Advent: Stagnation and Flow

I took this picture while on a quick post-lunch meeting walk.  This is Portage Creek, flowing north-ish toward Kalamazoo.  Behind me runs the Grand Elk Railroad, a straight shot between South Bend and Grand Rapids.  Several trains go through each day.   As a resident I find myself counting on their distant, haunting presence as they crawl their wares from place to place.  You can almost measure the pacing of the day by their regular howl.  Today the Grand Elk crew was doing work on the railroad with the help of a machine that smooshed rocks into their place, forming a linear nest for the rails.  The rocks are deceivingly inviting, betraying their sharp jagged edges through the magic of distance and blur.  Though it’s called a “rail bed”, it’s not a comfy spot for a nap.  The rails look perfect, even as they follow the subtle dips and rises of the terrain.  How can something be inconsistently consistent?  Consider the line the railroad makes across the landscape.

At this juncture of rail and water lies manmade and natural.  The train tracks run perfectly; the creek wanders and ho hums its way to an eventual destination.  The rails eventually terminate but the creek becomes a river, a lake, and then the ocean.  Someday scientists will be able to measure the exact location of each H2O molecule so that we can trace how long it takes for a drop of water to travel to the ocean, sky, and back.  Most amazing is the idea that all the water we have on the earth today is all the water we’ve ever had, period.  They’re not making new water, right?  It’s a miraculous ecosystem, designed to support life of all kinds.  We get excited about finding water on Mars because water is critical for life.  We spend $1.50 per bottle on earth.

Occasionally residents will launch their canoes or kayaks from this spot and make their way toward downtown Kalamazoo.  What we do for recreation today was once the only means of business, if not outright survival, for hundreds of years.  Today we have machines called escalators that move us from floor to floor without much effort (besides the inconvenience of standing) yet we get our necessary exercise by walking on trails.  At least that’s what I’ve done this week.  So far.

Watching a body of water flow is mesmerizing.  Doing so defies logic.  What are we looking for?  What detail do we remember?  How much water has passed us by?  We have no idea. For once in our day, purposelessness is our purpose.  Everything else we do must generate a result, a measurable, a benefit.  Watching water does none of these.  Watching water does all of these.

For those few moments we took stock in something we don’t control.  We inventoried an unknowable body.  We witnessed history, since no one can set foot in (or look at) the same river twice.  It kept us occupied, freed us up to think about bigger subjectives, forced us to just stand there.  Those moments when we submit to the flow are downright spiritual.

Remember those 3-D eye puzzles?  The ones that are a jumbled mass of blehgh that, if you could cross your eyes just right, end up becoming a mountain range or the ’84 Detroit Tigers?  Those things never worked for me.  I always felt a tinge of jealousy whenever I’d see people just standing there, staring at a distorted bitmap that somehow led to an epiphany.

That’s probably what we look like to dogs as we just stand there and stare at the apparent nothing.

“Oh, it’s not nothing.  It’s something.”

“What is it?”

“A creek.”

“Oh.  Carry on, I guess…”

Even little kids are mesmerized by the flow.  Our eyes try to follow a certain wave as it flows down and mixes in with other pockets and crests.  We watch as a log fights the flow back with its mass, as a mostly submerged rock gets its shoulders wet, as a leaf floats along at velocity.  Where’d that come from?  How far will it get?

Over the summer my sons and I would stand on this very bridge and throw medium-sized sticks into the creek, then run down the trail to see how far they’d travel.  Invariably the sticks would get stuck in a bunch of other sticks & game over.  Come to think of it, I don’t recall ever successfully launching a stick that made it more than 50 feet.  I guess we’re not good shipbuilders.

Zac once asked if he could swim in the creek and I said no because of the PCB’s that still reside in the riverbed.  “What are PCB’s”?  I think I made up an answer, something like Pretty Contaminated Bits, but he gave up mid-answer and threw another stick in.  We walked down the trail and forgot to check on its progress.

