Tuesday, November 11, 2008
It was one he could understand
He was showing his love
And that's how he hurt his hands
I went on a short flight over to Crossville tonight. It gave me the opportunity to really be alone. The weather wasn't great, it was raining off and on and visibility was poor. I say really alone because the clouds above me blocked out the moon and stars and the there isn't much between here and Crossville. I don't know of a time I've ever felt further removed from everything. Once I got outside Knoxville's airspace I turned the radios down and listened to the IPod. Tonight was a Nickel Creek night.
During The Hand Song I found myself looking at my own hands. These are hands that can fly an airplane. Hands that carry my daughter to bed. Hands that hold my wife. Hands that wear a symbol of my marriage and a reminder of my father. I was feeling pretty good until I noticed the small scar on the knuckle of the pinkie finger on my right hand. A scar I got winning a fight in the 8th grade. The same hands I use to hold my daughter I've used to bloody. These are hands of violence. Hands literally marked by violence and anxiety. Mine are hands scarred by my sin. So are His.
I know it was love. Its not really the same, but I've held my child up in scarred hands. I can't explain it any better than that. It's a love I can understand.
You got to chase a dream, one that's all your own
Before it slips away
When you're flyin' high, take my heart along
I'll be the harmony to every lonely song
That you learn to play
When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I'll still be there
When you come back down
This song is so amazing to me. It speaks directly to and about me. I got my pilots license about a week ago. It was the single greatest achievement of my life. The one and only time I chased a dream and actually made some progress toward catching it. I find relief in finally finishing something. I know I still have a long way to go before this path I'm on finds its end, but its so nice to cross that first checkpoint. I've written before about the peace I find in flying, about the focus and clarity it often brings. The only other activity that's ever even come close to providing those things is writing.
I'm not sure I would have ever found the desire or will to pursue a career in aviation if it wasn't for writing. Its interesting to me that amidst the joy and release of flying I almost let it slip away. I forgot why I started writing - lost touch with that part of myself. Just a few days ago I spent a lot time talking about how in succeeding I learned what it is to finish, to resist the urge to quit. Yesterday I quit. Its amazing that I didn't even see it. I really thought blogging had run its course, that I was finished.
I'm so thankful to have people who are my solid ground. Its nice to have someone care when you fail. I'm thankful to have people who simply won't stand for it. Yesterday I quit. Today I got, "like hell you do." So, here I am.
At church last week we had one of those "keep your chin up" kinds of services. I know they're necessary right now, people are freaking out. I'm not. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, its the first time in my life I've been even remotely sure of that (aside from moments previously mentioned). Anyway, the message was about a really dark time in Israel's history. They had been under siege for so long they were basically living in a sewer, oh, and all they had to eat was each other. So their army ran away and their king had his eyes put out and his sons killed and then their city was burned and they were made into slaves. It was a rough couple of years. So they find themselves slaves in some Godforsaken foreign land and throw in the towel. They hang their harps in poplar trees and refuse to sing songs to or about God. I sort of know how they feel, hell, I've been there. Hung my harp right up in some stupid tree and walked away. So I'm sitting there in the service thinking it sounds about right. I mean, what would you do in a situation like that? I know what I do, I quit.
About this point I start getting real uncomfortable, not because the message is getting to me but because I begin to see what they plan on doing with that huge tree they've got sitting on stage. They plan on making me walk up there and in front of everybody take a little paper harp off the tree and promise never to put it up there again. I hate that crap, I really do. We all know no one takes that seriously. Its peer pressure. Its like when everybody at that made for TV church down the street stands up at the same point in the final worship performance (usually coincides with the climax of the song and a spectacular light show). We all know few of those people are actually moved by the song, I'd bet most of them are so busy thinking about lunch they don't even realize they've stood up. Its mob mentality. You can't force people to make a decision with peer pressure - you can't make me so uncomfortable I have to act. I will not make a decision for Christ because everyone is watching and I'm embarrassed not to or because the really spiritual people are doing it. Its not real that way. That being said, there is a pair of jeans in my floor right now with a little paper harp in the back pocket.
