Author Archive for Russell Brown

12
May
22

A Little Corner of Order

We made the bed this morning.

A well-made bed

Yipppeee!! Skippy!!

And when I say, “…we made the bed,” of course I mean JOAN – on her own – made the bed. 

Sometimes I help with the bedmaking. When I am around, that is. But many times, I am up and out the door before the bedmaking time happens.

And so, Joan cheerfully tucks and straightens the sheets, fluffs the pillows, folds the comforter, and carefully puts those little, purely decorative pillows in their places.

Hold on nowWhy does this silly stuff even matter?” you are no doubt asking me right now. “Who cares about you and your absurd housekeeping practices? Let’s spend this time talking about some REAL stuff… stuff like Ukraine… or COVID… or abortion. You are really testing my patience here, clown boy.”

First of all, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think? And second of all, hang in there, bub. You just might discover there is more here than meets the eye. 

Let me start my defense by asking you a question; when you open your front door and peer outside, what do you see? What kind of world lurks out there? 

Here is what I see: I see a world of pain. And chaos. And brokenness. I see a world desperately seeking redemption. I see a world largely without answers. I see a world that – for the most part – I really don’t have even a microscopic amount of influence over. 

I’m convinced it is also a world that God – because of God’s infinite, unconditional love for this world – spends a LOT of time weeping over. 

Beyond what I see, I also hear something. I hear God’s gentle, urging voice. It is whispering to me, “Russell, GO. Do what you can. Be MY hands and feet and heart. Create a corner – even if it is just a tiny corner – in that broken, pain-filled world that reminds people of what MY kingdom looks like.”

And for me, one of the key characteristics of God’s kingdom (i.e., a kingdom that works according to the blueprint God had BEFORE Adam and Eve messed everything up) is ORDER

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Harmony.

Cohesion.

Connection.

Interrelationship.

And so, I choose to start my day with a regular, tangible picture of what order looks like. 

I choose to make my bed.  

(Rather, as you saw above, JOAN chooses to make my bed. But you know what I mean.)

By my count (rather, by the count of the special feature on my Bible app), Jesus talks about the kingdom of God at least 117 times. It is clearly a topic that matters to him… a LOT! 

And yet we remember that Jesus also lived in the middle of a broken, pain-filled, unjust, chaotic world. He lived in a world that was DESPERATE for redemption, healing, and wholeness. 

And so, when he talked to people, he tried to paint vivid word pictures of what a healed, whole, restored world might look like. He talked about mustard seeds, and grains of wheat, and pearls of great price, and treasures hidden in a field. He tried to help them understand the reality of the Hope Beyond Hope at the center of his earthly ministry. 

In other words, he tried to help people visualize what The World According to God will look like when it comes to be. 

And although I can’t provide you any actual, scriptural warrants for it, I am pretty sure Jesus made his bed every morning.

Don’t worry. In case you are not inclined that way, I am pretty sure God loves non-bedmakers just as much as He loves bedmakers. Be that as it may, He is saying the same thing to you that He says to me every morning. He is saying, “GO. Do what you can. Be MY hands and feet and heart. Create a corner – even if it is just a tiny corner – in that broken, pain-filled world that reminds people of what MY kingdom looks like.”

And then, when you get home at night, sink restfully into that beautiful, orderly, well-made bed and REST!

Abundant blessings;

03
May
22

Holy Unsettledness!

I love to travel.

In fact, Joan and I just returned from a great, nine-day trip to the state of New Mexico. In fact, if you’d like some tips on things to see and do in Taos, or White Sands National Park (Sand. The attraction there is SAND), or Cloudcroft, or at Carlsbad Caverns, drop me a line. (revruss1220@gmail.com).

There are delights and surprises around every corner in New Mexico. We discovered that it is a very EMPTY place, too. Small wonder our government chose it as the perfect place to blow up atomic bombs, test missiles, and hide aliens.

