There’s A Lesson in this Somewhere…

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We were sitting together on the couch one evening–an evening like so many others, well-worn with soft routine. On his lap was an iPad housed in a broken keyboard case. The keys stopped working long ago but he’s felt no compulsion to replace it. “The stand still works and I don’t really need the keyboard–it’s still a good case.” This from the man who suggested I replace my $MacBook Pro with Retinal display$ because it was three years old.

I am more guilt-prone than he, the one who usually scrutinizes our lives. I had been feeling uncomfortable with how much time we eat up in front of our screens.

“I’ve been thinking,” I broke the silence, my words directed at his profile. “What would it be like to put our computers away for a year?” Mister always takes his time answering. I usually endure a full thirty-seconds of non-response before I proceed.

“If we didn’t have this distraction, how much more productive could we be–more impactful?” Picking up speed, I rolled on. “We could read more…pray more…have more conversation…be more present.”

His face was lit in blue light. “That’s an interesting thought,” he offered.

The following week we headed out in Gladys, our small RV. I spent the morning of our departure reformatting my blog site and checking those ever-tempting stats–just one more time! (My nose scrunches up with that admission by the way.)

An upgrade notification from Apple alerted me so I robotically installed the operating system upgrade and headed out.

Don’t we all just want the latest version?

We stopped at Safeway in Madras, Oregon and parked next to an older high-top van obviously built out to live in. A lot of my computer time is consumed with YouTube–primarily channels on nomadic lifestyle, vandwelling, the tiny house movement and off-grid living. I’ve learned a lot about the van dwelling demographic. I fear it’s become an obsession.

On the way out of the store I said to Mister, “I’m gonna go over there and talk to that guy about his van.” I peeked into the opened side door where strains of moderately heavy metal music escaped.

I imagined the conversation would go something like this:

Me: Hi! Great van you have here…did you build it out yourself?

Van Guy: Oh hey! Thanks…yeah I did…wanna take a look?

Me: Sure…I am so fascinated by van dwelling. Are you a fulltimer?

Van Guy: I am–have been for two years. I love it and wouldn’t go back to sticks-n-bricks for nothin!

(He would then show me his build-out and I would show enthusiasm. I’d ask him if he’s heard of the YouTubers I follow.  We’d engage in convo about solar panels and composting toilets and where he planned to spend the winter. We’d shake hands and part as new friends.)

Don’t we all just want some connection on this journey?

This is how the encounter actually transpired:

Me: Hi! (His expressionless face unsettled me but I continued cause that’s what I do.)

Angry Van Guy: (He tilted his head in my direction while masticating a cheek full of sub sandwich.)

Timid Me: I…um…noticed your van. I follow some YouTube channels about van dwelling…uh…(nervous pause)...are you a full timer?

Angry Van Guy: (He looked away and with his sub-free hand gestured around his crowded van.) Well…apparently I am. (He paused mid-bite.) And I stay off the geek farm. I’m not into that @*%~ and I don’t need a $200,000 contraption those rich fools buy.

Stupid Me: I don’t need one either. (I wanted to defend my 25 foot, twelve-year old used RV.)

Angry Van Guy: Look at me! See how thin I am? (He looked my fluffy middle-aged frame up and down.) I actually do @%~. I don’t just sit around watching other people do @%~.

Regretful Me: Uh…well, looks like you have yourself a comfy home here.

Still Angry Van Guy: Yeah…I did some stuff to it. (His eyes dart around, pointing to his work.) It doesn’t have a shower or a fridge but I get by just fine..its all I need. (Unspoken words leaked out of his angry eyes. Now leave me alone and mind your own $@#% business.) 

Tongue-tied Me: Well…sorry to bother you…uh…thanks for…um…have a nice day.

Pitiful Angry Van Guy: Right.

Our interaction occupied my thoughts much of the trip. I wondered about his story and imagined his background. I prayed.

We later stopped in Redmond to grab a bite and some free wi-fi. Mister went inside to order while I opened my laptop. The geek farm he called it. The screen looked funny. It was black and filled with troubling computer code. I caught a few words as the tech narrative scrolled rapidly up my screen: <panic> debugger.

