Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chapter 44 Oil Slicks and Leaky Radiator Puddles

I go to a church these days where the parking lot is free of oil slicks and leaky radiator puddles. It’s fairly pristine, like the cars and the SUV’s that fill it on Sunday mornings. The families are very pretty as they walk together and enter the front doors, and I watch them with a chip on my shoulder, because even though my family is pretty, they’re not as pretty as, say, that one.

And the one over there.

Inside, we sit, and white elbows come close to touching each other in the pews, but not quite, so as to avoid the invasion of personal space. And we move to the middle to let in late comers, and we greet them at the appropriate time, when told to do so, forcing some social interaction that is awkward and not at all what I signed up for. Someone tells me to turn to the person next to me, you know, to tell him that I’m glad he’s here.But I’m not, so I don’t say it. I never say what I’m told to say. I do mumble a hello, and flash my best fake smile, but the person is always looking past me, to the next person, you know, the one that he or she will shake hands with after me, so I think it’s just a waste of germ exchange.

Some more white elbows attached to white bodies and white faces are on stage and they smile and clap, trying to get me to clap; and others too, maybe to rouse all of us out of our slumber. They encourage me to worship, and I’m in the sea of beauty and fashion, and I’m sad, though I can’t explain why.

Yeah, I probably can.

This church is very nice, and safe, and I sound resentful, but I’m not. I’m just observant. The teaching pastor is very knowledgeable and he’s taught me quite a few new and interesting things about this and that. All in all, he must be doing something right because this church is blessed on every corner. And their corners are perfect in fact, and tidy, really, and they’re much like many others around the country; some of great influence, some just of local sway, with pastors of national renown or their own city prominence, filling pulpits to reach the many, or just a few; and what does it matter, because I’m here too: a sheep to its shearer is dumb, or maybe I’ve trudged my way here, reluctantly, this Sunday and the next, so my kids can be with their friends from school.

But I still feel dumb.

It’s a long story, but you should know that we live in a suburb. Our kids go to a school in said suburb, and now we attend a church in the very same, uh, suburb.

So church will be comfortable and predictable for this season, with those perfect corners and neat edges and hopefully what I don’t teach at home about Jesus will still seep into my children’s subconscious as they go to Sunday school and youth group; as a part of a gang or clique, as they go on trips and attend ice cream socials and snow retreats with other white kids who text each other and pull out their iPods and gadgets and gizmos.

But, then, I don’t know, because the Jesus I know and love had an insane and unexplainable love and an inclination to touch the kind of people who wouldn’t be here: drunks, prostitutes, gamblers and lepers, the poorest kind of people, white sure, but with different colored skin too. The ones who don’t frequent suburbs, and if they do, we sometimes call the cops on them.

The Jesus I know longed to be about healing, and so he just did it. He spent time with the sick, because they needed the healing. He spent most of his time outside, always on the move, looking for them; maybe in parking lots with more oil slicks and radiator puddles.

Maybe they won’t learn about Jesus at all here, and I’m just drowning out the noise of it all. I could just be buying some time until it’s over and they’re indoctrinated into a rhythm of church as an institution, as if that’s what they should get, because we all need it; it’s where we learn the discipline of verse memorization and the order of the books of the Bible; the virtue of hand holding and the vices of petting. It’s where we meet the dork of a youth group leader, fresh from college, who loves to play dodgeball and call the boys “dude” and “champ” and tousle hair; the girls fall in love with him and his young wife rolls her eyes.

I'm learning as I go, but from what I can tell, church must be viewed as a lifelong rhythm, not just a building with seats to occupy. Certainly worship and wise teaching and leadership are crucial elements for our nourishment, but those who want the adventure must realize that it doesn’t make sense to just stay inside.

Maybe this church or any, really.

If a church or a pastor or a priest has taught us anything, it should be that this Jesus we serve and follow – he's out there, on the edge, practicing love and sacrifice for no other reason than because it’s right and is being received by the unlovely, the unsuspecting, the unwelcome, the underdog. This is a new life with a new purpose and yes, it’s often outside in the elements where it's rough and it’s dirty.

And it’s really not safe at all.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chapter 42 James, Who Speaks Many Languages

This country of mine is fortunate, as am I to live in it. I say this for the obvious reason, which is freedom, but really, it’s an old freedom. It was bought long ago with a price that I’m able to recite, but with a sown sacrifice that I’m not sure I’m worthy to reap. I don’t respect it enough. My ancestors gave something of themselves – maybe even their lives – for an idea, and I enjoy it with my soft hands and nonchalance.

For me, freedom just is. I wake up free, I breathe free and I live free, just like I always have.