Enchanting, indeed.

Along with the adventure of travel, though, comes no small degree of unsettledness. What I mean is, you spend the whole time driving on strange roads, sleeping in strange beds, seeing strange sights, eating strange food, and meeting all manner of strange people. 

Yes… you are correct to remind me that breaking out of the daily, predictable pattern of life is the whole point of travel. But it is also no surprise that I usually return home from a trip carrying a peculiar mixture of sadness and relief in my heart.

“WHEW!” I said out loud as we finally pulled into our driveway. “Home again AT LAST! Back to predictability. Back to my OWN bed and back to our ‘normal’ lives. Back to settledness.”

Later that day… after the car had been unpacked and the first load of laundry started… I began thinking. As I listened to the gentle “ka-thump ka-thump, ka-thump” of the clothes dryer, I wondered, “As good as it is to be back to the predictable places and patterns of HOME, is it possible to fall too much in love with this kind of ‘settledness’? Could I – or could anyone for that matter – ever make an idol out of ROUTINE and PREDICTABILITY?”

I think we all know the answer to that question, don’t we?

As much as we gasp in horror when our apple carts are unceremoniously upset, we each know the truth. And the truth is this: sometimes apple carts need to be upset. Sometimes routines need to be disrupted. Sometimes sacred cows need to be turned into delicious hamburgers. 

We see plenty of stories of that very thing happening in the Bible. God plucked a very settled, successful man named Abram from the middle of the comfortable life he was living there in Haran and told him to go to “a land which I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NRSV).

Later, God set a bush on fire in the middle of the Sinai wilderness, interrupting the quiet afternoon reverie of a shy, stuttering young shepherd, and told him to, “… bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10, NRSV). 

Over and over and over again in the Bible, we see God snatching the TV remote out of people’s hands, tossing them off the couch, and yelling, “Get up! I’ve got a TASK for you… a task that will UPEND the comfortable, SETTLED life you are living right now!”

You might even say that this kind of thing happens SO often we might conclude that it happens ON PURPOSE! God seems to keep pulling people – ordinary people like you and me – OUT of our routines to accomplish God’s purposes. 

Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

It MAY BE that God is calling you RIGHT NOW to step out of your comfort zone and do something extraordinary to accomplish those purposes.

Then again, it may not be. I think back to the 13th century monk, Brother Lawrence, who spent his life cooking in the monastery kitchen as his act of devotion. He found ways to infuse holiness into every pot he washed, every potato he peeled, and every brick of every floor he scrubbed. 

Whether settled or not. Whether routine or not. Whether predictable or not. I think the point is to be READY to respond completely and unequivocally to God’s call. 

Happy travels!

Abundant blessings;

19
Apr
22

Blessed Reassurance

“OOO! Teacher! I know! Call on ME!”

Oh, how I loved it. How it used to stir my soul. 

There we were, sitting in our neat rows in Mrs. Olds’ fifth grade classroom. She had just posed a question to the entire class… on which topic I am not sure… and I KNEW THE ANSWER!!

My hand shot up. And from my vantage point toward the back in the row by the door I could see that NO ONE ELSE was raising their hand.

Gazing around, her eyes finally landed on me. “Yes, Rusty?” she ventured. [You see back then, someone had the brainwave that the best way to shorten the name “Russell” was to make it “Rusty”. But please don’t tell anyone.]

I took a deep breath, confidently spoke the answer, and – wonder of wonders – I was RIGHT! The reward for my perspicacity was the prize I most coveted in the world; the smiling approval of my teacher.

Yes, I was pleased by the release of pheromones as the Right Answer materialized in my brain. I also loved that I had the confidence to vocalize that answer in front of a room full of my peers. But the form of compensation that mattered the most to me back in the fifth grade was APPROVAL. And ideally, approval from a person with AUTHORITY. 

I wish I could tell you I have changed dramatically in the 60 or so ensuing years.

