I do this. When I have a camera in my hands, I slow down and take in the world around me, not just to absorb and enjoy it personally, but also to capture an image of what I see in order to share it with others, as well as with myself at a later time. When I view one of the images I have captured with my camera, I am reminded of the experience of that moment, and I am thankful…again. This tool has helped me recognize the beauty when my hands are empty, too. I see everything with new eyes and in greater depth, so that I feel part of the world around me. I realize that I am in the picture.

Listen…

I have found that in order for me to hear another person, I need to attend to them…I need to give them my attention. In fact, I have instructed my sister…who I also works with…to wait until she can look me in the eyes before she tells me something.

…and then text it to me…

There is noise all around me. And much of it becomes “white noise” that I tune out. There is also noise in my head…my thoughts…which can compete with what I hear from other people. Peace invites me to listen both to my life, and to the natural world, because in so doing I often find the presence of God. One practice which can help me develop the skill of listening is engaging music, either in the hearing, or in the doing of it. I often put on headphones and lose myself in music. I become part of it, and it becomes part of me. My emotions eventually find a resonance with the style to which I am listening.  It is similar when I venture into the natural world, and listen…really listen. It is in those moments that I hear the music of God, which speaks to me on the level of my soul, and it is renewed with peace.

Protect our peace…

Boundaries…Honestly, I haven’t been very good throughout my life at either identifying what boundaries are or what I need them to be in my life. In the past 5 years or so, I have begun to understand the concept of boundaries in relationships. I now realize that boundaries are different than obstacles. When we construct obstacles in our relationships, we are essentially running away from intimacy and trust while running to isolation and distrust. Constructive boundaries in our lives actually allow us to be more available in the present to people, tasks, and activities we care about. A personal boundary is something we set and acknowledge which communicates how we choose to live. They are choices that communicate self-respect, and ways we want to be treated by others. For me, setting boundaries is difficult not because I am unwilling to defend them, but because it is hard for me to identify the need for one, and where it needs to be placed.

I am a preacher’s kid, and in my family, other people always came first. ALWAYS! The theological perspective within which I was raised pretty much sanctified the concept, even though Jesus set clear boundaries in his own life and ministry. As an adult, I often said “yes” to something that I really didn’t want to do, then felt aggravated at the person to whom I said “yes”! This was true in my personal life, as well as career. Eventually, I learned how to say “no” in my career, as well as to stand up for myself when I felt something was unfair. In my personal life…especially my marriage…I never really did. This could have been one of the reasons it was so unsatisfying to both of us, and ended in divorce.

Protecting our Peace means not choosing to place ourselves into circumstances in which we are treated with disrespect, nor to associate with people who treat us with disrespect. Although we may have to be associated with those types of circumstances or people for short periods of time or in events which occur outside of our control, the choices we make on a regular basis protect our peace when we live treating others and ourselves with respect.

Embrace peace in the present…

Sometimes I fight myself, and my expectations of myself. For instance, it is Saturday as I write this. This morning, I wanted to do several things:

Go to the gym– I have a sore shoulder, and I need to do some strength training with it.

Clean the house-I have found that I feel calmer in an orderly personal space, so when I have put off cleaning the house for awhile, I realize I am running from something, so am punishing myself by letting my space become disorderly.

Do yard work– I enjoy this, for the most part, but especially enjoy the way it looks afterward and the feel of my body with dirt under my fingernails.

Budget– I hate money…..

So…what did I do this morning? I came to Starbucks and began writing. It’s now 4:40 in the afternoon, and my day is almost over. I am feeling a mixture of emotions, and not much peace! What I am trying to do right now, is embrace the process of writing with the hope that, once I publish it, other people might find something in my experience they recognize, or that it stirs their thinking in ways that promote growth and living in healthier ways.

And…

Quite honestly….

I mostly hope someone likes it….

I also realize that once I am through with a piece of written work, I feel very peaceful about having written. Right now…that peace is what I will embrace as a gift from God. I also will embrace it because I will remind myself that it takes courage to tell pieces of your story, as well as your thoughts about it. Embracing one’s own voice is a way of embracing peace, and when I neglect to write, I am instead embracing the fear that the value of my life experience and what I am learning has no value. Because embracing peace also means embracing growth and sharing that growth with other people.

