Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Commission

     The following is a true story.  It happened just over a year ago and I am not confident I fully understand it even now.  What I do clearly understand is that I was given a commission.  

     It was early in the morning, the sky had just started to become light with the rising sun as I partially woke and rolled myself away from the window.  As my body relaxed I fell into what seemed to be a waking dream.  I was a soldier being dropped with my team into a desert valley.   We landed and exited a helicopter at the edge of what I assumed must have been a village at some point in the past.  My eyes blinked and squinted as I attempted to adjust to the blinding brightness of the sun reflecting on the desert sands.  Ruins of buildings lay strewn all around partially covered by blowing sand.  In the distance I saw the black smoke of burning fires, I knew fighting had only recently ended.
     I stepped away from my team and toward an ivory colored article protruding from the sands.  All at once I watched myself walk toward the item and reach out to touch it.  I observed my movements as if I were watching them from a distance while also experiencing them first hand.  My hand went out and as I touched the object I realized what it was...the top of a bone protruding out where a kneecap once was.  As my hands closed around the bone my heart was filled with a hopeless heaviness.
     "Why?!", I cried in my heart, "So many lives over so many endless decades destroyed for what?  What had anyone gained?  For this plot of sand men and women lost everything...and what had been gained?  It was all lost for nothing.".  As the thoughts rolled over my consciousness I could feel more than see the countless bones buried in the sands beneath me.  They seemed to stretch for all of space and time.  My heart became so heavy with sorrow at the weight of the lives lost that it seemed unbearable.  My eyes poured rivers of tears that did nothing to relieve the hopeless feeling building inside me.

     "THEY HAVE TO KNOW HOW PRECIOUS THEY ARE!" My body jolted fully awake and while there was perfect stillness in my room it seemed as if I could feel the echoes of that plaintive cry through every cell of my being.  It was a pleading and somehow commanding cry.  I lay still and allowed the tears to freely fall down the sides of my face into my pillow.  "They need to know how precious they are", I thought, "And how can they know if no one will tell them? So tell them."

     If you do not know or have not been told.  You are a living soul and you are precious.  Your value is greater than you may ever know.  May the love of G-d pour out on you even now and bless you to know just what you mean to him.  May our dry bones come alive.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