Here's the thing, this time I was one of the few. It was real for me. I don't want you to think I wrestled with it and came to a decision. God was very clear in that moment that this decision was not mine to make. I've just recently gotten my harp down, I don't get to put it back. I got angry and quit once before. The question now becomes; did I learn my lesson? I think I did. I know where that road leads. I'm not exactly on fire in my spiritual life right now. In fact, things are pretty quite on the God front. Its been quiet before, but this is different. I know where I'm going now. I've been a quitter before; I quit teams, I quit school, I quit jobs, relationships, and church. I quit on myself and on God. Somewhere in those stupid paper harps God reminded me that I'm not that guy anymore. I'm on the other side now. I've come to far to ever quit again.
Tonight I got to feel what it was like to finally succeed. I didn't have a senior season (in college)- I don't have a diploma. Tonight was the first time in a long time, if not ever, that I achieved something I set out for. Tonight I learned what it feels like to succeed. It changes everything.
I think the decisions I've made in the past will affect my relationship with God for a long time. I don't think of him the same way and he doesn't deal with me the same way. I think this is how our relationship is going to be; times of intense passion and growth followed by deafening silence and searching. Tonight, in the quiet distance of 6000 feet, I was reminded of what it will take to find success in my spiritual life. I have no choice, throwing in the towel is not an option. I will continue to sing, continue to play, and continue to wait.
Ed is referring to a rafting trip he took through the Grand Canyon and the way he experienced God in that place. Every time I hear this song I think of my places - places that have been beneath my feet at times when I have really experienced God. Loveland Mountain in Colorado where I discovered God's awesome creative power and beauty. The Beaches of Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where I first played in the ocean with my wife on our honeymoon and my daughter on our first family vacation. There is a barren mountain top in Peru where I found a heart for the oppressed, the poor, and the hungry. There are lakes, hunting leases, and back porches where my father became my friend. There's an overlook in Lenior City where I've left so many unanswered questions, and lonely roads through the Smokies where I've found so many answers. These are places that are special to me, places that feel Holy. Sometimes I think that if I ever get to visit some of these places again I may not be able to resist the urge to take my shoes off. These are the locations of my burning bush, places my heart has built alters. Tonight when I heard this song none of these places came to mind.
I've often given the church a hard time. I've been pretty upset with the church in general for quite some time now. That's beginning to change. In small group this week we talked about the great commission. The topic of people being hurt by the church was brought up. It got me talking about this guy I know that I generally feel is horrible at telling people about his faith. He does it often, and I respect that, but the way he does it bothers me. It turns a lot of people off. You can see people's eyes glaze over and feel the energy drain from the room when he starts talking about Christianity. I've always wanted to avoid being associated with or compared to him. I want to say, "I'm not like that. That's not me." The problem that I'm starting to see with that is that in the only way that matters I am like him - he is me. We are brothers. Part of the same body.
I learned this lesson for the first time several years ago. I was going through a rough patch and so I starting acting like a real ass. I said some really mean things to people that I really love. One night on the way home from dinner my wife was getting on me about it and I told her that I didn't see what it had to do with her. She informed me that if I kept acting like a jerk no one was going to want to hang out with us anymore. She said that if people quit wanting me around she would end up stuck at home with me all the time and never get to see her friends. It turns out no one is going to call my wife and ask her to come hang out and insist that she leave her jerk husband at home. We are so closely connected that you can't take one and leave the other. You get both or neither.
I've been guilty of asking people to do that with the church. I don't think it can work that way. It doesn't do any good to say to someone that has been hurt by the church, "well, that church sucks. We aren't like that. It won't happen to you here." That's a lie. We are like that. It probably will happen to you here. We cannot separate ourselves from the body of which we are a part. It wouldn't do my wife any good to say, "sorry my husband's a moron, but I'm really nice and will make a good friend." People will reject her for her association with me, no way around it. I think in that situation she did the only thing you can do. She had a difficult, honest, and (until now) private conversation with me and I'm betting she prayed real hard and real consistently that I would get my act together. I'm now convinced that's the way the church should handle its differences.