Release our peace into the world…

Peace isn’t a commodity we buy and then horde. Peace is shared. When we embrace a life of peace, we release it in the process of embracing it. Whether we realize it or not, the people around us know if we are at peace or not. Sometimes even better than do we! As I wrote previously, peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, and it also doesn’t mean there will be no struggle. Peace and struggle co-exist…personally and collectively. Peace means that we will fight. Personally, my most common combatant is myself. I often fight with fear, and shame, and isolation, and pride, and ignorance, and anger, and impatience, and body image, and addiction, and….numbing…

Yet what I keep coming back to, are the words of Jesus:

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Perhaps that is why he has been called the Prince of Peace!

Making Up Ground…

The following is taken from my journal…

 

May 25, 2015…

 

When someone leaves you…

Someone who actually stuck around long enough to know the best of you and the worst of you…

It feels like they are saying by their leaving: “I know the best and I know the worst of you, and the best isn’t good enough to make up for the worst.”

While I know intellectually…

What their rejection tells you…

Or should tell you…

Is more about them…

THEIR issues…

THEIR insecurities…

THEIR immaturity…

THEIR capability to love…

Deeply…

 

What you hear instead…

In the deepest recesses of your emotional brain…

Is:

“You are not Enough.”

“The Promise of You is a 0 sum compared to the Reality of you.”

 

Coming back from that assessment to some sense of self-affirmation takes a miracle of personal tenacity. It doesn’t matter what other people say, whether…

Affirming…

Encouraging…

Caring…

The original voice is internalized and shouts down the most optimistic of valuations…

Even God’s…

And we are tempted to withhold our vulnerability from others for fear that they, too, will eventually come to the same estimation.

 

So…

 

We must grieve…

Patiently…

Thoughtfully…

Fearlessly…

Relentlessly…

Angrily…

Graciously…

 

And…

Grief takes as long as it takes…

 

“Going forward” is a phantom wish that carries with it the weight of our perceptions of the expectation of other people…

“Making up ground” is a more doable goal, and it takes more time than we want and imagine it to take.

Making up ground isn’t a linear trajectory.

It is filled with…

Zig zags…

Falling backward…

Leaps forward…

Stagnant waiting…

And…

Courage to embrace it all, with constant personal reminders of…

Where you have been…

Where you are…

And the process of asking yourself where and who you want to be.

 

Making up ground means…

Pursuing your Indigenous Self through exploration and risk, by asking questions about your personal stories and history. It is learning how to be and choose to be content with…

What was and what is…

With a conscious decision not to allow another person’s flawed evaluation of you to define you…

It is learning how the stories you tell yourself about your experience skews your perception of…

God…

Others…

And your Self…

THEN…

Telling yourself new stories…

And seeking new experiences…

That over-write the old programs.

 

Making up ground is:

 

Acting when you would rather be still…

Being still when you feel like you SHOULD act…

Speaking when you are afraid to speak…

Being silent when your mind won’t SHUT UP…

Listening patiently…

Touching tenderly…

Refusing demands, no matter how sweetly spoken…

Listening to your Self and acting in Self-respect…

Considering and granting requests modified and heard through the sound board of self-respecting boundaries…

Allowing and accepting Other’s refusals without trying to manipulate or coerce…

 

Making up ground entails:

 

Not assuming another person’s perceptions…

Allowing…

Expecting…

Respecting…

Requesting…

…others to take responsibility for their lives…

 

Making up ground means learning to:

 

Take responsibility for your feelings, and…

Realize…

Allow…

Expect…

Respect…

Request…

…others are responsible for their feelings…

 

Making up ground invites us to:

Embrace emotional discomfort rather than Self-medicate.

Allow your Self to express…

Sadness and…

Disappointment and…

Anger and…

Regret and…

 

Realize that pain is part of grieving, and an acknowledgement of the loss of unrecognized dreams and expectations.

 

Making up ground develops strengths to help us:

 

Allow guilt to lead to reconciliation…

Challenge personal shame, and work to replace it with personal validation, respect, and acceptance…

Redefine “Perfection” in terms of Being rather than Doing. Our efforts are best used to learn who God created us to be:

Perfect Being…

Rather than trying to DO in response to what we perceive outer valuations demand:

Perfect Doing…

 

Making up ground presents us with the gift of:

 

Being open to…

And learning to be amazed by…

God’s gift to the world and to you…

Of You…

This gift is:

Loving your Self for the sake of God…

The highest form of Love…

For it is upon this foundation, that…

Loving others…

Loving Creation…

 

Eden itself…

 

Is built.

 

THEN we are “going forward”!

The Parable of the Road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s House….