But I can’t truthfully say that. Sadly, approval is still a tremendously salient “coin of the realm” for me even as an old guy. 

  • I seek Joan’s approval.
  • I seek my sons’ approval.
  • I seek approval from the members of our Wednesday night Community Group.
  • I seek approval from my server at the restaurant, the Target cashier, my cul-de-sac neighbors, and complete strangers I meet on the street.  
  • Back in the day, I sought approval from my bosses.
  • I sought approval from every congregation I ever served and the District Superintendents I answered to.
  • Heck, I am sure I am seeking YOUR approval even now as I choose the words I write.

And frankly, all this approval seeking is exhausting. It is exhausting because I require every word, every thought, and every action to pass through two distinct and different assembly line/inspection processes before they can manifest themselves in the world.

PROCESS #1: 
What is RIGHT in this moment?

PROCESS #2:

What will gain APPROVAL? From… whoever.

At first, this “disease to please” doesn’t sound like a terrible affliction, does it? A person bent on gaining approval will usually be careful, conscientious, and compassionate in their relationships with others. 

 That much is true. But here is the real pathology that lies behind perpetual people pleasing: it leaves the pleaser with no agenda of his/her own. No vision. No ideal other than the ideals of whomever the pleaser is plotting to please.

And as long as the pleaser’s eyes are fixed on hitting targets in THIS world, success will be a hit or miss kind of thing. But if we turn our eyes to Jesus for a moment, we will learn two things.

First, we will hear him remind us that this dogged pursuit of approval probably falls under the heading of “laying up treasures on earth,” which Jesus once said was a really bad idea. (See Matthew 6:19, NRSV). The problem, he says, is spoilage. A little later in that same sermon, he tries to help us set our sights on a higher, nobler target when he says, “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV). 

The second piece of sound guidance we receive from my man JC is the guidance that reminds us that we already have all the approval we will ever need. In fact, we had it AT OUR BIRTH! And we received it from the Highest Authority possible! 

Once again, we listen to the words from the Sermon on the Mount, where we hear, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. [Or – apropos of this blog post; “… or who will approve of you.”] 

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Ed. – “Or your worth as a person more than your co-workers’ approval?”]

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NRSV). 

I sure hope someone out there today is helped by this reminder. But if not, it was still worthwhile because those were all assurances I needed to hear again myself.

Abundant blessings;

15
Apr
22

Picking the Right Place

“Skull Hill” as it looks today

Visiting Israel is a sacred, life-changing experience. Like parenthood, nothing can quite prepare you for what it feels like to put your own feet on the exact same places where Jesus put his.

That is, if you can figure out which places those actually were.

What you discover upon alighting in Jerusalem is that there is significant disagreement about exactly WHERE certain biblical events happened. For example, there are two different places that local “experts” will swear to you are the actual spots where Jesus was born.  

Similarly, there are at least two spots that supposedly mark the exact place where Christ was crucified. One of those places has since been surrounded by an ornate cathedral, full of tour guides, candles, incense, icons, statues, and huge crowds of pilgrims. 

The other site is much plainer. Make no mistake, it is still highly developed and commercialized, complete with local guides and a gift shop. But it is located outdoors on top of a hill that bears a striking resemblance to a human skull. 

I prefer this spot over the other one.

My favorite part of this location, however, is NOT its shape or location. What I like best is its proximity to the Jerusalem city bus barn. Here, one can sit in prayer and contemplation, pondering the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice and your own unworthiness of this extravagant love, all while listening to the engines and air brakes of Jerusalem’s city busses. 

Call me weird, but somehow this bizarre juxtapositioning makes a kind of cosmic sense to me. 

Allow me to explain. As a lifelong, practicing Christian, I carry in my bones a deep reverence for everything that today – Good Friday – represents. I understand it as a defining moment of God’s whole incarnation enterprise. For me, Christ’s crucifixion is both the pinnacle expression of self-sacrificial love and the Divine Battering Ram that forever smashed the barrier between heaven and earth, between God and us, between life and death, and between one human and another.