On Bridges

          I find myself considering of late what it might be like to be a bridge.  Have you ever considered the life of a bridge?  Most likely you have not and if so, then the bridges you have known of or used have served their purpose.  The greatest achievement a bridge could hope for after all, is to be so well trusted and often used that their existence becomes merely an expected extension of the surrounding landscape and therefore no more awe inspiring than the very ground underfoot.  Bridges are created to serve the purpose of allowing people to cross what would otherwise be impassable or who's passage would come at great cost.  Whether the bridge is made of humble rock and wood or hewn from fine stone or steel intended to stand as a monument to the civilization who constructed it, all bridges serve the same basic purpose of allowing individuals to travel to a location that was otherwise difficult or impossible to reach.  What then is so special about a bridge that would make me consider how it might feel?  Absolutely nothing...unless you happen to be some of the select few who first wondered at it's ability to safely carry you from the impossible wish into the hoped for reality.
          Imagine for a moment with me that it's 7BCE, you're a farmer in the Roman Empire.  For generations your family has had to make the arduous yearly journey from your village to the markets of Rome itself.  Your family's survival depends on this yearly trip to sell grain to the government of Rome.  It's a slow progression that can take several weeks due to the bypass you have to make around one particular canyon carved out of the volcanic rock of the region.  Last year Caesar unveiled a stone bridge over the area.  You remember seeing it towering above your caravan as you passed by on your last journey, its arches suspended high above your head were like delicate spiderwebs in the rafters of your home.  'Look at those fools up there!', your father had ranted, 'They think they can defy the gods and not be punished? They will see their folly soon enough when they have crashed to the rocks we safely walk on.  Better to take the time to walk on solid ground than trust yourself to the vanity of man.'  But it had been a year now and the bridge stood strong, even with the Roman legions passing north toward the Rhine.  The line of soldiers and equipment was so great it had taken the entire day to cross, but the stones stood strong beneath them as immobile as the cliff sides it clung to.  This year the trip would be made more simple, the journey be made shorter by several days.  This year you would cross using the bridge.  Can you put yourself there?  Can you feel the initial trepidation then amazement and wonder of such a structure and what it means?
          Compare that sensation to what you feel today when you cross a bridge.  Perhaps you have been on an especially beautiful masterpiece of structural engineering and wondered at it's artistry or at the skill of it's builders, but have you ever wondered at the marvel of what that bridge truly meant to you on a personal level?  Have you considered in amazement that the simple act of the Brooklyn Bridge existing and reliably standing over decades has allowed for the growth and development of the metropolis that is collectively known as New York City?  Have you ever stood in the middle of a bridge and considered that without it's existence you may never see or know what stands on the opposite side?  And that even if you did, your interaction with what is on that opposite side would be significantly less than is allowed by the existence of that single structure.  Would the San Francisco Bay Area be what it is without the Golden Gate Bridge?  Have you ever looked at a bridge and thought, 'Because you are here I can go there.'?  I am guessing you haven't and if you are the  individual that has, it probably is a singular or rare thought stored deep in the recesses of your mind.  And that is a good thing.  It means most of the bridges we have experienced have been structurally sound and not caused us to question their stability or their ability to safely allow us to cross.  Bridges that do their jobs are doomed to be passed over without a second thought by the vast majority of those who use them. 
          When I entered the Police Academy I had never before fired anything beyond a small bb gun once as a child.  I grew up among farmers and scholars, we didn't hunt or even target practice, my experience with weapons was next to nothing.  As we began the section of training on firearms I was pleasantly surprised to find I was a good shot.  I did swimmingly well in all of the exercises and found myself having little sympathy for my fellow classmates should they struggle at all.  I would think, 'I've never done this before in my life and I'm doing well, how hard can it be?!'.  Then we had our first qualification shoots and quickly I found myself with my foot in my mouth.  My scores plummeted into the dirt faster than least as fast as a speeding bullet. I was completely dismayed and beside myself with stress.  What was wrong?!  The harder I tried to focus and do what I knew I could do, the lower my score seemed to be.  Thankfully our instructors must have reached out to the firearms team at my department because I received a phone call from one of the firearms instructors.  He told me he knew I was having a rough time and our final tests were coming up.  To not pass these tests meant to lose my job and not become an officer.  He set up a time to meet with me at the range and work with me.  He coordinated time on his day off to meet with me and spent several hours on the range giving me individual instruction.  He taught me different techniques to use during the test to keep myself calm and focused but most importantly he told me that good shooters having anxiety with the qualification was normal and his job as an instructor was to do everything in his power to give me the tools I needed to overcome my own anxiety and do the job he was confident I had the ability to do.  He reassured me that he was with me and supporting me and would work with me as much as needed for me to feel confident.  Step by step, through and past every fear lingering inside my psyche...he was my bridge.  When the final test came, I was ready for it and passed without a problem.  Because someone was willing to take their own time, skills and energy and lay it down over the vast canyon of my fears and concerns allowing me to safely cross over them.  I am here in my job that I love today because he was willing to be there for me when I needed help crossing over from who I was into who I have become.
          None of us gets anywhere in this life without the love and support of someone who was willing to be our strength in times of trial.  Perhaps you would have made it without them, but not at the same rate and ability.  Your progress would have been slowed as you would have been bogged down in the vast canyons of life.  As literal bridges are necessary for the advancement and development of nations, so figurative bridges are necessary for our own growth.  An internal landscape devoid of them is one that denotes a long and arduous journey. 
          In the battle of Passchendaele during WW1 the amount of shelling combined with a steady rain turned the battlefield into a quagmire of mud and craters so thick and deep that men began to be trapped and pulled into the mire as if in quicksand.  If other soldiers attempted to pull them free they would soon slip into the muck and be lost as well.  The problem became so prevalent that any ground gained was impassable and small bridges of wood known as 'duck walks' were constructed to allow soldiers to walk above ground without risk of disappearing into the landscape.  Some bridges ease a journey, some bridges allow you to safely cross over certain death.
          There is one such bridge, laid down as the gift of eternal life over death.  Its construction is humble and to cross it requires great faith in the face of every fear, but its foundation is sure. 
          I am so thankful for those who have been willing to be a bridge for me and hope with all of my heart and soul to be a bridge for others who may need one. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On The Eye of The Storm

          I am always strengthened by the words of King David's Psalms.  This mighty king who was forced to be a man of war, always on the run always in the fray, how he must have ached for any moment of peace.  How strong his faith to continually praise his G-d even when rest was not on the horizon.  Every time I feel surrounded with trials I go back to Psalm and I find within the sentiments of a king long gone from this earth the echoes of my own pleading heart.  As I muse over the power of storms in our lives, I find reassurance in the words of Psalm 71.

Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.  Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.
Psalm 71:20&21         

          A week ago I embarked on a mini adventure.  I live in Phoenix, Arizona and most of my immediate family live in Honduras.  Two of my brothers and two of my nephews were going to be visiting in Kansas City, Missouri and I had a last minute four day window to visit them.  Flight prices were cost prohibitive...but I enjoy a nice long road trip, so with some minor reassurance that I wasn't being totally insane I hopped into my cute little car and drove about 21hrs each way to spend two days with my dear family.  The drive was 100% worth it from the first second of hugging just one of my brothers.  I would do the drive all over again for that hug alone.  But this tale is not about my visit or even about the 21hr drive both ways to make it possible.  I just want to share my thoughts during 2.5hrs of it.

