Monthly Archives: December 2010

Salt – Reflections on brokenness, restoration, and this past year

[I journaled most of these thoughts on a plane after a campus ministers’ retreat, called “Refresh ‘10”, in Kansas City the second full week of December.]

“You put salt on our lips that we might thirst for you…” This quote/paraphrase caught my attention last night when the closing speaker, Pete Greig, mentioned it. He attributed it to St. Augustine, and then he added, “and sometimes the salt may come from our own tears. “

But the tears for me haven’t come for some time. Beautiful moments, prayerful moments, enraging moments, surprising moments have happened, and I can tell part of my body want to respond with tears, yet nothing comes. [Heal me, Lord.]

Rewind a few days: The image brought to mind after the conference’s first morning devotion was of water pouring on dry, cracked ground. The water seeped in, yet the ground was so dry that the cracks didn’t go away… A dry and thirsty land. I had this same image of a dry and thirsty land the following morning, too, and of water spilling forth over the cracks, seeping in, providing momentary relief for a land in drought. Maybe Prayer can be these moments of watering – moments of grace for a drought weary soul. [Lord, help me.]

A cup of salt sat on each table as the last session began. We poured some in our hands and put our hands to our lips. Then we prayed…
As I prayed, thoughts – words and images, moving and still – flashed and faded. Each wrestled for prominence although each has valid space in my heart/life right now. I scrawled the words across the page in an attempt to give each image the voice it wanted to have.
SALT…
Causes THIRST

Helps preserve

Brings out and enhances flavor

SHRIVELS slugs

apathy lethargy

… over-sweetened, comfortable lives need some saltiness…

… prevents the car from slipping, yet stains it in the process…

I pictured my heart shrinking and shriveling like the salted slug as I saw the apathetic and lethargic moments of the past year with clarity and shame. It’s not all the time, and it’s not in all things. There are moments of life and energy that spring forth, yet they are quickly absorbed by the dry, cracked soil of my soul – the broken ground of my heart. It may not show on the outside, yet the inside is crying out for refreshment! Yes, healing and restoration began taking place at debriefing in Michigan in March after two painful years of deployment… we miss the people, but we don’t miss the circumstances… yet healing is a PROCESS and it needs to continue.

We know – I know – God called us out and moved us on, yet I still wrestle with why. Was it for preservation of my life / our lives – hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and for preservation of our marriage, and for preservation of our calls to ministry (rather than burning out, breaking down emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically)? OR did God call us out because I could no longer love well – serve in love, forgive in love, lead in love… ? Was it my failure to love well that caused our departure?

Was it self-preservation – God caring for us as individuals, as children… OR was it Kingdom-preservation – God caring for God’s kingdom and not wanting that defamed any more than it already is?

I feel that somehow it was a combination of both.

The speaker on Thursday night reminded us of John Wesley’s journey – successful in some mission endeavors, yet a failure in others (e.g. Georgia) to the point of questioning vocation. (and I don’t view our time as extreme as Wesley.)

However, God did not give up on him.
And God will not give up on me,
God will not give up on us,
God will not give up on the Church,
God will not give up on the world!

My heart and soul may feel shriveled like a slug…
BUT God can refresh and revive,
God can Restore and Redeem,
God can Resurrect!

The dry cracked ground takes time to restore. Too much rain or irrigation at once will cause a flood as the ground cannot absorb the vast amounts of water. And then it will take time for the flood waters to recede. Too much rain or irrigation trades one calamity for another.

A slow coaxing – a little rain – a slow irrigation will restore the land without a flood disaster.

While my soul wants the downpour, God knows that my souls does not need a flood.

A starving person may want a buffet, yet the stomach needs to start with small amounts slowly.

A dehydrated person guzzling gallons will only wretch it up, yet a slow intake in small amounts will restore.

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe,
Who restores the dry parched land,
Who fills our cups to overflowing (abundance and enough) not overflooding,
Who says, “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it.”

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe,
Who gives Your children every good thing,
Who provides for all of our needs,
Who gives manna each day (rather than 40-years supply of food at once that we have to carry around).

In this next season of journey I need to open myself up to the small ways that God wants to irrigate my soul – to restore my life. It’s strange, when in drought one can become accustomed to scarcity. In fact, so much so that even when conditions change scarcity can remain the heart-set and mindset – scarcity can become the default mode… This results in one turning down moments of filling, refreshing and relief – for even though the ground can handle the downpour, the default mode of scarcity causes fear of flooding… Why trade a calamity with which one can cope for one that presents more unknowns?

Hosanna – Help me, save me. Alleluia.

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Thoughts from "a university student who follows Jesus"

I came across this at the conference I just attended in Kansas City, and I wanted to share it with you. We actually saw it in a powerful video form, yet I couldn't find that at midnight last night – I could only find the text from a blog site, so here you go:

from our friends with Campus America:

I am a university student who follows Jesus.

