Friday, September 3, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits #7 "God doesn't spend much on gift wrap"

I have been thinking about the gifts that God gives us vs. the things that we normally think of as gifts. God's doesn't spend much money on wrapping paper or cards, in fact, when you are getting a gift from God it appears at first glance as if it has been sent by an enemy.  He often wraps them in difficult circumstances. Difficult isn't really the word I am looking for here, He often wraps them in what appears to be the worst circumstances.  I have found that when these gifts come we have a choice, we can either embrace the package, open it and call it reality or we can push it to the side and begin to live just a little bit more in the fantasy life that we are creating for ourselves.  There are obvious dangers to each.

On one hand there is a grave danger that if you begin to open the package you will be consumed by it and lose your footing with God and those around you who love you, it is important never to open such a package alone.  If you begin to open the package with good intentions and then lose your nerve, I have found that the Father and our friends will come and help to continue the unwrapping if we allow it.  The gift from God has one intention really, its purpose is to chisel off a part of you that was never real.  Now, to be sure, we think it is real, in fact, we don't think that we can live without it (Here I am reminded of C.S. Lewis's brilliant metaphor of the Lizard on the man's shoulder in The Great Divorce.  If you haven't read it, do so immediately) but in reality we really can't continue our journey with it. I can't be more emphatic here.  God is in the business of chiseling away at you until you begin to resemble your self. 

Soren Kierkegaard said it this way, "And now with God's help, I shall become myself."  This is what God does.  He doesn't have any interest in communicating with your false self, in fact many of us are so wrapped up in our false selves that we have had to create a God to communicate with, a God that looks suspiciously like a human being, suspiciously like the evangelical God of the last 75 years.   Jesus said that entering the Kingdom of God would often take radical amputation, Matthew know gouge out your eye, cut off your hand...and this is what he was referring to.  Some parts of me were about to be chiseled off and like a statue that just lost an important piece, I didn't think I could lose those parts and still be myself. 

I don't think this is the best place to do it but at some point I would like to chat about identity.  One of the things that happens when we begin to see and hear is that God tells us who we really are.  There is a great passsage in the Book of Revelation about a white rock with a name written on it known only to us and to Jesus, this is our real identity.  He will hand us that rock on the last day and my hope is that I will say, "Yes, I know, remember we talked about this before."  It would truly be awful if I had to say, "Really, this is who I was supposed to be?"  That is the definition of one who tried to save his life but lost it. 

If you will hang out int he presence of God he will tell you who you are.  "Blessed are you Simon, Son of John...I say to you that you are PETER and upon this rock I will build my church."  Sorry for the lousy translation but I am going by memory.  Simon certainly hadn't acted much like a rock but that is who is really was...Jesus told him who he was and then gradually that is what he became.  Same is true for us. 

Just as we can see it happen in  Peter's life, these gifts from God, though they seem like horrors, will chip away everything that doesn't look like us. 

On the other hand there is a much more perilous danger in pushing the gift to the side and acting as if we had never seen the package.  We will add another layer to our false selves, we will be on a journey to becoming less and less who we really are instead of more and more ourselves.  I have seen this happen often.  I want to say 100's of times but that seems unreasonably high.  A person is confronted with this kind of gift, perhaps it is a failed marriage or the death of a child, or some other unspeakable pain, and rather than really opening the gift, rather than embracing it all and processing it through, they push it aside and at that moment something happens to them spiritually and emotionally that is hard to describe.  They seem to continue with their lives but they seem to be less than themselves, or they seem to be locked into that time of their lives never to move on.

When you see one of these gifts from God you have a choice.  An interesting side note is that the gifts of the enemy (some would call this enemy satan, some The Satan figure, some would simply refer to these things as an evil force without personifying it) the gifts that come from the enemy are often wrapped in lovely packages but have decay and death inside of them.  In this case you can almost always tell a gift but its wrappings.  To be sure sometimes the father gives us lovely gifts with remarkable wrappings, but often His best gifts are wrapped in some of our worst fears.

The gift I was getting was not wrapped in my worst fear, it certainly doesn't compare with the loss of a loved one or a failed marriage but to me at that moment this gift didn't feel like a gift at all.  What it did for me was open doors to my heart that could not be opened in any other way and so it was a wonderful gift. However it came wrapped in the paper of another break down and a growing lack of resources. 

More on this later.  I really don't have any pictures at this point, I wasn't in the mood to snap any shots of this dark cloud that began growing in my mind.  Again, I want to close sooner than I thought I would.  This story may be getting longer than I thought it would. 

Regret installment #1

I was thinking today about some things about my trip that I regret. I will mention them from time to time as they come up for me.  

I regret not going to the Shipwreck museum in Sault Saint Marie MI.  I have always been fascinated with the Edmund know, "the dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait, as the waves turned the minutes to hours..." I was right there and could have stopped.  I wish I would have.    I think I didn't stop because I wanted to get someplace, but I would have been in a perfectly good place if I had stopped. 