Second only to Easter in significance, Good Friday and the crucifixion event is the inflection point on which human history forever pivoted.

But for me – and again, maybe ONLY for me – that place belongs smack dab in the MIDDLE of the mundane, quotidian movements of life… not set aside in some gilded display case. Somehow, I feel more connected when I reflect on the meaning of atonement, salvation, sacrifice, and eternal destiny smelling the scent of diesel fumes instead of incense.  

Ultimately, of course, the setting of these contemplations is immaterial. Go where you will to pause and reflect. Sip coffee in a crowded café, walk by a serene lake, pedal a bicycle, or sit on a plane.

But whatever you do, wherever you go, don’t miss the opportunity to spend time alone with your thoughts today… reflecting on the price that was paid to set you free.

Abundant blessings;

12
Apr
22

Easter, God’s Will, and the War in Ukraine

Since the beginning of time, war has been hell. 

Image courtesy of BBC News

War costs millions of innocent lives. In the blink of an eye, war destroys people, communities, vegetation, and futures.

Some of us have seen war firsthand. Most of us have just seen it on TV, or read about it in textbooks. 

Today, everything is different. 

The hellish brutality of war is, of course, unchanged. What is different about this Ukraine war is its immediacy. This brutal, unprovoked, unconscionable assault by Russia on Ukraine is perhaps the most widely viewed act of mass barbarism in human history. 

And thanks to cell phone video cameras, drones, satellites, and 24/7 news coverage, nothing about this conflict has been left to the imagination. We can now sit in our living rooms quietly sipping our tea as we watch unspeakable horror spew out before our eyes. 

It is hard to take, isn’t it?

Seeing such violence and devastation “up close and personal,” day in and day out, affects each of us in different ways. It causes some of us to turn away in disgust. It causes some of us to turn away in denial, hardening our hearts as a way of protecting them. It causes some of us to cry, scream, and shake our fists at the TV screens. 

And it causes some of us to question how a loving, all-powerful God could possibly allow such carnage and brutality to continue to exist, unpunished.

This is one of those times when evil seems to have the upper hand. Our best theology feels like a blanket of cotton candy that’s been asked to stop a hail of bullets. 

We pray. We worry. We remind ourselves of evil’s historically abysmal track record (like, 0-for-alltime). We write checks to UNICEF and Red Cross and other aid organizations.

And then we pray some more.

In the end, none of it seems to matter. The Mangling Maw of Red Death keeps swallowing everything in its path. This moment has become one of those times when even the most faithful among us wonder how we dare talk about God’s will being done, “… on earth as it is in heaven.”

Then I pause and think, “This must have been what the disciples felt like on that Saturday morning… the day after watching their leader – the One who was supposed to be the promised Messiah – brutally tortured and executed by an earlier Evil Empire.”

They must have felt similar feelings of despair… grief… anger… and helplessness. They too must have questioned the basis of their fragile faith. 

If those 11 lost, grieving souls could speak to us today, they might patiently remind us that it is NOT God’s will that thousands of innocent people die horrible deaths in Ukraine. They would tell us it is assuredly NOT God’s will that homes, churches, schools, apartment and office buildings, and trees be wantonly destroyed. 

If they could, they would look us in the eye and say, “Sometimes in life, evil seems to win the day. Sometimes every hope we have for a world of peace, prosperity, and health seems to crumble to dust, right before our eyes. Sometimes faith seems foolish.”

At that point, the Israelites – you know… the ones who were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years – slowly nod their heads and say, “Yo. True that.”

Those disciples in one voice would then speak up and remind us of what happened on that first Resurrection Day… the day they finally learned the difference between FAITH and WISHES. They would remind us what it felt like to see that powerful demonstration of God’s unlimited power to draw LIFE from DEATH… PEACE from CHAOS… LIGHT from DARKNESS. They would testify to the change that came over their lives in that one, profound, history-bending instant. 