I've been formally trained to think critically.  My view of the world is scarred with cynicism and skeptical interpretation.  Rarely is it acceptable that I feel anything.  If I do, I am encouraged to rationalize it away.

I continually face critical thinkers (like myself) who question the Christian subculture I come from.  I try to imagine a counter-cultural movement like I read about in Acts but I'm stuck in the tread of a divide between the sacred and the secular of this world.

On a regular basis I encounter situations where the name of Christ is being defamed by Christians who have forgotten the centrality of His love.  Where sins are ordered in a hierarchy.  Where people must pray through a checklist before being welcomed into the family.  Where people themselves are sidelined for the sake of the sins that precede them.

I know that the world will change only as I change myself, but everyone else seems focused on themselves. I'm torn between changing individuals and changing institutions.  History class laughs at the meta-narrative that defines my existence.  Science tells me that mystery is my enemy and faith is its poison.  My learning is split into departments.  So goes my religion.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I have wept over abortion and I have grieved the breakdown of the family unit.  I have also wept and grieved over Christianity's fear-filled reaction to both.

In fact, I often feel boxed in by the stigma attached to words like "church" and "Christian." I tend not to speak up for the possibility of being misinterpreted.

I have awkward conversations with strangers who seem to be in need, but sometimes it feels like I do so more out of desire to feel better about myself than out of genuine care.

My prayers collide somewhere between "help me pass this test / help my suicidal classmate / please have mercy on the AIDS epidemic."  I'm never sure what order they should be prayed in.

I try tirelessly to see that my schooling doesn't interfere with my education.  I have skipped a test to be with Jesus and I have skipped time with Jesus to study for a test.  I wonder afterward if I've failed some sort of test with God.

I have known a lot of hope deferred and a few longings fulfilled.  I watch my peers poke holes in any hope without offering any hope in return.  Seems like cheap self-defense, but I find myself doing the same.

I'm constantly dividing between the voices in my head.  Discerning what is conviction, what is accusation, and what is simply empty tradition in my exhausted conscience.  I feel compassion in the depths of my soul, but I have learned to quiet it in order to keep my head above water.

Sometimes I sense that God is leading me to obey Him in an act that seems crazy to me.  With all the voices clamoring for my attention it's hard to tell who's talking, so I've gotten good at just talking it away.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I'm on a technology overload.  Inundated with information that is inapplicable to the vast majority of my life.  I check my Facebook profile 22 times a day with the hopes of a red button notifying me of my importance to someone.  Most times there isn't a response to my status update and my status diminishes a few notches in response.

I've had trouble making new friends because I'm busy keeping up with old acquaintances through a computer monitor.

I like the Word of God but I love the summary form Wikipedia gives me of its contents.  I repeatedly have to remind myself that the Bible isn't another textbook to resell at semester's end at a tenth of my purchase price.

My life has a continual soundtrack provided by wires that connect to my ears and straight-arm the annoyance of other peoples' existence… "other peoples' existence"… sooo annoying.

Silence both scares and bores me tremendously, making it seriously difficult to be still and know much of anything.  The natural world has all but disappeared from my daily activities.  My feet are far more familiar with concrete than grass.  My hands know well the texture of my keyboard and the smoothness of my cell phone, but there is no dirt beneath my tooth-trimmed fingernails.

I speak 17 different dialects of the English language: homegrown simplicity, calculated indie-rock, charismatic Christian, academic hyperbole, post-modern pessimist, etc…

I second-guess what I'm majoring in every second day and I can't fathom holding down one job for more than one year.

I eat food like my body is a temple of convenience.  Making coffee takes too much time out of my incredibly important day so I stand in line for 5 minutes to buy a $5 cup.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I'm somewhere in between child and adult. I've lost the innocence of my youth but I've yet to achieve the wisdom of my age.  The tension feels awkward and emphasizes my temporary existence.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I'm still tremendously reliable on my parents.  They give me money they would never spend on themselves without blinking an eye.  I question if I'll ever be able to do the same for my kids.  My school loans are more than my parents paid for the house I grew up in.

I may not have the cash, but swiping the card doesn't really hurt anyone, and I've got it down to an art.  I will buy a drink when I'm out with my friends.  I'm not sure I actually like the taste of alcohol, but I've learned that if I drink a beer people won't think I'm such a stiff.  There have definitely been times I have had too much.  Both drinks and affection.

I buy new clothes that look old so I can maintain the appearance of "used and uncaring."

I have often laughed and nodded at common knowledge I think I probably should know by now but don't.

The world still appears wide open, sometimes even intimidating.  But more often I anticipate its narrowing and the possibility that I would remain little more than potential.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

Returning always to questions of who God is and who I am, usually in the wrong order.  I have friends but I often feel lonely.  I am habitually watching others watch me.  Am I essential to anyone?

I try not to look in the mirror too long when I'm alone, mostly so I can convince myself that I'm not self-obsessive.