One morning a young man sprung from the comfort of his bed to begin a new day. Entering the shower, he turned the faucet to cold, and allowed the water to pelt his scalp and trickle down his body in icy rivulets of adrenaline. He stood beneath the water and inwardly traced the fragments of an idea as they twirled in his mind, slowly drawn, as if by a magnet, towards the center of his consciousness. Once they clicked into place, forming a clear thought, he gave warbled voice to the thought; speaking through the torrent of icy water plunging down his face:

“Today I will go to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house!”

As the words tumbled from his mouth, he felt a surge of energy, fueled by youthful confidence and idealism. Stepping back from the water, he finished the shower and turned off the flow, and then quickly reached for the towel laying on the nearby sink. As he dried his body, he began to allow his mind to consider the task to which he had committed himself. Slowly, in the back of his mind, a question began to calmly creep forward:

“How will I know the way?”

Shrugging his shoulders, he finished his morning bathroom routine, strode purposefully into his bedroom and rummaged through his closet until he found his backpack. After putting a change of clothes in, he shouldered the pack, and walked into the kitchen for breakfast. The table was set, and his mother was just turning from the stove with a bowl full of hot biscuits, when the young man shrugged out of his backpack, hung it on the back of his chair, and sat down.

“Where are you headed today?” His mother asked with slight suspicion in her voice.

“I have decided to go to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house.” He said confidently.

His mother stopped so suddenly that a biscuit tumbled off the stack in the bowl onto the floor. “Why do you need to do that?” She asked, her voice quivering.

“What do you mean ‘why?'” he responded with irritation, “I want to know what they have to teach me. It is something I must do.”

“But the road is dangerous, and there are bad people along the way. They will hurt you, and you won’t be able to make it all the way there.” She was becoming quite animated at this point. “Besides, I know what Grandfather and Grandmother have to say. Men much smarter than me or you have told me their words, and I can tell you. There is no need for you to go.”

The young man felt anger rise within, and his words became short and loud. “This is my journey to make, and I am going to make it!”

Her shoulders slumped, and she stooped down to pick up the biscuit from where it fell on the floor. “Well….I guess this is my fault. If I hadn’t been so stubborn and sinful, you wouldn’t be leaving me alone….”

Before the young man could respond, his father walked into the room and quietly took his seat at the table. His mother set the biscuits on the table, retrieved the bacon, eggs, and gravy from the stove, started to sit down, then said, “Oh…I forgot the jelly….”, looking at the young man she asked a question for which she already knew the answer, “You like jelly don’t you?” Before he could answer, she turned in her chair, got up, and went to the refrigerator to get the jelly. While hidden behind the refrigerator door, she said, “Tell your father what you are doing.” She then took her place at the table with the jelly jar in hand.

Before he could say anything, his mother and father silently bowed their heads in prayer. After awkwardly waiting for his parents to finish praying, the young man said, “I am going to Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s house, Dad. Can you tell me how to get there?”

His father reached for the plate of eggs, served himself, and passed them to the young man. As he did so, he said, “It’s great that you want to go to their house. Everybody should travel to their house. It takes courage to go there, and I am not surprised you want to go.” As the young man served himself eggs, and his mother passed the bacon to his father, the young man said, “Ok….so….what road do I take?”

“Well…” his dad said, while taking some bacon and a couple of biscuits. “I can’t really tell you which road to take.”

“But you’ve been there, right?” The young man said between bites of bacon.

“Yes, I’ve been there… but you must find your own road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house…”

The family then settled in to eat their food, and the young man didn’t say anything more. In fact, he decided as he ate, that he would just begin the trip, and figure out which way to go while he traveled.

After the meal was over, the young man removed his backpack from the chair upon which he’d been sitting, and shrugged it onto his back. After doing so, he stood awkwardly next to the table as his mother cleared away the dishes and his father stepped outside to do….something….he was never sure what his dad did during the day, he just knew he was away a lot. The young man stood waiting for his mother to take notice of his leaving, but she seemed in a rush to clean her kitchen. Finally, the young man said, “Well…I will see you later…” and began to walk slowly from the room and towards the front door. His mother turned, dropped the rag she was holding onto the counter, and said in a tired voice, “Ok…give me a hug before you leave.” The two of them continued walking to the front door, and upon reaching it, he turned and gave her a hug. She held him tightly for a long time…quite too long for him…and said, “Please be careful…and call us along the way.”

As the young man stepped out of the door and into open world, he found his father sitting in the driver’s seat of a small school bus he had recently purchased. His father was intently reading the owner’s manual, and only realized his son’s presence when the young man stepped onto the first step. The young man sensed that his father seemed faintly sad. The young man couldn’t determine whether the melancholy was connected to his own leaving, or the issues surrounding the bus which lead his dad to retrieve the owner’s manual. Life had often been this way between the father and son, with each hiding behind a wall of quietness, built for reasons which were misunderstood and unexplored by them both. They loved one another, but weren’t quite sure how to show it, and each were too absorbed with their respective lives to learn how to communicate that love in a way the other would understand. So they lived in the quietness, content in the fact of the other’s love, but seldom fully cognizant of the depth.

