The Walking Wounded Come to Christ

Two weeks ago tonight, I was part of the team that began welcoming 24 pilgrims to their Emmaus weekend, E-185. Three days later, the Holy Spirit had moved tremendously through us, and every pilgrim had some fantastic stories to share about their weekend. It was SUCH a privilege to be a part of it!

My bride and I sponsored one pilgrim. Adam is a friend of nearly 25 years, who has gone through some serious struggles and upheavals in the last 11 months. When I came off the mountain for my own walk two years ago, I thought about inviting him, and had a distinct sense of “No, not now.” But once his turmoil began last summer, I started to hear the answer change. And he was happy to accept the invitation to the weekend.

This was my first teaming experience, and so in many ways it felt like my own weekend again, this time with more awareness of what’s going on. And it was deeply, deeply moving to see the experiences of the pilgrims as they came to confront the absolutely bottomless love of Jesus, time and again, throughout the weekend. There were grievously hurt men on the weekend. There was brokenness, there was shame, there was the inability to forgive oneself in spades. And over the course of our time together, the rest of the team and I could see people blossom, come out of their shells, and come to understand God’s love, perhaps for the very first time.

One pilgrim commented to me, after a lifetime of being a “Christian,” that this was the first time he really got it, and really could see how much depth there is available in Christ. That alone makes the weekend worthwhile. To have even one soul come to know God’s love more truly than ever before, makes it complete.

We can’t live on mountaintop experiences forever, unfortunately. And so it’s been doubly encouraging to see that the seeds planted on the weekend are taking root in Adam. He has a new energy, and a new commitment to being a genuine follower of Christ, which I pray he’s able to enlarge and deepen as the weeks and months go by.

Imagine. Imagine the possibilities if we could all make that shift in our hearts. What a wonderful place this would be if that could happen.

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Burst Appendix

Ten days ago, on a Saturday night, I started to feel a little twinge in the right side of my abdomen. Mind you, this was after working in the yard for a few hours at a charity event, and during bowling night, so I figured, I must have pulled something.

It didn’t get better, and I noticed I lost energy: I came home and slept 12 hours that night, and after church Sunday I slept another 15 hours. Something wasn’t right. Monday I stayed home from work, exhausted, but still not in a lot of pain. Tuesday, though, it wasn’t getting better and I figured I should find out what it was. With one bout of diverticulitis in the family this winter, I thought it could be that, and so went to an ER that could take pictures.

The CT scan showed my appendix had begun to burst. I was taken via ambulance to Mount Vernon hospital just before 1, and by 2:45 I was being wheeled back for surgery.

Things like this–sudden, emergency, literally life-saving surgery–can be a little upsetting. My bride was a little alarmed, but I remember feeling very calm about it. I knew I was in the best hands I could be, the healer above all others, and so I didn’t feel fazed at all.

I think that’s a difference from where I would have been years ago. I think I would have been much more assaulted by the feeling of not being in control, of wanting to research the best possible surgeon, pick a different hospital, etc., etc. Instead, I felt reassured throughout the day, reassured that I was being loved and cared for even beyond the walls of the hospital. I put out a couple of Facebook messages, and brothers and sisters in faith responded with a wall of prayer for me. That felt good, that felt welcomed, and as a result I was able to breathe in the gas in the OR without worrying about what came next.

Recovery has been uneven: discharged after 48 hours, and the first couple of days at home were good. Yesterday my drain showed qualitative and quantitative signs of change, so back to the ER to make sure everything was OK. The CT scan showed no structural problems, but they put me on a stronger set of antibiotics to kill off whatever’s still around inside. Part of the hardest thing to do is…nothing, just to sit around and rest and recover. I don’t “just sit around” well.

But through it all, I am being held, I am being supported, and I do believe healing is available for me. These are incredibly reassuring, and I hold onto them through these next days and weeks.

Always an adventure, huh?

Dealing With Bad News

What do you do when the plans you were making, around which you’d built your expectations for the future, suddenly crumble and you realize they won’t become reality?

