Tuesday, February 22, 2005

winter on the farm where I grew up. UPDATE: these trees were damaged in a storm the summer after I took this photo and are no longer there. I gave this photo to my brother and his wife (who currently owns the farm) this Christmas. good memories.


I have a confession to make...I hate being told what to do. I like to think that if everything and everyone in my world would just order themselves according to my wishes, things would work out alright. But welcome to an earth filled with billions of beings each with free will, and each probably thinking very much the same thing! A sure recipe for trouble! Perhaps that is why traffic can be so frustrating...all those other people are just not lining up with your idea of how things should go!!! So irritating. You know, I have come up with some ideas that have been rather good and enjoyed implementing them, but when I think about it, the most meaningful and effectual events or changes in my life have come as somewhat of a surprise to me - something was initiated by someone else and I got to participate and benefit.

Here's confession number two...I love to be loved. Well, who wouldn't, but very few of us come right out and say it. I crave attention, affection, acceptance and any other "a" word you can think of (like perhaps adulation and appreciation, but definitely not alienation). The times I know and feel love are a euphoria unlike any other. But wouldn't you know it, I am discovering that an even greater sense of well-being, in fact a deeper and more driving passion, overtakes me when I choose to give lavishly from my seemingly meagre storehouse of love. The contentment that stems from knowing I did not withhold any good thing from someone is far superior to that of knowing I grasped at affection and obtained it in some measure. I don't know why, but its true.

Confession number three...I struggle with fear and inadequacy. Too often I find myself hesitating instead of leaping, frozen instead of active, remaining passive instead of initiating, choosing to let the "impossibles" loom larger than life in my line of sight. But you know, fear has never accomplished anything is this world...it is not a driving force. Wait, let me rephrase that, I am learning how to harness it and made it work for me. For now I fear that if I don't do it now, I never will. I fear that if I don't take that risk, I will never find out if it might have amounted to anything. I fear that if I don't reach out and befriend that person, I might miss the best friendship I ever knew. I fear that if I keep thinking about all my fears, I will find myself at the end of my life...a shriveled soul not having moved from one spot. I fear missing the boat, losing that chance, not letting people know how I really feel about them until it is too late, and most of all, I fear standing before God and seeing the incredible things he had in mind when he created me and being overwhelmed with disappointment at how few of them I was brave enough to try.

So we get to choose...
1. Maintaining control (at best, it ends up being a feeble attempt to grasp that slippery steering wheel) or relinquishing the outcome to someone who is wiser, more benevolent, and infinitely more creative than we are.
2. Grasping for every bit of love that comes our way or choosing the sacrifice of lavishing it on someone else.
3. Fearing the things that can damage us or cost us something, or choosing to fear that unless we start to buy into this game, we will never get off the starting block. You have to pay to play. Are you in?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Brief Lesson in Politics (no, hell did not freeze over!)

This afternoon a friend of mine challenged me to write something on politics. My first reaction was "NO!" because if you know me at all, you know that I am apolitical. I don't have much of an opinion on politics one way or the other, I generally don't like to talk about them (though after some practice, I can now hold a fairly simple conversation on the subject when necessary), I don't make an effort to be informed about them, I will probably find a way to change the topic when it is brought up, and on occasion I have been known to burst into tears when the subject is broached. What can I say? I don't understand it either.

So what changed my mind? When I opened up the bible for my daily reading, this is what it said:
"The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Saviour God wants us to live." from 1 Timothy 2, The Message.

For whatever it is worth, here are my meagre thoughts regarding the arena of politics. Read them carefully...you might never hear anything on the topic from me again!

1. Pray first. I hear a lot of talk, way too much criticism, miles of speculation, and endless opinions. All of which, if I may offer my own humble opinion here, accomplish very little. I am not opposed to a good discussion - it can enlighten and challenge the participants - but don't let it stop there. Take action! You have heard it said that every vote makes a difference. Well, I would venture to say that every prayer makes an even bigger difference! See something you don't like in the government? Pray for change! Ask God what you can do about it. Think some leader is an idiot? Pray for him to get wisdom! If you have some great ideas, pass them onto someone who can do something about them. The world situation scares you? Pray for peace, and then be prepared to be a peacemaker. There is no change without sacrifice. Anyone can criticize or speculate. Few will pay the price to make a difference.

