Tag Archives: Tragedy

Holy Moments in the Dark

Holy Moments in Dark Places (CaD Ps 106) Wayfarer

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
    and glory in your praise.

Psalm 106:47 (NIV)

Yesterday, Wendy and I found ourselves discussing the concept of holiness as we enjoyed our weekly date at the local pub for pizza and a pint. It kind of picked up on what I discussed in my blog post a few weeks ago. In my experience, the concept of being “holy” has largely been reduced by the institutional church to mean “morally pure.” In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that it means so much more than that.

Our conversation sprung out a friend sharing with us about a loved one who finds themselves in one of life’s dark valleys. Wendy and I both identified with the story because both of our journeys include stretches in dark places of our own choices and consequences. Much like our friend’s loved one, the respective dark valleys on life’s road were not characterized by any kind of moral purity.

Go to any twelve-step meeting and you’ll hear people tell their own stories about dark valleys on life’s road. You’ll also hear them share that sometimes one must hit rock-bottom before they spiritually wake up to the consequences of their actions and their need to change.

In Jesus’ famous story of the Prodigal Son, the younger brother finds himself far from home, broke, alone, and literally wading in pig shit. In that rock-bottom moment Jesus shared:

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

Wendy and I discussed that this very moment, in the midst of the dark valley, at rock-bottom, and knee-deep in pig shit, was a holy moment. That’s the way the spiritual journey often works. Holiness is not confined to the definition of moral purity found at the mountain-top of righteousness. Holiness can also be found in the spiritual awakening that often happens not at the summit of morality but in the muck of a shattered life.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 106, is the final song in Book IV of the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms. It is another summary review of the history of the Hebrews. As the song comes to its conclusion, the songwriter pens:

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations

This would indicate that this song was likely written from a place of exile when the Hebrew tribes had been scattered across the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. What’s different in this re-telling of the history compared to the one I just read last week is the heart of repentance. The songwriter finds himself far from home, broken, living amidst his enemies and he recognizes that this dark valley was part of the consequence of his peoples own poor choices. Like the Prodigal, like Wendy and me, the songwriter is having his own holy moment of spiritual awakening. He’s owning his part (and the part of his people) in landing himself in this dark valley. He’s making the spiritual turn.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my own journey which includes holy moments that occurred both on spiritual mountain tops and sinful, dark valleys. King David wrote in another song (we haven’t gotten to it yet) that there’s nowhere that he could flee from God’s presence. Even in my lowest, darkest moments, God was not absent. It was there He helped awaken my spirit to my need to change the spiritual trajectory of my life.

It was a holy moment.

Rug-Pulling Moments

Rug-Pulling Moments (CaD Ps 89) Wayfarer

You have put an end to his splendor
    and cast his throne to the ground.

Psalm 89:44 (NIV)

This past week Wendy and I enjoyed hosting both of our daughters and their husbands, along with our grandson, Milo. It was a first in many ways. Madison and Garrett just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and it’s the first time that all seven of us were gathered under our roof. It was a really fun week together as a family.

Wendy and I particularly enjoyed three-year-old Milo climbing into our bed early in the morning to cuddle with Papa and Yaya. One morning Taylor joined us one the bed with her cup of morning coffee. A short time later Madison walked in and climbed on the bed, as well. We got to talk, laugh, share stories, and reminisce. What a joy.

On New Year’s Eve, Wendy and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t help but mentally juxtapose the week of being a family together in one house with this relational milestone. Fifteen years ago, the girls were young teenagers reeling from all the changes and turmoil that come when parents divorce and then remarry. It’s messy, and it’s hard when life doesn’t turn the way you planned, and the way you’d always trusted and believed that it would.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 89, is the final song in “Book III” of the compilation of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the book of Psalms. It was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. Through the first half of the song the lyrics read like an emotional tour of the “glory days” of King David, of God’s blessing on David, God’s anointing of David, God’s covenant with David, and God’s assurances that the throne of David would be established forever.

Then, the songwriter does a 180-degree pivot. After building up the rosy picture of the Davidic monarchy in all its glory, he quickly yanks the rug out from under me as a reader: “But you have rejected, you have spurned”. It’s such a shocking change of tone that it felt unsettling as I read it in the quiet this morning. And, I couldn’t help but think that this was the songwriter’s intent, to have me feel the shock that he was feeling when life didn’t turn out the way he’d trusted and planned.