Rivers and creeks illustrate the kind of spirituality God wants us to experience.  Flow, not stagnation.  Freedom, not limitation.  Submission, not force.  A life and movement that draws others.  Simplicity.  This is the kind of spirituality that Christ brings.  We want perfect lines and control, like a railroad track.  He wants His Spirit to meander through us, to flow out of us, to gently carry on.

If we don’t flow, we stagnate.  Stagnant water doesn’t draw; it repels.  It stinks.  It’s uninviting.  Moss and algae happily take residence on sedentary bodies of water but can’t seem to get a solid footing in a flowing creek or raging river.  Left to our own devices, we naturally stagnate.  Part of our broken human nature is to resist.

Jesus comes to stir the waters of our soul.  The Living Water is meant to flow through us.  Advent reminds us of this and gives opportunity to wake up to our own stagnation.  Flow happens when we open ourselves to Jesus, the Word made flesh.  The Living Water.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, mercifully and continually flow through my life.. until my life is fully yours.

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[RadCast] Advent #1 (Isaiah 64)

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Golf Tips: Devoted, Watchful, Thankful [Colossians 4:2]

My brother in law taught me how to drive a golf ball at a pristine golf course on the Atlantic side of sunny, sunny Florida.  Until then my only knowledge of the game (sport, addiction) was on my PlayStation 2, featuring Tiger Woods and brought to fruition by EA Sports.  Since that era both names have taken a turn in our culture, but that’s not the point.  The point is that Andrew was showing me how to hit a golf ball with a special stick called a club.  I had to pay attention to my shoulders, my arms, my knees, my head, the angle of the sun, the barometric pressure, and the location of innocent bystanders.  I did pretty well, but please don’t ask Andrew if that’s true because he may remember it differently.  Golf is a game of fuzzy memories and expensive… everything.

More importantly, golf is a game that requires us to pay attention.  We take notice and respond appropriately, lest we lose another Titleist in the tall grass or, worse, get to the putting green in 2 but take 11 strokes to sink it.  “Drive for show but put for dough” is what my friend Ken Funn often said as we played Tiger Woods on the PS2.

Following Jesus, if you will, requires us to pay attention and respond appropriately.  Paul says “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful,” and I can see what he’s driving for (ha!) when you swap the word “prayer” for “golf”, because serious golf requires devotion, watchfulness, and thankfulness.  The bible continually reminds us to pay attention, which is the chief concern of a disciple.  It was Mary who paid attention to Jesus while sitting at His feet, and it was Martha who was preoccupied with good work which left her with little attention to spare (Luke 10:38-42).

I bet Mary would’ve been a good golfer (1st Opinions 9:31).

So what?  So here’s three things to sweeten up your prayer game:

  1. Be devoted.  Serious golfers are undoubtedly devoted to their craft!  They set aside time, expend resources to improvement, and talk shop with other golfers.  To devote (proskartereō) means to be adherent, like glue.  If something really needs to stick, builders use construction adhesive and not Elmer’s glue.  Envision yourself as a person who sticks to the practice of praying.  Make the intention to pray, which is more purposeful than wishful thinking.  Find the means of prayer — when will you pray?  Where?  How?  Make the decision ahead of time and stick to it!  These kind of practices are the difference makers when it comes to being devoted to prayer.*
  2. Be watchful.  When I hear that word, I always think of it as a cautious word, like “look out for danger.”  But what if we expanded our definition so that we saw the risks and the blessings?  Don’t be so preoccupied with the sand trap that you miss the glorious fairway.  Paying attention to the good stuff is what sets us up to…
  3. Be thankful.  Thankfulness is the antidote to worry, anxiety, doubt, fear, anger, joylessness… all the things I felt on my few attempts at golf!  Thankfulness is a result of being devoted, which is an intentional discipline, and being watchful, which is seeing things as they truly are.

Golf is a mental game, too.  Why do we follow Jesus?  So we can become like Jesus.  How do we become like Jesus?  In many ways, though much of the work is done in how we think.  Paul is teaching us how to think, which will overflow into how we live.

Play & pray on!

Posted in personal growth, prayer

Life with Lexi – Slow Morning

Lexi is our 13 year old daughter.  She has Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21) and Autism.  This is a little sample of our lives, written as a letter from father to daughter.  

