Friday, June 27, 2008

On Jumping in All It's Various Forms...

This past Tuesday night, I went with my church out to Lake McKenzie near Silverton, TX. It's a respectable, but smaller, size lake with a very cool cove that has different levels of cliffs that you can jump from.
The six of us parked and hiked down the grass and dirt path that leads to the bottom. I was hobbling down carefully, trying not to irritate my slowly healing sprained ankle. My buddy Shane was the first down and into the water, which he said was freezing as he swam across the cove to the rope that helps you get up to some of the lower cliffs. 
There was a couple fishing in there, and they said the deepest spot they could find was 13 feet (the water was WAY down). Shane was already up on one of the cliffs ready to jump, but the group decided it would be wise to check the depth before he jumped (even though we've done this before). I was next in the water, so I swam over to the landing area and down I went. I didn't hit bottom, but kept hitting branches attached to some immoveable tree under there, so Shane turned to his left to the clear water I found and let her fly! 
All sense said for me to just stay in the water and not jump at all this time, with my ankle and all. But almost like I was on remote control, even as my mouth is saying I just need to stay in the water, I climbed the rope and jumped (make that avoid impact to my ankle). I was fine. But I still came out of the water half glad I did it, half shaking my head out how lacking I am in self-control regarding things like this.
At any rate, Josh, Orand, and Chris S. were making there way into the water (it wasn't near as cold as Shane said) and across the cove. Shane went a few more times from the lower and higher cliffs, and Josh joined him. Chris N. is still sitting on the bank with no intention of even getting in the water, let alone jumping, taking pictures.
Now Chris S. headed up the rope and over to the cliff's edge, with Orand close behind him. His intent was to go right up to the edge and jump, but instead what began was an much more significant internal battle within himself about his need for control that would last over an hour.
Pause. My friend Chris is a very cool fellow. He's an economist. Yeah, an economist. The first and only one I've ever known. He told me once that the title is a bit of a smoke screen...but I'm cool with it...I just like being friends with an economist.
We've been developing a friendship over the past few months. We've had several lunches, and he has ventured into my basement where a bunch of us go to "keep it real" and intentionally try to let Christ conform us to his image. So because of the context of our friendship, we've become friends very quickly.
Anyway, I'm pausing here because Chris and I had gone to lunch THAT DAY, and while there, he said he had something to talk to me about. Suffice it to say that he was letting me know that he ready to venture out of the comfort zone of his current controlled life, which isn't going as well as he pretends anyway, but knows that to do so would require him moving into new unknown territory...yes with God, but he knew he needed more...he needs God's community in the flesh. It was my favorite thing that happened that day.
Until that is, his standing on the cliff became a living, breathing, incarnated analogy to what we talked about at lunch. He stood on that cliff for a good 15 minutes, I guess, bewildered at himself for how hard it was to let go of the tree next to him and jump. He kept asking Orand, waiting patiently behind him, if he wanted to go first, which he didn't...but eventually did (now, Orand had to face his fear to jump, too, but he did it pretty quickly). This was Chris' first easy opt-out...he's already away from the cliff, back by the rope, but he went back over to the cliff after Orand to take another look.
I took a spot down in the water under him, dog-paddling near the direction of where he would land (not too close), as a show of support. Of course, I really wanted him to experience the breakthrough feeling of doing something in spite of your fear, reason, and logic, so I joined right in what was going on in him by speaking out loud the analogy this was to what he proclaimed at lunch. He listened, but it wasn't lost on him. He was already thinking everything I'm I went forward trying to motivate him to jump.
I told him about my first cliff jump...I sat for 4 hours looking over thinking it might look easier in a minute.
"The view WILL NOT change by waiting."
"It is a decision of the will to trust you will be okay."
"This is over in half a second as soon as you lean forward."
"The feelings you face here are the same feelings you will face when 'jumping' into your new you might as well know what it feels like"
"Your first step is to resolve that you are jumping. If you are jumping, then it's just a matter of when."
We dialogued deeply about what was going on inside of him, way more than can be recorded here. But my favorite exchange began when Chris had again walked away from the cliff and was sitting next to the rope.
"I don't want to climb down, and I don't want to jump," Chris said, perfectly describing so many of us in so many things. Then he asked, "If I don't jump, what does that mean about conquering the stuff we talked about at lunch?"
"Nothing," I replied, "this is nothing but a silly cliff jump. You are going to conquer that other stuff whether you jump or not. You are free to climb down or to jump down. What do you want to do? You don't have to jump."