The psalmist foreshadows the misunderstanding that surrounded Jesus’ followers when the Messiah’s kingdom turned out to look nothing like what they’d envisioned, believed, and had been taught their whole lives. David’s throne was established forever, which is why the Christmas story we are currently celebrating took place in “the City of David” with a mother and earthly father who were descendants of David. God kept His covenant with David, it just didn’t happen the way everyone expected. As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

Today’s psalm reminds me of the very human reaction I tend to have whenever life doesn’t turn out the way I planned. Tragedy, unexpected death, life-threatening illness, divorce, job-loss, global pandemic and leave me reeling like having the rugged pulled out from under me. There is shock, there is anger, there is grief, and there are oh so many questions. Like the ancient songwriter, my prayers in these reeling moments on the road of life tend to sound bitter, blaming, and cynical.

I’ve found it to be part of the journey. Like I said in yesterday’s post, these are the stretches of life’s road that lead to digging deeper roots and growing spirit strength. It was hard for me to see it in the middle of the shame of a failed marriage and feeling the anger and disappointment of teenaged daughters. This was never the plan. This was not how it was supposed to work out. Oh, so many questions.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that as a follower of Jesus I need the rug pulled out from beneath me on occasion. Comfortably standing on my own illusions and expectations of what I think life should look like will never allow me to follow Jesus where He is leading me. And even though there are still times when it leaves me reeling for a time, I’ve learned that there are divine purpose in the rug-pulling experiences on this life journey. It usually makes no sense to me in the moment.

Then, down life’s road fifteen years or so, I find myself one morning on the bed together as a family. We’re cuddling the next generation, drinking coffee, swapping stories, and experiencing the joy of being together.

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died (CaD Ps 72) Wayfarer

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
Psalm 72:20 (NIV)

I have the Don McLean classic American Pie going through my head in the quiet this morning. It’s funny how songs connect to so many thoughts and feelings. The first verse stirs so many memories of being a paperboy at the age of 12. Frigid Iowa mornings being the first person to see the headlines, and trudging in the dark before dawn hand-delivering newspapers to the doorsteps up and down the block.

McLean’s lyrics go like this…

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

I think the inspiration for those words has already been lost to most people. As Mclean’s lyric reveals, it was an event that became known as “The Day the Music Died.” A small plane crashed in an Iowa field and tragically took the lives of three of the most popular rock-and-roll musicians of their day: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 72, isn’t as meaningful to the causal reader without understanding the context of both the song and its placement in the larger work we know as the book of Psalms. As I’ve mentioned before, this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics was compiled by unknown editors. They’ve been lost in the fog of history, but they probably did their compilation sometime around the time the Hebrews were in Exile in Babylon about 500-600 B.C.

The editors didn’t just throw the songs together willy-nilly. There was tremendous thought put into themes, authorship, chronology, and how the individual songs fit into the larger whole. The Psalms are actually broken up into five sections we call “Books.” As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’ve come to the end of Book II with Psalm 72. Most all of the songs lyrics in the anthology, thus far, have been penned by King David. Yesterday’s lyrics revealed David’s thoughts and expressions near the end of his life.

The final song of Book II is an abrupt transition. The liner notes reveal that it is “of” Solomon or “for” Solomon (perhaps both/and), the youngest son of David and the offspring of Bethsheba (yep, the woman with whom he had a scandalous affair). Psalm 72 is a coronation song, meant to be used during the public rituals when a new king is crowned. As if the meaning of this song coming immediately after David’s aged reflections in Psalm 71, and the fact that we’re at the end of Book II, wasn’t clear enough, the anonymous editors of the anthology added a line at the end of the lyrics:

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

Old things pass away. New things come.

David, the warrior-king, God’s minstrel, has passed on.

It was “the day the music died” for the Hebrew people.

Psalm 72 reads like an idyllic vision of monarchy. Like an inauguration speech from a new President, it is full of hope for a new leader who will rule with justice, end poverty, end violence, provide for those in need, be esteemed by world leaders, and be forever established as God’s person for the job. The vision is so idyllic that both Hebrew scholars and early followers of Jesus viewed the metaphors as layered with meaning both as a national anthem for the newly crowned Solomon, and a prophetic vision of the coming and reigning Messiah.

