Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Down the Mountain

Before our family moved away from Ecuador, my boys wanted to climb Mt. Pichincha. It's not close to the tallest mountain in Ecuador and not a hard mountain to climb. It's more of a hike above 15,000 feet.

But this was the mountain we had lived under and climbed on countless times for seven years. The one with the great views of Quito and all the snow caps in the distance. The volcano that had rained ash down on us. It was our mountain.


We started off early and we're having a good time, hiking, talking and taking pictures. We reached the top of a long sandy slope and sat down to take a break, drink some water and eat a bit before we pushed on to the final stretch.

I sat on a rock, opened the backpack, handed out snacks and drank in the view. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the sight of my backpack slowly rolling away. By the time I reached too grab it, it had already achieved terminal velocity. It was tumbling, bouncing almost gleefully away, like a happy little kid rolling down a hill.

I wasn't gleeful. I was sick. Nancy's nice SLR camera was in that bag.


I was helpless. All I could do was beg it to stop. Plead with it to stay away from rocks. And watch it roll... and roll. I had no control.

When it finally came to rest up against a bolder, way down the mountain, the three of us just stood there looking at it. I didn't know what to do. We couldn't just leave it and pick it up later, someone else might get there first. There was nothing left to do, but hike back down and get it.

Life has a way of tumbling out of control. There are moments, seasons of chaos where no matter how hard we try to reach to grab it back all control tumbles away and there's nothing we can do but watch.

Your job is gone. Your spouse is cheating on you. A parent dies. It's cancer.

Nothing is more frightening than being out of control. In those moments we can get stuck, staring blankly down the mountain wondering what the heck to do. We wish it would stop. We wish things were different. We wish we were sitting back on our rock.

But that moment is gone and it's not coming back. At some point, we have to accept the new reality. We need to mourn the loss, identify the things we can control, then start walking back down the mountain.

When we got to the backpack, the camera was fine. We finished the climb and had a great day. Sometimes where we land isn't as desperate as the fall appears it will be. Sometimes it is.

Either way, how we address it is the same. Identify it. It sucks. And this is where I am. Now how do I learn to live in the new reality. You'll be OK. You're strong enough. Ask for help. We'll walk down the mountain together.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cats and Dogs

Abby is our Lab- Pitt Bull-Mutt mix. She's been with us over five years now. About a year and a half ago, Marcus and Kelsie adopted River, a Tawny little kitty. For the most part they tolerate each other as long as River doesn't get near Abby when she's eating or around bedtime (she's grouchy when she's sleepy).

Abby isn't tolerant enough to let River snuggle up with her on a cold day, but they can share the couch or a sunny spot on the kitchen floor. Mostly, they share the house like roommates who need someone to help cover rent, but have nothing in common.



But every now and then they try to play. Abby is a typical dog. Jump forward, head down, butt up and wagging. She wants River to chase her and she wants to chase back. She'll stomp at River with her paw if she has to, sending River to higher ground and Abby in hot pursuit. Abby looks like she just wants to play.

River on the other hand is a bit more... bloodthirsty. She'll take a run at Abby and go straight for her neck. Claws out, front legs wrapped securely around her head and fangs on Abby's throat. Abby brushes her off and she flees. When Abby pokes River with her nose, the cat goes after her eyes, and ears.

Abby has whined a couple of times, but with a 60 pound dog and a 4 pound cat, there's not a lot of chance she'll get hurt badly. But she usually looks at me in confusion like, "What the heck? Why doesn't she play right?"

We've all got cats in our lives. People who don't play right. They don't come at the world the same way as we do. What drives them is different. What they care about is different. What encourages them is different. What sets them off is different. They aren't bad people, they're just different.

We walk away from time with them thinking, "What the heck? Why don't they think right?"

It occurs to me, there wasn't anyone ever more different than Jesus. He did everything differently. I think that's why a few times in scripture he gets so frustrated with the disciples. They just didn't get it. It took three years of walking with him, his death and resurrection for them to finally clue in to his message.

The sucky thing for us is one of his core messages was basically, "You need to love the cats in your life." So I kind of understand why the disciples took so long to clue in. Loving people who scratch at your eyes, bite your ears and go for your jugular isn't really intuitive.

