Tarry On the Boulders

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Sometimes in May, a little warm snap will grip the mountains of the Colorado high country. In their excitement they shed their snow like white mink coats – all at once and fast. Piles and piles come sliding down the canyon, melting into the valleys. There, the water collides with itself, in such a hasty and reckless tumult, it rearranges the boulders all down the river.

To the rare listener, it sounds like muffled bone crushing, powerful and unseen, like centuries of things starting and stopping. The boulders move because they have to, forced by the will of the water.

Change is the river’s only constant.

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But as spring turns to summer, the big water slows and slips quietly into New Mexico, unnoticed by anyone but a few fishermen tying their flies. Finally the boulders rest, their mottled grey backs rise steadily as the water drifts south.

Queen Anne’s Lace loves the river too, so she hangs around all summer with the Prince Gentians, the last of all wildflowers. Her slender green arms reach over the river; lacy, white fingers graze the last of the snow pack as it slips by.

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

This is a thing worth seeing, but I won’t unless I go and tarry on the boulders. If I will sit and wait, the magic will struggle up through the piles of ordinary, and I will see what was buried all along.

Ordinary is an illusion everywhere.

It was on this very river, on some long departed boulder, that I first understood Romans 1:20. I memorized it with my feet in the water.

For ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature and attributes, that is, his eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (his handiwork). So men are without excuse, altogether without any defense or justification. Romans 1:20 AMP

This is no joke. These mountains, this boulder, this ache in my soul are the signature of The Ancient of Days. They are the voice of the Infinite Omniscient saying:

You hear me best in stillness and light, but I am everywhere. You can’t grab the water or capture its sparkles in a jar. There is only now. I am here, and I am willing to overwhelm you.

This is the pain of an unseen God. The yearning is real, but the trust is hard.

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So we seek transcendence everywhere else. We chase it, try to buy it, swallow it, fall in love with it, convince ourselves we’ve got it and give it proud names. But the mountains know things we’ve forgotten, or maybe we never knew.

God is alive and we are eternally without excuse.

That is the hope and heartbreak of Romans 1:20. We can glimpse God’s eternal power and divinity, in a thousand year old river whose stones will cry out if we don’t.

But only for a second.

The hope is: What we see now, in glimmers and through aperture of memory, we will someday see in full. The mountains and rivers promise.May 2009 115

So go outside tonight. Watch the Perseid meteor shower. Sit still and let the creation remind you of things you already know, and perhaps let it introduce you to the one who knows you.

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Love in the Time of ISIS

Something snapped in me this week. It’s hard to describe what the phrase “systemic sexual violence against women and children” does to me, but I think it looks like this. 

I’m kicking trash cans and smashing mailboxes because Boko Haram militants pray for conception as they rape little girls, hoping to create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria. ISIS sells naked little girls in slave markets in Iraq with such impunity there’s a pamphlet with an FAQ explaining how rape and enslavement are cool with Allah. 

Now, before we set off an argument about which religions have, throughout history, used sacred texts to defend the buying, selling and abuse of other humans (ahem), or before we dismiss all of it saying the poor and marginalized have been abused forever, I want us to travel in our minds to a market in Ramadi and take an unflinching look at naked girl children being sold like calves. You can purchase a little girl there for $172. An orphan calf in Texas costs twice that. Now, consider those people, in the course of history, who’ve stood up, often at great personal cost, and said:

This is wrong and I’m going to fight it.

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You can think what you want, but I believe I will stand before God and give an account of my life. I will answer for how I spent my abundant freedom and my deep American privilege. I’m not afraid of that day, but I really want to give a good answer – especially when it comes to desperate women and children.

If you’re not a Bible reader, here is just one of its admonitions on the topic –  words spoken by a woman, to her son, King Lemuel. 

Speak for those who cannot speak. Seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction. Speak up, judge righteously, & defend the rights of the afflicted and oppressed. Prov. 31:8-9

This week author Ann Voskamp spoke up, issuing a serious call to the North American church. Abandoning her normally gentle, quiet tone, she basically yelled: Wake up Church! Quit repaving your parking lots. This abomination requires an immediate and loud response from people who still have loud voices. – Us!

She implored her followers to “Wage Love” and defy ISIS by raising $150,000 for The Preemptive Love Coalition – a small NGO in Iraq doing pediatric heart surgeries, paying tuition for kids and granting micro finance loans to Iraqi women.