Lexi,

I could tell right away that you didn’t want to wake up this morning.  Usually your eyes pop open, then close for a few seconds, then open again.  Following that little eyelid exercise is one of your unique sounds that involves a raspberry+sucking noise that most of us can’t quite replicate.  It’s almost like the startup chime on a computer: distinct, promising, and soothing because you know everything’s firing up.

None of this happened today at 6:30am.  First, you opened your eyes for a brief second, didn’t look at me, didn’t make a sound, and promptly went back to sleep.  Somehow your feet are always uncovered in the mornings, and I’m never sure if you meant for this to be. My feet get hot, too, so I stick ’em out like a heatsink in the night.  I covered your feet back up because I figured they might’ve been cold.  I dunno.  Maybe you don’t like that.

A few minutes passed and I came into your room again.  By now you’re usually upright, alert, and quick with a Lexi Salutation (“HI!”), but not this morning.  Still immobile, except for deep breaths that confirmed you were still fully out.  I said “Lexi, are you still asleep?” but you didn’t answer because that’s a dumb question.  I don’t blame you.

I’ve learned from experience, dear daughter, not to rush you into wakefulness.  You don’t waste time with words in expressing your stubbornness.  We’ve learned from you that words are often unnecessary.  A look, a glance, a quick exhale from you can speak paragraphs.  One of your favorite non-verbal communication modes is intentional inactivity.  It’s not that you don’t understand what we’re asking of you — far from it.  You just don’t want to do it.  From what I hear and remember of my own childhood, most kids your age would rather sleep until 10 or so.  Waking up for the 7:30 bus is no small feat.

And yes, you do have small feet.  And again, I’m afraid they’re cold, so I re-tuck them, with not a sliver of opening from your tired eyes.

Decision time.  Lexi, you may recognize this as a pattern, and then again maybe not, but there are occasional mornings where it becomes quickly apparent that pushing you through the routine will be futile.  Often it’s because you were awake in the night, singing/babbling to yourself or playing Head, Shoulders, Knees, Toes on that Fisher-Price puppy with all the buttons and cheerful persona.  One thing we really appreciate about you is that you know what you want and what makes you happy.  You are happy to hang out in your bed for 2-3 hours in the near darkness because it’s exactly what you want, though you don’t usually turn down a cheese stick or a quick snuggle.

I asked “Were you up in the night, Lexi?” but you don’t burden me with a verbal answer.  The snoring says it all.  However, this is the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, and I know it will do you good to be there for the whole day.  I start waking you up with a long monologue of song, voices, odd noises, and the beeping of your nose.  But oh, you wouldn’t budge this morning.  You rock, Lexi, by which I mea you are an adorable little rock.

You flipped over to stretch, and you spoke some things to me with only your eyes that probably shouldn’t be translated and repeated here.  I said “let’s go potty and take a bath,” but that wasn’t on your approved list of things to do in that moment.  You registered your displeasure with a whimper and a groan, the same sound your younger brothers make when they are told it’s time to get up.

Finally you got up, but not at full LexiSpeed.  You were running a low throttle this morning which translated to every slow motion.  Your frustration was compounded by my tenacity in saying “c’mon, Lexi — we gotta get on the bus,” which again didn’t really fit your plan for the morning.  You finally acquiesced, pushed me aside, and headed toward the bathroom at full speed, as if that was your aim to begin with.  It’s weird to suddenly shift from cajoling you to being in your way, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly what you’re saying to me.  I really do love your spunk.

Everything had to be your idea this morning.  I could suggest, but you would decide.  Potty?  Shower?  Bath?  The bus will be here in 15 minutes, so…

And another word came from you, bubbling up from the cauldron of tired resistance: “NO.”   That one’s hard to miss.  I switched back to cajoling as the minutes passed.  Fortunately you dry off pretty quickly, and we have a good ying/yang when it comes to getting dressed.  You still object to this whole idea, plopping down on the floor in full strike mode, but there’s no justice in chronology.  I, too, wish you could just go back to sleep, but maybe I’m projecting.