When it’s the expected moment, sure, I pledge to our flag and sing our national anthem. On the Fourth of July, I light fireworks and celebrate our independence. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I strive to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives long ago for our freedom, as well as those who have done so in recent decades for freedom in other countries.

But really, if I’m being honest, I just pay it lip service.

Freedom has always been here, in between America’s shores, for centuries now. Those of an older, fading generation have a better appreciation of what it might have felt like to lose that. They can recall the air raids and the uncertain fear of a creeping global power and ideology; one that could have invaded and brought destruction and imprisonment. For them, freedom was redeemed with lost sons and revered with a patriotic fervor which hit very close to home. But, unfortunately, those people are aging and dying – and with them, real memories. Memories now captured in textbooks and in documentaries on cable.

And so, to spend some time with a friend like James, freedom finds new life. It is fresh, reborn even. It has a voice. It breathes. It is all at once relevant and touchable.

James is a Burmese refugee (legally recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR), who now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In his apartment hangs a small American flag; it means something to him, I suspect, for he recalls little of a life of true freedom. In fact, he’s a living breathing acronym to freedom, for he’s lived most of his life in one refugee camp and then another. He’s borne witness to attacks on villages and the stripping of dignity at the hands of brutal, ruthless men; the senseless extinguishing of once vibrant, free lives.

Men, women and children.

Horrifically, for James and his country, a power and ideology did in fact invade. A military junta from within Burma’s own borders brought destruction and imprisonment, and James remembers it and speaks of it with stunning detail and emotion. He fills his childhood recollection with such images, right where I would find memories of a birthday party or a summer vacation, or some other significant, much happier event.

James was six when his village was attacked. It was a Sunday night when the enemy struck, after James and his community had enjoyed a full day of celebration and feasting. It was perhaps the last celebration he would enjoy in freedom for twenty years. James is understandably emotional as he speaks of it, but I sense he’s not afraid anymore. Quite possibly, having lived through what he has, what’s left to fear?

From that moment on, his family lost more and more of their earthly possessions, but they never lost each other. In fact, during one sweeping raid by the enemy, while in a makeshift camp (not formerly recognized as a UNHCR refugee camp), James and his entire family of eight, including his mother and father were made to lie flat on the ground as their hut burned next to them. The soldier, carrying an AK47, told them repeatedly not to move. And so they didn’t. Others who ran or tried to hide were struck down by bullets, but James and his family were spared.

The soldier slipped away, perhaps unknowingly an answer to the prayers of those lying prostrate on the ground. What was once their home and belongings was now just a pile of ash.

Ultimately, James and his family made it to an “official” refugee camp, where they found safety. Life was better on many fronts, as the camp was protected in a mountainous region within Thailand’s border. There were schools and churches. Supplies were abundant due to the generosity of others. James learned to speak five languages fluently just by being in the midst of so many cultures, perhaps a silver lining to a very dark cloud.

This may all sound like great news, but a fence still kept others from coming in, and them from going out. He was ostracized and treated differently by those living in freedom on the other side of the fence. He recalls knowing that he had no future.

And before he knew it, James was 26.

Fast forward to life in America, and James is the pillar of his family. In fact, it was James who navigated the application process for refugee status; James, who led his family here two years ago through check points and borders and customs and the whole ordeal of international travel. James, who speaks many languages.

Fort Wayne is now home to the largest population of Burmese outside of Thailand, which neighbors Burma (and contains its numerous refugee camps). So, not content to be merely a pillar for his own family, James has provided aid and comfort to many others who are here – to those who have arrived legally in America with similar nightmares to share. He is an interpreter, a friend, a liaison to a strange new world.

There is much to debate about refugees in our midst. What about competition for our jobs? What about the strain on our schools and our healthcare systems which are already overburdened? What about those strange cultural differences? What about this and what about that?

This is understandable. But what about James and his family? What really is ours in the first place? Are any of us truly worthy to reap someone else’s sacrifice from years gone by, while at the same time ignore that there are others in the world still, to this day, entangled in the chains of captivity? Our freedom has always been here, but for most of us, someone else paid the price for it. Maybe none of us can ever respect that enough, unless we give something of ourselves for others to enjoy it as well.

As I sit with James in his apartment, he’s finishing up a job application online. He’s been trying for a while to find work. I ask, after all that he’s been through by the tender age of 28, if he’s frustrated in his job search.

He smiles and says, “at least here, I have a future.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chapter 41 With a Bent Toward Something

The rain is coming down and there’s a crazy bird out there, alone, singing with some sick joy in the night. It’s Monday for God’s sake.

It’s freezing and wet, and not at all late summer to me. I open up the windows anyway because I’m hot. I’m always hot.

