Only After

It is the landscape
In front and
Melting out
Into the periphery
Halfway along the journey
To the vanishing point
That startles you
The sunset far
More desolate
Than you once imagined
It to be years before
The grief in your throat
Rising simultaneously
As objects in the rearview
Shrink back behind and
Your eyes focus more
Than ever on
Jagged cracks
Pockmarks
And flaws in
The pavement below
Your head fighting
Gravity with vision
Transfixed not
On light reflecting off
The asphalt surface
But through to ghosts
That no one else can see
And the wake they left
When you turned
On your own heels
Setting out for
Your fair share
Which turned
Out to be laden
Indeed
With grace
A blessing
Certainly
For you still
Even to be
Here now
To behold
This revelation that
The promised land
Wasn’t grasped
Before forty years
In the desert
The life of Paul
Out of the
Killings of Saul
Resurrection only
After Christ
Staggered beneath
The weight of
The cross
Your salvation
Only once you have
Nothing else on
Which to hold
Leaving
Your hands empty
And free to
Seek first

“I’m Not Afraid. No, I’m A Believer”

“I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.” Those were the most honest words my dad ever uttered to me with regards to the cancer that was, at the time, just a few short months away from finally robbing him of his life. My dad was a product of his generation: a man who worked hard and didn’t talk about his feelings. It was an extremely difficult pill for him to swallow. He had an amazing track record of getting the short end of the stick. He wouldn’t have been a good poster child for the notion that people get what they deserve. It was a horrible way for his life to end and anyone who reads this blog or who knows me at all, knows that the seventeen month journey that I endured, from the moment my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer until the midnight moment when he passed away as I sat with him in his bed, was a terribly dark, trying, and painful journey for me, too. It was like watching a fatal car crash happen in slow motion over the course of over a year’s time. As his main caretaker, I was there at every turn carrying a progressively heavier load as his condition worsened to the point where he couldn’t talk or do anything for himself. The description of those months as the darkest period in my life is, to say the least, an understatement.

As dark as it was, though, the backdrop of shadows revealed a thread that was just beginning to strengthen and glimmer intermittently, reflecting a faint, still, small hope that peace would be found, at some point, further down the road. It wasn’t, however, a hope that relieved my pain or a miracle that washed all of my stress and fear away. Nor was it a time machine that could beam me to some future point and time in my life when I would be stronger. It was, simply, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). I can’t remember exactly how or when, in the midst of that journey, I came across Psalms 18:16-19, but, when I did, it was immediately relevant and became the main security handle that I have held onto tightly ever since:

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

The identity and timing of “a spacious place,” however, remained a mystery to me until the naming of Kevin Max as the new lead singer of rock outfit Audio Adrenaline.  Heartfelt encouragement from Kevin to consider “the least of these” set off a series of events, one of which was an introduction to the work of The Hands and Feet Project. As described in a prior post titled, “How To Live Life,” I was inspired to step out in faith and commit to donating profit from the sale of my Dad’s house to The Hands and Feet Project. After making the donation and relaying my Dad’s story and an explanation of how the donation came about, Hands and Feet Project director Mark Stuart extended a generous gesture by asking if they could name the kitchen in a new building that is currently under construction in honor of my dad.

Without going into too much detail, the redeeming and burden-lightening effect that his gesture had on my family and I with regards to the memory of my dad, a guy who always worked hard and looked out for others, but, seldom received his due, was nothing short of monumentally life-changing. Almost instantly, the weight of several months of my life characterized by mourning and wondering how to navigate life without the man who was the best man in my wedding, my best friend, my Dad, started to lift and a new and inspired life swelling with purpose and hope began to emerge. With one kind gesture, my Dad’s legacy would be  shifted from one of loss and emptiness to one of eternal hope in a vocational school kitchen from which teenage Haitian orphans would be receiving their daily meals as they developed skills to become productive Haitian citizens.

I know that Audio Adrenaline’s (the band that started The Hands And Feet Project in 2006) new song “Believer” is being explained by the band as the story of blind surfer Derek Rabelo, but, it wasn’t long after the album’s release that I found my own story told in the lyrics of the song. From an adult life characterized at first by complacency, and then by utter darkness, to a life of purpose and meaning, learning how to step into places where Jesus wants those who are His to go,  mine has changed significantly. Now it is I who am finally “giving up, letting go of control,” not only as I make preparations for a January 2014 short term mission trip with The Hands and Feet Project to Haiti, but, also, in my daily life. I’m learning that my personal comfort and convenience are not a priority, but, that loving others as myself, and in doing so, honoring God above all, are the priorities that matter. In fact, I’m learning, now, about what living life more abundantly really feels like. Each moment spent in my classroom teaching fifth graders is more passionately invested. Each hug and kiss from my wife and kids is more distinctly savored.

Like Derek Rubelo, I can’t necessarily see the waves of life coming, but, learning to feel my way through, with faith,  “I can walk on the water with You, Lord.”