Every stair was its own triumph this morning.  I offered to carry you but, again, you objected.  You are capable and strong-willed, and the last thing you want is to surrender these, even though it would make getting up the stairs much, much easier and, to my satisfaction, much faster.  The bus is waiting, its air breaks sigh.  You, however, are never early or late.  Like Gandalf, you arrive precisely when you mean to.

Foot braces, shoes, harness, coat, hat.  I asked your brothers to bring me a brush so I could fix up your hair, which I knew you would despise.  It doesn’t take much to make you beautiful.  But oh, the frustration of beauty: you wanted to play the piano for us, but I brushed your hair and instantly shut down your artistry.  You cried.  Today’s interval was one of your favorites, the Major 7th, in which you tease your audience with the octave.  But I had to brush your hair, ruining the moment like the tyrannical savage I have become.

We opened the door and headed toward the waiting bus.  At the helm are two very patient people who greet you with the same warmth they show everyday.  I handed up your backpack while you surveyed the morning.  It was finally time for you to ascend the stairs of the bus. Only a few more steps, my dear, and then you can settle down for a nice ride to school.

I said to the driver “She’s kinda in a bad mood today… not feeling well…” and they were very understanding.

Lexi, you are surrounded by very compassionate people who want what’s best for you.  Did you know that this was one of the things that worried me most when you were born?  I wondered who would care for a kid with a special needs as they would a “normal” child?  My fears were ridiculous, like most of them are.

The time we have together in the morning is something I’d never trade for anything else.  Soon you’ll be home and bouncing, and we’ll sing the evening away.  Tomorrow begins your vacation, and I have this sneaking suspicion you’ll be awake right at 6:30, just in time to greet the open agenda of the day.  It’s okay.  You know what you want.

I love you.

Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[RadCast] The desperate prayer of doing life with God (Exodus 33)

Have you ever felt like God has left something out? So did Moses. In Exodus 33:12, Moses has a frank conversation with God, reminding Him of what He has revealed, what He has promised, and what He has (not) yet revealed.

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Jesus: Seeing the Unseeable God (Colossians 1:15)

The Son is the image of the invisible God…

Colossians 1:15 is a mind bender, a seeming self canceling opening line to a mysterious poem about the Christ who is the seen unseeable.  Colossians 1:15-23 is a key chunk of scripture, a compressed library of Christological one liners and theological H-Bombs that alter our perception of Jesus Christ and everything else about our otherwise typical existence.  Creation testifies to His power by simply existing.  Sunsets are purposefully breathtaking and ants are designed for surreal feats of organization and strength.  The Church is His new creation, a collection of broken people with aching hearts and skewed realities yet covered in the healing fingerprints of the redeemer who knows each person by name.  Each unique in personality, tastes, gifts, and dreams, these sisters and brothers are nonetheless united by the Son of Man.

People ask “where is God?” because they feel forgotten by the divine, shipwrecked by unmet expectations, disappointed in a powerful maker who forgot to do His job when it was their turn for good to happen.  Where is God?  God is invisible.  Not absent, just invisible.  Jesus is visible but seemingly absent.  Where is our fellow earth walker who happens to be divine?  Where is Jesus? A hurricane strikes and whole towns and families are destroyed.  Someone gets a gun and makes a point by taking lives.  The test results came back with the unthinkable.  Where is Jesus?  This is a very human question.  We must remember, however, that we have just asked for the impossible: to see the invisible God.

The invisible God is seen in His creation.  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands (Psalm 19:1).  The invisible God is seen in His church.  Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11).  The invisible God is seen in the cleansed hearts of His people.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

Where is the unseeable God?  The unseeable God is seeable Jesus, seen in creation, the church, and those who have been cleansed by Him.  In other words, He’s seen in creation, the messy but united church, and you and me.  We are the image bearers of the unseen God.  Turns out He’s much closer and apparent than we thought!  Someday we will see Him face to face, but until then, we hold tight onto the gospel.  Who am I to demand to see the unseeable God?

If anything, God should demand that people see Jesus in us.  It looks to be His intended design.

 

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[RadCast] Song lyrics: “We worshipped a cow and that wasn’t so bright…” (Psalm 106)

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