“I am heading out….” The young man quietly said.

After realizing his presence, his father looked up from the manual, got up from the driver’s seat, and laid the manual down. Before his father could say anything, the young man said, “I will be praying for you, Dad. I will pray that Grandfather and Grandmother will be with you in such a way that you visualize them walking beside you. I love you, Dad. Be at peace….”

The young man then turned, stepped down from the step out of the bus, and began to walk away.

“Give me a call if you……need anything…” his father said to his retreating back.

As the young man walked, tears welled up in his eyes, and began to run down his cheeks. He would have replied, but his voice was choked off due to his deep emotion. So…he just kept walking.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

As he walked through the streets of the small town, he began to study the possible directions he could travel. He started asking questions of himself, but the only answers he could determine, were ones from his past experience, and something deep inside himself questioned the veracity of those answers. Somewhere along the way, he heard within himself a soft voice,

“Follow Wilderness Road…”

The young man frowned in response….

“Wilderness Road…” He thought inwardly, “Why would I travel Wilderness Road in order to reach Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s house? Grandfather and Grandmother live with people. I don’t want to go into the wilderness. It sounds lonely and hard.”

Continuing to walk, the young man was passed by numerous vehicles. Cars, and pickups pulling campers, large RV’s with ornately painted designs on the sides and shiny chrome in front and back, motorcycles and scooters… Eventually, he noticed that many of the vehicles seemed to travel in no particular direction, with no apparent rhyme or reason to their motion. They just seemed to move. With a little more study, however, he did notice some of the vehicles moving in the same general direction, but in varying speeds and with differing forays side-to-side along the way. A few of the cars seemed to be in really good mechanical condition, and looking through the windows, he noticed that the countenances of the occupants seemed to exude peace and caring for one another. He noticed how often the riders laughed with each other, and even when they seemed to be crying, it seemed they were doing it together, holding each other close in tender hugs. There were times when the faces of the front seat passengers appeared to be grim, as if in disagreement. The young man noticed that these same cars would stop from time to time, and the two companions sitting in the front seats would exit the car, pop the hood and begin to work on the engine, or open the trunk to lift out a new tire and replace one of the tires on the car with it. Often, these cars seemed to make better headway along the road, and didn’t take nearly as many detours as some of the other cars, he observed. “That is something I probably need to remember,” the young man told himself. He was also surprised that you couldn’t tell by how stylish the car appeared on the outside, what the condition of the motor, and mechanical stability of the vehicle was. Several times, he noticed a beautiful car putting along, with the engine cutting out and moving progressively slower and slower until it stopped altogether, and the occupants got out, slammed the doors yelling at each other, or simply walking away in opposite directions in stony silence. What was especially sad to the young man, though, was the younger passengers in the back seat. While the front seat occupants climbed out of the car and walked away, the back seat passengers stayed in the car, with no way out; their world limited by no fault of their own, destined to deal with the consequences of a dead car. As he watched these events unfold, the young man would stare at the front seat passengers with judgment and disgust clearly written on his face. He would also shake his head sadly as he watched the back seat passengers stare through the windows at the other cars which passed them by. Cars that looked to be old, and in need of a paint job, but rolling away the miles with engines running faithfully, and the occupants in sync with one another due to ongoing maintenance both in and on the vehicle.

Eventually, the young man came upon a sign along the roadside, raised above the traffic. He read it with much curiosity:

Middle Earth University: Your First Step Towards Grandfather’s House.

Smiling, the young man turned in the direction given by the sign, and walked until he found several buildings nestled together on the top of a small hill, which seemed to be carved out of the numerous cornfields which surrounded it. Walking to the first building, he strode purposefully through the door and found an information desk. After a short conversation, the person at the desk directed him to the Admissions department. The young man walked down a short hallway to a door with a simple sign on the wall next to it declaring the space behind to be “Admissions”. He opened the door and walked in. The “Admissions Department” consisted of an open area of about 15 feet square with 3 doors along one wall which opened to the space, and a desk situated in the center of the space, behind which sat a middle-aged woman who was currently absorbed with the task of putting stamps on a large stack of letters. Upon hearing the door open and the young man enter, her head raised from the task, and she asked pleasantly, “Hi. How can we help you?”

