The Word: Halfway

The Word: Halfway

Thirteen days ago turned to page 855 in the book I’ve carried for thousands of miles. It’s been on almost every trip I’ve taken in the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve used it to prepare and preach from pulpits in both Brazil and the US. The words of Isaiah 35 brought profound insight and encouragement last December when I was in Houston. As I opened to page 855–chapter one of the Gospel According to Luke–a new and unexpected journey began.

In the Christian circles I tend to run it we frequently open our Bibles together. Usually it is because someone is teaching and asks us to open to a specific verse. Honestly, this has confused me a bit from time to time…the teacher always reads the verse, so why do we turn to it? We’re don’t read entire chapters together, and certainly don’t have the time to read entire books. Sure, it can be helpful to mark a passage or scribble some notes in the margins, but how many of us really do that during a sermon?

Still…the Word beckons.

On January 1 as I read the first word in Luke 1 (“inasmuch”), a bunch of friends did the same. We aren’t physically together and we’re not reading at the exact same time…but folks said “I’m in” and began the two month journey through Luke and Acts. Everyone is going at their own pace, which is wonderful. I’m reading 6 chapters per week in Luke, but grace is abundant. This week, Wednesday was simply too busy and I was too exhausted. So I didn’t. I shared that I didn’t. As expected, people responded with grace, not condemnation. That’s what life together is supposed to look like. That’s what we do.

Having just finished chapter 12, I am now halfway through the book of Luke. Just a few small steps every day and here I am. Halfway. Most days it takes longer for me to write a few thoughts about the chapter than it does to actually read it. This two weeks of reading has taken me to page 872. Seventeen pages in twelve days of reading. On one hand, it doesn’t sound like a lot. On the other, there has been so much ground covered. Remember…we’re reading text that was written almost two thousand years ago. It’s not necessarily all going to be straightforward and easy. It was originally written to a different people in a different culture living at a different time. Some of it seems quite foreign.

As I pause today in the journey through Luke that we’re on, I have a couple of areas I’ve personally noticed change.

Community

The last two weeks something really cool has happened. People are sending me messages letting me know they’re with me on this journey. I’m getting insightful takeaways from my friend Tamarah. I got a message from Mike letting me know he’s reading with us while he’s traveling. Some people tell me they’re behind but still with us. Dear friends are engaging with Scripture at a level they never have before. Because we are doing it together. I’m learning that we all get more out of God’s word when we go through it together. We have a longing for community because God designed us to do life together. It makes sense that His Word is experienced better together.

I’m afraid most of us carry around a lot of baggage about God’s word. Many Christians carry an unnecessary burden of guilt…perhaps because they think they don’t read their Bible enough. Or perhaps it’s because they have tried and just don’t understand it. We want to love God’s Word, but find it intimidating or unapproachable. We look around us and see Bible verses printed floating around everywhere…sometimes used like fortune cookies or horoscopes, bringing brief feelings of hope and encouragement…but sometimes used as daggers, thrown at others with the intention of drawing blood. But there has to be more, right? Surely God’s Word is more profound than a fortune cookie. Surely it has some other purpose than to wound and condemn. Unfortunately, guilt and pride keep us from opening those pages and even more, it keeps us from asking the questions we find embarrassing.

We’ve all been there. Nobody was born understanding Scripture. Way back in the early chapters of Luke it says that Jesus grew “in wisdom and stature.” It was even a process for Him. Personally, I remember sitting in Mike’s class and asking if John the Baptist was the same dude who was one of the disciples. Was he the one who wrote John, or was John just about him? Was Luke a disciple? Are Christians supposed to take every word of the Bible literally? Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it? Why do people think Jesus was God? How can there be one God if the Father and Son both claim to be God? What’s up with this Holy Ghost thing…is that like Christian Gatorade or something? Do we even need the Old Testament anymore? What’s up with all those lists of names? Why don’t all Christians read the Bible?

I asked all of those questions at some time in the past 10 years or so. I’m not embarrassed in the slightest about any of them. That’s how I learned who God is. That’s how both my faith and knowledge deepened. And now that’s happening around us…as we read together, we can learn from each other. We’re all travelers on a journey and all have something to contribute. We’re a community.

Our community is a bit disorganized, but it’s beautiful. I cherish every interaction. Nothing’s off the table or out-of-bounds.

Personally

Knowing others are also reading changes my own perspective. I’m not only reacting to what resonates with me, but I’m anticipating what others will respond to as well. It broadens my view and allows the Word to challenge me in unanticipated ways.