By Thursday, they raised half a million dollars, I think because many people are saying, I can’t keep kicking trash cans over ISIS. I will help, but what do I do?Empower

I often take questions like that to God, because in my experience, he gives me reliable, though often difficult, counsel. Here’s what I got:

“Give a sum large enough that you and Sam will argue about it.”

Ooooh see now, that costs me something because I don’t want to argue with Sam. But we did, then we agreed, then we gave. Yah! Go us! 

And now Sam and I are a small part of that half million dollars. I’m defiant by nature, and it feels awesome to shoot ISIS the finger in a practical way. The irony is, on their homepage, PLC reminds us to “Love First” not shoot people the bird. OK. I’m a work in progress.

Here’s the thing. We we can ignore this and the myriad other issues that have us smashing trash cans, or we can do something. But if you’re stuck knowing what to do and how. Here’s my best tip:

matchGo into your room. Close the door. Get on your knees and pray, even if you don’t really know how. Just ask. “God, I want to help, what would you have me do?” Then sit and listen. Pay attention for the next few days. Look for mysterious little invitations popping up around issues you care about. Slavery. Addiction. Bullying. Whatever. Then take a step over that threshold. Then another. Then another.

See those curious little beckonings are open doors into work that matters to you and to God. They are invitations to a big life in God’s big army. If that concept makes you queasy because of all the armies out there violating people in the name of God, here’s something to ease your mind.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

Just look for the light, and that’s how you judge the army. 

Feeling A Little Restless?

Isn’t it amazing to watch somebody take a blind, flying leap into a brand new life? To watch them decide the fear of not leaping is greater than the fear of what’s below?

Does it make you a little jealous?

IMG_5184Meet Ashley, one of the founders of Love Dinner, a woman I met two years ago on a trip to Zambia. Yesterday, after two years of planning, she landed back in Lusaka.

We all returned from Zambia different, but Ashley came back destroyed. She was restless and pacey like a dog on a chain. All she talked about was going back and how she felt sort of foreign and aimless in her American life.

Don’t you know that feeling? It nags like heartburn and makes you ask everybody “What am I doing with my life? What am I doing in this job? Why did I marry you? Who are these obnoxious kids? Blah Blah Blah.”

What happens next is a matter of choice.

You can handle that pacey dog feeling in spazzy, damaging ways like I did for years: Taking up with bad men or throwing my things in the back of my truck at midnight and heading west. I’m super good at that.

Or you can sit with it like a grown up, surrendering to the possibility that it’s holy discontent, put there like a treasure map to guide you toward something that’s actually kind of precious.

That’s what Ashley’s doing. She’s not running away, she’s running toward something she believes God buried for her on the windy plains of southern Africa.

So what is it for you? What is making you pacey? Chances are your life’s work is hidden in it somewhere. Don’t go leave your wife or buy an expensive car just to assuage it. Sit with it. Surrender it to the God who’s likely using it to get your attention. It’s not up to you to figure out HOW to do the work amid your other demands, leave that up to Him.

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Want some evidence of God working out the how?

A month ago, I stood on the aft deck of a big, white, ship in the Indian Ocean and giggled about the course of my life for the last five years.

Let’s see…Sam and I moved to Texas and bought a cattle ranch, which five-minutes later dried up in a 100-year drought, so we sold our cows at a loss, moved to France and went broke. Then I followed Sam to a swamp in East Texas and joined a maritime NGO I’d barely heard of, which sent me to Congo, to Haiti and Madagascar where I, among other things, ate alligator, planted corn and swam with orphans.

Really, how foolish would I be to take credit for writing a plot line like that? Certainly, I participated but I didn’t plan any of it. It happened, I think, because I quit running from one amusement to the next and stared down the restlessness.

And I picked up the Bible and learned who actually God is – not who people say he is.

After a couple of months of reading I quit asking, “What am I doing here?” “What am I doing with my life?” Not because I had a bunch of clever new plans, but rather, a big, shaky hope that someone else did – somebody big, powerful and faithful.

That hope is amazing, but IT IS NOT FREE.

Ongoing humility, surrender and commitment are unpopular practices these days, but they signal that you are probably, finally, running toward something that matters.

The reward for all of it is the person you get to become. It feels like surfacing from a deep green lake, looking up as you swim toward the air, not seeing too clearly through the water but knowing exactly where the light is.