In the quiet this morning, my Enneagram Four-ness can’t shake the melancholy (go figure). A little boy delivering newspapers in the cold, inspired in the grief of a terrible tragedy. In tragics deaths of an Iowa winter, a seed is planted in that little boy which will one day creatively spring to life in a new song that will mesmerize the music world for generations.

What a beautiful image of creation, of life, death, and new life. That’s the theme. That’s the theme of the Great Story.

Creation, Garden, Fall, Salvation.

Birth, life, death, new life.

A time and a season for all things under the sun.

Old things pass away. New things come.

As the Mandalorians in Star Wars would say: “This is the way.”

So, no matter where the journey finds you today, in joy or grief, in melancholy or happiness, take courage, my friend. The best is yet to come.

I have spoken. 😉

Panic, Prudence, and a Prediction

The prudent see danger and take refuge,
    but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.

Proverbs 22:3 (NIV)

This past Saturday, Wendy and I made our annual clean-out of the storage room in our basement. This has become an annual event. Each Spring things are picked up and organized. Each year, upon completion, we vow to keep it picked up and organized. Then over the process of a year the room gets cluttered again.

There’s probably a apt proverb about such a pattern of behavior.

Part of the process in the cleanout was going through storage tubs, determining what was in them, and then making decisions about keeping it, pitching it, taking it to the thrift store, or putting it on the curb for what I like to call the town’s semi-annual Sanford & Son Memorial Fest. That’s when scores of pick-up trucks and minivans looking for buried treasure drive slowly up and down the street picking through and salvaging the neighborhood junk.

Sorting through the storage bins I came across an old Bible (I tend to inherit all the family Bibles) that says it belonged to my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. Inside the cover are handwritten dates in history such as the end of World War II and President Roosevelt’s death. There is also in the storage tub a stack of newspapers my grandparents held onto. Pearl Harbor, John Glen’s historic trip to space, man walking on the moon, Nixon’s resignation, and etc. To this stack I’ve added some of my own including the historic floods of 1993 and, of course, September 11, 2001.

As I write this, I can’t help but think the historic moment the world is experiencing right now. The world-wide pandemic of the Coronavirus has changed the world as everything shuts down and we are urged to keep our “social distance” in order to try and stop the spread of the virus. In fact, our weekend project was a happy coincidence as we stayed home and did our part.

Like many people, I have quietly been bemoaning the panic (seriously, if you need 300 rolls of toilet paper to make it through a possible 2-3 week quarantine, you’ve got other issues). Daily, I’ve been checking the stats and the numbers are still, blessedly, low.

In a nation of 330 million people, there are 3802 cases in the United States (.001152% or one-thousandth of one percent of the population). Worldwide, the statistics show the death rate to be about 7-8% of those who have gotten the virus, while about 92-93% of those with the virus recover. And, as I’ve been reminding people, the death toll last winter in the United States was over 80,000 deaths from the common flu. In other words, there is really no need to panic or to be afraid.

As I am fond of saying, truth is often found at the point of tension between the two extremes. So, while there’s no need to panic, it is equally important not to be completely dismissive. There is such a thing as prudence which the ancient Sage reminds us in today’s proverb. Medical experts are saying that the Coronavirus is highly contagious, has a long incubation period, can live on surfaces for a long time, and is deadly for those individuals who have weakened immune systems and weak respiratory systems (which, I’d guess, is about 7-8% of the population). The list of those at risk, however, includes people I love dearly including my parents, Wendy’s grandmother, and our grandson, Milo.

