February 5, 2014

The "V" word

Over the past 10 years my spiritual journey has revealed, among other things, that I do not like vulnerability and have spent much of my life working to remove as much of it as possible. Just coming to the realization of my disdain for vulnerability has required more of that “v” word, and as He usually does God has regularly taken to stretching me in this area of weakness.

Annually for the past five springs, I have taken a three day canoe adventure to the Buffalo Wilderness area with other men. The trip is a right of passage of sorts: no cell phone service, supplies limited to what you can fit in the canoe, and exposure to whatever mother nature may throw at you (and she threw some haymakers last year). Every year, before the trip, I notice the same thought creeping into my head, “I think I’ll not go this year, just doesn’t feel right.” The thing I love about the trip is also what grows the urge in me to not go. Being in one of the few remote places in the state and at the mercy of the river creates an undeniable vulnerability in a person. It is a blunt reminder of how small and in some ways inconsequential I am. The trip forces me to deal for three days with the reality that there is a big God constantly doing things and allowing things far beyond my control (it is amazing how out of touch with this idea we can be in every day life).

The trip is so good for my soul, and at the end of the day I guess that is why I continue to go back, despite it being somewhat miserable at moments. Sure every man needs regular moments of feeling adventurous, but more specifically it is so good because it makes me practice the art of vulnerability. And while none of us like this soul exposing feeling, I have found it to be refreshing (in a jump in the icy pond kind of way).

So here I type today, preparing to practice vulnerability in a different way. (For those that don’t know, I am writing in a group with the prompt of “write something honest”). The challenge to write creatively the last few weeks was a breeze and enjoyable. Today is painful and time consuming. And as I brainstormed topics, I kept thinking about how this would be similar to that trip. Open. Exposed. Vulnerable. This begs the question, “why does this bother me so?” Here comes the honesty I spoke of earlier… because I have made a life of avoiding vulnerability. I have kept challenges moderate, I have kept people in safe boxes, and I do all the things any sensible American does to safeguard from any potential risk. Physically, emotionally, and certainly spiritually too I have limited risk and therefore limited my vulnerability…..and therefore limited my dependence on God. Certainly everyone has a story, and I am no different, I have my reasons for avoiding vulnerability, but the nasty side effect I have been forced to wrestle with as an adult is that God requires my vulnerability and I have no idea how to give it to him at times.

2013 was the most difficult river trip yet. We were caught on the river in a flood situation that we should have never been on. Vulnerability with God and exposure to nature was at an all time high. But, relationship with God suddenly made more sense, it came naturally. Prayer felt simple and powerful. Relationship with God felt real and secure. All relationships require vulnerability, and a relationship with God requires intense vulnerability. For me, the only way to learn vulnerability has been to voluntarily, repeatedly subject myself to that nasty little “v” word.

There is a great paradox here. God, the creator of the universe, offers me security in relationship with Him. But, from me, a small man on this patch of dirt we call Earth, He requires vulnerability. Can I give it to him?

January 28, 2014

Rock Hammer

Rock hammers are interesting tools. They are small, precise instruments used for a variety of things such as carving, geology, and breaking out of Shawshank prison. Many of you, I would assume, have seen the now classic film Shawshank Redemption. Watching Andy Dufresne carve with his tool small chess pieces and a hole big enough for a man to crawl through a prison wall sparked my interest in rock hammers. Acquiring the piece wasn't easy for Andy, as it brought suspicion in his new friend Red, who was a man who could get things.
“Well, if it was a toothbrush I wouldn’t ask questions, I’d just quote a price, but then a toothbrush is a non-lethal object, isn’t it?” (Red)
However, in its true purpose, a rock hammer isn't designed to be a lethal object either. Actually, the intended purpose of the tool is two fold in the field of geology.

First, a rock hammer is used to obtain a new, fresh surface of a rock in order to determine its composition, nature, mineralogy, history and field estimate of rock strength. More simply said, a rock hammer is used to uncover who the rock really is.

Second, and more harshly, a rock hammer is used to crush and break rocks with the aim of finding fossils inside. Geologists will crush rocks to see what treasure is hidden within them.

As my intrigue in rock hammers has remained since seeing the film, I can't seem to get away from this question: What rock hammers do I allow in my life?

What/who are the forces at play in my life working to knock off exterior surface material and discover my true composition? And what/who am I allowing in my to break me open at times to see what "fossils" might be inside? The latter is truly frightening, just think of the exposure of letting someone in to see the deepest fossils in your life.

All of this, to me, sounds like God's desire to sanctify us. He offers to use people and events in our life to help us see ourselves how he views us. How He views us is in the image of Himself we are created. And if we can cling to this God bearing image of ourselves, we will begin to look much more like Jesus. Sanctification.

God will often use critical relationships to "hammer" away at us such as our marriages, our children, or maybe our boss/coworkers. He will use big life events as well to reveal a fresh surface or uncover a fossil in our lives. These people and events are often His vehicle awaken our souls.