We’re dealing with that this weekend. We had some very disappointing news come into the family–shattering news, really, to the one making the plans–and it’s affected us all. I wasn’t the one making the plans, but this news has consumed almost all of my spare brainpower ever since.

When something like this hits, everything feels different. Things move in slo-mo. Brains race. Even, I’ve noticed, food tastes a little differently. Our primitive instincts begin to kick in, we get afraid, we fear. We lash out at anyone or anything we think got in our way.

At times like this our faith in God goes one of two ways. We can get angry with him–how could you let this happen? What kind of God claims to love and then ruins my plans?

Or we can get our egos out of the way and put more faith in him. We recognize that God might not be the actor causing the sudden crisis…but we recognize that he certainly can use it, that he has a plan for us, and that even if we can’t see what that is, that he still loves us.

Easier said than done. When we feel we’ve been wronged, there’s a part of us that likes to play the victim. That’s a whole lot easier than recognizing any role we may have had ourselves in the downfall of our plans.

The good news is, though, that even when we’re angry with him, God still loves us. And that, odds are, he wasn’t the one behind our misfortune. Remember, we have an enemy who wants to wreck our plans and sow discontent and drive wedges between us and God. But in the depths of our crisis, how hard it is to see anything else.

Sometime, yes, new plans will be made. This weekend’s devastation will be surmounted, even if we can’t forget it. And in the midst of it, that hope may seem so distant. But it’s there, waiting for us to discover it with new hearts.

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

It’s typical, I think, that as each year closes, we spend time reflecting on the year gone by: what worked, what didn’t, where we grew, where we fell. With that in mind, let me offer a few thoughts on my own 2017. I will completely set aside politics, and instead focus more on what the year meant to me and how I grew. In no particular order:

  • Brought four people I love to an even closer experience of Christ. I sponsored my wife, daughter, godson, and a brother from church for their own Emmaus or Chrysalis walks, and they have each become involved in the community and experienced a deepening commitment as a result. I really celebrate that!
  • Began earnestly praying and listening for God’s guidance about what “next” looks like. In just under seven years I can be retiring with full benefits…then what?
  • Began responding more to God’s call in my life. Applied to team (and will team on E-185!) in Emmaus, and met with a giant in Christ to learn more about getting involved in Kairos prison ministry in 2018.
  • Celebrated my daughter’s start to senior year in high school, with a strong start much better than last year. While she’s struggling now, I remain faithful that God has a story in mind for her, and I put it all in his hands!
  • Celebrated my son’s excellent terms at college…finished fall semester with a 3.94 (*ahem*)! He’s really blossoming–see again, the fact that God has a story in mind for him and all I need to do is get out of his way.
  • Turned fifty, without much fanfare or fuss–and without health concerns, and in fact, lost about 20 pounds this year. (Thanks, sweetie, for the inspiration!)
  • Redid the kids’/guest bathroom and the powder room…looking sharp, on to the kitchen next!
  • Survived an insane year at work, with the administration transition throwing all the usual schedules out the door and requiring a new level of energy. Will be happy if 2018 features a more typical schedule…
  • Began downsizing and simplifying life: admitted to myself (OK, got my ego out of the way) that I’ll never get Uncle Albert’s trains running; also got rid of bags and bags of clothes and household stuff that we just won’t need. Someone else can make use of it!
  • Published my first book, Waiting For Life, in April, and since then have sold literally dozens of copies (!). Never figured anyone would actually read it…thank you!

Oh, sure, if I think about it I can come up with lots of challenges in 2018 ahead: caring for Mom as she fades, applying for Medicaid for her, getting my daughter off to college, adapting to the empty nest, dealing with work, etc., etc… But I’ve heard so many people whinging about how horrible their 2017 was…let me tell you, mine wasn’t half bad, and certainly a lot better then 2016!

Was 2017 perfect? Aw heck no. But there is beauty in the promise:

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Farewell 2017…and Happy New Year 2018!

Twice In One Day

Tuesday morning I woke up from a dream. I don’t usually remember my dreams: maybe you do, but come the morning I tend to be dimly aware that maybe I was dreaming something, and can never remember the details. Tuesday was different.