          As I approached Wichita, KS on Easter Sunday 2018 I found myself driving into the worst winter storm I have ever experienced in my life. (Including blizzards in northern MN)  The temperature sat at 27 degrees and the overcast sky began showering down a steady flow of sleet.  Thus began the next 2.5hrs of driving through a rotation of sleet, hail, snow and rain.  Yes, at 27 degrees somehow rain was also periodically falling.  The roadway did not take long to become a platform of slush, ice and snow.  Within about fifteen minutes I came across the first of seven accidents, three of which involved multiple vehicles and one of which shut down the freeway in the opposite direction.

          For the first half hour or so, I was moderately concerned but expectantly waiting to reach the edge of the storm.  The end had to be coming at some point right?  As I traveled through the lonely stretches of the Kansas Flint Hills I saw shafts of light falling on the plains south of me and felt comforted that certainly I would come out of the storm shortly.  Time and the endless storm ticked away with no relief in sight.  No snow plows to clear the road, no major exits to stop and take a breather, just sleet, ice and snow from the heavens and gusts of wind attempting to blow me off of the roadway at every slick spot or curve in the road.  By the end of the first hour I felt the tension rising in my shoulders and my anxiety increasing.  What was the best thing to do at this point?  Should I stop and hope they could clear the road but potentially be trapped with the weather getting worse?  Should I press on and risk getting into an accident?  Even if it were a minor accident it could take hours to get help in this weather and the middle of nowhere Kansas!!  What should I do?  What was the best course of action.

          About an hour and a half into the storm, still with no sign of the storm letting up, I began to feel frustrated.  I was praying for relief wasn't I? How was no relief coming?  Not even a few minutes of the precipitation abating...just the steady game of 'what is it now? sleet, snow, rain, no hail!'.  The road conditions became worse and I was constantly trying to decide whether to slow to a crawl behind someone forging the way or to risk crossing the icy patch in the center of the roadway to get past them. "I don't understand G-d?!!", I called out to my empty car, "You control all of this, you can make it go away in a moment, why aren't you even giving me a small break.  It's so constant and exhausting, why won't you just let me have a break?".

          In that moment I thought about the eye of a storm.  You know that phrase?  The eye of a storm is supposedly that central point in a cyclone where there is somehow calm.  "Where is my eye in this storm?", I asked.  "I am", He confidently whispered to my heart.  "You are", I responded, "You are the eye of my storm.  You are right here with me in this very moment, and if that is true then I have no reason to be stressed or afraid.  Anything that this seemingly endless storm has to offer, has no power over me when you are here.  I choose to believe you are here with me.  I choose not to fear whatever this storm brings my way."  I felt my body relax and my heart regain it's composure.

          The storm didn't end.  I was stuck driving through it the entire way into Kansas City.  I wasn't magically free from frustration at my circumstances.  There were moments in that final hour drive that I became even more stressed, and at one point I had to pause and call my bff Jess and rant about how upset and stressed I felt.  I had to constantly remind myself that I was not alone on that road, that my G-d was right there with me and protecting me.  It didn't always feel like He was, but I made it safely to my destination.

          Sometimes a particularly bad storm feels as though it will never end.  Like no matter how much we beg and plead there is no rest to be found.  Sometimes storm after storm rolls over our lives crashing like frozen waves across our hearts.  Sometimes it doesn't feel like G-d is there with us at all.  Just because we are surrounded and our way is grim, does not mean He has left us alone.  You know that phrase 'eye of the storm'?  Well, there is an aspect of the eye that most people don't realize exists and that is called the 'eyewall'.  It is a ring around the eye of the storm that is a literal wall of storms of the highest intensity.  That's correct, just outside of the most calm area of a storm exists the most intense and dangerous area of the storm.

          Perhaps, just perhaps...when we are wondering where our G-d is as we weather the ceaseless storms of life He is busy running ahead, behind and on all sides...keeping the worst of it all at bay.  For you...his precious treasure and beloved child.  Perhaps after all, He is just waiting for us to learn to rest in His promise through the storms.

I don't ever do this...but I feel this song fits what my heart wants to say perfectly today.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Dream

I awoke slowly, my consciousness rising like an air bubble through a subconscious fog thick as molasses.  First my limbs began to tingle followed by a fluttering of my eyelids and finally ending in clearly formed thought. A smile spreads wide and languidly across my face as I fight to hold on to every sensation.  Though my eyes remain closed I know my room is dark and still.  It must be the middle of the night. My dog remains deep in sleep at my side, undisturbed by my midnight vigil.