And so, while I personally don’t have a lot to be worried about, the world has stopped for a few weeks (maybe months) so that we can keep the virus from getting to Milo and Papa Dean and Grandma Jelly Bean. And, I’m good with that. I thought our daughter, Taylor’s, post said it very well this morning:

I don’t claim to be a prophet, but based on my experience with other tragic, world-interrupting events that I’ve lived through, here’s how I predict this will all play-out. Someday my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will hear about the great Coronavirus scare of 2020. Maybe they’ll even find a newspaper I placed in the storage bin recording today’s crazy reality. We will talk about how March Madness and every sporting event in the world was canceled. We’ll recount that there were no St. Patrick’s Day celebrations or parades, even in Dublin, Ireland. We’ll talk about school being out for weeks, stupid people hoarding toilet paper, everyone working from home, and social distancing. Then we’ll laugh about the generation known as the “Coronavirus Kids” or some other catchy term, who were all born nine-months after couples were stuck at home with no sports on television. We might be able to remember someone we knew who died of the virus. Then, we’ll talk about the fact that after a few weeks of crazy life returned to normal, the markets recovered, sporting events began again, and how, blessedly, very few people died in the grand scheme of things.

I was scheduled to be in Des Moines today for a meeting with a client. Just a few minutes ago I received an email from the client inviting us, “in light of the COVID-19 hype,” to join them and “play along” as we have a conference call instead of a face-to-face meeting.

Sounds like a prudent thing to do. Sure, I’ll play along.

Stay healthy, my friend.

Moving Upstream

The simple believe anything,
    but the prudent give thought to their steps.
Proverbs 14:15 (NIV)

My friend, Matthew, likes to say that “everyone is having a conversation with life.” He describes it as an “inner conversation with your center as external circumstances beg for a response.”

Along my journey, I’ve come to believe that the quality and depth of that inner conversation is critical to my progress in Life, health, growth, and relationships. I’ve also observed along the way those who appear to choose not to engage in that conversation. Maybe they don’t know how to have that conversation. Maybe they really don’t want to have that conversation. The result, from my perspective, are lives that seem to run on uninterrupted cycles of appetite, impulse, reaction, and habit. Tragedy and/or life becoming unmanageable become the only way a conversation with Life might possibly get jump-started.

This morning I find my heart and mind still mulling over yesterday’s post and thoughts of introspection. I’ve always been a bit introspective, but I know many who aren’t and who don’t even know where to begin. Many years ago, when I worked with young people, I always tried to teach them both to be introspective and how to have conversations about those inner conversations. The lessons I learned I now apply in my relationships with clients, team members, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.

Typically, I would start with a simple ice-breaker type of question:

  • Good/Bad: Name one good thing and one bad thing from your week?
  • Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going?
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve?
  • If you had five other lives to live, what would you do/be?

Then, I would listen to the young person’s answer and begin what I call “moving upstream.” Moving upstream is really the process of introspection, but I find that one typically learns how to do it first by being led by a parent, friend, counselor, teacher, therapist, pastor, or mentor.

You know how the mouth of a river pouring into the ocean is usually really wide (and usually not very picturesque)? That is what a general answer to a general question is. That’s where introspection begins. Conversations with Life, for those who’ve never really had one, begin with a simple ice-breaker with yourself. But the really good stuff, the scenic views, the waterfalls, the natural springs, the crystal-clear mountain stream can only be reached by paddling upriver, then up a tributary, through a few locks and dams, then up another tributary, and another, and another. There will be a portage around a rapid or three, maybe some smaller dams, and then up yet another small stream. You keep moving upstream towards the Source.

Here’s how it sounded with one of the kids in my youth group as I tried to guide them upstream:

Me: “Name one bad thing from your week.”

Them: “Um, (young people always begin with “Um”) My bad thing this week was getting grounded by my parents.

Grounded? Okay, there’s a story there. Let’s move a little further upstream and find out what it is.

Me: “Ouch! How long are you grounded?”

Them: “Two weeks.”

I keep paddling. With each answer, I move a little farther upstream by taking what’s given to me and exploring further.

Me: “Two weeks!? That sucks! What on earth earned you two weeks?”

Them: (Head is down. Eyes stare at the floor. Shoulders shrug.)

We’ve reached our first dam. Sometimes the lock to a conversational dam is humor.

Me: “What did you do? MURDER SOMEBODY?

Them: (laughs) “No.”

Me: “ROB A BANK?!

Them: “No.”

Me: “Well, being late for curfew isn’t a two week offense. So it’s got to be somewhere between getting in late and murder.”

Silence. Silence is okay, even when it’s painful. Silence is a necessary part of introspection. As my friend Matthew says, “Let silence to the heavy lifting.”

