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.

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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.”

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One Tumultuous July

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Can I just share a little of what my July was like? In the space of the previous month, here’s what I’ve faced (in no particular order):

  • My mother’s sudden hospitalization for a kidney infection, with the attendant disruption to our everyday lives of being at the hospital frequently (she’s better now, thanks be);
  • The unexpected death of a coworker, who in the space of a weekend had an accident around the home and lapsed into a coma from which she could not recover;
  • A longstanding friend’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, same as my mom; and if that wasn’t enough,
  • Her husband was taken to the ER with a mild heart attack;
  • The utterly unexpected firing of a longtime friend in very, very murky circumstances that leave me worried for what comes next;
  • My boss being taken ill with serious abdominal illness, hospitalized, and only gradually returning to work during a very hectic time at the office that I had to cover (on top of the above list); and
  • Another coworker’s father in law needing emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm (they caught it in time)

And that’s just within the span of July, all happening to people around me who are part of my love and my life–and who therefore affect me with all of these goings-on. It’s overwhelming! This is a pretty scary list!

hairoutAt times like these, we can hear some pretty horrible theology from people. Well-meaning people, to be sure, but still, what they tell us can ruin our understanding of God if we let it happen. Things like, “It was God’s will.” (God does not will us disease! Disease is an effect of the brokenness we brought into the world from our expulsion from Eden.) Or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” (No! If anything, the Bible tells us, it’s more like there is nothing we can’t handle WHEN WE GIVE IT OVER TO GOD, not when we try to take it all on ourselves!)

And yet through this month of madness, I haven’t crumbled, I haven’t curled up into a ball in the corner. I have endured, and I am absolutely, utterly, completely convinced it’s only my faith in the power of Jesus Christ that has kept me together. I have been strengthened, indeed I have become “more than conquerors” by being able to turn to Christ, by placing myself and each of these situations in his hands, and by trusting in him to help me through. There are certainly days this month when it most certainly did not feel like “overwhelming victory,” yet here I am: assaulted, assailed, buffeted, but not breaking in the force of the storm. For that, I can only give everlasting thanks to Christ.

Come on, August, do your worst. I’ve got backup.

Sudden Hard Turns

She got the call today, one out of the gray,
And when the smoke cleared, it took her breath away.
She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me.
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon.

–Mat Kearney, “Closer to Love”

I got the call myself this past Wednesday morning: my mom has been taken to hospital. I knew she hadn’t been feeling herself the day before, but I didn’t expect it was this bad. Kidney infection. I rushed over to the ER feeling anxious, more anxious than I had expected I would. She was asleep, and really groggy–not waking up. I was alarmed but the staff reassured me she was sleeping well, and needed rest more than anything.

Over the last few days we’ve learned that the infection had seeped into the bloodstream (boo) but was a bug that was very responsive to basic antibiotics (yay), so it should be on the easier side to treat. She’s still in hospital as I write on Sunday afternoon, four days later, and may or may not be released tomorrow.

But I’ve also come to appreciate how fragile my mom really is now, at 75 and after three decades with Parkinson’s Disease. Her mental acuity is duller, her speech is quieter, it’s harder for her to put into words what she’s thinking. There’s no way she could manage her own care now, and the move into a nursing home, which I’d kinda didn’t want to do last year, turns out to have been a good thing.

At present, the kidney function numbers and the blood test numbers are all moving in the right direction. This doesn’t appear to be more serious. But, of course, when it’s your mom, and it’s a hospital, you start to think about such things. Fortunately, I can say (at least today) that unlike my dad, there isn’t anything I haven’t said to her yet that I need to. And so in that regard, the idea of perhaps having to do this drill over something more serious someday doesn’t leave me with the feeling that I have unfinished business. Having the call come that my mom is in the hospital was a sudden hard turn that threw me on Wednesday. But it wasn’t as hard a turn as it could have been. For that I’m grateful.

Practicing The Empty Nest

Between June 29 and July 22, I have only three days with a kid in the house…otherwise, it’s just my bride and me, and the dog, alone, for the first time in nearly 19 years.

David is off with Jeremiah Project, working through the summer as their intern, finding projects for the kids to work on. Sarah is in Europe right now, with her school trip to Madrid, Barcelona, Provence and Milan…then she too will be on JP duty with her brother for a week.

In the meantime, we get to be just us. We get to go out to dinner together, which we did hours after taking Sarah to the airport. We get to have friends over, and make the foods *we* want to have, like we did tonight. We get to go hang out with good friends elsewhere, without worrying about the kids or having to get anyone anyplace. And we begin to get a sense of what it will be like in a couple of years when we’re doing this full-time, as the yearlings will actually take flight.

We get to sleep in on weekend days or days off, not having to rush anywhere, We get to curl up with the dog and absolutely make her day with all the attention. And if we decide to pop over to a movie, or go out for a drink…there’s nothing stopping us.