I am thinking about what comes next less and less these days.  I am learning to be where I am.  I think that if the trip began today I would know more about that "good ship and true."  At least I can thank Gordon Lightfoot for telling me about it in his own way.  I don't really care that I "missed something" but I do care that I am not more easily moved aside by God.  I read these words from Anthony Bloom recently:  "You remember how you were taught to write when you were small. Your mother put a pencil in your hand, took your hand in hers and began to move it. Since you did not know at all what she meant to do, you left your hand completely free in hers." 

I wonder how many things and people I have passed up because of my plans and not relaxing my hand...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits #6 "I am not supposed to be Here!"

It was quite convenient to check in the Homewood Suites in Lexington.  The gentleman at the front desk was amazing, he gave me a "good Samaritan" rate.  He gave me this rate because that is what I needed...  It was July 22nd and I was stopped for the day and checked into the Homewood Suites in Lexington.  It was too early to be stopped for the day and although the room was wonderful and the people at the front desk gave me a great rate, I wasn't happy.  I did enjoy the complimentary evening meal catered in by a great Italian restaurant in town and I ate, drank, and then did some reading and listened to the CD's for a while before I went to sleep. 

I was in this particular Homewood suites because it was next door to the Harley Davidson Dealer in Lexington, Man O War Harley Davidson.  It was called Man O War because of the famous race horse that was birthed on the farm on which this whole little development of business was sitting.  I was at the Harley Davidson Dealer because I was trailered there, I was trailered there because My Harley stopped on highway 64 right outside of Lexington.  It stopped because the clutch was burned to a crisp, largely, I was told, because of a terrible clutch adjustment.  That brings me back to the Harley dealer in Morgantown, WV....but we better not go there. 

Yes, I had only put on about 200 miles when I stopped moving right near a horse farm along the side of the highway.  I knew the drill and I called.  I told them I was right next to a large horse farm, the guy laughed and said that everyone in Lexington was at that moment sitting next to a large horse farm.  We finally figured out where I was, they came and then they told me that the clutch was completely burned out and that they didn't have the parts that were needed for the repair.  Not to worry, they would be air freighted in the next day and I would be on my way. 

The next day dawned and found me by the pool, doing some more writing and reading, watching the sun rise and then packing my bags for the day's ride.  I went over to the dealer but they told me the parts didn't make it because the Milwaukee airport was closed becasue  of a big storm that put the whole place under water.  I went back to the room and took out my journal and wrote, "I am not supposed to be here!"  That is when I realized that God had showed up and began asking me "book of Job" like questions. 

What did you really want from this trip?  I thought you said that you wanted some solitude and a place to go to be alone and think and mentioned that you wanted to find a monastery where you could get away and be left alone to do the work that you wanted to mentioned that you wanted to let me into some places in your heart that have been closed to me."  Funny thing happens when God asks you questions, he doesn't give you answers, he just asks questions, good questions that put you in a place where you almost always have to reply, "oh yeah." 

The thing was that I wanted to a place to do these things on my own terms, I wanted to be in control of the time and the place.  I wanted to pick the place and not to have to worry about another repair bill and my schedule and all of the things that were swirling around in my head.  God had some more questions for me, "you like control don't you?" "You tell other people that 'control is a myth' but you rarely put yourself in a place where you are not in it." I tried to listen more to this quiet questioning voice but the other voices in my head were drowning it out. 

What I wrote in my journal was my conclusion: "I guess I am supposed to be right where I am but...." and then I couldn't finish the sentence...there were no "buts" really.  No but's.  I still wasn't really convinced.  Now, looking back I can see that the fact is that you are always supposed to be right where you are and if it doesn't fit into your plan or if you think something had gone wrong in the divine scheme you are simply wrong.  I didn't like to be wrong and I didn't want to be here, but I now know that "there" was precisely where I was supposed to be. 

This was Friday and the shop told me that the parts would be in by Saturday morning at about 10:00.  I called my wife and texted my friend in San Antonio, telling them both that I had no idea when I would leave and what would happen next...that uncertainity as to my next move opened a place in my heart into which God would move and clear out some things that I didn't even know where there. 

I have to stop now becasue the memory of that day...especially the next morning is a little overwhelming for me.  It was one of those times, the 24 hours between Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon that changed the course of my life with God and everyone else that I know.  It was a hinge of history in my life and, I think, one of the most merciful things  that God has ever done for me.  It all revolves around some feelings that I had never felt before, loneliness and abandonment.  I was discouraged and for the first time on this trip I admitted it to John, my friend in San Antonio. 

I have to say to set up my next post that I was now out of money.  I meant to stop an automatic payment of a large sum of money from my checking account the day before but I had forgotten to do it.  The payment was based on a budget that seemed to be fine before I spent the money that I had left at different shops around the country, now about $1600.00.  I had some cash in my pocket but no cash machine was going to give me more, I only had my debit card, no credit cards and no one was near to help me. 

I didn't sleep well and wondered what I would do the next day when the bill needed to be paid. 

This is Man O'War Harleydavidson in Lexington KY and the shop is aptly named considering what would happen in my heart in a hotel just two doors down.