Posts Tagged ‘crisis

29
Dec
20

Passing Through Waters

It snowed here last night.

It wasn’t much – maybe two inches total. But it was enough to make me glad I was not out trying to drive through the fast-falling flakes.

On other occasions, I have not been quite as lucky. My extensive catalog of life experience includes multiple instances of trying to navigate one-and-a-half tons of gas-powered sheet metal through horrific weather conditions…

… often in the dark,

… often at highway speeds.

I think particularly of one nighttime drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a torrential rainstorm. It was my first time ever on this stretch of road, so add “road unfamiliarity” to the mix of nervous-making conditions. 

Then there was that time in college when I was driving north on Interstate 5 in Washington State. It was at night (of course!) and there were blizzard conditions all around. You should know that in Washington, they are kind enough to add little raised bumps to the lane-dividing stripes on the highway to give you an audible signal to help you know when you are crossing from one lane to the next. 

So blinded was I by the snow, that I navigated by listening for the rhythmic “thrum thrum thrum” of the little bumps beneath the tires on the right side of my car, which caused me to correct toward the left a little… until I heard the same sound on the left side. 

In both cases, it was at least two hours of sheer, white-knuckled terror until I finally arrived safely at my destination.

In neither situation did I consider pulling to the side of the road and waiting for the storm to pass. I just kept plugging carefully, nervously ahead, one anxious tenth-of-a-mile at a time. I am not sure why, but I somehow trusted that I would ultimately get through the mess and come out safely on the other side.

It occurs to me that sometimes we have to do the same thing in life. 

Sometimes in life we hit turbulence. Sometimes we face conditions that have turned unspeakably hostile. Sometimes pandemics threaten us. Sometimes the diagnosis is bad. Sometimes all of our options seem to have vanished like smoke.

And just like me on the highway, life does not give us the option of pulling off to the side of the road and waiting for the storm to pass. We have to keep trucking, putting one foot in front of the other, wiping the snow/rain/tears from our eyes and trusting. 

I suppose when I was behind the wheel of the car, I trusted my (*cough, cough*) pretty amazing driving skills to get me through. 

In many of life’s storms, we start out doing the same thing… right up to the point where we can’t anymore. 

That is the moment when we are faced with two distinct choices: either sink deeply into despair or call upon the words of Isaiah 43:2. That is where we hear God say, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2, NRSV).

I note here that God did not say IF you pass through waters, or IF you walk through fire. He said WHEN.

All of us hope that 2021 will be a huge improvement over this year. For many of us, it likely will be. For others, it might be even worse. 

But no matter what kind of storm you end up driving through next year, I hope you will keep driving, supremely confident that if God is with you the rivers will not overwhelm you and the flames will not consume you.

Abundant blessings;

17
Dec
20

Trusting the Master Mapmaker

I am not exactly sure when it started, but for a very long time I’ve had a deep fascination with MAPS.

I remember my very real excitement when – at the age of eight or nine – my grandfather handed me a folded, paper map and asked me to navigate as he drove us to the location of our family picnic. 

Of course, the first thing I had to do was turn the map so that it was pointed in the same direction we were driving. But once I got that part figured out, I reveled in being able to say, “OK, grandpa… we have to turn left at the next road we see.”

Oh the POWER!

I think the thing that fascinated me the most about maps was trying to figure out just exactly how they were drawn in the first place. I mean, how can something as HUGE as the entire state of Ohio be accurately drawn on a piece of paper the size of my Big Chief notebook? How was anyone – especially in the days before airplanes – able to draw an accurate picture of exactly how much that river squiggled or exactly where that coastline took a 90-degree bend to the west?

The only reference point I had to the world around me was the stuff I saw right in front of my eyes. It was mystical beyond comprehension how anyone could create a total, unified picture of how everything beyond that fit together.

To be honest, I still find it pretty mystical. 

[And I might or might not just be talking about maps here.]

Later in life, I also realized that successful map use also requires a great deal of TRUST. This is true whether we are talking about paper maps, (yes, Dorothy… there really was once such a thing), or our handheld Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems. When the voice – or the map – says, “Turn left in 500 feet,” we have to trust that this advice is really taking us in the direction we want to go.

All of this brings to mind a section in the book of Job. In case a refresher is needed, Job was the famously faithful man in the Old Testament that God agreed to “test.” And by TEST, I mean visit every possible affliction imaginable on (including putting up with the advice of well-meaning, but misguided “friends”) to see how his faith held out. 

SPOILER ALERT: Job passed the test…

… but not before expressing some serious doubts about whether God actually knew what God was doing. You know, a little like you and I might be tempted to do during a time of global pandemic, political unrest, severe economic distress, personal loss and hardship, and winter.

God listens patiently to Job’s complaint and then replies. Actually, God’s reply covers three entire chapters of the book, so I will just include this tiny snippet here:

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’”
                               (Job 38:1-7, NRSV)

I always thought God sounded a little snarky there, but Job got the message… LOUD AND CLEAR. The Master Mapmaker sees and knows the Big Picture… because he CREATED IT!

You and I see only the tiniest slice of reality and from that we draw global, all-encompassing – and usually incorrect – conclusions. Job finally learned that when he trusted the facts that 1.) there IS a map and 2.) that map is totally trustworthy. 

Job was at last able to gaze upon his tiny slice of the known universe and find real joy in it… even when the picture he saw looked gloomy.  

Hopefully I am learning a similar lesson from these fraught, frightening times. Hopefully I am becoming more able to see both the Big Map and the Small Beauties…

… and finding joy in both.