Now feeling unconstrained by ego, pride, machoism, or letting this cliff jump too seriously represent his capacity to trust God, you might think he'd come on down. Instead, Chris looked back over to the cliff, with that same little fire of intent in his eyes...but with this obstacle on his mind...
"If I go back over there, I will hit that same split second moment of fear that I have this last hour that has stopped me."
I merged with that thought, " you have no need of being surprised when you walk over there and face that moment. You only have to decide whether you want to go over there and push through it or not."
Off he went to the edge of the cliff, and perched himself in the same spot holding on to the same branch, looking down with the same holy stare. He didn't jump right away, and we had been here for at least an hour, and I had pretty much exhausted all my best material. So, really wanting to see him jump and overcome whatever was going on inside of him, I asked God, "Father, is there anything I can do to help him?"
Duh! I've been speeching to this poor guy for an hour and hadn't prayed. So I looked down at the water and prayed..."Father, be with Chris. And in the name of Jesus Christ, I command anything that hinders Chris from getting whatever it is you want for him, away."
Off he went...with a Braveheart type yell forcing it's way out of his mouth as he did.
Josh and Chris had left. Orand had climbed to the top, and would later tell Chris that he had given up on him, thinking there was no way he would go. Shane was still across the cove on the shore, patiently waiting and witnessing.
And Chris said it was the scariest thing he's ever done. Shane said that it was exciting, and that Chris made the trip! Orand wouldn't stop smiling, and encouraging Chris with the idea that even when others stop believing in you, you can do it. 
I think I will just leave it at that. It was a great trip...great fellowship...and we got to see another brother, in another way, jump through his fear and find out what faith looks and feels like. It's risky, dangerous, requires letting go, giving up control, and trust. And that's what the church I attend on Tuesday nights is all about. Life-changing faith.
Way to go, Chris!
Here is one of my pictures from a place called Bluff Hole in Letona, AR. The first and primary cliff where I have learned this lesson many times (yes, it was winter, and yes it was too cold to jump).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Joy Paint

"My heart is full of joy paint." - My daughter Callie, on a walk home from the store together yesterday
I needed to go to the store to pick up some stuff, and I decided to walk (to exercise my sprained ankle), when my daughter Callie looked up with fire in her eyes and said, "I wanna go!"
"You can go, " I told her.
I had a ball cap on, and she asked, "Are you wearing that hat?" I told her yes, and off she went, finding one of her cute hats and put it over her long, but somewhat tangled (from swimming) red hair. Dog-gone-it, this girl is so cute.
So we walked out the front door and headed for the store. I knew that Callie would be a super-great conversationalist for our walk (she always is), but her first words as we crossed the street were, "Can we get some flowers for mom?"
As we walked, she spoke of things ranging from the great trip to Houston we just returned from, the beautiful weather, the landscaping of a house we walked by, how she likes the color pink, her sadness about the loss of Dixie (the dog of her friend Kacy we stayed with in Houston), the picture she drew on a post-it honoring Dixie that she placed on the grave, how pleased she was that we were together on this walk, and many, many other subjects.
After we bought the things we needed, Callie insisted on carrying half the load all the way home, even though I offered to do so. She wanted to be "fair" to me. 
So as we walked home and I watched my daughter lug what was quite a respectable load for her when she didn't have to, and I thought about how she regularly draws pictures for people, how quick she is to serve, how deeply she feels, how much she smiles, how excited she gets about people and simple pleasures, and I just had to tell her...
"Callie, you know, you spread lots and lots of joy. Everywhere you go, you notice good things and give good gifts."
And here is my favorite part. Her answer was instant, matter of fact, and self-aware. There was no ego, no false pretense, no fake humility, nor any boastful intentions. What she said, she said as if she knows it as a deep and objective reality, and as something she taps into all the time...
"Yeah, my heart is full of joy paint."
Yes, it is Callie. And I bask gratefully in the privilege it is for me to observe you dipping your paintbrush in it constantly and using it so liberally, with such freedom and confidence, blessing the world as you go with your very full heart of joy paint. 
And I am so blessed to be the regular and constant recipient of it's masterpieces. 
Callie starts Art Camp today, and she promises to come home with one piece of art each day. And I have no doubt that each one will be delivered with a huge smile, an excited voice, and a story about how it came about.
And splattered abundantly with joy paint.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cardboard Testimonies

A couple of my brothers that meet in my basement on Tuesday night told me about a very impactful worship service put together by the church they attend on Sundays. Shortly after that, I was forwarded a video of it, and it is very worth the watch.