He was cradled safely into my side, I could feel his strong hand holding mine and his head nestled like a puzzle piece under my chin. But no...that’s my own hand tucked into myself, I can clearly distinguish dream from reality as the pressure of him holding me begins to fade into memory. Can you have a memory of something that has never happened? 

I feel myself physically drawn to him although it is not a passionate hold we are in.  It is somehow complete attraction filled with perfect chastity. It is calming, peaceful and imbued with happiness...contentment. It is the definition of contentment. Two souls at complete rest in each other.

He is familiar to me. I dream of him periodically, most often he is pointing out where I can improve or something I have failed to do. His is a voice not void of care but forever testing, as if to root out any impurities held within the depths of my character.  But sometimes...sometimes it is all gentleness. I am never surprised by the judgmental dreams, I always feel as though I do not score well under his scrutiny. But these dreams, the quiet and beautiful ones, they always catch me off guard. 

Usually there aren’t many details. I wake remembering the sound of his voice, a reassuring look and always the comforting touch of his hand in mine. 

This time is different. The narrative ran longer and was more rich in detail. 

I stepped out of a building and as I looked up into the night sky I felt him walk up and stop beside me. I was watching lightning flash inside boiling and distant thunderclouds. Tracing with my eyes the outline of the light ripping a great seam in the ether and cutting through the thin veil of clouds. So powerful and yet so delicate. My focus shifted as I realized he was speaking to me and in vain I strained to comprehend the last lines of what he was saying, something about being frustrated with the games that were being played inside. 

I think that was it, I attempt a response. 

‘Closer or further...I always like playing that game.’, my eyes have not left the symphony of light playing out above us and I feel Him shift his gaze upward beside me. ‘I never get tired of that either.’, he replies softly, ‘even if the storm is very close it still doesn’t scare me.’ I remain silent for a moment unwilling to admit that I feel fear if the storm clouds are close by. 

I think if he is not afraid then maybe I don’t need to be either. ‘Closer’, I whisper as a giant bolt streaks across the night, ‘further’, he replies as small echos of light illuminate the cotton ball outline of clouds.

We move as if in unison, laying side by side on the gravel of the parking lot. There’s a better view from that perspective. Somewhere in the middle of our independent and yet unified reverie his hand finds its way to mine and envelopes it quietly, securely and with an unexplained assurance. We don’t address the change, we both accept it as though it were an expected end and a long awaited beginning. 

Rain begins to fall steadily. A welcome cold to quiet any building heat. We do not move, we are moved by the water that now flows around us. We are two entwined branches living and yet unable, no...unwilling to move. The current grows stronger and we begin to shift into one another. He is curled into me, his head tucked under my chin as I gently kiss his forehead. I am his comfort and his hand holding my own is my source of strength.

We are content. 

I feel the blood flowing into my fingers, the heat circulating through my veins. I know I am waking before I wake.

Monday, November 13, 2017

On Being a Part of Your World

         Have you ever found yourself sitting in a room full of people conversing in groups around you and all at once realized you are not a part of any conversation happening?  You sit there observing and listening, understanding the words but failing to understand what it all means.  You wonder how it is possible that less than a minute before you were 'in' the group and all of a sudden you are not only 'out' it is as though you were never a part of it at all.  You have this sinking feeling of loneliness as you realize that not only does no one in the room need your don't need theirs either.  You aren't angry nor do you feel wounded by anyone, you just don't feel a connection to anything happening around you.

Ever feel like this?  If so...this post is for you.

         For reasons that are not pertinent to this post, I found myself entering this past weekend with a fresh realization that I am not good at keeping in contact with friends and loved ones on a regular basis.  This was not the first time in my life that I have come to such a realization.  I have arrived at it no less than a dozen times before, but I had yet to find a solution that I felt was successful.  Each time I had left the moment with a greater determination to 'do better' in the future and each time I had quickly reverted to my normal patterns of socialization.  This Thursday evening I decided to take an active approach to solving the problem.  I am terrible at keeping lines of communication and socialization open?  No worries, I would spend the next three days actively exposing and reinforcing those lines wherever possible.  I would even create new ones if necessary.

          I spent each day texting, messaging, calling, meeting and visiting with as many people as I reasonably could.  I went to social gatherings, stayed longer than I'm naturally inclined to and tried with all of my energy to be as actively involved as possible.  On Sunday afternoon I found myself sitting off to the side of a group actively in conversation.  I had just one moment before been a part of the conversation...I swear I was! But somehow not only was I out of the group but I had no clue what the line of conversation even was anymore.  I tried for a couple minutes to pull myself back in, but it was like mentally treading water as the sounds of multiple conversations in the room crashed over me like a tidal wave.  I gave in and sat back allowing all the words to become white noise.  I looked around at the room full of people who I love and who I know love me and realized I was feeling more alone than I would have felt if I had just gone home to do chores alone. 