In the first twelve chapters, I have found myself comforted by the narrative. The story of Jesus’ life and ministry is familiar. When the disciples feed the crowds, I’m delighted. As the people lean in to listen to the incredible teachings of Jesus, I’m amazed. Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds…it’s like visiting old friends.

But there’s more that has been happening. In addition to the life and events, there is conflict. There are teachings that are hard. As I read Luke, I see Jesus continually warning us to stop focusing on things of this world. He tells us to seek the Kingdom of God, which seems to be a stark contrast to the kingdoms we build for ourselves. He tells us that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) That brings my mind back to the woman with the alabaster flask in Luke 7, who out of gratitude washes the feet of our Savior with her tears and anoints His head with oil. This woman who had nothing pours out everything she has for Him, simply as a worshipful response to the forgiveness she has found through Him…the new life she has found. She knows Jesus and has been transformed. She is no longer who she was…she has walked away from her old life completely. Her future is completely unknown except for this…that she is trusting Jesus with it. There is deep meaning in the anointing of Jesus here, but for her it represents letting go of her “before” to step fulling into “next.”

As I read I wonder what pieces of my past am I still clinging to that are keeping me from fully following Him? I often think of emotional baggage like the tattered and worn suitcases we bring back from Brazil. Rio is really hard on luggage. But what if the weight I’m carrying around is an alabaster flask, beautiful and full of a substance of great value? Do I trust Jesus enough to break that flask and pour its contents out for Him? Do I trust Him with my future, even if it is uncertain and difficult? At the end of chapter 9, Jesus seems to be telling us that we can’t look both back at our old lives and continue forward with Him. As He said in chapter 11, “a divided household falls.” And so I look at my heart and pray the end of Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The reality is, trusting Jesus with eternity often seems much easier than trusting Him with tomorrow.

Even so…among all these teaching that challenge me so greatly, Jesus never gives up on anyone. Sure, He rebukes Pharisees and Scribes. We see plenty of people leave His side when the teaching gets difficult or the cost of following Him grows too high. But He never turns His back on anyone. This is where I find hope. In these chapters it is abundantly clear that following Jesus is not an easy life. He never guarantees that…in fact, He repeatedly tells us the opposite. When we follow Him, though, He remains with us. He does not abandon us, even in the middle of our messes and failures, even in our deepest hurt and darkest places. When friends abandon us or tragedy strikes, He is there with us…lifting our face and pointing it toward eternity…toward a time when there will be no more tears or pain. These chapters remind me that we don’t get there by breaking our jars and unloading our baggage. Those things bring us closer to Him in the journey, but ultimately all of our hope is in Him. We get a beautiful glimpse of Him on the pages of the Gospel According to Luke.

 


On December 31 I posted an open invitation to join me in reading Luke and Acts. There are no checklists and no discussion questions, just a ragged band of misfits wandering through the Word together. I’m reading 6 chapters of Luke each week and plan to read 7 chapters of Acts per week when I get there. I set that pace because it seems achievable and I’m just dorky enough to need that kind of symmetry. Four weeks through Luke and four weeks through Acts. But if you want to take this journey, do it at your pace, not mine. Read 30 minutes a day if you want…perhaps that will be 2 or 3 chapters. Read more or less…just keep reading. I’ve been posting a few thoughts and my progress on my personal Facebook page because that’s where this all started, but I’m happy to interact with anyone anywhere. Reach out to me and let me know how it’s going. And if you’d like me to reach out to you a couple of times a week to see how you’re doing, I’d be happy to.

The familiar pit: Grief

The familiar pit: Grief

A side effect of a summer full of travel surfaced recently. Hours after midnight, I’ll sit straight up in bed and fumble for the lights in a mad panic. My disoriented mind attempts to discover if I’m in a hotel in Brazil, a condo by the ocean, or a sleeper train on my way to Scotland. In the dark, I could be anywhere. As the light suddenly fills the room, two questions pop into my head:

Where am I? How did I get here?

My eyes quickly find familiar objects…my lamp. The picture on the wall. My dresser. My wife. Those answers give me perspective. Context. Even though my heart is racing, the adrenaline begins to subside. My breathing slows. Awareness of my situation helps me move on. I am not entirely unchanged…even though I’m safe at home in bed, this is disruptive. I’ll be a little extra cranky tomorrow. The memory of panic will return throughout the day. Yet the truth shines through… I’m home.