And then they would reach out calmly, lovingly, place their hands on our shoulders and say, “That day finally taught us that with God, the WORST thing is never the LAST thing. No matter how bad everything around you looks.”

Today, that slim, trembling branch is the one I choose to cling to. I know it’s easy to say that from the comfort of my warm, intact, unbombed home here in Fort Collins, Colorado. But my ease doesn’t make God’s promise any less true… any less reliable. 

Easter should teach us that God’s will can certainly be thwarted for a time…

… But it can never be ultimately defeated.

EVER!

Abundant blessings;

07
Apr
22

Did You Notice?

My preferred posture… 8 days out of 10

Sometimes it is easier not to notice. 

I’m not talking about merely SEEING… skimming briskly across the surface, dipping in a toe here, then here…

… absorbing just enough substance from which to fashion a quip, a comment, a post…

… sometimes committing outright “thought theft” to make people think we noticed.

Seeing… but not genuinely noticing.

We play the part. We say the words. We settle for “close enough.”

No… I don’t mean SEEING. I mean NOTICING. Deep, masterclass level noticing.

Noticing with the eyes of our soul.

We tend to avoid it because we sense that noticing… really noticing… comes with strings attached.

It joins us.

It bonds us.

It commits us to advancing the well-being of that which we noticed.

Because here is how it works; the eyes of our soul are connected to our affections.

Our affections are connected to our compassion.

And our compassion is connected to our action.

Inescapably connected. Like one bone to another.

  • How do I notice – for example – the systems of injustice and racism that still brutalize the lives of my African American brothers and sisters and still not ACT?
  • How do I notice the damaging effects of humankind’s poisoning behaviors on the delicate systems of LIFE on this planet and still fail to ACT?
  • How do I notice the rampant gnawing hunger for MEANING and PURPOSE among my global kinfolk and still sit here on my hands doing NOTHING about it?

Looking… seeing… noticing… makes me feel small… overwhelmed… overmatched by what I notice.

And so… sometimes I decide it is better not to notice in the first place. 

As I turn my head in the vain attempt to find some nice, soft sand in which to bury it, something stops me. I hear the voice that reminds me I worship the God who SEES… who deeply NOTICES… everything.

I am reminded of the story of Hagar – the slave girl impregnated by Abraham and then sent into the desert to die by Abraham’s wife Sarah. God noticed Hagar there in her misery and had compassion on her, leading her to gratefully declare: “’You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” (Genesis 16:13, NRSV).

I’m sure Hagar meant to say, “The One who notices me.”

This God is also the God who inspired these words of the psalmist: 

“You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.”
      (Psalm 139:1-4, NRSV)

As we read these words, we understand them as words of gratitude and reverence… not as some kind of paranoid complaint, the way a modern reader might hear them.

You and I are supremely NOTICED – and therefore supremely LOVED – by the One who created it all. 

And so, if it is true that you and I are created in the image of this God, it means we are also created to NOTICE and LOVE the world we inhabit.

Every bit of it.

Abundant blessings;

03
Apr
22

Lent and the GTS

The ubiquitous logo

I miss Facebook.

You see, my chosen Lenten discipline this year was pursuing a fast (i.e., a period of intentional self-denial) from Facebook. Facebook had become something I found myself being sucked into WAAAAY too often. I rationalized that I used it mainly to stay in touch with out-of-state family members. But the truth is, I used it for many other purposes… most of which were much less noble than I was willing to admit.

But mainly, Facebook had become a GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) and I decided I needed to forcefully wean myself from for a time.

Thank you, Lenten fasting discipline. Your timing was perfect.

For the first four or five days, it was rough. Gone were the photos of other people’s dream vacations and new toys. “Adios” to the truly groan-worthy puns and memes. Vanished in a puff of smoke were those ill-informed political opinions – and sports takes – that I so enjoyed ripping into and exposing the fallacy of. 