The young man smiled and said, “I would like some information about the school, and about how to get to the road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house.”

Upon hearing the request, the woman’s smile stiffened just a bit, and she said, “Certainly…let me see if one of the Admissions’ counselors has time to meet with you.” She then picked up her phone, dialed three numbers, and once the phone was picked up in one of the offices, said, “Would you have time to meet with a perspective student?”

The answer must have been “yes”, because the woman hung up the phone and said, “Nathan will be with you in just a moment.”

The young man removed his backpack, and sat down in a straight-back chair set against a wall alongside a small row of other similar chairs. Since the other chairs were empty, he sat his backpack in the chair next to him, and looked around the room searching for something to read. Before he could find something, Nathan opened the door of his office and walked forward with an extended hand.

“Hi. I am Nathan, and you are….?”

The young man rose while stating his name and grasped Nathan’s hand. The young man was a little surprised by Nathan’s appearance. Nathan was dressed in crisply pressed khaki pants, a light blue, button-down oxford shirt which over-laid a  pink polo shirt with popped collar. The hand shake was also a surprise. It was weak!

The young man followed Nathan into his office where information was swapped and all necessary arrangements for the young man to become a student at Middle-Earth were completed. As he arose to leave the office, the young man reached for his backpack, and Nathan said, “Now…about the backpack…. Why don’t you let me take that for you? We have everything you need here at Middle-Earth. You won’t need the pack. I will save it for you, until you finish your studies here, and if you decide you need it when you leave, I will return it.”

“Thank you, but I will keep it with me.” The young man responded.

“I suspect you will find that many of our students and faculty will find it strange that you are still carrying it. You might feel awkward.” Nathan countered.

The young man responded with a frown strangely combined with a slight smile, and said, “I have been called strange before…I will hold on to it. Thank you for your consideration.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The young man spent several years at Middle-Earth. During that time, he noticed that although Grandfather was mentioned frequently, Grandmother was seldom acknowledged, and when she was, it seemed to be as an afterthought which was given space, but not seriously respected. Further, he noticed that although the faculty seemed to speak about the search for the Road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house, few students seemed to actually be occupied by the search. The ones that did search, seemed to walk lock-step in one particular Way. Intermittently in his classes, he heard professors whisper of The Wilderness Road, but more in an historical sense rather than an ongoing option. What he noticed predominantly was how often the students would pair up to purchase cars together, and then begin to drive along the Way most of their contemporaries  were driving. The young man was deeply affected by this final observation.

“That must be the way to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house. You must do it with another person.” He thought.

So he searched for another person with which to travel. Eventually, he found a woman who seemed to be interested in the same journey. Although their former paths, and understanding of the Way forward were very different, he eventually asked if she would like to purchase a car together. She said “yes” and they signed the purchase agreement together. The young man removed his backpack, and placed it in the trunk for storage.

From the beginning, it was apparent that they both wanted to drive, and had different perspectives about which road they should travel. Since neither had an overbearing perspective about how they should proceed, and in which direction they should drive; they basically followed the flow of traffic. Fairly quickly, they added a boy passenger and later, a girl.

They followed traffic with a few deviations from time to time, and seldom stopped to do maintenance on their car. Surprisingly, the car continued to run, although the fuel economy got progressively worse as the years progressed, so the fuel they added from time to time didn’t go as far. The engine eventually began to run rough, especially when they each began to individually pursue directions when behind the wheel that the other reluctantly agreed to.

Finally, the motor of their car gave out. However, rather than immediately getting out of the car, they stayed in it for quite awhile, until the woman opened her door and stepped out. Eventually, the man…not young anymore…also opened his door and stepped out. Looking around, he realized just how lost he was. The landscape was barren, and unrecognizable to him. As he looked around, he heard another door of the car open. Turning, he noticed the boy, now a young man, get out of the car and begin to walk away from both the man, and woman for a time. A short time later, the girl, also now a young woman; opened a car door and in some way positioned herself between the man and woman.

Eventually…

the older man walked to the trunk of the car, unlocked it, removed his backpack,  and shrugged it onto his back. With a great sense of personal failure, a fair bit of hidden, growing anger towards the woman, and feelings of confusion for the young man and young woman; the man reluctantly turned away from the car and began to walk through a strange land in search for the road…

…to understanding…

…to healing…

…to wisdom…

…to his children…

…to his parents…

…to others…

…to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s House…

…but, first….

…to himself…

…along the Wilderness Road…..