Panic was rising in me like mercury in August. I grabbed my phone and Googled. I hastily followed instructions I neither fully understood nor verified.

Don’t we all just want a quick fix?

After several unsuccessful reboot attempts I stared at a lifeless screen–swallowing a lump of fear that my computer had suffered a mortal blow. Too late to call tech support, we made our way to Wal-Mart for the night.

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We located an Apple Store the next morning. A diagnostic confirmed my fears–the hardrive was empty, data as well as operating system.

It was like pulling into my driveway and discovering a pile of smoldering ashes had replaced my house. There was nothing to do but stand there while reality seated itself.

Bank records, business documents, photos, writing files, journals, software, important notes, saved web pages–all were lost with no back up to turn to.

I walked out of the store and into the daylight of acceptance. This is not the end of the world, I admonished my emotions! Like the code that flashed across my screen, numerous and rapidly successive thoughts scrolled across my mind:

  • Didn’t I want to know what it would be like without a computer?
  • I lost some data but what about the Haitians that lost loved ones, their homes and any hope of sustenance or sustainability ?
  • There was the video posted by a little girl in Aleppo. Covering her ears, she swayed back and forth as bombs exploded outside her home? “We’re still alive,” she rejoiced.
  • I thought about what that young husband in California had lost. His beautiful  wife–the mother of his infant daughter–lost to an angry bullet in the line of duty?
  • A mental image then slid into view: Tents erected under the freeway overpasses I saw in Seattle last week when I drove our stage 4 cancer friend to his sixth round of chemo.
  • What of the woman who lives in her tiny car because she lost her job months before retirement–lost her pension in a bureaucratic wormhole? Social security won’t provide a roof over her head and three square meals so she follows good weather  and lives on the road.
  • And most pressing upon my heart is my niece. They were so excited about the arrival of their baby girl, but are now crushed under the weight of grief because a routine ultrasound revealed a rapidly growing brain tumor that will likely take their baby’s life before the baby will take a breath.

Don’t we all suffer under the crushing weight of loss?

When homes are leveled and lives are lost, when wombs are robbed and dreams disintegrate; when cancer displaces vitality and broken men have only bitterness to buoy them; when tents are no match for winter and pictures and stories can’t replace a mother’s embrace or anchoring love, what then?

Don’t we all just need someone to speak to the pain of it all?

Jesus speaks the words in red,

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. (John 12:25)

This life has a way of coming up empty and this world has a way of promising what it cannot deliver. When our hope is placed in anything but Him, we will be crushed under the weight of our losses. 

Of course we grieve. It’s human to bend with the winds of adversity in the storms of life.

But there is comfort found in the anchoring reality of the psalmist’s words:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and he delivers those whose spirit has been crushed. (Ps. 34:18)

It’s interesting to note here that LORD in this verse is translated from Jehovah. “While Elohim exhibits God displayed in his power as the creator and governor of the physical universe, the name Jehovah designates his nature as he stands in relation to man, as the only almighty, true, and personal God.” (Quoted from biblestudytools.com) This is God who comes near, both physically and relationally.

He stands with us in our losses as the Almighty Last Word.

I spent the morning bowed almost wordlessly before the One who rewards faith and upholds the faithful.

As we lay our losses before Him, He proves his promise to fill those empty places with inexplicable peace.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, dear friends.  

 

The Lost Art of Humility – Pt. 2

One Sunday he was just fine.

The following Sunday prayer was requested for an upset stomach.

The Sunday after that he arrived with a report of stage 4 cancer in his esophagus, his liver and his lymph nodes.

In the short span of time between his first scan and his second the spots on his liver had migrated into a single large one. Oncologists said it is advanced, aggressive, incurable, and untreatable. They advised against chemo and suggested a course of pain management and palliative care.

DSC_0325 (1)His response?

Glory. Glory. Glory. All glory belongs to our savior Jesus Christ! God can do whatever He chooses to bring glory to His name. I ask that God would give me strength to glorify Him in this and that I would not fail to praise Him in all things.