However, we are not lifeless rocks. We are persons whom God has given a free will. We must accept the influence of the rock hammers in our life. This is a great challenge. However, if we can expose ourselves enough, and deal with the uncomfortable vulnerability it will create in us, we might experience a moment of freedom similar to Andy Dufresne (and what a moment it was for Andy).

January 21, 2014

My Adventure Field

*** I haven't used this blog in about 4 years, but I thought it would be a good place to start putting what I write for FlyWheel Writing Society***
It was as if that field was put on this Earth just for me. Twenty acres of wide-open space with a few large pecan trees spread out systematically in rows throughout. There were areas of flowers, tall grass, and clover patches in my field. I can still smell it all, mostly the heavy Louisiana pollen, but my field seemed to carry the smell of nature. Trees, flowers, tall grass, right there in town and just for me. Okay, so maybe that field was only two or three acres, but to a young boy and his dog, it was a world all our own. There should have been five or six houses there, in Alexandria Louisiana, right next to the home I grew up in. The trees were spread out systematically because our neighborhood sat on an old pecan tree farm. As a boy, there was nothing I knew of more grand and strong than a pecan tree. There was also nothing more bitter and dry than the taste of her pecans, yet I ate them daily in season none the less. The pecans would pile up around the base of the tree in late spring every year. I always harvested them, and mom let me sell them to families in the neighborhood. My field gave me thousands of pecans every year, and put some money in a young boy’s pocket. Some of the trees had able branches low enough that I could climb them. One tree in particular, on the far west end, I could climb high enough to get a good view of my field. It was my kingdom, my piece of the world that I owned. Certainly not legally, I think it was abandoned, regardless it was all mine. In the northwest corner of the field there was a row of shrubs around ten feet tall It is more likely the shrubs were around three feet tall, but that is simply not how I remember them. Looking back they were quite random and out of place, but as a boy that row of shrubs provided another place of adventure. Quite often, those shrubs were a great dividing wall separating forces for good from forces for evil. Cops, soldiers, and cowboys took refuge behind that strong wall before many great battles. Other times, those shrubs provided a barrier that I charged myself to quite literally break through. I’m not sure who took the worse beating on those days, the branches I broke off or my bloody, scratched legs and stomach. None the less, the small price of slightly broken skin was a reminder that I conquered the great barrier in my field. On more calm days, I would set out for a different kind of challenge in the south side of the field. In a sea of millions of clovers, treasures were hidden. Right there in my field, if a boy looked long and hard enough he could find a treasure which my mom assured me was worth more than gold. Four leaf clovers were likely outnumbered ten thousand to one by those mundane, ordinary three leaf clovers. And while some part of me knew they were not as valuable as my mom suggested, each discovery brought such a rich sense of accomplishment that she seemed to be right anyway. Then there was Jake. One hundred pounds of a slobbering, licking, out of shape adventure partner. That field also belonged to Jake. It was place for him where no fences and leashes existed, and he was free to roam as he pleased while we adventured. However, he rarely roamed, in stead choosing to do what any great adventure partner would do, stay with me step for step, adventure after adventure. Jake and that field are seared together in my memory. His legs hidden in high grass, he seemed to float across the surface of my field looking for adventure of his own. He would (unsuccessfully) chase squirrels that called the great pecan trees home. He must have thought patrolling the field was part of his job description. He took that seriously, often stopping to mark our territory along the way. He had a great back yard at our home (I suppose so did I), but that field was the place that he came alive and filled his need to be free outside in creation. In hindsight, I see that was likely true for us both. Jake completed the potential the field offered. Without him, to whom would I have offered advice, directions, and war strategies? Who would have broken through the ten foot wall of shrubs with me? My field, Jake, and I needed each other, all three parts vital to the memories that shape my childhood. My parents have moved to a different state now, and I have not seen my field in years. I am not sure I want to either. I do not want to know how tall the shrubs are, or that my kingdom view perch might only be five feet off the ground. I might be disappointed by finding out there were an abundance of four leaf clovers and I was terrible at searching for them. I choose to remember my field just the way I see it now when I close my eyes, the way a young boy seeking adventure found it day after day all those years ago.

January 31, 2009

Walk Up the Road - what's behind the name

Life really is about the journey. Every day, we all find ourselves at a unique point on our path in life. Every day has its own ups and downs, victories and defeats, opportunities and challenges. What do you do with those, and where are you headed? Are you learning and growing, or stumbling and trying to get up off the ground? That's what is behind the name of this blog.

Now to be completely fair, it took a few tries to land on this. Here is the naming progression as I best remember it:

The road of life
Walking down the road
Walk down the road
Walking up the road
Walk up the road

Thank goodness some of those URL's were all ready taken!

God is teaching me that he has a road for me. And this life isn't a stroll down that road, but rather a hike up it. But its my road, and what I choose to do in life will determine where my road leads. Hopefully my road leads to a place within God's sovereign will. One of my professors challenged us recently to "live within our design". If we don't live within our design, there will be unreached potential.