          I pictured all of us swimming in an ocean.  I could see them all above me splashing and playing together but each time I tried to surface with them I would find my passage blocked by some unseen barrier.  We were all in the same water, but I was forever in a different layer unable to see clearly what they saw or communicate what I saw.  I felt overwhelmed and wanted to just give up and go home, but I had decided to be more open and available..more willing to socialize like everyone does with such ease.  So, I decided to just go breathe in the church chapel for a bit and try to engage after a break.  As I walked into the chapel another group was in a deep conversation about security in church after the terrible recent attack in Texas.  As I sat there I thought, "Here is a conversation I can follow.  This has a purpose and meaning that is close to my heart and my professional perspective."  I wanted to interject with a statement that would contrast the need for security with the need to worship G-d free from fear, I hoped to spark a debate on the balance between those two needs...but not surprisingly my words did not convey what my heart and mind were thinking.  I came across as abrupt and against personal security and emergency preparedness (two things I am not against.) and quickly caused the end of the entire conversation in a very awkward way.  As everyone filed out and I tried to explain myself better to the single individual who remained I felt my heart sink lower and even more disconnected.  I gave up and headed for my car.  May as well get chores done right?

          I cried all the way to the laundromat.  What the thunder is wrong with me?  How can I not have normal social interactions.  It's as if everyone speaks Italian and I am fluent in Spanish.  I hear their words and feel like I should understand, but at the end of the day we are speaking different languages and I come away even more frustrated for having tried.  How is it that I have dear friends who I converse with easily on a regular basis, but sitting in a social gathering I feel like I am hanging onto a sinking piece of the Titanic, still alive but slowly freezing to death?  Am I just really a terrible person who doesn't know how to interact and has had people holding me up my entire life?  Am I completely a social dead weight that offers nothing to a friendship or social interaction?!  As I dried my tears I told myself I was just being overly emotional, but I also said a prayer that G-d would be so kind as to reassure me that someone could see me and understand me, that He would show me how I am connected with others.

          Thankfully while I was doing laundry I chatted with two of my brothers and two dear friends who reassured me that they also often feel more lonely after a social gathering than if they had stayed alone the entire time.  This was an amazingly uplifting reassurance at just the right moment.  At least if I am a total social reject I am not the only one.  I began to feel comforted enough to start objectively analyzing the weekend and what had caused this feeling of disconnection and loneliness.  During my analysis I realized that even though I am terrible at some types of social interaction and connection, this didn't mean I am a social reject.  There are many social interactions that I am especially gifted in.  I am great at one-on-one or small group conversations, I am good at recognizing when someone may need a word or a gift as a reminder that they are loved and remembered, I make a great emotional sponge during an emergency, I am phenomenal at all of the background quiet service stuff that many people don't even realize is necessary and there is no better emotional bulwark during times of trial.  I simply stink at remembering when a birthday is or congratulating someone on a life event or, you know...all the normal basic social norms that come easily for so many people.  A simple example: when most people meet someone new they want to know normal things like, "what do you do for a living?".   When I meet someone new I want to ask questions like, "If you could float into a crowd through the air like a returning warrior, what theme music would be playing in the background."  The wavelength I often travel through life on is quite different from most, but what if that's not bad?  What if I am not designed to fit social norms because I am designed to fit a different social purpose?  What if instead of putting so much energy and time into 'fitting' into social gatherings and expected social connections, I just opted out and put my time into the social gifts I have been given?

          I internally mulled over these questions as I finished my chores and participated in church choir practices.  I felt some level of comfort, but still ached to know that somehow I was not so very disconnected from the people in my life who I dearly love.  I still felt a part of my soul singing Ariel's song 'A Part of Your World'  I longed to know that even though I often see things from a singular perspective I was in some way connected to loved ones in deep and lasting ways.  As the evening church service began I felt a lingering sadness and separation, and pushed it aside to focus on the sermon.  The next hour was possibly one of the coolest gifts and reminders that I have ever been given in a sermon.  The minister spoke on love.  What it is to love G-d and to love one another.  The topic was poignant, but it wasn't the topic that moved me.  The minister began scripture by scripture and thought by thought to lay out the exact learning process that I have undergone in my personal studies on that very topic. As he spoke that lonely and separated part of my heart began to come into focus and it was as if G-d himself were speaking to my heart to reassure me, 'Just because your perspective is different from others doesn't mean you can't all share my perspective'.