And believe it or not, I really came to miss those times when friends would post truly profound truths about life that made me pause, scratch my chin, and say, “Hmmmm. Never thought of it that way before.”

And oh yes… this “fast” has also caused me to live without those delightful pictures of grandchildren, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews that so regularly warm the cockles of my heart. 

Who am I kidding… here now on Day 33 of my fast, it is still rough. Every day I have the sense that some genuinely good “stuff” is passing me by… never to be seen again.

At the same time, I don’t miss Facebook AT ALL!

I don’t miss all the trivial nonsense. I don’t miss the disruptive ads. I don’t miss the pointless bickering, based on the mistaken notion that it is possible to argue someone over to your side of any question. I don’t miss the “VagueBook” postings that make me guess where that picture was taken, or what that bizarre phrase really means. I don’t miss the invitations to jump into a multi-level marketing scheme. I don’t miss the crowing, “Hey! Look what WE’RE doing right now! Don’t you wish you were this cool, too??” posts. 

But most of all, I don’t miss the GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) Facebook had become in my life.

They warned me about it before I even signed up. But did I listen? NOOOO! “I’m too smart for that,” I replied, with a thinly disguised air of superiority. “I’ll be the master of my own domain. I won’t fall for those schemes designed to draw me in and trap me. I am immune to their fiendish addiction tricks.”

As it turned out, I wasn’t immune. 

Not at all.

Which is really the point of any kind of fast, isn’t it? When we become so dependent on a THING that we imagine that we can’t do without it (of course except for essential things like air, water, food, God, and human community), it might be a signal that it is time to take a step back and reevaluate our affections. To ask ourselves, “Is that _____ really that important, in the grand scheme of things? Do I really need it as much as I think I do?”

I know – without the slightest shadow of a doubt – that the very SECOND Lent is over (on Easter morning, April 17, 2022), I will be eagerly scrolling through to see what I missed. I will lap up all those vacation photos, corny memes, passionate political punditry, and hot sports takes like a man in the desert laps up water. 

I am a bit ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.

But hopefully, in the meantime, I will have gained a little distance. Maybe this period of intentional denial will teach me to stop for a beat or two before diving so readily into this (or any) form of electronic voyeurism. 

Maybe I will emerge from this fast on Easter morning with a new commitment to things like silence… reflection… prayer… listening… meditation… and rest.

It’s a long shot, but who knows?

After all, this is the time of year of resurrection and new birth, isn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

29
Mar
22

Pray a Prayer of Peace

With everything going on in the world today, I know your prayer list is probably full to overflowing. 

But I wonder… can I coax you into squeezing ONE MORE group of people onto it? Just for today?

Please?

Can I ask you to pause a moment and say a quick prayer for United Methodist pastors and their families?

In case you don’t know, this time – from about February to late May – is an incredibly stressful time of year for this group of people. It is the time of year when they each wait on pins and needles for THE CALL. That is, the call from their Bishop or District Superintendent that begins pleasantly enough, (“Good evening, Russell! How are things with you and the family?”) then rapidly disintegrates into a conversation that can COMPLETELY turn their world upside down (“The Cabinet met yesterday and discerned the need for a change we’d like you to think about.”)

A quick primer for you non-United Methodists in the crowd: every United Methodist pastor is appointed to serve a particular church by the Bishop and the Bishop’s Cabinet. That appointment is always a ONE YEAR deal. 

Always.

Every December, the pastor, and a group of volunteer leaders in that church, begin a discernment process. The process is designed to answer the question: “Is this pastor still right for this church?” And conversely, “Is this church still right for this pastor?”

Hopefully, the answer is always YES by both. Hopefully that relationship continues blissfully on, year after year after year. 

