Walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Suck

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of suck, I've found it really does suck.  I know people are worried about the election.  I know United Methodists are worried about the Book of Discipline.  Me? I am worried about what the next hour will be like.

Sitting here in the acute care hospice facility with my wife as she has suffered in pain the past day has been "a big bowl of sucky, Mr. McSuck-suck."  It took it all out of me.  We prayed together in the dark of the night, "Jesus, have mercy" as we struggled together with this evil which corrupts our flesh and bones.

I have fought it too and other disease and I have come to the conclusion this little secret: this is not God's plan.  This is not what God wanted for us.  I am sorry, but I just cannot go there.  Will God work it for good?  HE HAD BETTER! I am counting on it!  I am putting it here in black and white and if it means I am walking the path of Job, so be it.  I am counting on you God, to make something good of this because tonight, and in the nights past, I don't get it.

Neither did the Israelite who wrote the Psalms.  Was it more than one person? Yeah, more than likely and it just adds to the authenticity we are all going through some valley of suck.  Though the centuries separate us, I know there is one who got it "Do not forsake me, O Lord!O my God, be not far from me! (Psalm 38:21)"  It doesn't matter the circumstances, the valley of the shadow of suck...well...it just sucks no matter how you got here.

And that prayer, it isn't a prayer of doubt - it is a prayer of dependence.  The words of the Psalmist give shape and substance to the soul's suffering.  They ring true and pure in sufferer's soul - there has been another human being; a soul; like me; who has suffered - and they too, cried to God because they believed God would hear them.  God would not leave in the midst of the suckiest thing or things we could imagine.

If you do not want to believe in God because life sucks sometimes, it is your choice.  But as Luke said to Jabba the Hutt: "I warn you not to underestimate my power!"  It was not Luke's power and it is not my power.  It is the power in the presence of a God whose promise is not to leave or fore sake you or me (for Luke it was the "force" and a different conversation).  The Psalmist was not doubting God would leave - the Psalm writer was breathing out the promise God had given.  It is a promise God still gives to those who chose to cry out ESPECIALLY in the valley of suck.

An Unexpected Journey: Finding Jesus in Caregiving

http://www.freeimages.com/  Wilf Ratzburg

When we were dating, my wife, Heather, and I went on a day hike to Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. What was supposed to be a few hours turned into all day on a neglected trail without much water and no food. Thankfully, I had my compass and sense enough to remember my Scout skills. That was nearly 25 years ago when we took our first unexpected journey. On that journey, we found we could trust each other when things did not go quite our way.

Since our first unexpected journey, we have had quite a few others along the way.  Some I have chronicled here in public and others have remained more private, shared in my journal and with friends.  None come close to the unexpected journey of facing my wife's cancer but all of them have prepared us.

A friend posted this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and martyr, killed near the end of WWII: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."  Bonhoeffer's life is one defined by profound writings in his life.  It is also defined by his unexpected journey to stand up to the Nazis of the Third Reich.

When I read the quote, I heard this question: what or who are you willing to die for this week?  It is an invitation to an unexpected journey.

Much of our journey I have shared with a group of cancer caregivers.  You cannot read the stories without having your heart broken.  All of them are unexpected journies, similar but different.   This is what all are doing who are caregivers: they are dying to self.   Most don't get it because they don't do it, most of us are not willing to "die" for another.

Trust me when I say this: I do not want to do this, I don't want to be a caregiver.  If we could give it up, we would.  It sucks.  But I met Jesus on this unexpected journey caring for my wife as she continues to fight colon cancer and hope for healing.  Where did Jesus show up?  Well, I used to think the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet had no corollary in our modern world but I was wrong.  I met Jesus, on my knees, while drying and putting lotion on my wife's feet.  