My Point

          Finally we have arrived at the point of all this rambling.  Here is a truth that we humans do not like to admit, we all do this thing called life alone.  Yes our paths cross and sometimes our perspectives are similar.  Many of you are blessed with the ability to share perspectives fairly often and have a common social interaction because of it.  Some of us are rarely looking through that particular perspective and more often feel the solitude of our journey.  And yet for as lonely as this journey can be...we are all together when we are looking down the path of life through the perspective of its creator.  In Christ we all share the same perspective and are intrinsically connected for all of space and time.  So, when we find ourselves feeling alone in our travels...we just need to shift ourselves to His perspective and we will be reminded that we are never alone.

Today I am breaking all of my blog rules.  The song linked below speaks to me of the very point I am trying to make.  It all comes back to our creator and when we come to Him we will know exactly who we are and where we belong...In Him.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On Abraham's Sacrifice

          I have been deeply musing of late on the sacrifice of Abraham to G-d on the mount in Moriah.  If you want to check it out, peruse chapter 22 of Genesis.  (I suggest reading it out of the Tanakh as that is my favorite.) In it you will find the story of Abraham, a flawed man who despite his flaws consistently returns and obeys the voice of his G-d.  A man not unlike you and I, seeking to do what is right and true but often finding ourselves doing things our own way instead of trusting that G-d will fulfill His words in His way without our intervention.  Let me give you a quick recap of his life:

          Abraham started out as Abram, a good man seeking to follow the G-d of heaven and earth with whom he had a personal and intimate relationship.  Abram married his half sister ( norms were different back then I guess.) Sarai who was apparently the most beautiful woman ever born (or all the other women alive were quite ugly, who knows) and they started a life together.  Abram is given a promise from G-d that he will bear a son and his descendants will be as the stars in the heavens for number...only fly in the ointment is that for all of her beauty Sarai apparently cannot bear children.  Years go by and this lack of offspring does not dim the love between the two, however it becomes apparent to both of them that this promise surely cannot be true.  It's not happening and surely G-d must have meant something else.  G-d reassures Abram a second time that he will be given an heir and all of the earth will be blessed from his line.  And this time when G-d tells Abram He even shows the depth of His intentions by making a covenant with Abram basically stating that if He does not fulfill His end of the bargain, He should be as dead animals left bare for a sacrifice.  (That's right...the G-d of heaven and earth deigns to promise a mortal that if He does not fulfill His promise, Abram can consider Him as nothing more than a dead animal. Seems like that should be enough to reassure Abram right?  But Abram is human just like you and I, and decades are passing with no promise fulfilled and every passing day makes that promise less and less possible in human eyes.)
          Time goes by and Abram makes multiple decisions out of fear and his own understanding of what must be right.  (Not the least of these is the decision that his successor must come from Sarai's maid because it's not biologically possible for Sarai to bear children.)  Angels come out of nowhere and yet again the promise is repeated to Abram, and G-d Himself speaks to Abram to reassure him and gives both he and Sarai new names.  They will now be Abraham and Sarah, the beginning of a people who will fill the earth and bring a blessing upon all mankind.
          Still more time passes, but finally...after DECADES of waiting. Decades of wondering if G-d would accomplish this promise, if it could even be possible, if he had misunderstood, why he couldn't just make a successor his own way since it seemed clear the promise given would never come.  After decades of poor decisions, missteps, repentance, family anguish, financial success and waiting (albeit sometimes impatiently).  His G-d fulfilled the promise given so many times in so many ways.  Sarah conceived and bore him Issac.  Abraham loved Issac as only a father longing for decades for a promised child could.  Issac embodied everything that was his promised future.  All of the physical and financial success, all of the hopes for descendants, everything he had ever hoped or dreamed of was balanced on the shoulders of his beloved son Issac.  And this is where chapter 22 comes into play, what Abraham's trials for all of those decades had been leading up to.  The climactic question that G-d had slowly built up over time.
          Do you trust and love me enough to give it all back to me?

          The Test of Free Will

          At the beginning of chapter 22 we find Abraham a wealthy man who is happy beyond measure.  You could say he has been rewarded for his faith and belief in G-d by the advent of the birth of his son, but I do not see it quite that way.  To me the birth of Issac was the beginning of a test that Abraham had been given multiple times throughout his life.  Sometimes he passed, but more often he failed it.  The test of his free will.  When faced with trusting in the almighty G-d to make a way when there seems no possible way, would he choose to rely on what he could not see/understand or would he choose his own way that seemed more reasonable and possible to his human mind?  Each time the test had been given his future and happiness lay in the balance, and often he acted out of his fears and human nature to pick his own way over an unknown way of even the one true G-d.  
          Now here he was an old man, possibly thinking he had finally achieved what he had so long hoped for and so often disbelieved.  But what we often see as the resolution of a story, G-d sees as the middle or even the beginning because He sees that our hearts still are not proven to fully belong to Him.  We still don't trust His will over our own, His blessings over our desires, His future over our plans.  This is where I believe Abraham was at the fateful beginning of chapter 22, still in the middle of his story and still waiting to serve G-d first with all that he had.
          And so it was that G-d asked Abraham, not for something important as a proof of his will, but for EVERYTHING that he held most dear.  G-d asked Abraham to take his beloved and promised son.  The son who signified his happiness and his promised future, the son that G-d himself gave to him...and sacrifice him as an offering to Him.  
          Now scholars debate the meaning of this story quite a bit.  They question whether it was literal or figurative.  They try to diminish or explain away the horror of the almighty G-d asking someone to kill another innocent person as a human sacrifice to prove allegiance to Him.  I am not going to muse on those things, because honestly I believe those questions are roadblocks that trip us up and hide the true importance of this history.  I want to discuss what Issac symbolized to Abraham and what I better understand about my relationship with G-d through this story.