His wife sings harmony in this chorus, echoing those sentiments.

The report landed softly in the room where our Simple Church gathered. Our collective response was, O Lord, nothing is impossible for you. We ask you to heal our dear brother. We trust You with the outcome. 

Like a scalpel, the news sliced into our respective hearts confronting our faith, our theology and our unspoken fears.

As my fingers move over my keyboard just now, our brother is receiving, in faith, his first chemo treatment–against the advise of his doctors. There are days when pain and nausea thrash him like mortal enemies and still his lips speak praise for our Love-sovereign, gracious, merciful, omnipotent LORD who’s ways are perfect and worthy of all the glory.

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He’s no stranger to affliction.

  • He and and his wife worshiped while grieving the stillbirth of their twin sons and said, “We count it a privilege that God would consider us worthy to display Himself through our loss.”
  • When their wealth was vaporized by a Christian brother who had defrauded them they responded, “Nothing in this life compares to the riches of knowing the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And they forgave.
  • Presently, unless God intervenes, he is moving rapidly toward his heavenly home and great kingdom reward.

This unassuming couple is quietly speaking volumes in the way they are standing in this furnace of affliction. It’s a message about the incomparable worth of being a child of God with humility that is focused on bringing glory to Him.

You see, I’ve been giving this humility thing a lot of consideration lately. Early in chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul urges (actually entreats or begs) believers to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling (or ordered steps) for our lives. He describes what that looks like, opening with humility:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…

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Right out of the gate I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who can walk into a room where 99% of its contents are in good order. Invariably my eye will fall on the crooked picture frame or the tilted lampshade. I’ve fought it my whole life. Flaw or gifting? I don’t know. Either way I try not to let it in the driver’s seat but I don’t  stuff it in the trunk.

As someone who has experienced childhood abuse, alcoholic family dysfunction and mental illness I can tell you that I’m no stranger to the world of self-help.

In my early twenties when I began my healing journey there was virtually nothing on childhood sexual abuse. PTSD hadn’t been coined. Adult children of Alcoholics was just gaining a voice. Melody Beattie’s spotlight on Codependency wasn’t mainstream. At that time most of the emerging self-help conversation was in secular arenas. The faith community eventually responded and has since contributed some amazing helps for wounded hearts and broken lives. But…

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I’ve noticed the pendulum swing wide since those early years when it was just me and Jesus gutting out my chaotic internal world. But now I think we have become obsessed with ourselves and with our wellbeing; with our passions, our purposes, our dreams, and our voices. We have personality assessments, gift assessments, love-language assessments, and ministry gift assessments. We have markers, labels, identifiers, and a whole vocabulary of newly coined terms–all intended to help us better understand ourselves and recognize each other.

We seek the deep mysteries in ourselves but in the process have we lost our appetite for the deep mysteries of God?

The result of this propensity for introspection, indicated in too many ways for me to list here, has been summed up in a Brennan Manning quote:

“God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.”

Have things gotten turned around in the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the worshipers and the only One deserving of worship?

I’ll never forget the impression made upon me by a book title that caught my eye in the 80’s: Write Your Own Ticket With God. Really? Not in my bible!

Entitlement has crept into our culture–not just in the secular arenas, but also the sacred. Sadly, I recognize it in my life as well. Ugh. I’ve noted how my conversation with God has shifted. It grieves me that:

  • I petition more than I worship. 
  • I too often scrutinize my life and world, determine what or who needs fixing and then petition God for remedy as though He were life’s Customer Service Agent.
  • I can be much more concerned with my petty agenda than I am of His kingdom purposes and of His redemptive story forged in and throughout my life. 

Ironically, the quiet humility of my friends has been God’s megaphone in my ear:

God is whispering to our preoccupied hearts. “Keep your eyes on me. Stay focused. Live to glorify me. Lose your life to find it. Be the least so you can be great in my kingdom. Trust my ways. Walk humbly before me.

The truth of the matter is that our lives really don’t belong to us, they’ve been purchased by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (1 Cor. 6:19-20)