More silence. Finally…

Them: (Mumbling after a sigh) “I got caught smoking weed.”

Hey! There’s a new tributary! Let’s move up that stream and see where it leads.

Hopefully, you get where I’m going. Keep asking questions. Look at the answer to those questions and let them lead you to the next question. The strings of questions and answers are the conversation with Life. The better I’ve become at having those inner conversations about my external circumstances, the further I get towards the Source and the more rewarding the journey has become.

In the quiet this morning, I’m whispering a prayer of thanks for the many friends, family members, teachers, professors, mentors, pastors, and therapists who helped guide me upstream at different stages of my journey. They taught me how to be introspective. Over the course of 50 plus years, my conversations with them taught me how to have a conversation with myself, with Life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Hope your own conversations with Life are leading you to good places, even when the portages, paddling, and dams are a pain.

Have a great day, my friend. Thank you for reading along with me on this journey.

All Worthwhile Things…

Those who work their land will have abundant food,
    but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

Proverbs 12:11 (NIV)

When I first met the man he was a drug dealer. He knew it was wrong, but it was so easy and the money was good. He’d never really given college a serious thought (even though he was very intelligent and had been offered a full-ride). His job options, therefore, were somewhat limited. As the years went on I would see him on an occasional basis. He gave up dealing, but it appeared to me to have given him an appetite for easy money. There was a period of time in which each time I saw him he was trying a different get-rich-quick scheme. I observed that every new scheme he was convinced was his golden ticket to wealth had an up-front-cost to get started which, ironically, quickly made him poorer. The “get rich” part of the schemes never panned out. He eventually worked a few menial jobs for a period of time but his life continued to spiral into despair and depression. Last I knew, he hasn’t had a job for a long time and lives in depressive isolation.

I thought of him this morning when I read the proverb pasted to the top of this post. I have never met a person who so diligently sought a shortcut to riches and ended in such a tragic place, though I have certainly encountered others like him along my life journey. I am reminded of a visit that I paid to a former high school teacher many years ago. As he shared with me the changes that he’s witnessed in students over the years of his career he said, “If my students simply took the time and energy they expend trying to cheat and applied it to their studies they’d be fine.”

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that work is work, and there is no avoiding this fact. It’s stated plainly right at the beginning in the Genesis story. Ironically, I just heard it referenced on Ash Wednesday last week as a young man rubbed ashes on my forehead:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)

There is something in me that desires for life to be easy, but I long ago embraced the reality that worthwhile things require time, energy, attention, and discipline. In other words: it’s work. This is true in pretty much every area of life including education, career, relationships, family, physical health and wellness, and spiritual growth. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that work is required for results. Right now I’m struggling with the changing body metabolism that occurs naturally at my stage of life. I need more sleep. My body doesn’t burn energy as efficiently. The same diet and exercise regimen suddenly has diminishing effects in comparison to a few years ago. It takes more work than it used to.

Worthwhile things require work. It is what it is. I can try to avoid it, or I can embrace it.

It is Monday morning. Time to get to work.

Have a good week!

An Observation

At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud…

Proverbs 8:2-3 (NIV)

I saw an individual the other day in a coffee shop.

I live in a small town, so this person is not strange to me. I know the story. I’ve heard it first hand from this person. I’ve heard other versions of it from this person’s loved ones and friends.

The story reads like a tragedy. Ill-fortune has been this person’s plight. Tragedy seems have followed them on the path, and they have been a victim of circumstance at every turn. Broken relationships lie in their wake along with failed opportunities and countless fruitless attempts at sustained, gainful employment. Addiction, according to the story, has been this persons constant companion though I honestly can’t tell if this is actually true, or if it’s simply a convenient excuse for the chaotic mess of the individual’s life.

In today’s chapter, Lady Wisdom makes clear that she is never hidden. She doesn’t lurk where others can’t find her. She is on the heights where she can bee seen from miles around. She is at the crossroads where traffic is heavy. She is there in public at the gates of the city where everyone passes by. She cries out like a street preacher on his soap box.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to realize that Wisdom is omnipresent. It’s always there for the taking. In every temptation, Wisdom is there to provide good counsel. In every mistake, Wisdom is there with meaningful instruction. In the dark valley of every tragedy, Wisdom is present with guidance and directions towards Light that is waiting just a little further up the road. I’ve not always listened to her, but I’d like to believe that I’ve gotten better at it the further I’ve progressed.