We showed this video this Wednesday night at our Oasis gathering (which was impactful enough because many of our people know many of those people), followed by my interviewing one of my brothers who shared and told the stories behind 5 of his "cardboard testimonies," which included:
from Trusted in Money to Dependent on God
from Porn Freak to Jesus Freak
fromTerrible Husband to Life Mate
from Quenched the Spirit to Hearing from God Daily
from Hated Thoughts of Evangelism to Lead 6 to Christ in Past Year
It was beautiful hearing the details of his transformation caused by Christ in each of these areas.
We invited others gathered to write down their "cardboard testimonies," order to praise God, but also for some future Sunday morning service where we do our version of the Hillside service. Here are some of the beautiful, redeemed testimonies of people I am blessed to run with here...
from Sexually Abused Child to Child of the King
from Thought I Was a Christian to KNOW I am a Christian
from Can't Forgive Myself For Having 2 Children Unmarried to Learning to Ask God to Help Me Forgive Myself
from Time Spent on Collecting Worldly Things to Time Spent Finding the Kingdom of God
from Arguing with Mom and Angry to Praying to God and Letting Go
from Alcoholic, Drug User, Thief to Trusting God with My Issues
from Totally Checked Out Husband & Father to Plugged Into Christ, Wife, and Kid's Hearts
from Emotionally Unattached & Unaware to Attached to Jesus' Teaching, Guiding & Softening
from Ashamed of Christian's Hypocrisy to Full of Understanding, Grace, Mercy and Love
from Angry, Bitter, Untrusting Feminist to Loving, Submissive, Humble Wife
from Rejected by Man to Chosen By God (from young divorced woman) 
from Me First, Only Me to God first only (from an 11-year-old)
from Unworthy Doormat to Daughter of the King
from Two Abortion, Unforgivable Woman to Forgiven by God Mother of Three
from People Pleaser to God Pleaser
from Fighting My Own Battles to Giving the Battle to God
from It's All About Me to I am a Free Forgiven Man
from In the Crowd but Alone to Intimate Brother 
from Wounded and Scared to Healed and Confident
from Straight and Narrow, Condemning Others to Forgiven and Forgiving
from Hiding Under Rock to Get Away From Trouble to Finding the Rock of Salvation
from Secrets to Grace
from Hating God to Praising God
from Not Trusting Anyone to Knowing God Cares for Me
from Sexually Abused, Feeling Unclean, Injuring Self, Brother Drowning, Father Suicide, and Afraid to Trusting in God, Feeling Loved, Trusting in Others, Wonderful Family
You know these could go on and on and on...what is yours? What are yours?
Mine would be...
from Guilt Driven to Grace Driven
from Genuine Counterfeit to Honest-to-God Real Deal
from Unforgivable Cheater to Whole, Free, Forgiven Man
from Son of a Convict to Son of God
from Self-Righteous Judge to Self-Aware Lover
from Making Things Happen to Letting Things Happen
from Compelled to Change Others to Compelled to Change Self
from Ask God for What I Want to Ask God for What He Wants
from Defensive to Disarming
Again, what would yours be? And if you happen to be a member of the Southwest Church, I'd love to add yours and your name to the growing list of people who would be willing to hold up their cardboard testimony (see video) at a service in the future. Let me know.
I got two more turned in that only had one side, and they bring up an aspect of this exercise important for all of remember that we are on a journey, and that there is hope. They said:
Unforgiving Wife...
Constantly Afraid of Being Hurt...
The sweet woman that handed them to me said, "I need to let God give me the other side of these."
Amen and amen. What is still undone for you?

A List of My Beliefs

I believe that love is the deepest, most profound and comprehensive, and only sustainable answer to anything and everything for any person whatsoever, in any and all realms of existence and relationship.
I believe that hope is an attainable, real, and practical state of existence for any and every human being in any and every moment of their lives, and that each one needs it to live the best possible life for them, and that it is theirs directly proportional to their willingness to have it.
I believe that faith is the counter-intuitive, but ultimately most reasonable way of living that all humans have the much assaulted capacity to use and it unlocks and gives them access to the life of their dreams, and that every person in every moment is in the position to choose to utilize it.
I believe that truth sets any and all people free in every sense that this statement can be read and understood.
I believe that freedom is the active motivation of every person that has ever and will ever exist, and that it can be had by anyone in any circumstance whatsoever, and that it explains every action of every person.
I believe that life is the ultimate goal of all that has been created and that it is so pervasive and unstoppable that even life's perceived opposite, death, brings it about.
I believe that belief is the necessary first step of each and every step that ever gets taken towards anything of worth, particularly all of the lofty and noble things listed above, and that the man of unbelief in any degree is truly the saddest sight in the world.