In the United States, there is a widening gap in cultures of those inside the church and those out. Not to mention the politics. With that in mind, we would be wise to remember Christ's teachings in Mathew 5 especially, 38-48.  They are powerful. They are convicting. And they are truth.

I should probably read them every morning. I need to love the people who do not look like, think like and act like me. I need to love my cat people.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wahoo!

I love the movie IQ. It's probably not very manly to admit, but I don't care. Walter Matthau makes Einstein seem warm and fun loving. His interaction with his brilliant and bumbling group of peers is hilarious. It's just a fun, quirky little romantic comedy. And I love it.

In one particular scene, Ed (Tim Robbins) takes Albert for a ride on his motorcycle. Albert enjoys the ride so much, he yells, "WAHOOOOOOOO!" Shortly after the ride, Ed runs into Catherine (Meg Ryan)  Albert's niece and this conversation takes place:



When was the last time you went Wahoo? We should ask ourselves that question every day. When was the last time you said it in your journey through life? When was the last time you said it in your journey with God? Life is meant to be filled with "Wahoo!" moments.

But to have them we have to risk. We have to take off the training wheels. Ask the girl out. Jump off the high dive. Try a new food. Explore a new state. Explore a new country. Change things at church. Climb the mountain. Start our own business. Love more deeply. Ask God to use us. Then... we have to say yes.

When was the last time you dared to do something that scared the life out of you? Those are the moments when we fail. When we learn. When we grow. When we achieve. Those are the moments when our faith is rewarded and God reveals himself to us. They are the moments where we go "WAHOOOOOO!"

When was the last time you went wahoo? If you can't remember, it's time to start looking for a new adventure.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Pike's Peak

Pike's Peak is a huge mountain. It towers above Colorado Springs. It impacts weather patterns. You can see it from Denver as you head south out of town. Driving west from the plains you spot it well over an hour before you reach it's shadow.

It's a mountain so majestic it provoked Katharine Lee Bates to write "America the Beautiful."



It's so tall  Zebulon Pike never even got to the top. For some reason he thought a snowy day in November was a good time to try.



It's just so impressive.

Except, that it isn't. On the grand scheme of things, it's not really that big. Not even half the size of Everest. Not the biggest in the country. Heck not even the biggest it Colorado. In fact there are 29 mountains bigger in Colorado alone!

So what's the big deal? Why are people obsessed with it? Why did they make it a National Forest? Why do they have the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the Accent and Marathon every year? Why do people know about this mountain but not about Mt. Elbert which is over 300 feet higher? Why do hundreds of thousands of people visit every year?

Why? Because it's out on its own.

Pikes Peak is alone in Southern Colorado's Front range. The view west from Denver is a row of mountains. It's beautiful. The view from Colorado Springs is Pikes Peak. It is not the tallest, prettiest or most impressive mountain. It just seems to be, because it's positioned at the edge of the plains, by itself.

It got me thinking about folks in the Bible. There's a lot of them who probably wouldn't be considered to be the best or the brightest. They had impact because they were willing to go where no one else had gone. Abraham, Moses, David. Peter, John, Paul. They listened to what God said to them and they followed him there.

I think it's been true in my life in ministry as well. There are some really unassuming folks with some significant Kingdom impact. It's not that they're super smart or gifted. They've just been willing to follow God wherever it was he was leading them.

And that gives me a bit of hope. The beautiful thing is, it doesn't matter if we're young like Timothy or old like Caleb. If we are willing to trust, willing to follow, there will always be new mountains to climb. God can use you. He can use me. He's just looking for a willing heart to follow him, even if it's out on your own.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Travel Log

On one of our trips to Ecuador, Nancy and I traveled with a good friend. To protect her, I won't tell you who she is, but she's our Personnel Director... and her name is DeNise. On our way, we passed a fruit stand and this Memphis native said, "Lets stop and get some watermelon. I LOVE me some watermelon."

The van was packed with food. We had so much food, the van our driver looked at us like, "You know they HAVE food there, right?" Still, we stopped and bought the watermelon.

Since we were having a team get together, DeNise bought three. We drove those three watermelons down the mountain, cut two of them up for the meeting and took the third on to the next stop on our visit. Then to the next stop. Then finally, we took it all the way back to Quito.