I have observed that Wisdom is never hidden, except for those who are spiritually blind and those who choose to ignore her. Temptations, tragedies, foolish mistakes, and the painful bedlam of our own poor choices are common waypoints on every human being’s life journey. It appears to me that those who listen to Wisdom learn from circumstance and allow these things to inform future thoughts, choices, and behavior. Those who choose to remain blind to her presence and deaf to her words tend to remain in the dark valley with tragedy, excuse and blame as a trio of companions.

Lord, have mercy.

Patience and Appointments

…for it will still come at the appointed time.
Daniel 11:35 (NIV)

I have never been great with patience. When I was a boy and the youngest of four siblings I watched my older siblings doing things I was not allowed to do, and it drove me crazy. I was always pushing to do things ahead of the set social, physical, cultural, legal or familial timelines. I wanted to skip ahead, cheat the system, and do all the things I was “too young” to do. This impatience was not without some positive effect, but it also brought its share of tragedy.

One of the keys to prophetic writing in God’s Message is understanding that there are appointed times for certain events. In some cases, the events prophesied by Daniel have already taken place and they become clear in retrospect. In other cases, prophecies point to events that have yet to be fulfilled and their exact timing remain a mystery. Even Jesus told His followers when speaking about the end times: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

As I’ve progressed in my life journey I’ve had to learn how to cultivate patience. Part of the lesson has been to both experience and embrace that certain events, even in my own earthly journey, have timing and purpose. If I try to pull a MacBeth and force events to fit my interpretation of what’s supposed to happen, then the ends are typically tragic. Thankfully not as bloody and dramatic as Shakespeare’s tale, but negative nonetheless.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that my job is to be faithful in the daily business of pressing on in my journey, loving well, and doing right. I have learned that I can trust God with what’s appointed to happen when the timing is right.

Have a great day wherever your journey is leading you, my friend.

 

When Life Throws a Wicked Curve

As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.
Daniel 2:30 (NIV)

One can’t control some circumstances. Life sometimes throws you a curve, and you stand there in the batter’s box with only a proverbial moment to decide what you’re going to do with it.

The latest curveball in our journey happened on Friday when my dad suffered a (thankfully small) stroke. In the course of a few hours, our weekend plans were scuttled and our plans for a week at the lake were placed on hold. I quickly found myself spending my nights caring for my mother who is living in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and spending my days with her and my dad at the hospital entertaining a small army of doctors who are trying make sense of my father’s puzzling mixture of medical issues. I’m glad to report that everyone is well, and it could have been much, much worse.

As doctor after doctor has come in to discuss the various tests that have been continually run over the weekend, my dad has been intent on asking them exactly when his stroke occurred. He’d had symptoms starting on Tuesday of last week and went to the hospital on Friday. I’ve watched as every doctor he asks will look at him quizzically and laugh at the question. Strokes apparently don’t leave a time and date stamp on the brain. Undaunted by this, he continues to ask.

His doctors should be happy they aren’t serving King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In today’s chapter, King Neb asks a similar unknowable question to all of the prophets, magicians, and enchanters on his royal payroll. The mad king had a puzzling dream, and he wanted the interpretation, but he wanted to make sure the interpretation could be trusted. So, he asked them to first tell him what the dream was, and then tell him the interpretation. If no one could do it, then they’d all be killed and their homes destroyed. Talk about a major league curveball.

Daniel and his friends were, at this point, minor minions at the bottom of the King’s org chart of advisors. Nonetheless, the decree of death applied to them, as well, when Neb decided that he was cleaning house in the Advisory Department.

I find Daniel’s response fascinating. He doesn’t seem to panic. Having not been aware of any of the circumstances leading to the fateful knock on his door, he makes a bold move. He asks for an audience with King Neb. It’s possible that Daniel had not even been in the King’s presence since he and his friends were tested and made the cut to be on the King’s advisory staff. Daniel requests a night to see if he could do the impossible. Then he and his friends pray. That night, Daniel receives a vision explaining both the dream and interpretation.