I've been thinking about this for a while now, but it wasn't clear to me why until I heard Canyon tonight. I've always know that I'm a person of extremes. I'm either hot or cold. On or off. Lately I've been off. For some reason I starting reading over my blog again today and it was a great reminder of where I've been, who I am, and the way God has moved in my life. I also noticed something else - I either write a lot or not at all. God is either the most important thing I my life or I shut him out all together. Tonight as I began again to wrestle with my relationship with God all these passages of scripture, old testament stories, and parables began running through my mind, it was like a snapshot of who God is and what he wants from and for me. It was me revisiting my foundation. Reconnecting with a truth so deeply buried in my heart that no amount of abuse from the world will ever be able to shake it loose.
Tonight as I listened to that familiar song it wasn't mountains and beaches my heart retreated to, it was Sunday School rooms and AWANA classes. It turns out the church I so often criticize and try to distance myself from was, is and always will be my foundation. It is the portion of earth beneath my feet.
I've felt really run down lately. Starting to feel old - In a lot of ways I'm starting to be old. I think maybe I'm a little bored. I'm not sure why that is, I think it may have something to do with my job. I'm not a big fan of it right now. I'm thankful to have it, but its wearing me out a little. Things aren't going as smoothly now as they have in the past. Things are tight, its hard to sell anything right now. Last year was a great year and that's killing me this year. I never used to miss my goals but I've been missing bad lately. The thing that's frustrating is that I'm working harder than I did last year. I bet my managers doubt that, but I am. I'm working harder and making less money. That sucks. What really sucks is I get the feeling people at work think I'm slacking off or don't care. Not true, but I can see how they would think that. I really think it has very little to do with anyone else in the office, it's hard for me to go in there everyday knowing I'm failing. It sounds dramatic to me to say failing but that's what it is. I hate failing.
So that's where I was when I heard this Andrew Peterson song today. Old. Tired. Bored. Unsuccessful. It sucks to be any one of those things but to be all four at once makes it really difficult to not throw in the towel. I was driving around trying to find the energy to make the next call when I heard Little Boy Heart Alive on the Ipod. It's not a song I listen to often. I don't have it memorized. I loved it today. I love it for its references to The Chronicles of Narnia (The Dawn Treader book is my favorite and the part about the lion not being tame is about the best part in the whole series). There is so much in this song I would love to spend time with (distant thunder, ancient song, kingdom calling, tale to tell just to name a few) but I think more importantly for me today is why it moved me the way it did.
I think it reminded me of the life I should be living - a life I lost touch with. It's the life I've been designed to live. I was beginning to get all John Eldridge thinking what I needed was a little adventure. You know climb a mountain, shoot an Elk kind of stuff. The thing is that's not really the way I live. I mean I go hiking like once every five years or so (I do still live in East Tennessee) but it's not like I can do that all the time. Besides that crap's exhausting to. I didn't stay with the Wild at Heart stuff long (I love and recommend that book). It occurred to me that I'm doing the man thing just fine. No, its not being a real man that I forget how to do. It's being a boy. I forget how to play - what it is to play. I'm Captain Hook.
I started to get really depressed about it. I can't pretend. I literally have no imagination left. What this song helped me do today was connect those feelings of play I experienced as a boy with what I get to do as a man. I began to remember all the things I do that feel like play. I fly an airplane like three times a week. What little boy doesn't dream about that, I sure did. I promise taking off in a real airplane makes you want to laugh in a way throwing a paper one never could. Just last week I played in the ocean with my best friend (who also happens to be my wife). Several months ago I ran through Dollywood, that's right, Dollywood, and rode roller coasters in the rain. I run in the yard with my dog. I play peek-a-boo, with my 11 month old daughter, but still it's peek-a-boo. Can't play that without either feeling like a kid or a moron.
I am designed to play. Play is one of the few things we didn't have to be taught to do. If we take time to remember we all know how. In the busyness that is our lives we get bogged down in responsibility and concern. We worry and work and struggle. We forget to play. Today I was reminded that I can and should still play - that my little boy heart is still alive.