See You in the Morning…

I stopped the story of my experience of Dad’s death in the middle. I felt it important to publish it on Good Friday, to coincide with the celebrated remembrance of the death of Jesus. For me to receive the assurance of God’s faithfulness in the midst of my grief during Dad’s death, there had to be a precursor story, or previous case history, that opened the way for me to understand that death isn’t the end of the story. The story of Easter is just that story.

While I wasn’t there in the early morning hours to watch my dad die, as were Jesus’ followers and his mother while he was crucified, I later heard the stories surrounding the event of Dad’s accident. A little background will probably be helpful…

Dad and Mom were living in Ukiah, California at the time of his death. He was driving a tractor-trailer rig hauling products from a Masonite plant in Ukiah, to the docks in San Francisco and Oakland. He would often haul two loads per day, and liked to drive when there was less traffic, which usually meant at night. On this particular evening, Mom remembered that he was “so tired”. He was 62 years-of-age, and was working hard, but the pay was really good. They were doing the best financially that they ever had. I used to joke that Dad was “semi-retired” from the ministry…get it…semi…driving a semi….OK…pretty lame… He stayed at it, though because they needed money to pay off bills. His employer was Gene Armstrong, and Gene owned property on the side of a hill with a mobile home on it in which Mom and Dad were living. The property was beautiful! They had a little dachshund…Toby…that I played with when I visited from college. In the morning and evening, they often had deer grazing on the side of the hill next to their house. The deer would look up smugly as Toby barked wildly. Gene, and his wife Ruth, previously lived in Elkhart and attended the church in which Dad was pastor, so we knew them well. Also Ruth’s family and my dad’s family lived in the same community during the depression, so there was a lengthy history there.

Earlier in the evening of Dad’s accident, Dad and Gene met at a diner for a cup of coffee together. They ate…pie, or something…and as they were leaving, heading in opposite directions, Gene said Dad’s words of departure to him were, “Good night, Gene, I’ll see you in the morning…” Those were my father’s final words to anybody of which I am aware. After that farewell, Dad climbed into the cab of the truck, and began his final trip. The accident occurred outside of Santa Rosa, California. There was a cattle auction yard on the outskirts of town, and a trucker had pulled in to unload his cargo of Black Angus cattle. The report I heard was that there was nobody at the yard to help him unload, so he tried to do it himself. As the cattle were unloading, some of them got excited, broke through a gate to the holding pens, and scattered along the highway. The trucker then had to call to find help in rounding up the cattle and putting them back in the pens.

Black Angus cattle wandering along a major state highway in a dark night…

Before the cattle could be put back, or a policeman was on the scene to warn traffic, Dad arrived. The auction yard, and the scattered cattle were just over the rise of a hill. I saw the police report of the accident, and it states that the driver behind Dad never noticed his brake lights come on before the crash. So…Dad was driving up a hill, and just as he topped the hill he ran into at least two black cows, killing both of them, which caused the rig to go over the side of the hill, throwing Dad out of the cab, and the truck landed on top of him. Dad never knew what hit him…..

I was able to get copies of the official accident report as well as the autopsy that was done on my father afterwards. I wanted to try and piece together his final moments on this earth, and know the scope of his injuries. The autopsy stated that he sustained several broken vertebrae in his neck, and massive internal injuries. His death was basically immediate. I was glad to know that… What also is interesting is that, while I no longer have those documents, I still remember some of the contents. Knowing he didn’t suffer has been helpful.

Also helpful is the memory of a conversation and prayer he and I had before they moved to California, when he was driving a truck over-the-road, travelling across the nation often by himself, while my mother was living near Elkhart and having emotional issues related to her Bi-Polar disorder. Those were particularly hard days for Dad, and he had stopped in Olathe, Kansas, where I attended college, to see me between stops. We attended church together, and as he was getting ready to leave, we talked a little bit about his next stop. Then I asked if I could pray for him. I remember asking Jesus to sit in the seat next to him and help Dad imagine His presence there through the lonely miles. After his death, Mom told me that he really appreciated that image, and lived with that reality close to his heart and mind. I now imagine Dad coming over the crest of the hill with Jesus in the seat next to him, and  Jesus saying, “Ok Ivan….this is our stop!”

The resurrected Christ…lovingly present…guiding Dad into his  own resurrection.

“See you in the morning…” indeed!