Experiencing the same grief again is a similar emotional process. Self help sites and well-meaning friends may tell us grief is something we process, move through, and get over. At some point we should be better. We can expect life to be normal again. The truth is, when we lose someone we love dearly, their absence leaves a hole in our world. It’s possible to stumble into that hole again and again for the rest of our lives. When we do, we find ourselves disoriented and confused, like my panicked fumbling in the middle of the night. To find our way through it, we ask those same two questions:

Where am I? How did I get here?

Recently I found myself in that familiar pit again. Like most of us, I’ve experienced loss. Grief is familiar. I’ve recently learned that when it comes, accepting and pressing into it is much healthier than denial or avoidance. Acknowledge it for what it is without minimizing it or giving it more control than it deserves. Understand that the deep hurt is a reflection and validation of love known, experienced, and lost.

Just like the whimsy of love can drop in at any time, grief can as well. That’s what happened this time. I was staring blankly at my screen. When my screensaver kicked on, my mind snapped back to the present. “This is a familiar darkness…hello again, grief.” 

 

Although the weight had settled into my soul the day before, I finally recognized it for what it was. I was in the pit. Oh, but I knew that first key answer. Where am I? I’m in the pit. I’m mourning. Recognizing my surroundings was vital.

 

There hasn’t been a personal loss in my life lately, though. So the next question became key. Just like in my jet-lagged panic, I first had to answer:  How did I get here?

Our minds work in strange ways. Although mysterious, they aren’t entirely unpredictable. As autumn approaches and the daylight hours decrease, I tend to drift toward melancholiness. This was different. It was triggered by something. I realized social media had been showing me memories of my past.

This time, it wasn’t the anniversary of a loss that led me to the pit again. Instead, it was the anniversary of the beginning of a relationship that ultimately left me heartbroken. I had been revisiting the start of a life-changing relationship that would be cut short mere months later. Seeing the beginning prompted my mind to revisit the entire journey, including those familiar feelings about what might have been.

The wounds became fresh again. I’ve heard a broken bone become stronger than the original once it has mended. I don’t think that’s true of our emotional breaks. Years later they can still be uncovered and be once again raw and sensitive. Falling into the pit of grief reminds us that the wounds on our heart never fully heal. The pit remains because the love remains, which can be a freeing thought. Grief is a consequence of love, and love is worth it. Understanding this key helps validate our time in the pit, even years later. It frees us to feel the pain without the self-condemnation that often accompanies it.

It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to mourn again. In that way, these wounds that remain fresh do ultimately strengthen us emotionally by allowing us to revisit that love and acknowledge the loss. When we allow ourselves to feel the loss again, we also give ourselves permission to experience the joy, too. The scars we live with aren’t unlike those on Christ’s hands and feet, which the Bible tells us are eternal. Those scars are a reminder of the permanence of love. He thought it was worth it. We should, too.

My time in this particular pit had a wonderful outcome this time. By allowing myself to feel the loss, I began to remember why the loss was so deep. It wasn’t because of the way that relationship ended. The reason I find myself in this pit again is because of the joy, good times, and love. I don’t miss the ending, I miss the during. So I reached out, because in this case I can. An incredible conversation followed, and a bit of a reconnection happened. A ray of light broke through the darkness of that pit. 

Even though revisiting the pit is ultimately beneficial, it’s important to remember that life does go on. Although it is vital to allow ourselves to feel the emotions of grief and loss when they return, it is just as important to press forward into the remaining days we have been given. 

Although we glance back over our shoulder at times, our life is meant to be lived looking forward. The keys to the journey out of the pit are similar to flipping on the lights in my confused state in the darkness. Answering where am I and how did I get here was the first step for me in this new journey through this old pit.

I’ve walked this road before. I’ve been in this particular pit before. Although it’s not exactly pleasant, the familiarity makes it easier. Remembering the love that was found…the special times we shared…these things cast light into the pit. Light illuminates the path.

“My Oklahoma” Calendar

“My Oklahoma” Calendar

I love filling Instagram and Facebook with pictures of light and beauty…scenes from where my journey takes me. This past year we saw the beaches of Texas and the mountains of Brazil. Even with this, my favorite views are in my own home state of Oklahoma. This year, I’m bringing a hand-picked assortment of these photos from your screens to your walls.

This calendar is special. Not only does it feature all twelve months of 2017 (which, according to my sources is supposed to be a phenomenal year), it also features one of my photos on each of the twelve months.