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. -C.S. Lewis-
Tonight was slow. I've said, and thought lately, that God often causes pain or hurt in order to slow things down and get our attention. Tonight things slowed down for me again. I told someone once that I think the two ways Satan gains influence in our lives are with God's permission and with ours. Tonight I gave him an in and he took it.
I'm not sure how it happens. Something bad happens and I go numb. Tonight it was Wii. Most of the time its TV or the Internet. I make noise - I ignore. It didn't work for me tonight. I'm not sure it ever really does. Anyway, I let my guard down. I began to feel sorry for myself. Before I knew it Satan had gotten in. I really hate him. He reminds me of all the things I hate in myself. When Satan brings the hurts of my past to the surface it's not heal them, he picks at them - inflames them. I swear, for a minute tonight something in me hurt in a way I haven't felt in a long time. The kind of hurt that makes your stomach knot up and your fist clinch. The kind of hurt you can't control or understand. Tonight I gave Satan just a little window and he drug all the darkness I've spent the last eight years burying back in through it.
One of the things I've come to love most about my Savior is his willingness to be where I am. If I've learned anything in recent years it's to look for him. I read the story of Nicodemus' encounter with Jesus recently. When John talks about Nicodemus he refers to him as the man who came to Jesus by night. Yes, in fear and uncertainty Nicodemus came to Jesus by night - but he came. It's interesting to me that the story doesn't mention that Nicodemus knocked on the door and woke Jesus up. It doesn't mention Jesus stumbling to the door in his pajamas wiping the sleep from his eyes. I'm just speculating, but I imagine Jesus was already in the street, waiting. I imagine all the disciples and Jesus having one of those long dinners and Jesus excusing himself saying he'd like some fresh air. I imagine Nicodemus coming around the corner in the dark trying to figure out how he's going to talk to Jesus without anyone knowing only to find Jesus leaned against the wall waiting for him. What Nicodemus found was a savior eager to meet him. He got Jesus at his best. John 3:16, the most powerful and precise explanation of the gospel message, was spoken to one man - in the shadows.
21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.
This is what I read tonight. I'm not sure how to explain why this hit me the way it did. I think it was probably the words "my little daughter" followed by "he went with him." You see, I think the reason I was so bothered tonight is because it's the first time I've really dealt with past failures since becoming a dad. It scared me a little. I was afraid somehow I would let her down the way I've let others down, that my hurt would become her hurt - my burdens her burdens. My little daughter deserves better than that, my little daughter deserves a daddy that Jesus goes with.
I'm reminded once again that there is no place my Savior won't meet me, no place he's unwilling to go. Tonight sin created a moment, but it was invaded by Truth. Tonight Jesus gently whispered truth into the shadows. Tonight I got Jesus at his best.
I had just left the hospital after being there with dad all day. He had a surgery that didn't go well, in fact, it did nothing but weaken him further and reveal more problems. Before the surgery there was hope - after there was none. The cancer that we thought was isolated in his liver had moved into his stomach and intestines. They were both shutting down. I don't remember much of what happened after we talked to the doctor. There was a lot of crying. I didn't. I was numb. The rest of the night at the hospital is kind of hazy. I don't remember getting in my truck to drive home, but I remember my phone ringing. It was late and I was driving, but I figured talking to someone would be a good distraction. It was Claire. "How's he doing?" It was a question I had heard countless times in the preceding several months but something about the way she asked it moved me. My mind flashed back over my friendship with Claire and I knew it was safe. I could tell her. "He's dying, Claire." It was the first time I admitted it to myself, and for the first time since dad got sick I cried. In my truck on Alcoa highway in the middle of the night a call from a dear friend allowed me to begin to deal emotionally with losing my father. When I got home several of my best friends were already at my house. It wasn't unusual. They did that a lot. I'm not sure what I would have done if they hadn't been there. God uses that night to show me that he has surrounded me with community. That he does provide. That he is there when you need him. It boggles my mind that he points to that night.