2. Be humble. What is it about politics that makes pompous asses out of people? Have we put so much pressure and responsibility on these offices of power that no one can admit they are humans and occasionally make a mistake? Does no one value sticking by the truth because it might cost them a re-election? Do policy changes inevitably go to the highest bidder or the biggest bully? These sound like the antics of 8 year-olds during recess. Sadly, it seems that those people of integrity who enter public office often fall prey to the corrupt power game. We must remember that it is not important that we LOOK good, it is important that we BE good and DO good. Be a person of integrity. Applaud and support the quality wherever you see it in someone else. Love the truth.

3. Love strangers. Most political discussions are spent talking about people we do not really know or have never met. It is easy to make decisions and judgment calls and form opinions when the people directly involved in the situation are not present. Politics affect human lives. Put yourself in someone else's shoes before you criticize a decision or make a suggestion that will affect others' lives. Don't require something of someone else that you are not willing to do yourself or at the very least, help them accomplish. The best leaders are willing to identify with those whose lives they have responsibility for. The best influencers have no need of a position to make themselves heard. Be someone people can trust. Let love be your chief motivation.

4. See the big picture. I admit I am not strong on this point - when I encounter groups of more than 4 or 5 people, I have a hard time focusing! There is no way I can take in the world situation! Thankfully, I have politically-aware friends that attempt to keep me informed and challenge me to see beyond my little world. But in some way, I do believe I get the biggest picture. God is ultimately in charge. He knows and sees every event in the world and will not have his purpose thwarted. He can change anything at anytime and by reason of some divine wisdom that I am not privy to, chooses not to interfere many times (perhaps it is because I do not ask). Everyone will answer for their deeds and/or lack of action - there will be ultimate justice. No earthly power is outside the rule of God; no tragedy beyond his reach. He is trustworthy...just wait and see.

And in conclusion, may I offer a few new phrases to throw into your next political debate:
It's just America (insert any political power here). It's only terrorism (war, conflict, instability, etc.). It is merely the economy (or any other resourse that is dwindling). It is but a world threatening situation (pick one). The most powerful being in the universe knows, cares, and is on it. And one thing he does is ask people like you and me to affect our circle of influence in a positive way...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Communi...wait a minute, where did that come from?

I have been discussing community (and the sad lack of it in our lives) with a friend of mine (http://wherewelive.blogspot.com) and this afternoon I happened upon someone's blog (http://www.johnalanturner.blogspot.com) who mentioned that he had moved his family across the country in order that they might be close to friends - be a part of a community. Hey - I really admire the man's courage to pursue the things he believes are valuable to the health of his family, but just the opposite happened to my friend and I: due to different circumstances, we both made the choice to move away from a great community of supportive friends into the barren wasteland of strangers, people of un-like mind, and unfamiliar surroundings. The novelty is exciting for a few months, but then the silent phone and the empty front steps start to wear on your pioneering spirit. If you are going where you think God has called you to be, shouldn't friends be easy to make? Alas, it seems not.

Friends are those rare jewels that pop up in the course of your life that seem to be discovered quite by coincidence at first (if you believe in coincidence) and then you begin the life-long process of intentionally polishing and deepening the lustre of the relationship. I cannot quite put my finger on what quality makes a good friend, but the characteristics will be somewhat different for each person. We all value kindness, compassion, adventure, and faithfulness, but what makes one person more dear to my heart than another? I cannot say, but I know that even if I meet the nicest person in the world that doesn't mean they will become my best friend. It just doesn't work that way. There seems to be something ordained about the whole thing and I am not being fatalistic, just saying that the concept of community really is outside of reason. Like a seed you can plant it, water it, take care of it, protect it, make sure it is healthy, but you really have no say in what it will look like in the end.

