Emerging From The Shadows

I was going to title this blog 2014: The War In Review. But I just finished reading the chapter on evil from Ravi Zacharias’ book Jesus Among Other Gods, and I’m thinking a little bit more of the big picture of my experiences over the past several years. One of the things I’ve been thinking about since I have emerged from the shadows (more on that in a moment) is something I’ve talked with friends about. That is, you can never really know why you are going through a trial or what you are supposed to learn from it until after you have come out of it. Six months later, I’m still wondering.

From the start, I should mention that bitterness is not a part of the equation anymore. Jesus has healed that wound in me, and it’s a large part of how I was able to emerge at all. Looking back, it was a gradual change in how I approached God on a day to day basis. I first rededicated myself to immersing myself in the Bible and the study of theology, two things that have helped me to grow as a person and stay focused on the things that matter. Second, I decided to live a life of gratitude, which meant thanking God each morning for the day, whether I was really feeling grateful for it or not. For me, that has become a way for me to throw a punch at evil before it has a chance to strike me.

The boxing metaphor might seem a little strange, but I can’t think of a single day in my life where I haven’t been challenged by something or someone. It could be something as small as someone cutting me off in traffic and my response to it or something bigger like having my pay cut by 25 percent and then having a job I held for eleven years suddenly ending. Peter calls Satan a lion prowling around looking for someone to devour. Look at your daily life, doesn’t it seem like something or someone is constantly trying to undercut your happiness, and by extension, your faith?

That is why I titled my blog Christianity Is A War, because evil, life, or whatever you want to call it, is trying to take our joy away from us. Because if it can do that, it can move on to taking away the joy we have in Christ and then it’s on to our very faith. This is serious stuff going on here. We are at war. We can choose to ignore evil but obviously it is not ignoring us.

Back to the shadows. August of 2014 was the breakthrough month for me. I was back in Kansas enjoying my time around my parents, my sister, her kids, and the friends I grew up with, while trying to figure out my next move. I was still struggling financially along with all the other issues I was dealing with, but I was home and moving back (in June) was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. If you get the chance, go back and read my blog Going Home To Move Forward.

I emerged from the shadows, because I changed my

mindset, and that mindset first rewarded me with peace, the peace that Paul calls “the peace that passes all understanding.” At that point, I was still two months away from getting offered a good job, and I could not have pointed to any material thing that made me feel like I was emerging from what felt like a life with no hope of getting better. Yet, here I was feeling the peace of God and wondering where eight years of bitterness went.

All is not sunshine and roses, of course. I still have scars (material, physical, emotional, and to some extent spiritual) that are in the long process of healing. But the healing has begun, I believe, because I made the decision to pursue a closer relationship with Jesus and took the stubborn position of being grateful even though I didn’t feel like there was a reason to be grateful. One last thought, as the bitterness disappeared, I began to thank God for every good thing that happened to me, no matter how small a thing it might seem to be, and the peace I didn’t see coming has remained always near by.

 

 

The Journey’s Not Over

I’m on my way now. Like the storm clouds that enter ominously in from western Kansas in the hot afternoons of August, the future looms with a similar aura of danger and mystery. The thing about storm clouds, though, is that there is a sort of majesty as well as mystery about them if I choose to look at them through the lens of my faith, my strength.

If I face them without fear, standing, waiting, and watching as the spectacular, powerful arctic rush of the wind that precedes them cools skin hot from a long summer, it becomes a future I can look forward to. If I’m lucky, they will try to knock me over, blast after blast, as I watch the approaching darkness rush over me, the pitch black of the clouds shaking with thunderclaps and lightning streaking side to side through the barely visible openings between them. It’s fun, dare I offer, to face the fear head on.

I’m on my way now more conscious of the fact that I’m not alone. I’m allowing my friend to be a friend again and the danger lying ahead, whatever it may be, looks less imposing. This is not an end to my journey. Far from it. I don’t have all the answers and how many I have I’m not really sure. But a veil has lifted, lifted again I should say.