"He's dying, Claire." I felt it happen. I know that was the moment. As those words left my mouth I quit believing God is good. The truth of those words was more powerful than anything I had learned in Sunday School. My faith failed - my world darkened - night fell.
When you're down and out...When evening falls so hard; I will comfort you. I'll take your part. When darkness comes and pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down. -Simon & Garfunkle
It occurs to me, because it’s been pointed out, that the presentation of my story here is incomplete. I've left out a key figure - told a story without one of its leading characters. I've done this primarily because she is, quite simply, more than I have words to express.
I met Kyla for the first time when I was in the eighth grade. She was so cute. It was her eyes I noticed first, which is pretty remarkable for a 15 year old boy, anyway, she had brilliant green eyes, curly brown hair, a smile that could (and continues to) light up the darkest night, and this laugh that just makes you want to sing. She'll roll her eyes at this, but I've loved her since that night. I got to hang out with her again at a couple of different parties that summer, and just before school started back it happened - we danced. It was one of those awkward middle school dances, but I knew (the best you can at 15) that I'd never really be able to hold anyone else. I asked her out a couple weeks later, actually I don't think I did, I think she just hit me with a preemptive no. I spent the next few years totally alone, unable to enjoy the company of other girls. Ok, that's not entirely true.
Our senior year I started going to her church. We'd all go out after church and she and I would ride together or sit next to each other. I slowly began to remember how I felt that night we danced. It wasn't long before I was totally crazy about her again. One night after church everyone was going to a restaurant that I didn't care for so I decided to just go home. Kyla decided to go have sandwiches with me. We had grilled cheeses, and then made out. That was almost ten years ago.
Since then our stories have been the same, or are so interwoven it’s impossible to tell them apart. Everything that I've experienced, thought, or felt in the last decade she's been a part of. It’s difficult to know how to incorporate her into simple versions of my story because she has been so many different things. Kyla is my best friend. She has been girlfriend and fiancé - companion and playmate. She is my shelter - my home. She is a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold. She is my sail and my anchor. She is salt and light. She is my daughter's mom and my lover. She gives me hope and allows me to dream. She has, literally, enabled me to fly. She loves without limit and gives with all that she is. She is perfectly created for and uniquely equipped to handle me. She is all that I am and all that I'll ever be. She makes me better - she's the reason I want to be. She is my wife - my flesh - my story.
I had Bridge Over Troubled Water played at our wedding primarily because dad liked it, but, even then, it was clear that it perfectly expresses the way my wife loves. Kyla is my bridge. People talk all the time about having someone to take the journey of life with - Kyla is more than who I go with, she is how I get there.
I hate goodbye. I really do. I suck at it to. Several months ago some good friends moved to Ohio. When we left their apartment on their last night here I kicked their damn U-Haul. I didn't know what else to do. Goodbye is so bad for me that if you invite me over to your house you'd better be prepared to have me there for a while. Its so hard to leave. I hate to give up the moment.
I once told someone that I didn't ever really miss anybody. I'm not sure why I said it, its an outright lie. The truth is - I miss people constantly. I'm overly sensitive to the void people leave behind. I often think moments are as affected by the absence of people as they are anything else. The day I got married - had a baby - bought my first truck, I felt my dads absence. When I tee off at Lambert I hate that Meeuwsen isn't here. During quiet dinners, loud parties, and afternoons by the pool I miss me some Claire. It occurs to me that I have pieces of my heart scattered all over the place. Family in California and Georgia - friends in Ohio, Texas, South Carolina, New York, and Chattanooga. I miss them all - all the time. As I drove away form my friend tonight I remembered the pain of goodbye.
Its seems almost cruel sometimes the way we have to relive our hurts and failures. I do believe that things in my spiritual life have turned around. For so long I ran from God, now I'm headed back home. I love knowing that I'm now headed in the right direction - I hate that its on the same road. I wasn't prepared for this. I find myself hitting the same potholes I thought I had left behind. The slippery slopes of rebellion that I had so easily slid down before have become mountains I have to climb. I'm not saying I want to get off the road and I'm definitely not saying I want to turn around, its just difficult sometimes. I've driven to Colorado a couple times and I can safely say I hate driving I-70 through Kansas. If I didn't know what kind of skiing the Rockies had waiting for me driving Kansas would make me want to kill myself.