I have the most unlikely of friends, I will admit. And many of them are not people I would have picked out of a line-up as "most likely to become a valuable part of my life." I am struck with the wonder of being in a strange place with strange people and seeing how human beings who are worlds apart can become very close. These are not comfortable friends I have made. It is a constant challenge to communicate and get together and keep the friendship growing. Misunderstandings arise and love has to cover them. Our cultures and ways of doing things and different experiences and different schedules often stand between us, but no barrier is insurmountable when love churns deep beneath the surface.

So how does one find community? Funny thing is, I set out to write something about how I must go out and build community, look around me, reach out to the lonely, be the initiator, make the effort to get in touch with people, you catch my drift. But instead, as I started to write, it dawned on me that community came and found me, it sneaked up behind me and bit me in the butt, and all my plans to build something similar to what I knew before turned out to be relatively useless. I am still involved in building community, oh yes, but I don't go out and find the people; God brings them across my path and my task is to hold onto them, to not let them go, to open my heart to them, to put myself at their disposal, to give to and receive from them, to see them as they really are, to encourage them and challenge them, to be on the receiving end of loving truth and criticism, to hold nothing back, and above all, to enjoy them!

And to all my totally unlikely but totally lovable friends out there...YOU ROCK!!!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Need Directions?

A lot of my friends and acquaintances (and yeah, me too) seem to be at a point where they need some direction in their lives. We get to a certain point, and then we wonder...what next? We are faced with some choices and we hesitate because it is not clear which one will get us to the right place. And by the way, where were we going anyway? In a quest to offer some help to people in this area, I offered to speak on the topic at church one night (what was I thinking?). I had no idea what I could do or say to bring clarity in the area of guidance, so I asked God about it. The next thing I knew I was reading the story of Abram and Sarah in Genesis 12 - 25 and here are the points I came up with. Maybe you will see yourself in a few of them.

1. God gives a general invitation to be a blessing, to make something of your life. (Genesis 12:1-3)
Condition to move onto the next step: You must leave your comfort zone, you cannot rely on yourself.

2. God gives you a glimpse of the possibilities - WOW! The things ahead will totally blow your mind! (Genesis 13:14-17)
Condition to see it happen: Start to walk in it, do it, practice it, even though you have not arrived and it is not yours yet.

3. Inevitably, once you step into the arena of faith, war and discouragement and conflict arise! (Genesis 14 and 15)
Condition to stick it out and win: Fear not! Turn the other cheek. (Genesis 15:1-6)

4. Sometimes it all seems to be going awry, so we try to take things into our own hands and end up going the WRONG WAY! What if you get off track? (Genesis 16)
Condition to get back in the game: Resist the tempation to "help" God by manipulating circumstances. Repent if you get off course. It does not disqualify you.

5. Change of Identity. You stop defining yourself by who you think you are, or who others think you are, or even by your list of achievements and failures and you start to refer to yourself as the person that God sees when he looks at you. You let God rename you. (Genesis 17:5-10)
Condition: Let God mark you, even in the sensitive, private area of identity.

6. Nothing seems to change for a long time, so we lose hope. (Genesis 18:14)
Condition to get past this stage: Don't get cynical, do not lose your compassion. Is anything too hard or too wonderful for the Lord?

7. Others get the very thing God promised you! How unfair! (Genesis 20:17)
Condition: Never compare, don't get jealous, pray for blessing for others, and genuinely be happy when they get it.

8. YES! AT LAST! God does what he promised to do at the set time! (Genesis 21:1-2; Isaiah 40:31)
Condition to seeing it all come true: Wait on the Lord! Hold tight to him.

I am not saying that everything has to happen in this order, but you will probably see all of these at some point in your life. It was most encouraging for me to see how time and obstacles and wrong choices and bad attitudes and family dynamics and faith all mixed together in the life of Abraham and in the end, it was the faithfulness of God that mattered, not man's attempts at getting it right.

If He said He would do it, you can count on it.