What Will I Sacrifice?

          In Psalm 51 we are told that the sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit, that a broken and contrite heart will not be despised by G-d.  My spirit is my will and it must be my own choice to break it and freely give it to G-d.  He will not ever force it from me.  
          In the account of Abraham let us consider what Issac symbolized to him.  He was taking his only son, his beloved promise given to him by G-d, the one set to inherit all of the worldly goods he had worked so much for, the only hope of a succession coming from himself and his loved wife Sarah...and he was faced with the choice to kill every possible future happiness with no explanation or reassurance as to why or to yet again rely on his human understanding and decide for himself that G-d couldn't possibly be asking such a huge sacrifice He must have meant something else.  
          Have you ever stood there?  Have you ever stood alone faced with that long awaited promise, everything you ever hoped for and never expected staring you in the face and the very G-d who made that promise and provided it...calling you to willingly give it all back to Him with no explanation beyond, "because I asked for it"?  Maybe it literally means EVERYTHING to you and your future happiness, maybe you even know without a doubt that it was promised to you by G-d and therefore it should rightfully belong to you but He is asking you not only to give it back to Him but to cut it open in his presence and let it burn away until there is nothing left.  No more hope, no more blessing, no more future...not even a new promise that all will be restored.  
          Think about that one thing you have been promised.  Perhaps you have obtained it, perhaps you are still waiting for it, perhaps you are unsure it is coming but you believe you have been told it will.  Name it to yourself and carry it to the top of the mountain of sacrifice in your heart.  That new house you have been scrimping and saving for, that job you have worked yourself to the bone for, that success in finance that you are going to use for good, that long awaited for child, your health or the health of a family member, that life partner who you long to build a future with...whatever it is take a moment and look it in the eye.  Are you willing to let all of it go for no other reason than to choose G-d's will over your own?  
          Do you hear the voice of your G-d asking, "Will you give me everything...even this?  Will you trust my plan more than your own wisdom?  Will you follow me even if you don't understand what I am doing or why?  Will you love me more than anything this life can offer, even more than any future hopes and dreams?".  I hear Him asking me to sacrifice everything in my power to give, my free will, and to trust Him to keep His promises even if I cannot understand how He will begin to do so.  

Climbing the Mountains of Moriah

          In the account of Abraham given in Genesis chapter 22, we are told about one journey in Abraham's lifetime but I wonder sometimes if we realize that his life was full of many journey's to that mountaintop.  The mountains of Moriah exist in each of our hearts, that sacred place where we are called daily to make the sacrifice of our spirit, our free will, and turn over our hopes and dreams to a faithful G-d who's ways we cannot hope to fully understand.  Do we know that sometimes a sacrifice has already been prepared in the place of what we are willing to give up and sometimes what He asks us to give is not meant for us and in those moments we must be willing to follow through, to rip out and burn away any part that is required of us trusting that He knows there is something greater yet to come?  Do we love and trust Him enough to do what He asks without knowing what the outcome will be?
          May G-d bless and hold each of His children up and give them the strength to climb that mountain of sacrifice every day and say, "Here am I Lord, let my will be your own.".

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On Personal Revelations

          As humans we tend to have a hard time truly seeing ourselves for who we are in our deepest heart of hearts.  Too often we are busy looking at ourselves through the rose colored glasses of our best intentions or through the obscure lenses of guilt and fear.  We miss so often the opportunity to clearly see ourselves without the tint of vanity and pride sneaking in there.  But sometimes....every once in a great while if we concentrate hard enough and ask in humility, the one who sees us in all of our beauty and flaws steps in and shines the light of His point of view on our minds eye.  And all at once we are revealed to ourselves in every bit of our gory gloriousness.  It is terrifying and marvelous and indescribable, to truly see the desire of your heart stripped bare.  I hope and pray you get to experience it, even just for a moment.