Abundant blessings;

15
Apr
20

A Letter from Inside…

Jail cellDear Mom;

Well, it’s been one month now since they locked me up and this is the first time I’ve sat down and written to you. I’m really sorry about that!

It’s just that… well, honestly, I can’t come up with a good excuse.

I wake up in the morning, make coffee, stare at the wall for a while, re-heat the coffee in the microwave, take a nap, watch the evening news, and before you know it, it’s time to go to bed again.

Nobody told me it was going to be like this! Back in the good old days (you know… the days before I went “inside”) I used to dream about having days like this! I thought, “How cool would it be to have nothing on the calendar… no phone calls to answer… no reason to shave or change out of my PJs… all that PLUSunlimited access to the cookie jar.”

Now my heart races with excitement when I get that robocall offering to refinance my current, high-interest mortgage rate.

And before you ask, yes, I have already finished alphabetizing my spice rack, my bookshelves AND the tool shed (although I’ll admit; it was hard to decide whether to file the garden trowel under “G” or “T”).

And yes, I have also re-hung all the pictures on the wall in chronological order AND color-coded the shirts in my closet.

I send off a new “Letter to the Editor” every day, but somehow, they don’t seem to be at all interested in my plans for harvesting all the goose poop from public parks and using it to power the city.

Neanderthals!

You know, at the beginning of this confinement I thought this might be a great time to lose a little of that “spare tire” I’ve started carrying. So far that’s not happening. It might have something to do with my access to the aforementioned cookie jar or the completely stationary nature of my other pet project: looking for secret messages hidden in the wallpaper patterns.

Oh well… thanks for listening. I hope you’re doing well.

Things could be worse, I guess. I could be actually locked up… actually unable to connect with friends and loved ones… actually deprived of a livelihood or a future the way some folks are today instead of just imagining myself in that situation.

For now, I’ll just sit here and wait for Steve Harvey to call and tell me I won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

… although what in the world I’d do with the money, I have no idea.

Signed;

  • Your loving son
02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!

01
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 1

One man counseling anotherOver the course of my 20 years in professional ministry, I like to think I have offered some measure of comfort to people who have come to me seeking counsel in the midst of deep, personal crises.

But I know for an undeniable fact that my performance as a counselor has sometimes stunk up the joint, too.

I am thinking specifically of the time Troy came to see me.

As his story poured out, I tried to remember if I had met Troy (not his real name) before. But since I was one of a multitude of associate pastors at a megachurch in the Midwest, I really couldn’t place him beyond a passing familiarity.

On the surface – where most of us prefer to dwell most of the time – Troy fit in quite well with the general congregational profile: he was white… upper-middle class… well educated… successful… family oriented.

He was not the kind of guy you would expect to be sitting across from, watching as a cascading wave of life crises threatened to pound him into little pieces and wash him away.

For starters, Troy had been laid off from his job. It was a good, high-paying job with an engineering company where he had worked for 15 years. A change in ownership led to a change in senior staff and a thorough re-shuffling of personnel. Troy was one of the unfortunate casualties.

Shortly after receiving his walking papers, Troy’s wife decided to leave him. In reality, she decided to finally stop trying to hide the affair she had been having with another man for a couple of years now and move in with him.

She was, Troy told me through his tears, the love of his life.

Then, just this past week his youngest daughter came home from school in absolute agony, vowing never to return to that horrible place ever again. It seems she had been singled out by a group of mean girls at her junior high for an epic ration of bullying and ostracism.

And to top it all off (“What?? You’re kidding me! There’s MORE? Troy… my brother… I am not sure I can even keep track of, let alone respond pastorally and effectively, to everything that’s going down in your life right now. I’m about to hit overload on the CARE-O-METER!”), Troy had just received word back from his dermatologist that the mole on his back that they biopsied last week was – in fact – melanoma. Steps needed to be taken right away to begin treating it to prevent its spread.

Troy was still covered by his company’s health insurance under the COBRA law (thank God!), but this new twist was going to throw a serious wrench into his job-hunting campaign for a while.

As he concluded his litany of lament, Troy just lowered his head, shook it slowly back and forth and said, “Pastor, I just don’t know what to do or where to turn. I can’t sleep at night and I just feel like I am at the end of my rope. That’s why I came to see you.”

Most of the time, when counseling with a congregant, I begin the session with prayer. In the prayer I ask God to guide both of us by the Holy Spirit and to help us see possibilities that might not be apparent to either of us. Troy had walked through the door 20 minutes ago and immediately began spilling his guts… unaware of my pastoral prayer protocol.

We may not have begun the session with prayer, but man alive, I was sure praying now!

I was shell-shocked. I was numb. And quite honestly, I had no earthly idea how to respond to Troy. At that point I had not been at this pastoring thing too terribly long and had never heard this kind of outpouring of woe from any single person. This was like a week’s worth of crises all wrapped in one nasty ball. Fortunately, I fought back the urge to stop him and say, “Hold on, Troy… one issue per customer per visit, please.”

But life had not afforded Troy that kind of orderliness. It was all hitting him at once.

And so, as he looked up from his folded and shaking hands, it was clear Troy expected something from me. He was a smart enough guy not to expect that I would pull out a magic wand, wave it and say, “Shazzam! All better now!”

But still… something was needed. A thread. A glimmer of light. A narrow ledge his aching fingers might cling to.

As my calm-appearing gaze met his, the wheels of my brain were whirling feverishly. The cylinders tumbled, the locks clicked, the chute opened… but nothing came out.

“Help me, Jesus,” I desperately prayed, “Because honestly… I got nuttin’!”

 

… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW!




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