After all these months, first acknowledging the fact that evil is set against me, and secondly, my right to the abundant life J has not only offered to me but fights for me to have, has helped me to better understand the war I’m in the middle of. An active evil has been fighting me all along under the guise of hopelessness and the heaviness of denial and apathy. Not that I haven’t made a lot of mistakes along the way, I have, but realizing my place in the Story and, to a better extent, the other characters in it, helps me to understand a little better what’s going on.

Recognizing the Apathy monster for what it is and shrugging it off hasn’t proven to be easy. But the journey through the wilderness has given me a great deal of perspective on the story I find myself in. Faith and the war that comes with it. It won’t end until the Author (J) steps onto the stage, bringing with him the end to all the pain and struggles we often call real life.

Meanwhile, the journey continues on and the lessons I’ve learned will walk with me into the next scene that I find myself in and the ones after that. The journey continues with all the mystery, danger, excitement, and yes, the anticipation that comes with living in an adventure story. In the midst of the darkest hour, the moment in the story when it seems all is lost, a path to victory has been found and the enemy, while still powerful, and as of yet not defeated, sees the tide is turning, and knowing the time is short, will lash out with all the anger and intimidation it can muster. What lies ahead is the march forward toward the distant kingdom, which all the while, approaches the heroes.

Until that day, as Lewis once said, “the cross comes before the crown.” The happy ending, while inevitable, is a way off yet, perhaps a long way off. The good news is that this life is a journey and that means it’s either a path to be tread with heads down or an adventure to be embraced with expectant heads held high.

 

 

My Old Friend

“To be born again means not the act of reentering your tired old mother’s blood stained womb. That is nothing, but to be born again, truly, with eyes wide open, this is everything. And nothing short of eternity’s gate will wash away the rolling, angry clouds.

I stopped running, not a metaphorical run, just jogging down 12th Street hill, just north of blue, gray Memorial Stadium where we, the faithful, unhopeful spent Saturdays in September, October, and November dutifully watching the losses pile high with the dead, falling green, red, brown leaves on the well groomed, well painted artificial grass.

I stopped because the jog was over. I did not see the clouds roll away, yet the veil lifted just the same. Nature’s clouds remained, whiter than they’d been in years. The blue brilliant, hurting my eyes, exciting my senses. Yes, at that time I stood amazed, well more happy within the clarity of the moment.

An old friend descended between the white pillars. He would not talk to me at that moment, the moment of his descending, only smiling and nodding at those angels and spirits descending or ascending respectively.

“Why do angels only descend?,” I asked. He only smiled. He would not talk openly of such things. But he would walk. And he would listen. And he would smile.”

 

Looking back at the days that I would one day write the above opening to in a short story based loosely on my life, I remember that J often felt as much like a friend, and fellow traveler, as my Lord and Savior. It was during this period that the poster signed “With love, J” hung on my apartment wall (see Appendix “J’s Coming: Look Busy”). That’s not as crazy as it might initially sound, that of J being a friend. He refers to his disciples as friends during the Last Supper in the Gospel of John after all. Surely the disciples felt at once comforted and honored by this. What if one of the ways that our God comes to us is as a friend?

In many ways over the years, I’ve let that relationship slip in the sense of that kind of intimacy that comes from friendship. I need J to be my savior now more than ever, but the peace that came from our friendship is something I want as well. Lately, I’ve felt the tugging of my heart to return to those days. I can’t return to those days, of course, but like reconnecting with old friends from the past, I can reconnect with my old friend in much the same manner.

Old friendships renewed bring new memories, that while not the same as the early ones, are just as real, and in this sense, “you can go home again.” The joy that arose from connecting with old friends and kindred spirits still exists despite all the years and distance that have been traveled. I’m still walking the path I’ve been placed on, making mistakes, getting frustrated with myself and the world around me, but I’m still moving forward. And if I allow J to be both friend as well as Lord, then I think the wilderness, with all the trials and tribulations it will continue to throw at me, will not have the power to make me lose sight of the hope that can’t be taken away from me. Nor can it take away from me anyone I choose to call friend.