I hear that train again, way off, warning at its crossings. It’s heading toward a place, with a plan, with a bent toward something. If you want to hear it, you can, if you listen through the din, or above it; or maybe feel the ground shake. You’d have to get close enough, but it’s enough to just believe it.

Cars are driving by and their wheels slap and splash against the slick black road, and I sit and wonder about the adventure I’ve missed, while I’ve tossed and turned; while I’ve made excuses and invited someone else to take my burden.

But rest assured, I still point others back to where I last saw Him.

This is not some pity party where I invite friends to an intervention, to enter into some crisis of faith. I know what I believe. I know what I’m missing.

It could be that I need to write again, if only as a way to worship, to smoke out these vices masquerading as security blankets.

I’m not good as a drifter. I float between bad and worse; I succumb to some form of an unmotivated lifestyle that is fueled by bouts of addiction and colored with tinges of gray. It has its own trajectory, careening toward a fraction that has regrettably reduced itself, again, and again; maybe even lower than its lowest common denominator.

And so it begins again. This is me crawling back out of a mess of my own making.

It is not a proud moment to have accepted something of a Holy assignment, to recognize it, to achieve it, to acknowledge it is bigger and beyond me, but then, to step aside.

Some may say that’s wonderful, a special something to point back toward, to know and to cherish and to appreciate; a legacy perhaps, but it doesn't last. It is there that I've wallowed in a wretched place, one of nonsense and folly; of temporary blitzes of euphoria bridging a gap to nothingness.

Yes, nothingness is a place to visit; it is a destination on a spiritual map. I’ve been there.

In fact, it is from there that I write this letter to you, whoever you are; whoever may still be reading. And my prayer is that you would somehow discern the clarity amidst the fog. That these ramblings would find a place of comfort in your living room, on your train, at your job.

You see, it's never been uncomfortable enough. This cross I carried for him then was still light and convenient and, mostly splinter free. And then I put it down when it became too heavy. I pick it up from time to time, and I give a little here and there to this day, and that day; to challenge the guilt I endure for the week or the month I do nothing.

I did not stop believing in the One I chose to follow. He is ever real and breathing and doing. But I am not doing. I am merely a spectator, or worse yet, a player at half time who has feigned some injury, pulled some coach aside to plead my case, my useless case for why I'm not fit for the second half.

Surely he'll listen, he can see I'm beat up, muddy, a deplorable mess.

I know I need to get back at it. There is much work to be done. I need to be heading toward some place, with a plan, with a bent toward something; anything but this. The ground is shaking if I put my ear to it, if I stand still. If I move closer.

It’s not enough for me to just believe it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Chapter 40 What Crazy Love is This?

What crazy love is this, that you would assume the repetition of my sin? Surely you see something I don’t, because this stain won’t come out.

I am forever shaded in grey and my intentions murky and misguided. There can be no finer splendor than what you abided in; a brilliant sunrise to my stormy dusk. Yours was and is a containing of our whimsy, not once and again, but a Kingdom real and true.

And yet you left it.

It is surely some cosmic fate you took on as your own, when any other King would be content to embrace what was merely good in us; to spare the righteous and cast the sinners away, dooming them to hell.

Yet you witnessed the glory in each and all; sons and daughters you called us. Such was your love that there will never be an earthly equal; such was the inherent beauty of your creation that you would take on the very pain you fashioned. The nerve endings, the flesh, the tendons – all of it under your watchful eye, someday to know it frail and torn.

This was what you knew when you became small, insignificant, dependent on another. Time would contain thirty three of our years but time was and is of no concern to you, so you felt the severity of your plan when you designed it. You assumed it all upon your entrance into this wrecked dimension. I wonder if you still bear the agony when I rub out this spot; when I hide it and pretend it won’t consume me.

So what does Christmas matter but to set the stage – one which renders a prologue to a battle of three long days? You knew it would take thirty three years, but those three days, and only those three, would finish it once and for all. You knew your adversary and his resolve. You scripted it and you began it. In your measure of eternity, it was done already.

But you still knew you would be bruised and beaten and battered, for your opponent wouldn't go lightly. Each and every failure of this mortal man was to be thrust upon you – branding you and tainting you.

Until you emerged victorious. And white as snow, for someone such as me.

What crazy love is this?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Chapter 39 It's Really Not Abundance at All

The second Bush is about to finish his second term and there is much talk of his replacement.

And those who are limitless in number, but limited in power, are blaming the limited in number who are limitless in power. Right about now there’s a question as to who can best manage this conundrum, and the well being of a country that has known wealth and freedom quite abundantly, but one which needs to heal from the self-inflicted, festering wounds of greed and gluttony.