A number of Bible verses came to my mind which fit the situation but the one I heard most clearly was one I rarely consider:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father?"  They said, "the first." (Matthew 21:28-31)

Jesus, in this parable, gives hope to all the reluctant sons and daughters.  We are full of mixed motivations and we live like spoiled brats most of the time.  God KNOWS I do.  I am NOT saying I am even close to being like Jesus.  What I am saying is in the life of caregivers: mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, cousins, friends, I have been living life among "dying" people. Some are Christians, some are Jews, some are Muslim, and some don't even believe in God but I can tell you these are the reluctant sons/daughters who live more like Jesus than others know. 

There are many ways to die to self; to the false self.  I think most of the spiritual greats we have never met or read precisely for this reason - they did not care to be known; they cared for another, even when they did not want to do it.

May I Ask: Are you willing to die for something or someone that brings you no glory or attention?  What is it? Who is it?  What are you waiting on?

May I Suggest: Who am I kidding here?  Just do what Jesus said: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, wash the feet of the sick.  Get over yourself and look for Jesus in the places you DON'T want to go.  You will meet Jesu on the unexpected journey.

How Wesley's 3 Means of Grace Can Help You "Wait On The Lord"

For a while now, people have asked about how I have maintained my faith in God through the trials our family has been through.  And, for the longest time I really did not have a response.  Typically, I have said God's grace.  While it was accurate, it was not a fair response.

So I've taken to reflection, research, and writing.  I think the Psalmists encouragement sums up THE FIRST THING which has sustained me and our family.  It has been "waiting on the Lord." This is not just shrugging shoulders and saying, "it is what it is" though.  It is an active involvement of waiting in the sense that I am putting my whole hope on God in His timing.  So, it is far from being passive but is instead focusing with one's heart, tuning it toward God.

THE SECOND THING has been to look at how to keep my heart tuned to God.  As a radio geek, I love being in my car listening to AM radio late at night or early in the morning.  Many mornings I have picked up the signal from KMOX out of St. Louis where we lived for two years and where our son was born.

What I have seen in reflection and research is my life has confirmed the primacy of the three practices John Wesley mentioned in his sermon on the "Means of Grace:"
1. Prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation;
2. Searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon;) and
3. Receiving the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of him.

The first two can be done on our own or in a faith community.  The third, the Lord's Supper, keeps us in connection with the larger body.  This, I think, is what is so often ignored in talking about staying in connection with God and why I think "personal communion" ought to be discouraged.  It is also disturbing to see the Table used as a form of protest.  Without community (communion); without others to share the journey, I could not make it where I am and see our family still in one piece.

Regardless what means you use, hear Mr. Wesley plea, "...seek God alone. In and through every outward thing, look singly to the power of his Spirit, and the merits of his Son."

May I Ask?  What "Means" are you using to tune into God?

May I Suggest?  The Upper Room Daily Devotional and App is free or consider
  Soul Tending: Life Forming Practices

1 Minute Meditation #3

Size Matters Not: A Lesson from Death and Forgiving

"Forgive me Lord, so I can live; forgiving."  It is my breath prayer this week.

Our days are running out. 

I mean this practically and figuratively.

Of course, our days on this earth are always running out.  But practically, my wife and I only have days left together.  How many we do not know.  The doctors cannot get so detailed and this is good I think.  It means everyday, we have to live it as though it is the end.  

I think, looking back, we did forgiveness pretty good.  We did have those rough patches here and there but we found our way back to each other, through the emotions because we could not handle being separate.  I have tried to apply these lessons to all my relationships.  Sadly, I have not succeeded in this as much as I would like.

But then, it seems important to remember or at least consider, forgiveness has a divine origin.  It does not begin with us but it begins with God.  As one who believes the Bible is revelation, it is my conviction God is the One initiating our interactions, offering at times, a divine tap on the shoulder, whispering, "remember me?" when God knows darn well I do not.

I can point toward the west, to Portland, where delegates from around the world are gathering representing the many voices and convictions of people in the United Methodist Church.  There is much to be decided.  There is also many who are angry and hurt, and there are those at peace and seeking understanding.  We struggle to make important connections and one of those points of contention, I think, lies here: we do not forgive.  We do not want to forgive.  We do not forgive because, for some, we do not recognize our own need for forgiveness.  These were Jesus' words on the cross after all, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)."