 

 

 

 

 

J’s Love Breaking Through

“Like a foolish dreamer trying to build a highway to the sky/ All my hopes would come tumbling down/ And I never knew just why/ Until today, when you pulled away the clouds/ That hung like curtains on my eyes.”– “Your Love Broke Through” by Keith Green

 

I first heard this song in my studio apartment just after I moved to Nashville. After rediscovering my faith while at Kansas University, I went through a period of renewing my relationship with Christ. It didn’t affect my life much at first, but as time went by everything began to change. My former life suddenly felt like a dark dream one day when I’d finished jogging through campus. I was looking around the north edge of the campus on my right and the nearby neighborhood apartments on my left, and every color became dazzling like someone had upgraded my senses from analogue to High Definition television. It was extraordinary!

Of course, my senses became accustomed, or used to, this new clarity but it was the beginning of a peace that lasted mostly uninterrupted for the rest of my time at the university. The opening lines to the song listed above hit me hard, and I nearly cried with joy when I heard them. “Real life” hadn’t hit me just yet, but the music and lyrics took me back to that day when my perspective on life suddenly changed.

     Many years have passed since the day I first heard Keith Green’s beautiful song, and I had quite frankly forgot about it until this evening when it found its way out of my Ipod and into the air while I was reading. Could it be a coincidence that I heard this song at a time when I’m trying to regain some of that childlike faith I had when I first heard it so long ago? Maybe. Still, that gratefulness Green sings about in this song remains relevant in my life. Especially now when my heart is yearning for that relationship I had back in those days of regained innocence.

The good news is that even a war torn spirit can still feel that presence, that peace that surpasses understanding. It comes with an earnest desire for the presence of God. Often, the scars are so deep that the peace doesn’t last for long. War wounds will continue to be ripped open by the Enemy that gave them in the first place until the conflict has finally ceased forever. That’s the nature of the war I find myself in. Fortunately, the healing J brings is the foe of death and injury.

The better news is that the healing I’m seeking, the peace that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit, literally comes from a higher power. The writer of the“Serenity Prayer” was onto something. The love of God does indeed breakthrough and the peace, though often fleeting, keeps returning to heal the wounds that have built up during the course of the war we call real life.

Today, the song that made me nearly cry when I first heard it, reminds me that that peace that comes with his presence, still more my relationship with him, continues to be real despite the artillery shells being thrown at it. The accumulated wounds still hurt but I’m reminded, again, that they’re not fatal. Stumble as I may in my weaknesses, the hand of my Friend is still there to lift me up again. His love breaks through the Enemy’s lines, not just once but every day the battle continues to rage on, and there are moments when the clouds of mortar shells part, and I can see more clearly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most High

You are the most high, Triune God, the lovely mystery solved within three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are the author of the salvation that we cling to when the condemning rains pour over our hair and skin.

You are the author of creation, whose breath spoke the first words of poetry ever uttered, “Let there be light.” No wonder you are the light of the world then and now, piercing through the darkness of the sin filled air.

You are the light we will bask in as we walk the halls of the temple in New Jerusalem, and the pleasant green fields outside the city that will never see the darkness that currently consumes us. Lord, we wait breathlessly for the sunrise that will never end, the mountaintops that will never see bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Father, be the source of our ability to love, Son be the way through the valley of the shadow of death, and Spirit be the truth that sets us free. The one hope that thrives in the living temples walking about in the garden we currently call our world.

You are the strength residing in us that allows us to confess, despite our weaknesses and our ever ready enemies, that Jesus Christ is the Lord over all and Savior of our souls.