I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Master of the Universe on all of these things I believe, and he remains my most effective teacher in living them out here 2000 years after his lifetime, the longevity of which is testimony in itself of just how powerfully he integrated and embodied them in his short 33 years on this earth.
And I believe that if I am to have any worth whatsoever in any realm of my life at all with any person that will live inside or outside of my lifetime, it will only have come from how much I was able to contribute in helping them get into an actual and practical relationship with Jesus Christ, and it would be the honor and glory of my short and humble existence to have done so.
"The work of God is this: to believe in me." - Jesus

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Price of Being Me

(I have been limping around this is the story of why...)
I went out Monday to the Palo Duro Canyon, as I regularly do, to meet with God.
I drove there with my mountain bike, parked at a new trailhead that I haven't explored yet, packed up my water, Gatorade, and flashlight, and rode off. It was a beautiful trail, even if it was a little beyond my mountain-biking ability in spots, and I was loving it.
I stopped every now and then to gaze at the walls of the gigantic valley I was in (the truth is, I was looking for any hint of caves to potentially explore while finding a spot to pray...thus, the flashlight). Finally, after maybe a mile of riding (?) the trail took a huge turn to the right along the rocky walls...and up to the left, I saw a huge cave just under the top of the ridge of the canyon. I leaned my bike against a tree, hung my helmet on a branch, donned my backpack and started up.
"You want to be free, but you need your security too.  When you are attached to what you already have, how can you bring in anything new? To bring in something new, something fresh, something unpredictable, you must surrender something old, stale, and habitual." -- Paul Ferrini
I was walking pretty slow.
Whenever I'm in the canyon alone, exploring a new place, I always have to get over my fear of the rattlesnake. Which is strange, because I always want to see one when I'm out there (In Chronicle's of Narnia, CS Lewis says "It is difficult for those who have not been to Narnia to understand how something can be terrifying and wonderful at the same time."). Today was no different. As I hiked up and down the fierce terrain, I was noticing every shadowy space under every rock, wondering.
Funny how consistent this experience of dread is, no matter how many times I do it. But eventually, I go through my thoughts of "If God wants you to see a snake, you'll see a snake," and "Do you wanna go back, Brian? No. Well, then if your going, go. If you get bit, you get bit." It's also amazing how these fear-overcoming-type thoughts actually and practically affect my experience, resolve, and progress.
Freed from fear to move more quickly, I looked to my projected path. It's hard to trust what you see in mountainous terrain. Because of perspective changes as you move, you are constantly altering what you think is the best way (and what you think might be the greatest prize to explore!). Long story short, I found myself on a beautiful ledge, sitting on a flat rock wedged into a steep slope, perched between two fairly-sheer drops to my right and left. I decided to sit here and pray. It was quiet, lonely, just windy enough to feel like God was having a conversation with me, and rich.
There were several, but the prevailing thought that I contemplated as I sat staring out at the endless desert-mountain beauty was, "This land is completely indifferent to my being here. It would go on being beautiful and dangerous whether I was here to experience it or not." (My thoughts on how this is like God, and the wonder, glory, and invitation of that, will have to wait).
During my prayer time, I kept looking off to my left at the cave, still distant, but now just above my eye level. I had not come the best way to get to it, but the sight of it kept beckoning me to visit. From this vantage point, the safest way would be to go all the way back down to my bike and begin a new path. The quickest way would be to traverse a couple of up-and-downs (made fairly deep by rain-water paths), staying at my current elevation, and connecting with the path I'd be going back down to. It was challenging, but not horribly treacherous, so I decided to traverse.
"Imagine a steep rocky crag of red sandstone, out in the wild, desert expanse. You stand at the top of this high ridge on the edge of a cliff, looking down into what seems a bottomless chasm below. You feel a sense of vertigo. You reach for something to hold onto, but nothing is there. Your foot begins to slip on the rock beneath you and you find yourself overwhelmed by a sense of dread. This is what it is like to know the incomprehensible mystery of God." -- Gregory of Nyssa
Close to the bottom of the first waterway, I stepped on some of the infamously loose canyon dirt that looks like solid rock. I could tell I was going to the bottom, so I bent my legs and skied/slid the 5-6 feet awkwardly, where I proceeded to land in a way that sprained my left ankle, then my left wrist.   
"We get thrust beyond fear to a grace unexpected." - Beldon C. Lane
Pause. I think it worth mentioning that in my mind, in my pain, I hear myself start to say all kinds of diminishing, life-sucking things like, "You idiot! What are you doing out here? This is not safe! What were you thinking? Never do this again." But I can honestly say that they were interrupted and refuted instantly, by the voice of God, no less...more on that in a minute.