I first did a calendar in 2016 as a fundraiser for my family’s mission trip to Brazil. The calendars completely sold out and I even had to turn a few people away. This year I’ve printed a few more, but they are still a limited quantity.

Below is a gallery of the pictures in this year’s calendar. If you’d like one, shoot me a message on the social media of your preference: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. They are $20, plus shipping (typically $5).

Brazil 2016 was phenomenal, but I’ve written about it elsewhere. Brazil 2017 looks like it will be another incredible trip, with a return to the state of Sergipe and passage through Aracaju on our way to our to our final destination in Itabi. It’s always a special time time to partner with the local congregation to help build a chapel in a week! The impact we have on the community, kingdom, and each other is immeasurable. As always, I appreciate any and all support I can get. Every prayer and every dollar counts.

 

70

70

My mom recently celebrated her 70th birthday. Being a writer, I wrote this for her and narrated it at the party. She spend her life immersed in children’s literature so I thought it would be fun to use some of my most treasured quotes to emphasize the feelings in the text. See how many you recognize.


In a great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.pict0982

My memories of books and stories are among my oldest and most cherished. This is a side-effect of a life spent with Becky. Growing up the son of a librarian, books were plentiful and reading was something we did together.

I remember our adventures at the public library. Maybe we went every week. Maybe it was more often than that. I don’t remember how many books I would leave there with on every single visit, but I’m certain it was right at the legal limit. She’d help me carry out my stack of 15 or 20 books, knowing full well it would be impossible to read them all before they were due. That wasn’t important. What was important was that curiosity. The love of learning. Finding both adventure and wisdom between the title page and back cover.

To tell you the truth, Becky is known as a no-nonsense person who gets stuff done. She’s a go-getter, having been highly successful in starting and building multiple libraries in diverse school districts and circumstances. She’s always been willing to take a stand against the powers that be in order to do what is right. And what is right generally happens to mean defending both books and children. The two are inextricably intertwined.

Even more, she always has fought for “the one.” Her life and career have been punctuated by the hundreds of stories of little ones who had the trajectory of their lives changed by a librarian with a puppet and a book. She has consistently given people hope when they had never known it was an option for them. She changed their perspectives and helped them embrace a life of significance and meaning. Books generally were the means…they were a tool to help the kids to understand and embrace a vision for their lives that was much grander than they ever would have imagined on their own. It was the vision she knew was possible. She knew because she had lived it. But that’s not my story to tell.

To me, she was always mom. She was the person who walked me to first grade having filled my head with things like these from Winnie the Pooh:pict0025

“Promise me you’ll remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.”

And then she walked home, alone, with another Pooh-bear thought… “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

After school, I would hang out with some friends. Once I had a group, I felt like a king. It’s good to be king. But then another feeling would hit, perhaps best described by Maurice Sendak.

“Then from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat, so he gave up being king of the wild things.” (from: Where the Wild Things Are)

I’d walk home.

She would be waiting for me on the front porch swing. She’d be singing “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.” I didn’t even know what shortnin’ bread was, but I have since learned that I do indeed love it. But it wasn’t her wisdom, guidance, cooking, or singing that was so special. It was her presence. Looking back, I can appreciate it quite a bit. So many of my friends simply didn’t have that. I did. Always. And I still do.

When she returned to teaching, I went with her. This meant transferring to a school where I didn’t know anyone. It meant a school with kids from a different echelon of society than I had been with previously. It was worth it. It was important. Not only did I learn valuable lessons about a person’s worth meaning so much more than their family situation or social standing, I also got to spend a bunch of time with my mom. I got to see her build a library and transform lives. And I got to play Oregon trail on the Apple IIe. And watch Superfriends in the library after school. These were all incredibly important events in my life!  Oh, and I got to see the look on my dad’s face when she locked her keys in her car one morning. With the engine running. All day. Priceless.pict0300

Throughout life…through the ups and downs… going to schools where I didn’t know anyone… the first girlfriend and first breakup. Changing majors. Getting married. Changing jobs. Having kids. Through it all, she’s there. She’s present. And no matter what, she believes in me. That doesn’t mean she’s always silent. Love never is. She always has advice, wisdom, and guidance. But even when I go down my own path, she believes in me.

As I fought to carve out my place in this world, the wisdom from my past would come back to me…

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child, listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves. Then listen close to me — anything can happen, child, anything can be.” –Shel Silverstein

Oh, but it can be so hard. There are so many doubts to deal with, so many conflicting priorities pulling in so many different directions… how can I find my way?

