The river

There are times when the river of life meanders smoothly along. We enjoy the calm waters as we float along. The sun in the bright blue sky warms our faces and we are able to enjoy the beautiful trees as we move down stream.

Before we know it, the current picks up and we are surrounded by rocks. The roiling tide threatens to swallow us. Jagged rocks cut, bruise and batter our fragile bodies. We struggle and thrash, but the undercurrent pulls us lower and lower.

Just as we think we are about to breathe our last, the same waters that pulled us into the rocks, calmly pull us along to safety. Suddenly the peace of the waters overtakes us and it isn’t long before the trauma and turmoil of the rocks is a fading memory.

We can’t control the river. But, through prayer, we have the ear and heart of the one who does. That heart is for us, not against us. It loves us with a passion we cannot even fathom. It takes us through the rocks and bruises us at exactly the moment we need bruising, then pulls us to safety.

We can swim as hard as we like, but the rocks are ahead, waiting like the sharpest of jaws. Take time now, in the calm, and speak to God. He will help you avoid some of the rocks, but he will steer you into the ones you are meant to hit. The rocks are there so we would trust in him to bring us through, either on this side of Heaven or the other. God is good and does good.

Rest in joy, Bryan

For Bryan

Bryan,

God has taken you beyond our reach. For his reasons. For his glory, you are home.

I took the picture above while I was on my way to see you one last time. It represents so much of where my soul is today. There is what would seem like darkness all around, but God shines through it.

There is palpable sadness in the room you just left, but joy flickers brightly at the edges. We are sad you are gone, but joyful that, even now, you are being welcomed by Christ himself. You are at the table with our great Lord and the saints who have gone before, having the best food and drink anyone has ever imagined. Your voice, which so often here on Earth rang out to glorify God, has been added to the multitude.

You believed for healing and God has healed you in a way that cannot be undone and must never be repeated. God used you in life and he is using you even now to pull us all closer to him.

Watching your family care for you while singing praises to our merciful Lord has been one of the great honors of my life. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed. Thank you.

Rest in peace seems so lacking for what we feel for you right now.

Rest in happiness.

Rest in joy.

Rest in worship of our great God and King.

Goodbye summer

9/13/10 iPhone photo

I guess, in a few hours, summer will officially be over. It’s been a rough few months. I’m ready for winter colors, cooler weather, and some overcast skies. As I get older, I seem to love the winters more and more. I’m not sure why. There’s just something I enjoy about sitting in a warm house and watching the bitter cold outside.

Photo taken with the iPhone using CameraKit.

Just for fun

Restaurant

With everything happening over the last few months, I’ve been on the very precipice of burnout. I’ve produced what I think is some good work in that time, but it’s been a huge struggle. It’s been like trying to wring water out of a completely dry sponge.

Everything has a deadline.

Everything is an item on a to-do list.

I never take the time to just relax and do something creatively for myself. Everything is about producing more content, usually for others.

Overgrown Alley

This last week I was in Ardmore, Oklahoma shooting photos for a cook book. It was a tiring week, but I found myself on Saturday with a few hours before I had to head back. I decided to walk around downtown with my iPhone and just take some pictures for fun. I had driven past a wall all week that had some vines growing up it. Every time I drove past, I thought, “I’d love to take a picture of that.”

It felt odd, at first, just walking around shooting random things. It wasn’t long, however, until it felt natural again. If I saw an interesting looking alley, I’d go down it and see what shots I could find. To just do something creative with no constraints whatsoever felt so good.

It was only an hour, but it was refreshing in a way I can’t really explain. I left feeling better than I have in a long, long time.

Showdown Alley

I’ll be posting all the photos over the next week or two over at my iPhone photography site, TinyLens.tv.

Be intentional, be obedient

Yesterday, I wrote about how I seem to lose that close connection with God as the pains of suffering begin to subside.

Tonight I was thinking about how to maintain that connection and I felt God say, “be intentional, be obedient.”

I need to be intentional about my time. I need to make time for him. It doesn’t work if I just live my usual schedule and hope he shows up. I need be intentional.

I also need to be obedient. I need to do the things God has called me to. He is ferocious when it comes to my heart. When he asks for my obedience in an area, it is for my good, and he will not let go of it until I do it. I don’t know the outcome of obedience other than that I get more of him. I have to trust him with every other outcome. He has to be enough for me.

Be intentional, be obedient. That’s my slogan for the next few months. We’ll see what happens.

The fading sting of suffering

Suffering in life usually brings our relationship with God into stark focus. Without God, we feel helpless. With God, we feel helpless, but have a place to turn. Suffering can be horribly painful, but it brings with it a sweetness if we draw close to God in those times. I am never closer to God than when things are falling apart.

Everyone knows August was bad for us. We still have a lot of challenges ahead, but I think we are finally to the point where we aren’t receiving calls with bad news on an hourly basis. Everything isn’t perfect, but life has settled back into some strange new form of normalcy. And I’m amazed how quick the close connection with God fades as the sting of suffering begins to subside.

I struggle to hang on to the close connection, like a thin strand of a spider’s web, but I feel it slipping away. It doesn’t completely disappear, but it definitely isn’t as strong.

I don’t think it’s a fight I’ll ever totally win, but I have to try.

The big question

I’ve had a big question that has bothered me my entire adult life. Most people go to church to be ministered to, worship God and be in community.

So what if, instead of those things, the church becomes a place to work?

I’ve been a pastor for a good chunk of my adult life. Where do you go to be ministered to when you can’t separate what church should be and all the work that has to be done?

This is something I’ve fought with for over a long time now. I can’t be the only pastor that has ever struggled with this.

Good friends

If you look around you and see that the sea is calm then you still have time. You need to take stock of your life and see if you have some truly deep friendships. If you don’t, then you still have time. Work on building them.

One thing I’ve learned over the last month is that I have not taken the time to cultivate truly deep friendships. Do I have friends? Sure. But I’m talking about a friendship where all is known. They know all your issues and you know theirs. I have honestly never done that. There is no one in my life who I feel I can freely and completely open up to. And that is not a failing of the people around me, it is my own. I have been lazy about it. I have not trusted people with my faults. When I feel responsible to someone, I have trouble opening up. And I can’t really think of anyone in my life I don’t feel responsible to in some way. I never placed as much importance on deep friendships as I should have.

Suffering has a way of uncovering issues that need to be worked on. The storm reveals the weak points in the hull. I’ve found quite a few I’m working through.

Nine years

Nine years ago today, I walked down the aisle toward the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Actually, at the moment I’m writing this, I was probably nervously talking with family that had come in for the wedding. I was just half an hour from being married.

Nine years later, a lot has happened. We’ve built a life together and through all the challenges, grown more in love than I thought possible. I thank God that I have a marriage that is strong enough to survive anything and a wife who loves me far more than I deserve. I’m not always the best or wisest husband, but she loves me anyway. And I love her more than I can ever express.

A stormy September?

August was a stormy month for us. Easily the worst we’ve ever lived through. Finally, it seems like there are some small rays of light poking through the clouds. But, the clouds are still very much there, raging and rolling.

My prayer is that I stick close to God even as things improve. I have no doubt that he had his hand in every catastrophe that hit us this month. All of it was designed to bring us closer to him. That means these problems are a blessing from God. I’ve learned the ultimate good he can give us is him. We are so focused on health, money and comfort. All of these pales in comparison to being close to our King.

I pray I don’t forget that. It’s so easy to go back to pursuing everything else as our ultimate joy. Nothing satisfies like God, and sometimes he has to take everything away for us to realize that.

We still have a long way to go. But God is good.