This is not someone else's problem either and THAT is a problem.  It is my problem when I do not consider what role I played.  It becomes a problem for us all when we refuse to even think for a moment "me, myself or I" played a part.  What is the real difference between the speck or the log (Luke 6:42)?

Yoda said it first: "Size matters not."

I do not want to lose my wife to this disease of cancer but the days are quickly disappearing.  Each day, I take inventory, considering what it is I may have done wrong and asking forgiveness.  Will it stop the cancer?  No.  What it is doing is reminding me I share this world with other people, people God loves and people God willingly forgives.

I want to live.  To live, truly, I must learn to live forgiving others.

Jesus taught it and did it.

My wife has lived it.  

So please, forgive me Lord, so I can live; forgiving.

What's Love Gotta Do With It? Why Symbols Matter

Logos are part of our cultures both in the physical world and cyber world. Logos draw out different responses. Symbols on the other hand often draw out and emotion or convey a story. What symbol do we commonly see for love? The Bible give us a very different symbol to consider...wonder why it didn't catch on? Check out today's video and I think you'll see. It won't sell many Hallmark cards!

MAY I ASK? Take some time to reflect on this Mini-Message and ask these questions.  These are good for both individual and group study.

  1. What logos do you love to see? (Golden arches, swoosh, Apple, Windows, etc)
  2. What do the brands people buy say about them?

  1. Why is Jesus giving this talk now?
  2. What is the “new command” Jesus gives?
  3. How are other people going to know who Jesus’ disciples are? (v 35)
  4. How do people get eros (romantic love) confused with agape (sacrificing love)?
  5. Why could this confusion make life/conversation more difficult in our world?
  6. How could you use the symbol of the cross more effectively in your life?
  7. How is love a sign that someone is a disciple of Christ?
  8. Can actions and words deny someone is a Christian?
  9. Who do you need to love this week in the way Jesus did? What exactly will you do?

I Am Not Happy And I Will Do Something About It.

I am not happy.  Of course, I am not happy for what cancer is doing to my wife.  I am also not happy for what it is doing to my children.  I am not happy with what cancer is doing to me (doubly so as cancer survivor and as a caregiver now).  I am not happy for what it is doing to friends both new and old.

These thoughts are some of the ones which get going in my head.  The church I serve is an amazing group of people who have been The Church to our family again and again.  But I grieve I cannot be the pastor at times I want to be.  It breaks my heart when I reach my limits and people choose to leave because I cannot be the pastor they need me to be or wish I was.  I hate to say "no" not because I have boundary issues but because I know, if things were different, I could say "yes."

My mind races as I wonder and worry over the United Methodist Church as we prepare for General Conference.  It tears at my soul so many Christians are so obsessed with conflict and trying to draw lines regarding who is "in" and who is "out."  As a nation, we are so quick to move to sides and to ostracize someone because they post an opinion different from our own.  I suspect even these words someone will find offensive because I did not show myself to be "transparent" regarding my beliefs.

But I am not on any of these sides.  I am seeking to be on only God's side.  No "side" has a monopoly on God that I can see.  Tragically, the line is not so clear cut, it is not so simple.  Don't give me this cop out nonsense either.  The power we're talking about is nothing compared to the power of the...Divine (some of you thought I was gonna say something else didn't you?)  But let's go there shall we?

What was it Luke and Yoda said in Empire Strikes Back?  THIS:
Luke: "But how am I to know the good side from the bad?"
Yoda: "You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack."

How calm are you on the "issues?"  When were you at peace and passive? When have you listened intently for God, not assuming you already knew what the Divine might say?  When did you last pray for God to speak?  And did you actually listen or run off your own way?  Did seek to discern God's will or simply dig out the Bible passages which would affirm your agenda?

I am not happy about a lot of things but in truth, what I am not happy with is myself.  I am not more like Jesus and this does not make me happy and I will do something about it. This week I am praying, Holy Spirit, quiet my mind so I might hear your voice [and follow You].

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