But every United Methodist pastor knows there is always the possibility of the COSMIC CURVEBALL. By that I mean, a call that comes TOTALLY from left field from one of the Grand Poobahs of Methodism that utterly trashes your designs for the future. It’s the one that goes, “The Cabinet met yesterday and discerned the need for a change we’d like you to think about.”

I received two of those calls in my ministerial career. And let me tell you, few things have rocked my socks more than those phone calls did. 

On one hand, you know you are free to decline the offer and say “NO.” 

On the other hand, you know that when you signed up to be a pastor in the United Methodist tradition, you signed up to ITINERATE. That is, to GO when the Spirit (or her representative, the Cabinet) says, “GO!” 

You know that when (if) you say yes, there will be at least three months of “treading water” at your current place until you report to your new location on July 1. 

You also know that saying “YES” means you are facing a brand-new environment for you, for your spouse and children (if you have any), a brand-new set of possibilities and problems, a brand-new congregation, a brand-new house, a brand-new school system, a brand-new chance to FINALLY get it right, and a brand-new context for ministry.

So many “brand-news” in such a short period. 

So, in comparison to everything else roiling the world today, this probably ranks as a teeny-tiny issue in God’s eyes. But for someone who has been in these shoes, I can tell you; it is kind of an agonizing few months. You don’t completely relax until that Magic Methodist Moment (July 1) rolls around and the new ministry calendar begins. 

So yes, please… if you can spare a moment to pray a prayer of peace for those folks, I know they would appreciate it.

Thanks a bunch.

Abundant blessings;

24
Mar
22

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie

Earlier this week, we celebrated an anniversary.

It was the third anniversary of Joan joyfully and triumphantly ringing the brass bell that marked the end of her chemotherapy and the beginning of her remission from cancer.

It has been a remarkable three years indeed.

During that time, we have uprooted and moved our home 600 miles to the west, traveled the world, endured a global pandemic, remodeled a home, mourned a parent’s death, hiked, laughed, wept, and occasionally even acted like goofballs.

In the moment of Joan’s diagnosis… and in the immediate aftermath… our focus was on what cancer took from us. As we held each other and sobbed, we grieved the fact that;

  • Cancer took our composure. 
  • Cancer took our faith in the power of healthy habits to ward off disease.
  • Cancer took our peace.
  • For a time, cancer stole our sleep.
  • Cancer (well, chemo, actually) took Joan’s lovely auburn hair.
  • Cancer took our cherished visions for the future.
  • Cancer took just about every other topic of conversation.

But here, today, three years into Joan’s remission, we have been able to refocus. God has helped train our eyes to see the things cancer could never take. 

We now know, for example, that cancer could never take;

  • Our love for each other
  • The love and support of family and friends
  • Our gratitude for the gift of every new day
  • Our faith in the God who promised us – just as he promised Joshua – that, “… As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, NRSV)
  • The beauty of this amazing world
  • The joy of simple pleasures like a good cup of coffee, a romp with the doggies, a stimulating book, a glimpse of snow-capped mountains, a FaceTime chat with grandkids, the warmth of a cozy blanket, a quiet moment of prayer, a freshly baked loaf of banana bread, or a sassy new pair of shoes.

Without a doubt, on this third anniversary of Joan’s remission we celebrate that cancer did not, could not possibly take from us; namely…

  • The “… peace of God, which surpasses understanding.” (Philippians 4:7). 

Besides cancer, the list is very short of the things that can so profoundly shake your foundations. It is one of those events that draws a big, bold “Before” and “After” line through life. And not just the life of the one who was diagnosed, but through everyone connected to that person. 

When it arrives, breaking down the front door of your life with an axe, like it does, cancer demands a top-to-bottom redefinition of What Matters Most. It smashes every one of the precious mementoes there on your shelf and laughs in your face. 

And suddenly, you find you have not one, but TWO battles on your hands. The first is the medical battle… the one you fight with the help of doctors, nurses, technicians, and researchers. 

