On Snowbanks and Wells.

This is Sam. Not Ed Sheeran.

This is Sam in Colorado. Not Ed Sheeran.

I was watching Ed Sheeran play a live show on Palladia the other night. I love Ed Sheeran because he’s a great songwriter and musician for sure, but it’s more than that.

Ed Sheeran is not a kook or a phony.

He is clearly a man doing what he was born to do, and while his talent is deep and native, you can tell he’s done the work too: Digging in the garden where his talents lie until something authentic and pure grows.

That’s why, when he plays, there’s no construct, just a guy on stage with his hands in his pockets saying: “Yah, I got something you’ve never heard, so I’m going to turn it up.”

I love people like that. I follow them around because I don’t care if you’re playing music or preaching the word, I want to see it stripped down. I want to know what you got, you got straight from the well.

At this exact time last year, I was a week out from the arrival of a big new school, and just plowing through piles at work. It felt like the day after a blizzard when even the bulldozer struggles to keep up. I was tired and discouraged, but as I do, I just pushed harder. Maybe you know this feeling. Here’s how it looks:

Tired of Snow

Later that day, I opened my bible looking for the scripture about youths not growing weary and rising up like eagles, but as often happens, I arrived at the “wrong” place in Isaiah. I went to Isaiah 41, not 40. Here, the Prophet is speaking for God to Israel, the children of Abraham:

You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Just as I was ready to say, “OK, cool thanks God,” I very clearly heard him say, “Wait. Read it again. Now again, slower.” As I did I pictured the words in my head. The scripture goes on to say:

For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”

Wait. If you’re holding right hands with somebody, you’re basically shaking hello right? How else do you do it? If suddenly they fell down, could you hold them up? Not really. So if I’m a child of Abraham because I’ve been grafted in and God and I are holding right hands, like the scripture says, how is he upholding me?

And that’s when I saw it.

He’s standing behind me.

Possibly squatting, holding me like a child, with my right hand outstretched in his. He speaks softly, because his lips are right next to my ear. He literally has my back, with his left arm around me, holding me with the strength of his whole body. In this posture, I can be a sharp, threshing instrument, and a fearless crusher of mountains. Read the whole thing, it’s amazing.

See friends, this is what happens at the well.

Nobody gave me that image, I didn’t read it in somebody’s book. It was an unexpected but very precise disclosure that came when I sat at the well and waited for it. And I trust it, because in the past year, I’ve shared it at least a dozen times. Every time, somebody says: “Yes! I get it,” in the same way you can listen to Ed Sheeran play and say, “Yes, I get that, it’s authentic, it’s true.”

To me, it also proves what my pastor friend Daniel has been saying for months.

The degree to which you abide in Jesus, is the degree of authority you will have in him.

That, my friends, means time at the well. Talking. Listening. Rereading his words, slowly, with focus and intention –  even when you want to jump up and push snow.

On Cattle Dogs and Discouragement.

It’s been one of those weeks and it’s only Wednesday.

My baby dog of nine years, Gracie, is lying at my feet with labored breathing and full-body swelling that four days in the doggie hospital couldn’t sort out.

Baby Grace in Colorado

Baby Grace and me in Colorado

Sam brought Gracie home for me as a present even before we were married, and although she rides with him every day in the front seat of the Ranger, like a little canine Lieutenant, she is my dog.

This morning at daylight, Sam and I had to work calves. For the first time in history, Gracie couldn’t go. Moving cattle hither and yon is her life’s work and even though she chewed the moulding off the kitchen door trying to prove she was up to the task, I know better. She is bad sick and nobody knows why.

Concurrently, I have a stuff coming up I need a little help with, not the least of which is the direction of this blog. So I decided to fast for a few weeks and try to get a little clarity.

Fasting is a spiritual practice that I’d never really tried, except when I gave up coffee for Lent. Since I did that successfully I figured I might try the three-week Daniel Fast. I’m on day three and having a hard time staying off the couch.

There’s a lot more to say about fasting and I will after I spend three weeks eating like a vegan monk at AA – no sugar, no coffee, no alcohol, only water and things that grow from seed. I noticed recently that I control what comes out of my mouth a lot better than I what goes in it and it’s a problem. So more on that later.

But most importantly, I had a long, discouraging email exchange with a potential literary agent yesterday. She said she would like to represent my work but my platform (code for how famous you are blog, Twitter, etc) is too darn small.

I can’t help but think of all the Kardashian-esque ways to fix that problem but that approach is a little incompatible with my work. Plus, Sam and I are old. So, you know, that’s out.

Hopefully, this low, hungry time, where I lay on the floor and pray for my dog, will be the rainstorm I need to rinse away all the non-essentials and come up sparkly and clean. That way we can get down to the way things are, just as fast as we can.

There is No Magic Wand – Only Fire.

Galata Tower – Istanbul

The other night, while surveying my life and repeating my new favorite mantra “WTF am I doing,” my sister called. She was en route to JFK to catch the redeye back to her home in Istanbul. When she asked what I was doing, I said I was thinking of getting in the bathtub with my toaster.

When I started following Jesus like I meant it, I wasn’t banging my head and squirming under existential pressure all the time. In fact, several of my ducks fell into a quick and tidy row and I saw some inexplicably graceful things happen.

  • My cash + needy people = Demonstration of God’s provision.
  • My prayers + rival = A surprise easing of tensions.
  • My mouth + God’s word = Encouragement and joy.

Little victories like that were the C to my A+B. So naturally, I expected them to continue and grow in volume – especially as my obedience and faith grew. I’ll just keep working my righteousness and God will give me what I want. A+B=C.

Sorry baby doll, it doesn’t work like that. And BTW…your righteousness is like filthy rags, Isaiah says.

I think one of two things is happening:

a. I’m in a refining phase, growing up a little. God is burning off the old rags and rubbish that are cluttering up my yard, while increasing the difficulty of my math with equations like this, that are so far over my head I have no choice but to cling to him for solutions.

b. I’m just blowing a gasket.

Ugh, maybe I’ll cut and run. But where?

Just before Jesus was crucified some of his followers deserted him. Jesus remarked about it to Peter. Are you going to run too? He asked. Peter replied:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have learned to believe and trust and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God, The Christ, the Son of the Living God. John 6:63

Later that weekend, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus.

So even Apostles are unequal to the task. There is no magic wand. Following Jesus requires equal parts grit and stamina, humility and surrender – an unusual combination in humans. I want my life to leak love and demonstrate the grace of Jesus to people who don’t believe in him, but at the moment, I’ve got a raging grease fire in my kitchen.

Ironically, the only place I can find to cool off, is deep in the book that started the fire in the first place. Peter, who was later crucified upside down, says I should be happy about that:

Be exceedingly glad, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1Peter 1:7

I know it won’t last forever, it just feels like it.