Morning

By Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,
and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/28812

Only Love Matters…

Every other Sunday evening, I take my mother to church. Connie, my sister, and I take turns. The service we attend is called: Country Church. Most of the folks that attend are older, and the music is kind of down-home with more than a hint of Southern gospel. They have a background set that looks like an old country store. The band and worship ensemble wear western boots and an occasional western hat. The service begins with the worship leader…or maybe that should be trail boss… greeting the congregation with “HowDEEE!”
Really….
Pure kitsch…
But… I sometimes kind of like it. (When my eyes aren’t rolling…) Mainly because many of the songs they sing are ones from my childhood. It reminds me from where I came, and my heritage, or at least some of it. Mom really enjoys it, especially the preaching. That part I sometimes find hard to sit through. It is a Southern Baptist church, and the conservative slant can really grate on my moderate nerves.
Mom is 89-years-old. She has increasing, age-related dementia, exacerbated, I think, by the fact that she has bi-polar disorder. We never knew that as we were growing up, but noticed that about every 7 years, she would have a depressive break. Looking back, and talking to my brother and sister, I think that each break changed her. She is on medication now, but my sister bore the brunt of her last break, and it was really difficult for her and Butch, my brother-in-law. Moving here has been an opportunity for me to take on some of the load of dealing with Mom.

As I considered moving, that was one of the issues that worried me. How would I respond to Mom? Our relationship, or maybe it is more accurate to say my relationship with her, has been difficult. Yet I am not sure I realized that, until the last 10-15 years. It especially became apparent to me after my divorce, and I began to take some classes in seminary that led me to explore issues with my family of origin. Especially issues with my mother. I had to take an honest look at this most intimate, and fundamental female relationship.
We each begin existence encased in the body of another person. When we are born, the mother-child relationship is extremely important, because in it we find our most basic needs are met, or they aren’t. We learn a lot about the world, or rather what we expect from the world in terms of safety and comfort and provision in this one relationship. Even though a father can come alongside to care and help a mother meet the needs of an infant, the child’s attachment to its mother contributes to what it feels about life and the world… and themselves.
I won’t go into it here, but Mom’s illness affected me in those earliest days of my infancy. I have needed to look back, be honest about the lack of stability in our relationship, but also other parts of my life as a growing child. I needed to grieve it, which included anger at the way I felt I was perceived by my mother. I felt like I was expected to be a heathen, and many times as an adolescent, I fulfilled the expectation nicely. I know that she and my father loved me, but I couldn’t gloss over how some of their decisions, manner of living, and approach to life; which included Mom’s illness; affected me. I am NOT trying to figure out where to place blame. Blame is a form of denial, not truth-finding. I needed to understand why I felt the way I did for much of my life, so I could begin to heal, grow and change.

When I first moved to Florida, near my mother, and siblings; I was still angry with her. I now understand the anger was both natural… I needed to feel it… but it was tied to my own unfulfilled expectations of her, and how I wished she would have interacted with me. This was a necessary step in my healing. When she called…I didn’t answer. I seldom spent time with her. I was afraid that her tendency to live in guilt would affect my thinking and feelings about myself. It had my whole life, and I was just being freed from it due to personal growth, and God’s grace. She felt the absence, too, and kept trying to get me to draw nearer to her. By using guilt… so it was a vicious circle.
Then I became involved in a relationship with a woman that eventually didn’t work out. When we broke up, I began to explore my part in the break-up. I did a similar, much more extensive process when my marriage of 23 years ended. In both circumstances, I tried to examine what I did well, and what I didn’t do so well.
One day, as I was thinking about the most recent break-up, I believe God spoke to me, and helped me realize that in order for me to go forward into another relationship with a woman; I needed to seek reconciliation with my mother. Or, more honestly, reconciliation with my feelings about Mom. I needed to see her as she is, was, and what she was capable of being, rather than what I wished and expected her to be. She needed to be a flesh-and-blood person, with great strengths and great failings. I needed to see… her… not a caricature of my own making. I was beginning to believe I could see her as a sister-in-Christ…as the Beloved of God. Maybe, if I could see her in that light, I could love her as she is and was, and maybe even…myself. God began to show me that, as she continues to grow older, and more child-like, I would sort of father my mother. This began to give me some hope, because I enjoy many aspects of being a father. Age has softened me, too, so I am more patient, and am able to find humor instead of frustration…