And then the wisdom from my past would speak…

“Believing takes practice.”  –Madeleine L’Engle

And it did. I wasn’t good at it at first. There were critical voices always telling me I was doing it wrong. Telling me to take the safe route through life. Telling me not to take a risk.  But into that, love would speak.

“Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” “What a man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” –Viktor Frankl.

I’d find myself stopping by the woods on a snowy evening, considering turning down the road not taken….  And there she would be, reminding me that we didn’t go to the moon because it was easy, but because it was hard. And it was worth the journey.

So, just like the other kids she helped, she managed to get a grander vision into my life. Unlike the others, I have been fortunate enough to have it infused consistently for 42 years. I guess img_9552I needed the extra attention. But in spite of those things…the vision, the presence, the most important thing is love. And love is something I learned about from an old and tattered rabbit, who said:

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (The Velveteen Rabbit)

When we love deeply, we risk deeply too. Deep love risks deep loss and pain. And all of us who have loved deeply have felt it. And we think it’s worth it. Atul Gawande (Being Mortal) said “courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength.” That prudent strength tells us that “The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” –Lois Lowry, The Giver

So we share. We share life. We share love. We rejoice with each other when things go well…new babies, new jobs, new dreams coming true. And we cling to each other in the hard times, when we lose a family member or dear friend. And I’m sure each of us has had one of those moments when we look up and say this…

“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’” (Charlotte’s Web)

It all goes back to those books. Books, in the hand of the right person, change lives. It has been said that “sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars) 20160701220818_img_6044Becky had lots of books like that. She used them to change lives. She has made a difference in this world and continues to do so today, though not just her devotion to the next generation of family members, but through her volunteer work as well.

Although her story is still coming true, this speech is winding down. This is the point where I tell Becky, my mom, how thankful I am for who she is and all she has done. I’m both extremely thankful and proud of her. And so on this, her 70th birthday, I must say…

As long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be. I’ll love you forever. (Love you Forever)

Goodnight stars, goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.

Missing You

Missing You

Just like autumn, this season cycles by regularly. Missing you.wp-1471208972972.jpg

I remember the journey…the months our paths crossed. I tried so hard to make it work. We all did.

But I was missing you. Even though I tried to love without expectation…to fully accept who you are and where you were at…I see now the impossibility. I did have expectations. I tried so hard to love with my whole heart…to pray with my whole spirit…to cling to you with all I had.

I see it now…we didn’t meet you where you were. We were missing you. We tried to meet the needs we perceived, which were different than the needs you actually had. Although we thought we were walking together down the same path, our journeys never really intersected did they? Were we one family? In my heart we were. And we continue to be. But I was missing you.

To some degree, maybe I was enamored by the potential of you. The potential of us. God had given me the daughter I had longed for but never knew I wanted. With my eyes wide open, I recognized your past, faults, and personal limitations and didn’t care about any of it. I accepted you exactly as you were. As much as I hated the abandonment and hurt you had suffered, I thanked God it led you to us. To me. Together, I knew you could finding healing. You could recover. And then you could thrive. That’s what I expected. But I was missing you.img_20151105_141421-01.jpeg

You didn’t need transformation. You weren’t after recovery. You didn’t want a forever family. You never asked us to be one. And yet we tried to be that for you. You aren’t to blame. We were simply missing you. We missed who you really were. We missed getting to know the real person inside the young woman trying to survive. I didn’t understand that your life experiences did not prepare you for the life we threw you into. You had no context for what we offered. And yet we expected you to embrace us. We expected you to appreciate us. We expected you to love us. We expected you to try. But we were missing you.

That you managed to stick with us so long is a testament to your persistence. Or maybe it’s your stubbornness. The life we made for you was a gilded cage, though. It had peace, but you don’t crave peace. It had space, but you don’t need space. It had stability, but you’ve never known stability. It had us, but you’ve never needed us

This isn’t a right or wrong thing. You are who you are, as am I. I still treasure your heart. I still accept you as you are. The jagged and broken pieces of me tear against yours. I grieve because I lost you. And I grieve because I lost the potential of you. And I grieve because I failed to see the real you, and that is a true tragedy.

Now, just like then, I am missing you.

21

21

Perhaps you’ve ACE97B34-A36B-4F18-9A42-9C34B2B4DF00met my sweet princess, Christy Bouchard.