When Daniel approaches the King with the answer, he is quick to let the King know that there was no magic involved and Daniel did not have some kind of ESP. He simply says that God had a message for the King and Daniel was the messenger. In the entire affair, Daniel’s thoughts, words, and actions appear humble, measured, and focused on seeking God’s purpose in the midst of it all. He stands in, keeps his eye on the ball, and knocks the curveball out of the park.

This morning as I write from my folk’s apartment and help get my mom going so we can head back to the hospital, I’m finding inspiration in Daniel’s attitude. As I wrote in my previous post, Daniel had already faced several wicked knuckleballs and curveballs in life. Perhaps he had learned from those experiences. Nonetheless, he provides a good example.

Don’t panic. Take some time. Seek God’s purpose. Be humble. Flow.

My dad was supposed to be discharged from the hospital today. He called last night to report that the doctors have found another complication. Another procedure today, and I have no idea what it will reveal or whether we’ll bring him home today or not.

Here we flow.

Destined for Tough Terrain

We sent Timothy,who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.
1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV)

This past week was a bit of a whirlwind for Wendy and me. It began with the unexpected death of a friend. She and her husband had been in a small group with us during a particularly turbulent time of our lives, and her death rocked our world a bit. The morning of the funeral we received news that another friend had suffered a heart attack in the night and had been flown to Des Moines for a hastily performed cardiac procedure.

We visited our friend in the hospital and were encouraged to find him alive and well. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that we knew he’d just been through a life-threatening trauma earlier that day, I’d have told you everything was perfectly normal.

As we spoke with our friend and his wife there in the CCU she shared about their life journey and the fact that the two of them had just entered a particularly enjoyable stretch. Retirement, time together, and the opportunity to enjoy large parts of each day in conversation and shared activity had been brining them both tremendous joy. She told us of her emotions and prayers the previous night as she faced the potential reality that it might be coming to a tragic end.

I thought about these two experiences, with two very different outcomes, as I read today’s chapter in Paul’s letter to believers in Thessalonica. Paul fled the city when his life was threatened. He knew that the fledgling believers he left behind continued to face opposition and persecution. Paul was worried about them, which was why he sent his protege, Timothy, to check on them, and why he was writing them this letter after Timothy’s return and report. Addressing the trials they were facing, Paul states quite bluntly: “You know quite well we are destined for them.”

Along my faith journey I’ve observed many who seem to have approached their life and/or faith journey with the expectation that it should always be a cake walk. In the quiet this morning I’m pondering the various reasons we might come to that conclusion. Is it somehow that the “prosperity gospel” that falsely teaches God wants us all to be “healthy, wealthy, and wise” has permeated our culture more than we care to admit? Is it somehow, for those of us living in America, some kind of bleeding over of the American Dream into our faith? Why is it that I am shocked and feel somehow cheated when life’s road unexpectedly becomes rough terrain?

My journey through God’s Message has taught me that I should expect rough terrain on life’s road. All of the early father’s of the faith said so. Here’s just a small sample of reminders:

Jesus:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Mt 10:16)

Paul:
We glory in our sufferings.” (Rom 3:5)

James:
Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials….” (Jam 1:2)

Peter:
“…rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Pet 1:6)

I find myself looking back this morning at Wendy’s and my journey over the past 13 years. Like our friend we visited in the hospital we’ve recently been experiencing a sense that we’re coming out of a valley and into a stretch of smoother terrain. It’s a good feeling, and we’re enjoying the lift. Nevertheless, this past week has been a reminder that I can never know what’s waiting for us up ahead.

As I start this week I’m reminded that with each warning of trouble, suffering, trials, and grief, Jesus and the early followers connected the inevitable hard stretches of life’s journey to heart, overcoming, glory, joy, and rejoicing. This journey will include both good times and unexpected bad times. It’s a natural part of the journey. Paul told the Thessalonians believers “we’re destined for them.” I shouldn’t be thrown for a loop when they happen as though I hadn’t been warned that they will come, or like I hadn’t observed that everyone I know experiences tough stretches along the way. There’s always purpose in the pain.

It’s the trials and the overcoming that make our favorite stories “epic.”

Have a great week my friend.