Mostly…
Every quarter, Country Church has a service with only music. They call it: The Grand Old Gospel Opry…
Of course they do…
The Grand Old Gospel Opry is quite popular especially with the crowd that usually attends Country Church, which are generally senior adults. Mom, however, usually doesn’t attend because she likes to hear the pastor preach. This past Sunday evening was one of those nights and there were “Special Guests” to go along with the regular bunkhouse gang. (Actually, the worship team and band is quite talented…) On this night there was a bluegrass band and a men’s quartet, a man and wife who travel as evangelists, and other groupings of people that attend the church.
We began with congregational singing. I enjoyed the songs, because they were ones we would sing while my family was in evangelism. A noticeable theme began to evolve with each song: Heaven.
“That makes sense…” I thought. “Play to your crowd.”
The evangelists got up next and began to sing together. I was reminded of sooo many couples I have seen and known through the years. People that travelled from church to church, singing and preaching the gospel. People like my family. This was before four-dollar-gas and one-hundred-dollar-a-night motels; when singers used pre-recorded-sound-tracks that weren’t considered karaoke, and there were only three or four channels on TV, so there weren’t as many entertainment opportunities to compete with the drama of revivals. My first thoughts in response to the couple were pretty negative:

“C’mon brother… don’t you know that your time has passed? That style of doing church is dead and ineffective.”
However, it occurs to me just how much I needed to see them. They were like characters emanating from my heritage of faith. People who put aside a safe, and consumptive lifestyle in order to tell other people about the Christ of new beginnings, of new life, of resurrection… I need to embrace that heritage. It was hard and disruptive… for me, but also for my mother. Mom raised three kids on the road, from one conglomeration of church services to another, all the while having to keep the kids occupied and quiet every evening for a couple hours of church, while sitting IN FRONT of scores of people that could be VERY critical of the preacher’s wife and kids! It was keeping the kids entertained in the car through endless miles of travel. It was keeping the family fed while in poverty, and in clean clothes washed either in borrowed washers and dryers, in a laundromat, or in the sink of a travel trailer and then hung to dry on a makeshift clothesline. It was using cold starch on my father’s white shirts, so they would be… just….so……. It was being the kids’ first (and only at least for a period of time) teacher. It was singing in front of people though she felt intimidated by her self-perceived lack of musical talent.
A tough life…
A committed life…
The service wound along until a trio of women began to sing. Mom said that one of the women was…

“…the daughter of the song leader. She just finished college and is really pretty. I wish I knew somebody that knows her, so I could introduce you to her.”
“Um…. Mom….she is the same age as my daughter…”
“Oh…”
Right now, to my mother at times, I am still about 27. A young man. I think it is because I am single, and we weren’t around each other for so many years. For my first birthday after I moved here, she gave me a book entitled: “God’s Little Instruction Book for Graduates”.
Well… I have been in grad-school for the past three years…
And I confess that in my OWN mind, I still feel like I am 27… at least until I wake up in the morning… then my body says: “Helloooo 52…”
The most beautiful part of the Opry was several songs into the set of the men’s quartet. I had been enjoying the quartet, and remembered how often we would drive many miles to hear quartets when I was young. My dad loved men’s quartets. While he was in college and grad-school at small religious schools, Dad travelled with other young men in a quartet doing public relations for the school. In fact, that was how my mom and dad first met. Dad’s quartet held a concert at the church my mother attended, and they first noticed each other. Eventually, Mom enrolled in the same school.
Pretty effective public relations, I would say…
My father was the first tenor in that quartet, and as Mom and I listened to the first tenor of the Opry quartet singing lead; she leaned in to me and said with quivering voice, “That makes me think of your dad.”

I gently put my arm around my mother, and pulled her tightly against me. She began to quietly cry freely.
For just a moment, my imagination took me to a little church in West Virginia, and I saw a young woman, with striking auburn hair and expressive brown eyes, about 17 or 18-years-old sitting in a hot, crowded sanctuary listening attentively to a group of young men sing. One young man especially held her attention… the good looking first tenor with the crisply starched, white shirt beneath the trimly cut black suit. His hair was dark, and slicked back, and she noticed that as his gaze travelled across the crowd, it would linger with increasing frequency in her direction. With each repeated gaze, both their hearts would beat a little faster. After the concert was over, she would go to the table with information about the college he represented, and ask for a brochure… just to, you know, learn about the academic programs. He would shyly approach her, and their eyes would once again meet. He would hand her the brochure… their hands would touch ever-so slightly… Sparks!
As she cried, my heart cried with her.
For her loss of her Love…
For the loneliness in her life now…
For her desire to be near him again…
Somewhere inside me, I began to see my mother for the first time. The past disappointments and frustrations I felt through the years didn’t really matter. Love began to vibrate for this woman that bore me and introduced me so imperfectly to the world. I saw, instead, God’s beloved daughter. My natural fatherly instincts began to take over. As the song ended, and before we began to applaud, I kissed her on the forehead, as I would my own daughter.

Before I moved to Florida, I wrote four blogs in which I suggested the need for me to be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage redeemed to me.
God is doing just that…