Today is our 21st anniversary. Our story sounds sappy at first glance. She taught me how to tie shoelaces when we were in preschool. We met again in High School, becoming acquaintances at 15 and dating at 16. Sticking together like glue through college, we went on to careers, babies, houses, and grander adventures. By any outward measure, it has been a charmed life. It’s enough to make some people sick. It seems like there has always been a “Christy & Dave.”

A look behind the curtain reveals the full story. Buckets of tears have been shed…a few times caused by each other, and often due to the circumstances life brings our way. There have been profound times of loss…loved ones, jobs, money, pets. Sick kiddos. Sick spouses. There have been nights we have spent wondering if us will make it through this. But we have pushed through those times. We keep persistently moving forward through those dark times until we reemerge in the light.

A good marriage takes work, and some days it feels like the world has deemed this kind of work unworthy of the time and effort. What kind of person does this?

Let me tell you about my sweetie…

First…she’s got the biggest heart of anyone you could hope to meet. She comes by it quite naturally, too. I’ve met her family. That heart not only allows her to persist through the hard times and rejoice in the good time, but it is also the kind of heart that you want to treat with tenderness when she turns it over to you. It would be a tragedy to damage something so pure and beautiful.

Second…she’s the ground to my stars. That may not sound all that romantic, but we all need counterbalance…but I’m a wild-eyed dreamer with my head in the clouds. My vision is always focused on tomorrow and I tend to neglect today. When I’m running off to conferences or early breakfasts, she helps me keep perspective on the here and now…the important things. Like showing up to work or calling the doctor when I’ve been dizzy for weeks on end. Family. Friends. Vacation. That stuff matters.

I could sing my wife’s praises all day long…

The last thing I want to mention is perhaps the most overlooked. You’ve heard about the importance of endurance, persistence, faithfulness, forgiveness, and tolerance. Those are all vital. But the one thing that has been a linchpin is fearlessness. In 21 years, she has frequently heard statements like: “let’s build a chapel in Brazil” or “let’s move to Houston” or “let’s move back to Tulsa.” We have found ourselves kissing in front of Rodin’s “The Kiss” and whipping through small towns in the French countryside in a stranger’s Volvo. Sunrises on the beaches of Brazil and rainy mountaintops on slick dirt roads in that same beautiful country. She’s discovered she has a knack for holding both chickens and babies in foreign lands. And we have both shed tears of joy while watching Christ melt hearts and transform lives in front of our eyes. There have been all those times when we have fearlessly said “yes” when everyone else told us we were crazy. We’ve seen the trajectory of lives change during those times, even as our own hearts broke.

Even more…fearlessness isn’t just about adventure. It isn’t just the things you do. It’s also a way to love. It’s risky. Looking someone in the eyes and handing them your heart unconditionally will lead to hurt. Every time. It takes someone fearless to surrender themselves fully to someone else, trusting that even if there are dings and scrapes, we will both be better in the end because we have loved. We have loved fully and been fully loved. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s hard. But it’s worth it. My goodness, it is worth it.

Reentry

Reentry

Reentry hurts.image

Picture the Space Shuttle returning to earth. The friction of the life-giving atmosphere creates enough heat to kill. The wrong speed or attitude can bring disaster.

In my mind, a drawback of modern travel is the pace. It is a wonderful luxury to be able to wake up one morning in Brazil and fall asleep the following evening in Oklahoma. It all happens so fast it’s impossible to process, though. Upon returning, we find our head and heart still remain in Brazil while our duties and obligations are in front of us in the States. 

Spiritual journeys will not leave us unchanged. Even the decision to spend a few weeks overseas alters perspective. It impacts the trajectory of life. Walking foreign streets and witnessing the power of the Good News that can transcend all barriers and obstacles will stretch our faith to unexpected capacities.

My soul yearns for a gradual return from this experience. Two weeks overseas can’t be unpacked quickly. Like a good Brazilian meal, it all takes a bit of time to digest.

It  seems like just a few hours ago I was walking the streets of Jardinopolis, praying as an old Catholic woman’s eyes filled with tears as imagefor the first time she began to comprehend God’s love for her. She might spend the rest of her life unpacking this truth. Minutes later I was praying with the family of a young man who had been afflicted with a degenerative disease since birth. All eyes were swollen with tears as mom, aunt, and son all accepted Jesus as their savior, knowing we would all be dancing together in the next life.

Today, my eyes open to controversies about passwords and processes. Antivirus software and divestitures. Firewalls and F-bombs. I can feel it…reentry burns.