I really think I’m going to like the next chapter!

Take Time to Give Thanks

It is an absolutely. Gorgeous. June. Day. And yes, since it’s the weekend, I have a ton of chores to do. It’s also still the busy season at work, and it won’t take much for my mind to wander to all I haven’t done yet there, as well. But you know where I am right now?

20170604_155713Yep: my backyard hammock, enjoying the soft breeze, the high-80s warmth, and a chance to reflect on what’s going right, instead of obsess (as I always do) about what’s not. A partial list:

  • There’s two racks of ribs in the smoker that will be absolutely delicious later this afternoon.
  • It’s Pentecost, and we had a spirit-filled service this morning, welcoming Tim back off the mountain and celebrating his Emmaus walk.
  • My high-school daughter passed her state Chemistry test, despite much angst, and she says her first SAT this weekend felt good too.
  • Both the kids participated in the (school-)year-end lock-in at church last night, reconnecting with people of Christ.
  • Twenty-four years of marriage–to the same wonderful woman, no less.
  • Being done with the lawn earlier than I’d feared it would take.
  • Making plans with my college roommate for a guys’ weekend golfing and etc. together this September, to mark our respective birthdays, and being able to grace him with free airfare (yeah, I had a ridiculous amount of miles).
  • My own connection with the Emmaus community, which I got to celebrate yesterday.
  • A roof, food, and love…what more, really, do I need?

And yet, how often do we actually stop to thank God for all that’s going right in our world, instead of just bringing to him our concerns? As Garrison Keillor wrote: “Thank you, dear Lord, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

Jesus, you are amazing, awesome in power and love, and I start by celebrating you. But I also celebrate all that’s going right in my life, and I thank you for your hand behind me every day. Forgive me for the times I overlook your grace and your bounty. Free my heart to rest in those times that your love surrounds me, those times that things are going well, and leave me reminders often of how to turn back to you. In you precious name…Amen.

Expanding the Kingdom Through Emmaus

I’ve written previously about my amazing Emmaus experience, which was only about a year ago now…how time has flown….

Last weekend, I had the chance to introduce another brother to this experience, when I sponsored my friend Tim from church on his own Emmaus walk. It did my heart such good to see another heart opened to Christ in a whole new way; in so many ways, even just as a sponsor, I felt like I was walking again with Tim at his closing worship.

It’s led me to reflect on the growth I’ve enjoyed over the past year. Before my walk, I knew Christ was after my heart, not just my mind; since then, I’ve seen it over and over, how absolutely central the heart is to Christ’s kingdom. I’ve started teaching a Sunday school class for adults seeking their first steps in a deeper connection with Jesus, and I know I’d never have done that if I hadn’t had this experience of his love last spring.

The point of an Emmaus weekend is not only to grow in one’s own appreciation of God’s love, and to experience him in perhaps an entirely new and fresh way, but also to create disciples: people willing, or even on fire, who will go back to their home churches and help make a difference. In that regard, I’m already seeing changes in me, and I pray I will in Tim as well. At the monthly Emmaus gathering that occurred while Tim was “on the mountain,” I put in my first teaming application, with an eye towards perhaps guiding other men through their weekend this fall: something else I’d never have thought of before.

Who knows what the next set of Fourth Days will bring? Jesus does, and I look forward to seeing what he has in mind for me!

If you’re interested in taking your own walk with our local chapter of Emmaus, let me know!

Happy Mother’s Day?

My mother has had Parkinson’s Disease since she was 42. For the most part, the last three-plus decades were fairly benign to her, but this year finds her in a nursing home and wheelchair-bound. In photos from her high-school days in the late 1950s, she sits demurely, legs crossed at the ankles; today, that lifelong habit means she trips on trying to stand up, or walks unsteadily instead of with a firm base.

Each year for the past few, our Mother’s Day tradition has been to go out–I’ll take her clothes shopping for a new summer wardrobe, then we’ll get lunch or dinner out. And each year, it’s gotten progressively more challenging to accomplish: first adjusting to using the wheelchair, then, as her voice has gotten softer and her words less distinct, trying to listen for what she wants among the racks of clothes at Kohl’s.

This year’s wrinkle was that she hasn’t been as hungry, and so she didn’t want to get a meal after shopping. And while we never did anything extravagant–maybe just going to a diner, or out for a burger–it was still something I missed being able to do this year, and one more piece of evidence of how her long, slow fade continues.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

With each passing year, my mother becomes more a reflection of her former self. It’s painful to her, and to me, to know she is fading. And yet I can take heart, that while outwardly she is wasting, one day, Jesus promises, he will make all things new, and all the brokenness will be stripped away, and she will be like that teenaged girl once again.

Until then, we wait, we help her in and out of the car, we struggle to maneuver, and while we are sad at what changes each Mother’s Day brings, we can at least take some joy in being able to share one more holiday with her.