 

                                                                                

 

The Right Now

“The summer, with all its tornadoes and sunbathing, demands all eyes on the thrill of the right now. Right now, I think there’s nothing sexier than ponytails and tank tops worn by the right girl. If she were with me, as I leaned over the balcony rail fifty feet from the coast line, sharing a glass of white wine and moonlight, time would step aside and let my heart slow dance with hers as we shared the silence only love can bring.”

I’m having to catch myself these past few days. By writing the blog “The Brief Interlude,” I was officially declaring the end of one phase in my life, which means the next phase should begin. Right now. The problem is that I don’t want to force it, lest the next phase becomes the wrong one, and I’ve wasted valuable time. I’m not 25 anymore. The clock is ticking, J’s return is much nearer now, and I best be about the business at hand.

   Meanwhile, the lunchtime coffeehouse air is buzzing with the quiet din of multiple conversations. Much like the bees who saved my Cherry Blossom tree last year, the white noise of conversationalists reminds me that there is an intentionality about creation. I’m not just here, I’m here for a reason. That should make me feel better except for the fact that, on many days, I allow myself to become paralyzed by stress. How can I be effective if I don’t explicitly know what role I am to play?              

I like to write stories, and one thing I know about writing stories is that as the author, I’m the one who assigns the roles to be played and how they will play out. I know the end game. The actors in the story don’t, they are living out their parts to the best of their ability, always surprising me along the way with how they deal with the situations I place them in. I can learn something from them and the way they handle themselves. They aren’t stressed about their roles, they’re playing them out by being engaged in the moment.

Right now, I know I’m in enemy occupied territory, and I have to keep focused on what’s in front of me lest the enemy win and the drama becomes a tragedy. The role I am to play, the “big picture role” I sweat over, will come to me. How I play it out in the meantime is up to me. To put it in easy terms, “I have to be myself” and let the rest come to me.

My character description reads something like this: “Christian guy whose life revolves around J. Not young but not yet old, either. Medium build likes to read, watch Jayhawk basketball, and can be quite the smart alack at times. He recognizes the war he’s been placed in and counts on J to help himself through it.”

Right now, I want to spend time with my friend, J, who has the patience I aspire to and loves his creation in a way I also aspire to, and has the strength that I need to face the war with anger when it’s required and humor when that is the more appropriate weapon. It’s a Friday afternoon and what started out as a feeling of helplessness and impatience has turned into a moment of rest. Clarity has that effect.

Lord, help me to run the race with open eyes, ears that hear, and a willing heart, so I can surprise the enemy with my heart, resilience, and annoying habit of overcoming his plans through you.

 

 

 

 

The Rain Of Praise

Lord, the rest you offer me requires a quiet mind because the Whispering Genius will not strain his voice. In this instance, the peace inside my quietness sings a song of praise unheard by human ears. You alone, Lord, hear the praise lifted up from within the closet, which is the innermost chamber of my heart.

Fly, my praise, out of my heart and into the air stale with the stench of centuries of man made sin. Angels will carry it through the sulfur tinged clouds up past the God made storm clouds and out into the quiet of space where it will finally join with the collected eternity of worship in the skies of New Jerusalem approaching.

The Brief Interlude

I’m at a turning point, or a moving forward point. The book I’ve been writing based on this blog is nearly finished. Fitting, because I’m back in Kansas and my life is a little like summer break before the final semester of college begins. At some point soon, I’ll be moving on and hopefully I’ll be prepared for whatever comes next. The last time, when I graduated from Kansas University, I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

Sure, I was young, excited, and unafraid, but I was unprepared. Nobody told me that my grace period would end. Satan knew I would be alone when I left for Nashville and “bigger things,” and more importantly, that I had areas of weakness that could be exploited. And boy did this kid get exploited!

It’s a typically hot (102 degree) day in July in Kansas. The fall is coming but it’s still a few weeks off. For now, the heat will be reason enough to sit inside bedrooms and coffee houses gazing outside at the full green leafed, wind blown tree limbs. Time doesn’t stop, of course, even though the heat sustained by the rough, southerly winds tires the body while encouraging sleep or reflection.