I do the things I hate then try not to hate myself for doing them.  I'm trying to figure out who I am while trying to die to myself.

People have thanked me for being authentic when I have openly confessed my weaknesses.  Sometime I just want them to challenge my pride instead.

Everything feels urgent and rushed, and I'm trying to learn how to rest in the midst of the chaos.  To be defined less by the number of things I accomplish in a day and more by the grounding reality that I am unfailingly loved.  Not easy.

Many days it feels I'm just beginning to know God even though we've been getting to know each other for some time.  I tend to think He has reliable tendencies, but I'm never quite completely confident that I know how He will respond.  Some days not knowing makes it exciting; other times it brings disillusionment and I feel embarrassed on His behalf.  As if He needed me to.

I'm trying to make friends with people who don't know Jesus.  Remember, that's why I have a beer, insert a "swear word" from time to time, and reference U2 in conversation.

I remember something of the religious foundations of my college, but question why today religion is at most tolerated on the periphery of my curriculum.  What foundation is all this academia built upon?

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I want to love God with my entire mind.  To stand empowered in my intellect without being run over by intellectualism, losing my heart in its stead.

I welcome the challenge of my faith.  I think a healthy argument can be more respectful than offensive.  Seeing people who walk with a limp having wrestled with God makes them a bit more trustworthy to me.  But I dread the possibility of a life with a divided heart.  I crave resolve and I rarely have it.

I'm haunted by the question of tolerance v acceptance.  Absolute v relevant truth.

Perhaps what I fear most is having a form of godliness that has no actual power.

Some days I have glimpses of the changing cultural norm, and it disturbs me deeply.  What kind of world will my kids grow up in?  The thought suddenly cuts off as I realize I missed the last 4 minutes of notes in class.  I'm still trying to grow up in my own world.

I recall a young leader named Joshua who conquered enemy "-ites" to the tune of strength and courage.  His "-ites" are the "-isms" of my modern day.  Worlds of thought and heralded ideas that promote the self and eliminate any life outside of "me."

Be strong, daughter.  Be courageous, son.  No longer will the stories of our fathers suffice.

I am longing for Kingdom come.  Laboring for it to break in now.  Looking for the places it is already established.  Wondering if they all collide in each moment of my every day life.

I am a university student who follows Jesus.

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Thoughts from a Bus Ride through NYC

Late leaves on the trees dance joyfully as they still cling to the tree (or maybe the dance defiantly against the onset of winter) – maybe more amazing is how they keep time with the music from the headphones next to me…

A billboard with John Travolta boasts a $2000 watch as it hovers above a street corner piled high with garbage waiting for the trash collectors to come. Ironic how we pay millions of dollars to people who entertain us yet pittance to those in the industries that provide basic services we take for granted…

Interesting that a street hot dog vendor has his cart on the same side of the street as the animal control ‘Spay and Neuter’ mobile unit…

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Thanksgiving in America and BFD

We celebrated Thanksgiving in America for the first time in 4 years. While some things seemed normal, some things took me by surprise.

We drove to my uncle's house at which 4 of my 5 cousins were there with their families. We ate the quintessential turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Although with two kids, we found that we did not overstuff ourselves as we kept tabs on them between bites.
We enjoyed meeting some new 2nd cousins and introducing Ceara and Caleb to everyone, too.

I enjoyed watching Thanksgiving football for the first time in 4 years.

Yet I came across a new term, which surprised me: "Black Friday." Now I had always heard of the term used in ways to denote something negative. Yet my cunning intellect reasoned from the bombardment of advertisements that it meant the day after Thanksgiving. I looked on Wikipedia to find the origin of its use in this context – because obviously retailers intend it positively. I saw an RV parked outside a Kohl's in preparation for a 3am opening. People across the country lined up the day before (on Thanksgiving Day!) to ensure their chances of getting a good deal…

I was astounded and appalled by the degradation of Thanksgiving from a time to remember what we have (which may not be 'things') and give thanks for them to a time set aside to acquire more stuff, more things, more… Maybe I notice it more acutely now because I haven't experienced this insanity for the past few years. Maybe the term "Black Friday" should still have a negative implication?

I know, I know – Thanksgiving… A lot of time well spent catching up with family – I should write about that rather than writing about Black Friday Deals. Ironic this acronym is BFD… I wonder what would happen if "we the people" stood up to our overconsuming culture and said, "BFD to BFD." If we took more time to be thankful for what we have instead of plotting how to get more. If we took all the time, energy, resources, and passion exerted in shopping and, instead, used it to reconcile broken and hurting relationships in our lives or reaching out to those we know have brokenness… God help us – seriously.

I am out of practice at writing. I struggle to articulate a complete thought. I have noticed it effecting my spoken word as well. I find myself gesturing with hands, lips, and eyebrows to finish many sentences. I guess this another attempt in the 'just keep writing' vein.

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