Okay, so in this one instant, and then lasting for several minutes, everything that mattered seemed to change. I'm lying on my back feeling my wrist and ankle swell up. The sun's heat feels hotter and more threatening. The lack of shade anywhere close jumped to my awareness. How far my bicycle was from where I laid (and how far it was from my car) seemed impossible. My water bottle being empty, 1/4 of my Gatorade being gone, calling my softball coach to tell him I won't be playing tonight, determining how long I might be lying here in the sun "before they find me"...they all seemed to be the most important things.
Now,they were the most immediate things, to be sure. But the most important things had not changed in this moment of crisis. I was surprised and elated at how quickly I embraced this (and that I was even having the thought!) "Okay. Okay," I thought, "This must be what You have for me today, Lord. I have been broken against this indifferent rock, humbled by how fragile I am no matter how much care I take, but my trust in You has not shattered, and Your love for me has not changed."
There it all was...grace unexpected. Could I have ever even had these thoughts, fought this internal fight, been comforted by their truths without some truly fear-full, scary, actual experience like this? How does one come to know what he truly believes, how much he has grown, what he is capable of, where he puts his trust, without some sort of real, legitimately dangerous, litmus test?
"Your fear becomes one of your dance partners, but with you always leading." -- Paul Ferrini, in I am the Door, (the next book that I will purchase)
I prayed again. "I will praise You in this pain. And I will gladly accept my current fears because they serve the purpose of making me acutely aware of my need for You. And is this not what I came out here for? To draw closer to You, the prize and purpose of my life? I praise You now with head swirling, I will praise You when I get to my bike, when I get to my Blazer, and when I get home safely and am soaking my injuries in ice telling the story to my family."
Gathered and grateful, I smiled as I looked down the path of least resistance that I was now being forced to take out of this place. I took a small, rationed 3 swigs of my Gatorade and started hobbling down. I would come upon drops in the terrain and laugh with God, "I know I'm going to be right down there in a minute, but I don't know how the heck I'm gonna get there." It took me about 45 minutes to hobble to my bike.
And I praised God.
I got on my bike, wondering if I would be able to ride. But first I needed to decide which way to go. Do I go back the way I came, a known path, but also difficult with many ups and downs that I would have to navigate, most likely, pushing my bike? Or do I continue on the way I was headed, on the chance that what is unknown might be easier and quicker.
What would you choose in this situation? I chose the unknown path. I don't know why this is in me, but I realize that this is a mirror to my life. When given the choice between "what I know" vs. "what I don't know but it might be better," I seem to choose the later.
Surprisingly, it was easier to ride than walk. I could maneuver my foot on the pedal in a way that minimized the pain shooting in my ankle (which was not possible when walking on the canyon ground), and once I resolved that I'm just going to have to bear the pain in my wrist as I gripped my handlebars tightly on the rocky path, it seemed to hurt less.
The results of my choice of direction? Mixed. There were far less extreme up and downs this way, which meant less of getting off my bike to push, but it was FAR longer. It took me about an hour (and many rest stops and pondering whether to leave my bike behind) to finally get to my Blazer.
And I praised God.
I took my last three swigs of the now very hot Gatorade, then opened my car door, grabbed a cold water bottle from my cooler and downed it in no-time (I could've poured it on my skin, I think, and my body would have swallowed it up).
Strangely, my heart was full of pure joy for the trial. I would never choose it. Nor would I ever plan it. And honestly, it is tempting to be embarrassed that I allowed myself get into the mess. But every time I would head down the self-defeating, spirit-demising thought path, these words would quickly invade my mind: "This is the price of being you."
I knew the voice was God's...I could tell because of the timing of it and the fruit. This kind of stuff is going to happen to me sometimes...physical, emotional, and mental injuries play a regular role in my life...they are part of the price of being me.
And I will gladly pay...because one day I will die, but not before that. 
"Everything that happens to you is your teacher.  The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life, holding God's hand, and to be taught by both it and Him.  Everything that happens is either a blessing, which is also a lesson, or a lesson, which is also a blessing." -- Polly Berends
So, as I continue to learn (and limp) from this particular blessing...pray that I rehab nicely and quickly. I've got a mountain-climbing trip with my son coming up in July.
And as I am about to send this out, I open up Beldon Lane's book one more time and my eyes land on this perfect summary of my belief, and of this whole experience...
"The slipping of the foot on the edge of the cliff is an entry into darkness and fear. But the place of fearfulness--the place of risk--is also, paradoxically, the place of being known and loved."
May you slip into being known and loved.