Like the atmosphere welcoming back the Shuttle, there is nothing inherently wrong with the environment to which I return. It’s life-giving, meaningful, and necessary. Transitioning so quickly from there to here causes the unease. My soul is split in two. I appear fully here but I’m frequently still there.

Reentry is all about speed and attitude.

So I pray. I silently pray for those who so frequently come to mind. The man we visited who was home with his two children. He chose Jesus and learned about the source of hope. The pastor working so hard to shepherd his people in a town battling darkness. The little boy with the feeding tube and his loving mom who wanted us to tell his story. The man who turned down living water and instead poured himself a glass of wine at 9 AM. Our interpreters. Our missionaries. All those who sent life-sustaining messages of hope, encouragement, and prayer from back home.

As I pray, the disparate worlds begin to align. The mission field isn’t there. It isn’t here either. It’s everywhere. The heat is a reminder that things are not as they should be here or there. The life-giving message of grace and hope is desperately needed by every person. Even here, in the middle of my normal life.

Mission is something we do, not someplace we go. Because of this, I press into the pain rather than seeking relief. I allow that yearning for where I’ve been draw me closer to our Creator who sent me. I allow the longing to draw me deeper into the trust in Him…the One who has never let me down.

I don’t have a choice about the speed. Attitude is a choice. Through prayer, trust, and perspective, the heat from reentry fuels the continuing mission.image

Processing Mission Work

Mission trips are one of the front lines of spiritual warfare. Nothing tests (and strengthens) faith more than getting to the mission field. This year’s Brazil trip has been amazing, but tonight I’m simply processing a few things that have happened. Stories will come later, after sleep and after these events settle in my mind.

One question Christians often face is known as “the question of suffering.” One reason it’s tough is because it must be answered in two different ways, depending on the situation. If asked philosophically, a rational answer can be given. If asked emotionally, it’s best to simply practice a ministry of presence. It’s best to listen, empathize, and pray.

Pastors at play between amazing visits
 

Yesterday as we were walking the streets of Jardinopolis sharing the Good News of Christ as well as the good news of the chapel we are building, we met a sweet woman talking to a couple of workers. Angie made an instant connection with her. The woman apologized because she wouldn’t be able to attend our celebration…her son couldn’t come and she had no one to watch him if she went. She invited us into her house to see and pray for her sick son.

The details of the story are for another time, but her son was bedridden and his disease was chronic. He was 25 and might have had ALS, but it could have been something else. He smiled and laughed as we talked and prayed with him. We prayed with his mother, too. 

We went back and visited him again today. He was very happy to see us again and enjoyed the sunglasses and toy truck we gave him.

Only two visits after that, we met another woman with a sick child. She also invited us in. Her son had turned 6 on June 3. Two and a half years ago, an iron beam had fallen on his head. The doctors told her he wouldn’t live more than two days. Mom told us that his continued life was proof of God’s existence and love. That boy was her miracle. She brought us in to meet him so that we could tell everyone we meet that her son is proof of God’s love and presence with us on earth.

These two events are what I’m processing. In my home town, both of these boys would have received much different medical care than what the public health care of Brazil can offer. What we would call their “quality of life” would likely be much higher. Neither would have a normal life, though. 

Why are these boys like this and why did God lead us here? We provided some encouragement and a smile for the moms and sons, but those can be so slippery…almost impossible to hold onto in the dark and lonely times when life hangs in the balance.

I can’t help but think about the question of suffering. Perhaps instead a philosophical answer, we should consider these events a Christian case study. These are notes from the field manual.

The answer: praise Him. As simple and unsatisfying as it sounds, that’s the Christian response to suffering. Praise. I preached on it Sunday night from Acts 16. We saw it with both of these moms. As we walked away from the second house, I wanted to cry out to God in praise. 

in every circumstance, prayers of praise

Somehow, in spite of the feeding tube and metal crib, God was glorified in that boy and his mother. God was glorified in that boy who couldn’t quite hold his new truck in his knotted up hand. Each of those lives have dignity and value. We are most profoundly reminded of that not when an Olympic athlete breaks a world record, but when we see the beauty, dignity, and worthof a young man misshapen by this broken world. We see it in the love of a mother’s eyes as she proudly shares her miracle boy with strangers from another country. 