Now, it may have been by luck that I landed on Walk "up" the road, but it is certainly appropriate. Colossians 1:24 says "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church." Rejoicing in sufferings, doesn't that just sound like a difficult but progressive struggle up the road of life?!?! I don't think Paul was meandering down the road as he penned these words.

So there it is, that's where the name came from. Our spot on the path changes all the time. We move ourselves in different directions with every choice we make. Praise God for his abundant grace and love, because without Him this road is dark and depressing.

Psalm 119:105 "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path". Jesus, may I walk in your will, and stay within the light you cast on my path. Praise God!

January 30, 2009

Ice Storm 09

Well, the past week has been quite an adventure. The ice storm that ripped through NWArkansas has been a wild ride that we will not soon forget. The storm has unfortunately left a mark on our town that will not soon be hidden either. The damage caused by the accumulation of ice is a small glimpse at the power of God! Here is a run down of our power situation:

Tuesday - power comes and goes two times during the day, we are without power for a total of 4 hours before it comes back on at 5:30.

After dinner and a movie (and getting to see a transformer explode), the power went off at 11:30 as Louise and I were falling asleep. We drug the mattress to the living room in front of the fire and slept comfortably there all night.

Wednesday - The severity and damage of this storm became apparent. My sense of excitement seemed to be replaced by the weight of our situation and what others were dealing with. I became very thankful for the things God has provided Louise and I (a gas fireplace and therefore a warm home, Praise God!). Power came back on in the early afternoon.

Thursday - we thought we were in the clear, until I put lunch on the stove at noon and the power promptly went out (great timing). Three hours later we were back up, this time for good!

Friday - as of this morning, 20,000 people in Fayetteville alone still don't have power. This storm is officially the worst ice storm every recorded in NWArkansas.

I found this Psalm (77)this morning as I look to the scriptures on the Power of God.

13 Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?

14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.

15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

God's power was certainly on display this week. I also found this verse in Job 27 that caught my eye.

10 Will he find delight in the Almighty?
Will he call upon God at all times?

11 "I will teach you about the power of God;
the ways of the Almighty I will not conceal.

I will strive to be a man that God can answer those two questions in verse 10 with a "yes", and a man that never conceals the ways of the Almighty.

Hopefully the Power is back on for me in more ways than one, after a potent reminder of the power and sovereign nature of our Lord this week.

January 8, 2009

Amazing Grace, Just the Black Notes

I absolutely love this video. Amazing Grace is a classic song with a great history.


January 5, 2009

Conflict and Understanding

I am now one week away from starting Grad School. Working for my Masters in Counseling will surely be an emotional roller coaster as I process through the experiences and family history of others and myself in an attempt to comprehend why we do what we do, why we think what we think, and why we feel what we feel. At this particular spot on my path God has chosen to teach me about 2 different yet incredibly intertwined relational ideas: conflict and the desire to understand others. Fellowship and its speakers should forgive me for quoting and misquoting them, but the following is how God has embedded conflict and understanding in my heart.

Conflict - I have never liked that word. The animosity and tense nature associated with the word alone are enough to make me cringe. Conflict is a driver of arguments, fights, divorce, hate, and war. Conflict is also a driver for, get this, personal growth. Healthy conflict leads to personal growth, not sometimes, all the time. Most conflict is steeply rooted in pride or being right, rather than what is actually the issue at hand. You see it in your marriage, at work, etc. Conflict arises over a specific issue or occurrence but quickly becomes about something much different, many times much bigger.

Healthy conflict must forfeit pride at the door. Healthy conflict is a tool that can be used to increase perspective, humility, care, and compassion, among other things. But the root of healthy conflict is an act so foreign to our human nature that it takes a constant, conscious effort to achieve it. To succeed in healthy conflict, we must have an ongoing desire to understand others point of view.

Desire to Understand Others - Simply put, the desire to understand others is the lynch pin to success in healthy conflict. Only through truly having a heart to understand others can we grow through conflict. If we do not care where others are coming from we will not understand them and we will not have anything other than harmful conflict with them. Let me make this very clear, understanding should never prevail at the cost of sacrificing truth. This is very important when looking at social hot button issues. We can be understanding without sacrificing truth.

To understand a person, you must understand their heart. What makes them tick? What do they really care about? If you listen, they will tell you.

God has been really working on me in this area this year, at times when I did not even realize it. It really came together for me in church recently when a speaker talked about this very subject. God has shown me so much about my amazing wife this year. The world fills our heads with ideas about how husbands, wives, couples should be. What they should do and how they should act. God has replaced my worldly mindset with a heart and love for the unique and amazing things about Louise. When I look at her, I don't think about what she isn't, I see what she is. I see the pure and perfect way that God created her. I see the woman that God has a big plan for. God knew exactly how to wire Louise and I so that we would have a successful marriage. As a desire to understand her has grown in my heart this year, our conflicts have become much more productive.

Praise God for a heart to understand others, goodness knows that is not my natural disposition!

Proverbs Chapter 3

13 Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,

14 for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.