In my dream, I was talking with a woman, one of our family’s financial planners. We were talking about plans for the future, most of which I don’t remember now. But where the video recorder in my brain really started was when she started advising me–no, urging me, passionately–that I really need to decide what it is that I’m really supposed to be doing next. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of, You need to be doing something that you really, really want to do. And in my dream, what came to mind was Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up.

Flash forward about twelve hours: we had finished our office holiday party, and I was talking with our administrative officer in his office about his new Mustang on order, and how good it was that he hadn’t put it off but that he had followed his dream of getting a gorgeous new car. That’s when he said almost the exact same things to me: Don’t wait, life’s too short, if there’s something you really want to do, you should just go for it.

Talk about being hit upside the head with a two-by-four!2x4

Journaling

This is a post partly about journaling, and partly about practicing listening to God.

For my birthday recently, a brother in Christ gave me a lovely leather-bound journal with one of his favorite scriptures embossed on the cover: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13). That’s the straw that broke this camel’s back, and I’ll be starting on a course of journaling now.

This has to be at least the third time in recent weeks that the topic of journaling has come up in an encouraging way: in other conversations, in podcasts I listen to, I’ve been getting The Nudge that perhaps this is something I ought to do. And so when Tim presented me with this book, well…call me simple, but I finally took the hint and listened to what God was saying.

To do journaling will be a different experience for me. I’ve kept a “journal” before, but it was more of a diary–more of a recounting of the day and what happened, and less a reflection time. This kind of journaling would be different, more of a spiritual exploration than describing my days, and so I would need to approach it differently. As I head into it, I need to set out some of my ground rules (and I’d welcome others that you might have from your own experiences, dear reader!), often around what would be different:

  • I give myself permission to be incomplete, rough, unfinished. The writer in me–nay, the perfectionist in me–thinks, ponders, casts and recasts, until the final words that come out are just so. But this is to be an unpolished set of reflections, not something ready to turn into a blog post or an essay. It can be the partial, not the whole. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to not write. When I was keeping my other journal I would feel guilty if I hadn’t summarized each day, regardless of whether I felt like it. This time, I need to let God move me. He might do so every day, every other day, or not for awhile, or several times in a day. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to be vulnerable. That one’s harder. I didn’t tend to be very expressive in my diaries, and I don’t think that same style will work here. And that’s OK.

What other things do I need to bear in mind when I start journaling?

Getting Fearless!

This past weekend was amazing, as I (finally!) got to welcome my bride into the Emmaus community!

I’ve previously written about my own walk, nearly 18 months ago, and the joy of sponsoring others like my daughter and another brother in Christ. But with all due respect to them both, this was far more meaningful because it was Mary.

Mary has been coming to a deeper connection with Christ over the past year, and it’s been tremendous to watch. She had been really reticent about Emmaus, and was finally persuaded to go…but even up to the last, she still was cautious.

E182-Logo

I knew it had great potential to be a God-driven weekend when I woke up Thursday morning, when I was to take her to the mountain 10 hours later: my Bible app’s scripture of the day was the exact same scripture that my own Emmaus weekend was based on:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Right, right…you got this, Lord! I had a good feeling when at the social hour beforehand, Mary and her roommate started chatting immediately and looked like they were hitting it off. All weekend long, I kept them in prayer, that they would seek his will and follow his path.

But by Sunday? Wow. The “R,” Glenda, said, “These are not the same women you brought up here Thursday night,” and she was right. I have a glimpse of what the Transfiguration must have been like, because Mary’s face shone in a way I haven’t seen before. (And wearing a flower in her hair? Talk about a change!) She really, really had a chance to immerse in God’s love and it showed. She met new friends, and heard a lot that she’s still processing. But already I can see, this was all God’s work, and I know from personal experience, the best news is, it’s only just begun.

Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace. It moves in all of us, and sometimes, it moves with a mighty rush that leaves us blown away. I am so grateful for being able to share in this experience with Mary now, and for the wonderful worlds of possibilities it opens for us together. May we always walk in your steps, hearing that voice calling “Follow me.”