That watermelon was the best traveled watermelon on the planet. There are people who live their whole lives in Ecuador and never see those places. I had to carry that thing back and forth to the van, up and down flights of stairs, all over the stinking country. Just because DeNise LOVES her some watermelon. 

When we finally got home, DeNise picked up her watermelon for the first time and said, "Dang! That watermelon is heavy!" Yes. I know. 

That was years ago, but I still give her a hard time about it. We have a lot of good stories from that trip and we revisit them whenever we see each other.
There's something about traveling with someone that can really deepen a friendship. There's prolonged time together. You see each other early in the morning and late at night. You see each other at your best and not so best. And there's always a story. 

It all makes me wonder about the disciples. For three years they followed Jesus around Israel. What kind of stuff didn't make it in the book? Did Peter ever push Judas out of the boat? Did they ever try to sneak off and leave Mathew? Did James ever secretly spit on John's fish then everyone laugh when he ate it? 

After the ascension, did they ever sit around and tell stories. Can you imagine when they were alone together? "Remember that time Jesus smoked you for wanting to be first in the Kingdom? HAHAHAAH! Good times... good times." Who else could understand them? Who else could understand how profoundly they missed him? 

The disciples journeyed through life together and out of it came some pretty amazing stories. Who are you traveling with? What kind of stories are you writing? 


Friday, November 11, 2016

Arlene

Arlene, Arlene, what can I say?
Your son-in-law to this very day.
30 years ago to your dismay,
I showed up and won't go away

You loved to teach the little ones,
in rain or sleet or snow or sun.
Some were work and some were fun,
the foundation you laid had just begun.

You love to serve and sing God's praise,
in choirs and jails, with Gideon's page.
The lessons you taught were often sage,
that God is love and Jesus saves.

You raised two girls, in your home
Always with boys and on the phone.
Strong, beautiful, bright, now on their own,
Strong willed like their mom, but neither a clone.

And a young boy, who out paced his pears,
years filled with joy, days tinged with tears.
He surpassed your hopes, in spite of your fears
and is doing so well after fifty long years.

But today is your day, so lets get our marry on,
I'll close up now lest I start to carry on.
You're no longer spry but nor are you carrion,
today you're an octogenarian!


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Stormy Weather

With family in Indiana and Virginia, I've spent countless hours driving between the two states, over the Appalachian mountains. To my frustration, it always seemed to rain or snow.

It wasn't any different as I headed east one fall afternoon. It was miserable weather for a long drive alone and I grumbled and complained appropriately. My mood was still pretty sour as the clouds started to break up and the late afternoon sun began to peak through.

I crested a hill with the sun right behind me and it lit up the rolling hills below. The trees, in full autumn color, burning with brilliance as their wet leaves shimmered like diamonds. The reds, oranges, yellows and greens were the most brilliant I have ever seen. I repented of my grumbling and humbly drove on, in the awe of the gift I'd been given.

Sometimes, the only way to beauty, to wonder, is through struggle. I would appreciate cresting that ridge on a normal fall day. It would be lovely and I would say so. But there was something more beautiful available for me.  God wanted to show it to me. Share it with me. But it want't going to be possible without a drive in the rain.

So much of life is that way. There are things God wants to show us, things he wants to give us, places he wants to take us but we cannot get there without struggle. It is only later, after the storm, when the clouds lift and the sun breaks through that we get to experience the wonder.

The hard thing is we don't always get to see the beauty. I have made that drive in the dark with snow and ice, hoping only to get my family safely to grandma's. I never saw a hint of wonder and asked only, why the God who calms the storm let that one rage.

I'm not sure I know how to answer that question. What I do know is the most beautiful people I know, the deepest, the most real are the ones who have walked through struggle. Struggle with loss, with pain, with scripture, with God.

They are people who have been poured into a crucible and come out shimmering. They are people who have cried out to God and heard him whisper, "I have something more beautiful I want to show you." And they have trusted him. Through their hardship, they have experienced the wonder of God so profoundly, they now reflect it.

I wonder how God would respond if I said to him, "I want to be a person like that. I want my soul to be beautiful." I wonder where he'd take me. I wonder if I'd have the courage to follow him into the storm.