I’ve lost a lot in the last five years, my career, my house, my savings, my retirement but not my faith. I’m past the point of wondering whether I’m being punished for some unknown sin. This is life. This is my life. The man sitting here just inside the window of a Topeka coffeehouse is indeed older and wiser than the younger man who left to take on the world years ago.

This is life. The brief interlude will end, and I will move forward into the next phase with all its trials and opportunities. I want to be ready for two things, whatever I’m called to do, and also prepared to move forward with a sober recognition of my weaknesses. I will not be played again by either life or evil.

Yes, this brief interlude is a chance to rest and lick my wounds, but if I’m not stronger when I return to the war than when I originally entered it, I will be no better off. I must get stronger, stronger than I have ever been. Fortunately, now I know how. Keep in the Word, keep being grateful (even when I don’t necessarily feel it), pray, and put others ahead of myself. A game plan for withstanding trials but more than that, succeeding for myself and others in the name of a God who stuck with me throughout it all and will continue to do so no matter how well or bad I do at any given moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing Other

In the quietest moments, when the music stays content to remain in the next room, the air is filled with the voice of God. Praise is an act of volition set against the sedentary mass of emotionless creatures. I will, I will the praise of You to rise from my heart to lips to the ears of others. My song, as I am able to sing it, fights through the thick of an angry forest. It waters the trees starving for rest in the storm we all feel if not recognize.   The wind is You, the joy out of nowhere singing words that bring both peace and rest. In the surprising days of winter, the warm, southwesterly winds melt my frozen tears, and I’m able to feel Your love again in the loneliness of my spiritual December blizzard.

Winter stayed much longer and stronger than usual this year until sucker punched out the door by an early summer wind. Lord, sometimes I feel like a boat tossed about by the two warring sides of the sea. I’m too cold then too hot, not in one place long enough to feel settled. Yet, You are the North Star that shines between the at odds storm clouds.

The wind is You, the breeze I feel this mid- summer Sunday afternoon, cooling the sweat rushing down the back of my neck. Rest and peace, weapons set against strongholds built between You, Lord, and Man. This land is not lost as long as the wheat strains its shocks up toward the heavens for something more, the joy that comes from being filled by the wind and the raining down of Your love from above.

The wind is You, every shade of cool and hot. The wind is You, every brush of breeze or gust, and I, sitting here, sort of sweating but not quite, breathing in/ breathing out nothing other than You.

 

 

 

 

Going Home To Move Forward

A month ago, I decided to go home. A lot of us do that at some point in our lives. I’m sure a psychologist somewhere has called it “the Prodigal Son Syndrome.” An irresistible pull toward familiar surroundings from a more simple time and the family and friends that we grew up with but left behind for greener pastures.

I think that definitely played a part in the decision. And from a career standpoint, well, there was no career worth pursuing anyway so why not go home? Being around family and old friends has lived up to its billing, and I’m certainly glad that I did, though I have no idea how long this time will last.

The line I wrote above reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend just before I left to return home. I wasn’t going home to “find myself.” I know who I am. I wasn’t giving up, either, which was a reason I hadn’t moved home earlier. It felt like a step I needed to take. I remembered a song, which had a line that went something like this “sometimes going home feels like moving on.”

The conversation got me to think a little deeper. I originally left Kansas for Nashville coming off an amazing period of restored faith and covering/ protection provided by the grace of God. What I didn’t know at the time is that I was naïve and unready for the challenges I was about to endure. “I’ve been through the wars and have the scars to prove it.”

I know who I am, and I know who I need to be: the adult version of that kid who left for Nashville wanting to make the world a better place. I’m less sure now of what I’ve been called to do, but at least I know who I’ve been called to be. I don’t know what will come in the future, but my faith remains strong, and I can rest, yes rest, assured “that those who rest upon the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).”