I want to live this live unsafe, unsure, but not afraidWhat I want is to give all I got somehow, giving up letting go of control right now‘Cause I’m already out here, blind but I can see, I see the way You’re movingGod how I believe that I can push back the mountains, can stand on the wavesI can see through the darkness, I’ll hold up the flameTake me to the ocean, I want to go deeper, I’m not afraid no, I’m a believerAnd so I lose this life to find my way and come aliveThey can try to deny what’s inside of me, but there is more, can’t ignore all the things unseenOh I believe I can walk on water with You, LordWhen I walk through the valley of the shadows, when I’m trapped in the middle of the battle, I will trust in You‘Cause trouble comes, but you never let it take me, I hold fast ‘cause I know that You will save meI will trust in You, I will trust in YouOh here I stand all alone waiting on you, Lord, waiting on You

Learn more about The Hands & Feet Project at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/

Defined

The question

Cliché and worn

Like an out-of-style

What Would Jesus Do? bracelet

Dropped like a hat

Casually

In this equally-worn

Small southern town

Are you saved?

Yeah.

I got saved on…

The date so easily recalled

Like the day you earned

Your drivers license

Because

Like other rites of passage

That is what you do

When you grow up

Down here

Unlike what is brought by

The fire and brimstone

Ultimatum as written

On the inside cover of

A pocket-size Gideons’ Bible

Handed to you

On the way to recess

By suited men

Just beyond

Your public school door

I breath peace

Born by hope

A notion that

Like a loving parent

His grace is infinite

Even with the pain that I’ve caused

Lying out in full view

Before Him

He holds me close

Whispering good news

That these tears

Are not cried in vain

All That You Measure

The establishment

Whether organized religion

Pop culture

Mass media

Or government

Will never take

The narrow road

Found in humility

Through faith

A path traveled upon

Through bright heights

And shadowed valleys

But always paved with grace

And leading to a place

We’ve never been

Jesus said, “For judgement I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” -John 9:39

Grace Beyond Eggs & Peeps

I’ve claimed to be a devout Christian before. The height of my claim came in high school when, for a few months, at least, I was set on the decision to attend a Seventh-Day Adventist college and major in Theology to become a pastor. For the most part, my spiritual life has been hit and miss since then.

The past couple years, however, brought about a growing acceptance of the concept of God’s grace. Essentially, there is nothing that I could do, or have ever done, to earn God’s love and acceptance. This realization has brought me closer to him than I’ve ever been or ever could become by learning to quote from the many writings of Ellen G. White or by refraining from doing the wrong thing on the sabbath (two big emphases of the Adventist church). Both of my hands are empty and free to serve now that I set my score card down.

My realization of the profound consequences of Grace on my personal life, has developed a greater appreciation of the events that the Christian Easter season celebrates. I grew up, as many kids do, coming out to the living room on Easter Sunday to find an Easter basket full of candy, treats, and usually a toy. The Peeps were my favorite. This was before they became available for every other holiday. I’m talking about the marshmallow, sugar-coated, yellow, pink, and purple chicks and bunnies. I still love them!

Sure, I was familiar with something related to Jesus being resurrected (or something like that), but, that was all on the periphery. My main focus when I was a kid was the candy, the oversized rabbit that stands on two legs at the mall, and egg hunts. Even in my mid-twenties I didn’t grasp the significance of “Good Friday,” as many people called it.

Last night I participated in a Thursday evening communion service in which we focused on commemorating Christ’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room. I’ve been focusing on this event in my personal readings over the past week as well. To me, this is where the truest character of Jesus is revealed. From the revelation that John the disciple reclined at the table with his head resting on the chest of Jesus, to the fact that the Messiah disrobed, wrapped his clothing around his waist, and washed each of his followers’ feet.

Though he knew he was about to suffer the greatest pain known to man, Christ spent this evening breaking bread with his betrayer, and providing food, wisdom, and comfort to his disciples. On the eve of the day when He would experience the greatest mental, physical and spiritual struggle to touch mankind, Jesus provided rest to his disciples and served even those who would, later that night, betray and deny him.

The next day he was unjustly executed. Three days later, on resurrection Sunday, he served all mankind by tying the knot of grace that binds, to Him, those who accept his generous invitation to eat with Him in His kingdom.

The hope and peace of my life rests on these events.

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” John 13:23

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” John 13:3-5

Childlike

My four-year-old daughter has a habit of picking up rocks from the ground and then giving them to people as gifts. So, it wasn’t a surprise the other day when she came home from daycare with a handful of rocks. This time, however, the rocks weren’t stones that she picked up from the ground. Instead, it turned out that she had taken from another child’s cubby. I spoke to her about the fact that taking somebody else’s things without permission is a sin according to the ten commandments while she sat in time out. The next morning she woke up and, while cuddling with me in the chair, the first subject she talked about was wanting to give the rocks back to Miranda at daycare. I then suggested that she might want to pray to Jesus for forgiveness for taking the rocks. Her voice started to quiver and crack as she said, “Ok,” and proceeded to pray to Jesus for forgiveness for taking the rocks. When she finished I assured her that Jesus has forgiven her, that he was happy that she prayed for forgiveness, and that I was proud of her.

Admittedly, as an adult the concept of God and Christ can seem tangential and abstract at times. The real, visible impact that sin and redemption had on Julia that morning was a breath of fresh air for my life faith and it lent evidence to the words of Christ found in Matthew 18:3:

And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Like A Child

“When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a bookeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.” Brennan Manning, REFLECTIONS FOR RAGAMUFFINS, Pp.221″He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-4

“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:13-14