But the second battle is the spiritual battle. It is the battle to hold fast to the purpose, meaning, and peace that was hardwired into you by God before you were even born. 

It is the battle for your soul.

I know there are some folks who feel as if we are at one of those “shaking of the foundations” moments in the world today. There is the political animus here at home, the brutal slaughter of the people of Ukraine, the slow degradation of our air and water supplies, the continuing COVID crisis, and the rise of rates of addiction and hopelessness, just to name a few issues off the top of my head. 

When THAT PICTURE is the one we stare at all day long, it is easy to conclude that all is indeed lost. 

But we have a choice. We can choose to focus on another picture. 

We can choose the picture Moses chose to see during his 40 years in the wilderness. We can choose to see the picture Jesus chose during his 40 days of fasting, or on the stormy Sea of Galilee, or in the Garden of Gethsemane.  

We can choose to see the picture of the God of All Creation, seated on the throne of heaven, holding each of us in his loving arms and – in the face of the storms raging all around – clearly speaking the words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

21
Mar
22

Risky Business

What do you consider the riskiest thing you have ever done?

Image courtesy of The Guardian: New Zealand

Back in the early 90s, I started my own business. It was a little advertising and public relations agency based in Kansas City.

But here’s the thing: I really don’t consider that risky. It came about through the confluence of opportunity, aptitude, contacts, and conditions and seemed like a very natural next step in my professional life. 

 Looking back, I would have to rank the hitchhiking trip I took in college from Tacoma, Washington to Columbus, Ohio and back again as the SECOND riskiest thing I’ve ever done.

The riskiest? That’s easy; deciding to LOVE.

If you have ever loved – especially loved another person – I don’t have to tell you that the act of loving is incredibly risky. In comparison to those who love, Evel Knievel jumping his motorcycle through a hoop over 20 flaming school buses is a total risk-taking milquetoast.

Love means pulling out that most tender, vulnerable, excruciatingly private part of YOU and offering it to someone else. Love is like voluntarily laying your life down on the tracks in front of the onrushing locomotive of ANOTHER HUMAN BEING and waiting to see what happens next.

Sometimes you walk away horribly wounded and disfigured.

At other times, you soar higher and farther and faster than you could ever imagine.

Yes indeed; our love for one another is incredibly risky. But sometimes it works out exactly as we had hoped.

GOD’S love for us, on the other hand, is always risky. Always reckless. Always fraught with danger. And in just about every single case, that divine love is a totally one-sided affair. 

At the risk of getting WAAAAY too anthropomorphic, try to put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment. Imagine pouring out 100% of your heart and soul on someone who seems utterly incapable of reciprocating. Over and over and over again you find new ways to demonstrate that NOTHING is more important to you than that human being.

To show them your love…

  • You splash beautiful sunsets across the sky EVERY DAY. 
  • You sprinkle fascinating people into their lives.
  • You continually whisper, “I love you SOOOO MUCH!” into their ears.
  • You build them the most miraculous and intricate container in which to live.
  • You LITERALLY move mountains to show them the power and depth of your love.

And in return? Bubkes. Zip. Nada. Zilch. You wonder if you might have gotten the same response if you had done nothing at all. 

And then… you decide to offer your beloved the most extravagant, outrageous, magnificent expression of love possible. You decide to sacrificially offer them… YOU.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

And wonder of wonders… some see this gift for what it was and bow down and give thanks. Some receive it with joyful hearts and allow this gift’s power to transform them from the inside out. 

Some of these people that you’d been chasing since the beginning of time finally turned around and really SAW you for the first time. And they praised you. And they made brand new beginnings with their lives.

And yet, most kept their heads down, unimpressed, and kept right on shuffling through their lives, one step at a time. 

And to those who saw you and responded, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE.

And to those who ignored you and your gift, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE. 

Because that’s just who you are.

Abundant blessings;




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