God is faithful to remind me. When I got home tonight I put my daughter to bed. She fell asleep in the truck on the way home so I had to move her from the carrier to her crib. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life. She didn't really wake up when I picked her up but she breathed real heavy like she knew she was home. As I moved her she snuggled into my chest with her head on my shoulder. I couldn't put her down. I stood there in the dark for a long time just listening to her breath. I can't explain what it his to hold your child close to you like that. I do know that I would have done whatever it took to get her home.
For this child I prayed. -1 Samuel 1:27
Its clear to me this world is not our home - that we were not meant for this life. There is something inside us that screams - I want more, I am more, I want to go home. Its an odd feeling - missing a place you have never been, longing for a life you've never had. These feelings often come to me at the weirdest times and usually only in small flashes. In times of betrayal, hurt, and loss its there - You know something just isn't right, not only with this moment but with this place. Its there in the good times as well. When we celebrate life, triumph, and community it sneaks in - we know there is still something more. If we're honest I think we would say that its always there - lurking in the deepest places of our souls. We are homesick. It has always been difficult for me to understand how I could long for a home I had never seen - miss a place I have never been - love something I have never known.
My best friends' sons were dedicated to the church today. It has been a beautiful day. We got to stand with them as they gave their boys back to the Lord - it was not as dramatic as the way he gave them us (yes, us). The boys were born premature and had to spend the first 47 days of their lives in the NICU. For 47 days God was faithful, through the highs and lows - joy and pain He was there. For 47 days their parents watched the hand of God work in that hospital. For 47 days I learned what it was to miss what I had never seen - to love what I had never known.
I came across a blog about a week ago by a guy named John. The battery on my laptop went dead and I lost the page before I got a chance to really read it. I'm not sure how to find it again, but the few sentences I read have really had an impact on me. Most of what I'm going to put here comes directly from what I remember of his post. John, if you happen to stumble across my blog the way I stumbled across yours, thanks.
I re-read the story of the Prodigal son again a few weeks ago. Its not my favorite story in the Bible. I don't care for it because in my experience its not actually how things work. I've talked a little about my anger and rebellion and attempt to return home. When I turned for home I felt like God had moved or something. My story is the Psalms 13, "how long will you hide from me? Will you forget me forever?" Kind of story.
I think the problem for me was not that I got home and God had moved so much as I had turned for home I just hadn't gotten there yet. It seems I ran further than I thought. I talked in an earlier post about the day I came across Psalms 13 and felt like God had cracked the door in a dark room. I couldn't see much, but I had a direction. For the purposes of this story that day was the day he turned the porch light on. I'm on my way home, its night and the road in dark but I know the way and I'm sure He's waiting.
This is the mind set I had when I read the prodigal son last week. I thought in this new frame of mind I would enjoy the story more. There was something about it that still made me uncomfortable. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't real excited about coming home until I read John's blog.
I've said before that I learned some things growing up in church that turned out to be destructive. I was told at an early age that when I died, at the judgment, I would have to give an account of my life. I was told that at the judgment God would ask (something along the lines of), "Why should I let you into Heaven"? I hadn't really thought about it, but it turns out that was really affecting the way I approached God. In the story of the prodigal son it just didn't seem right to have the father run out to the son throw his arms around him and ask, "why should I let you come home"? We all know that boy didn't deserve to be allowed back in the house. I know that I don't either.
John suggested, and I now imagine that when the father met his son on the road that day the question may have been, Have you realized who you are? Its a much nicer question. It suggests that its your identity and not your actions that welcome you home.
On my journey I have learned more about who I am. The answer to that question is very close to my heart and still very difficult for me. Its something I haven't felt or said in a long time. The closer I get to home the more I feel it. I become increasingly aware of who I am. When the day breaks and the Father sees me in the distance I'm ready to meet him. When we meet and the question is asked I will fall into his embrace and say, "I am your son."