The true Christian answer to suffering is presence. God is with us through the pain, sustaining us and assuring us of His love…unconditional and relentless in spite of the fallen state of this present world. It’s the whisper that YOU matter, that there is something more than the life we cling to so desperately now. He reminds us of the glory that awaits us in the next life, where all of His beloved children will be healed and whole. There may be tears today (and there were many), but one day there will be no more weeping for those in the kingdom. 

Yes, this life is precious. This is why we cling to it so tightly. This is why we grieve when any human life is lost, regardless of age, race, religion, or classification. And this is why we (Christians) desire for ALL to know Christ, to trust in Him and turn to Him. Eternity is much more important than anything this world (or the forces of evil) can throw at us.
God is good. All the time. Today He showed us, once again, how true this is.

One more thing before I go…if your view of Christianity doesn’t have room for “God is good all the time” or “God’s desire is for ALL to be with Him for eternity,” then you have a faulty understanding of Christianity and God. Please don’t let this tragic condition persist. I’m not even asking you to believe what I believe, I just want you to understand what I believe before disagreeing with me. I love to answer questions, and I love to talk about God.

Redemption

Redemption

The past can be a weight…the magnitude of the tragedy overwhelming and all-consuming. Every time your eyes close, you see their faces. Sons taken too soon. The anger rises anew. Lost jobs are insignificant compared to the lost loved ones. Lost freedom. But you go on.

 

I met him on a trip. He was hired to do construction. We were building a church. We were also building THE church.

North and South Americans stacked concrete blocks, threw cement, painted walls, and tiled a roof. Shoulder to shoulder, we joyfully toiled from sunrise to sunset until everyone was exhausted. Christians and non-Christians alike, simply working with and loving each other.

Each day on the long walk home, he would pick up scrap wood and construction debris. Someday…eventually…his house would have real walls. A roof. Someday.

But God… God is a rescuer. He is a redeemer.

“…the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners” Isaiah 61:1

Late in the week a decision was made. A decision for Christ. And life became new. Restored. Redeemed. The chains shackling him to the pain of the past were broken.

img_7536

Embraced by both the savior and His church, something special was found. Forgiveness. Community. Reconciliation. Hope. Life.

img_7557His house now has a roof. And walls. His precious family is safer than they have been in years. Because of a church? Because of THE church? Because of the redeemer! Jesus reached out through the obedient workers. The light of Jesus was shining through them all week. It drew him. It gave him a new hope and a new community. And the trajectory of six precious lives changed for eternity.

 

 


This post originally appeared in October, 2013. This is one of my most well-known photographs and one of my most treasured stories. The original events took place in Niteroi, just outside of Porto Alegre, Brazil. It was a privilege to be a witness to these events and an honor to capture a few moments with my camera and words. We are leaving for another mission trip to Brazil soon. As I reflect on all God has done and anticipate what He has in store, I decided to share this particular story again. 

#TeamTori

#TeamTori

Sweet baby Tori (from Tori’s Triumph – Team Tori) is healed and whole this morning. IMG_5484In light of this news, I have to write. That’s how I process stuff. That’s what I do.

There has always been something special about Tori. Even before her terminal diagnosis, her smile captivated everyone. It was a joy to see her on Instagram every day. And those eyes… they were a glimpse at the joy we all long for deep in our souls.

When she was diagnosed and throughout her illness, her incredible parents demonstrated to the world how to walk through the most difficult of times with faith and enduring joy. In the middle of the hardest times they have never stopped trusting Jesus. They have shown all of us that sometimes the answer to prayer is the presence of Jesus with us and the fellowship we have with other believers. We will never be completely healed and whole in this life, but we can look forward to the day when every tear will be dried and every pain will be a faded memory. While we wait for that day, we run our race with endurance, confident in what lies ahead. Confident in the promises He has made and the love He has for us. Even when this world doesn’t make sense. Especially when this world doesn’t make sense.

I’ve carried a picture of Tori with me for longer than I can remember. She has been with us as we worshiped in Aracaju, Brazil. She was the only guest that tagged along as Joey and I did our father/son trip to the UK. I have taken her picture with famous authors, podcast hosts, and even a wax figure of Sherlock Holmes. Of all the pictures, the oneIMG_5822 I took at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, England is my favorite. The time we have here on earth is precious. Yes, we look forward to the eternity to come, but right here and right now matters, too. This time is significant, and it will not last forever. Treasure every moment. And please, please, please…don’t let another moment pass without accepting the truth about the God who created you and sent His son into our world to demonstrate how much He loves you. None of us know how many days we have. Don’t waste a single one by running from Him