          I hesitated telling people I was traveling to Israel this fall.  Mostly because there is this strange reaction that I dread dealing with, the response of "Oh you're going to Israel?! Are you walking in the steps of Jesus! You have to tell me exactly what it felt like and what you experienced there!".  I was not going to walk in the steps of Jesus, that is not a trip that I desire to take.  I was going to experience a really cool part of the history of modern Israel and my best friend's family legacy.  This was not a 'religious experience' pilgrimage and I had no intention of making it one.  Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with someone feeling a great desire to walk the steps that Jesus walked.  If that is a big deal for them, then that is wonderful.  But that is not how my spiritual life operates, it is not a need I feel and there was no way my trip would be what they were hoping for me.  Would it be cool to sit on the Sea of Galilee contemplating the sermon preached there so long ago? Heck yes.  But it's not something I personally need to experience and it's not why I would travel to Israel.

          What is so amazing to me is that I serve an Omnipotent God who does not expect me to need the same experiences as others need.  He knows me to my very core and prepares for me exactly what I am needing without my input at all.  I serve a God who prepared for me a trip that would change my life in ways I could never begin to imagine in off the beaten path ways that were His and mine alone.

I will relate to you only one of those moments.

          One place that both Jess and I really wanted to see was the Western Wall in Old Jerusalem.  On our first evening in the city we wove our way through the crowded stonework maze of the old city and finally found ourselves facing this historic and spiritually significant stonework wall.  This place is still highly sacred for the Jewish religion and many worshipers find there way to the wall to pray at all hours of the day and night.  Jess and I washed our hands, covered our heads and made our way into the crowd.  We found a fairly open space about 35feet back from the actual wall and stood in silence looking up at it for a moment.  As I slowly scanned the crowd I saw several women with uncovered heads, taking tourist photos in front of the wall and waving their ipads around for a better shot (even though signs clearly asked visitors to cover their heads and not take photos inside of the area separated for worship.).  I began to grow frustrated by the obvious lack of respect for this holy site.  Just because it was not sacred to them didn't mean they had no responsibility to show respect to those who were worshiping.  I found myself wanting a moment to speak to God and unable to do so because my mind was filling with frustration.  I realized if I wanted to truly speak to The Lord I would have to close my eyes and ignore the mass of people surrounding me.

          The moment I closed my eyes the sounds of the passing mass of humanity became distant like the buzzing of so many bees flying overhead.  I slowly began to focus and converse with God.  I ruminated on the cultural and historical significance of this wall before me.  Considered the spiritual significance it held for the Jews and also for me.  I asked God to please look into my heart and show me my greatest desire and the work that He would put before me. 

          I considered Hezekiah returning from captivity to a burned and destroyed city.  Jerusalem, the city who's very name means the city of the King of Peace.  What must that have been like?  What amount of humility and effort it must have taken?  To be the voice standing and calling others to help in building up the walls of the city of the King of Peace.  How did he even know where to begin to repair the damage?  To repair the breaches in the walls of this great city...  A phrase floated through my mind, 'to be a repairer of the breach'. Yes!  That is what Hezekiah was! He moved forward in humility and with great courage to repair the breaches of the walls of the city of the King of Peace.  What a huge responsibility.

          What would that work look like today?  The thought caught me off guard.  My mind paused and spun like a free wheel for a moment.  Where is the city of the King of Peace now?  Is it a physical thing?  Are their physical walls in disarray that need repairing?  No.  So does the city no longer exist?  Well, certainly it does!  So...where does it exist today?  What does that city look like and are it's walls in need of repair?  My brain continued spinning.  I had no answer for this flood of questions.  My simple mind could not take it all in at once.  I only had one answer.  "God, if I can be that...if I can somehow be a repairer of the breach, that is what I want above anything else in this life.  I want to be able in some way to build back up the walls of your kingdom.  I don't know what that looks like, but that is what I want to do."

          I opened my eyes, the mass of people still buzzed around us.  I wondered if Jess felt ready to go..if she had been given her own moment of personal revelation.  I thanked God for the moment and we made our way back to our hotel.  It was several weeks later that I came across the following scripture during church:

'Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.
Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.'  -Isaiah 58:8-12

          I have a work to do, I have been given direction in how to do it.  To remove the yoke of bondage from my life, to remove my own pride, to draw out my soul to the hungry and afflicted...this is how that breach is repaired, this is how the dwelling place of the great King of Peace is built up.  With every word, every action and every thought of my heart I am choosing to be a repairer or a destroyer of the breach.  I am choosing to heal and bring peace or to break down the walls of the King of Peace.  On many lips there is a great battle cry going throughout the world today.  A cry for war to prove this or fight that.  The only battle I am interested in fighting is the battle inside of my own heart, the battle of my own pride and selfishness, because those are my true enemies and when they are conquered I shall be made a vessel worthy of true service.  Amen.