So, as we look upon a feast that has been spread upon our table, it’s this very issue of wealth and abundance that has a way of nauseating the noblest of notions – those of the fat and the healthy; the lean and the hungry. For if abundance cannot flow outward abundantly, it’s really not abundance at all.

One side will argue that the table’s bounty should be shared with the masses, not only in our house, but among tables in other houses far and wide – that all should come and sit and eat until they are full. Others who have worked hard for the harvest, as well as those who have become heir to it, together with those in power over them, well, they all are justifying their righteous anger at the expense of a few who will not work, and therefore should not inherit the right to have their hunger satiated.

Nonetheless, for one who has been fed and sustained and relatively privileged for years, my voice is strong and healthy and heard. In a world where blessing provides a feast that is large enough for all to eat, the evil opposing it creates an insatiable appetite in the gorged to remain so; and the din and frenzy of my efforts and maybe yours drowns out the cries of the weak, the very ones who grow weaker by the day for they have gone quite a while without sustenance.

Much like the animal kingdom, a very twisted circle of life provides for the survival of the fittest.

But, wait – isn’t there another Kingdom, one which is steadily being ushered in? Those of us who claim an inheritance to this Kingdom mustn’t allow the feast to spoil while the entangled and entrenched argue their position; no, we must quietly take our ration, that which has been given us, and lean close with an ear to hear the whispering of the underserved.

And then share our portion with them.

It is a decision to re-distribute, one that is not forced upon us, but made by us and only us. And with our other ear we listen to the passion of those in power, so as to make a wise decision on a leader who will affect change and respond and allow our voice – and that of the weak – to be heard at the proper time.

If you and I would share from our plate, then I wonder if it would become contagious? Another group may witness it and soon share from their plate, and then, whoever is in power or authority over us (or anyone for that matter) will watch as a groundswell reverberating from a different circle of life emerges, one which ripples and resounds and creates a beautiful sound to the ear of the One who provided the feast in the first place.

And abundance will flow abundantly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Horrific Mess that is Me (redux)

I am tired.

I should daily die but, instead, every other day perhaps, I grasp and claw and fight my way into my will of living, the very resolve that is manmade, centric focused, self-fulfilling.

As I write this, I plead for something, anything to help me describe Him, for I watch as the chapters of my story reach their glorious heights only when this author realizes quite shockingly that he is not the Author. Surprisingly, He does a much better job than someone such as I, with my feeble existence, my limited tolerance, my pathetic shell.

Even as I write this, I plead for something, anything to help me describe Him. My mind bounces this way and that as I cower at the thought of Him. My writing is sporadic, stunted, all over the place, yet nowhere as I try to capture Him, as I search to contain Him.

As I get out my bucket and shovel and begin to work on my sand castle, He forms a mountain with His bare hands. While I retrieve my crayons and my construction paper, He sweeps His fingers across the sky and makes a prism of color unlike any other. While I blow my hot air, He breathes into the wind and engulfs me into His embrace. While I puff on my horn and beat my drums, He summons nature to cascade and ripple and resound with the harmony of the ages.

He shocks me, beckons me, and pulls me by the ear. He embraces me, taps me on the shoulder, smacks me on the butt to get in the game. He will place His hand on the small of my back, or turn me to face Him. He will stand in front of me, beside me, shield me, and nurture me.

He’ll even get out of my way.

He gives me a free will to sin and so I do. But as one sin falls on top of another and they multiply and grow arms and legs and tentacles He never stops taking me back. I am wounded, limping for a lifetime, but there He is, down the road, on one knee, weeping as I run toward Him. He’s so happy that I’m back. I run so fast to Him that I knock Him over when I get there, and we laugh.

His lap is imminently ready to be crawled into, His chest large and comfortable to lay my head. He sits at my table, occupies my grief, and circumvents my catastrophes.

But I can’t mistake this God for any other. No, I dare not try because He will deafen with thunder and He will rebuild kingdoms and He will not trifle with sin. His is a mighty fist attached to a muscular arm that keeps this planet in motion. I shudder at the reality that He is.

Capture Him if we must in the landscape of our minds, but no frame can contain Him.

His love is overwhelming, nearly as vast as He is. He prepares and executes a cosmic change in plans and summons His own beautiful Son to walk this earth and to fix a horrible mess that is you. A horrific mess that is me.

Then He turns His back on him. He rejects him; His first and only born just for me. His beloved Son just for you.

So, as I write this, I am tired, but oh, how awestruck I should be! I was not meant to prop myself up, to cling to artificiality, to pigeonhole my way. I was not designed to muscle out of this box.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I must—yes, today I must—find my weakness made strong in all that He is.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chapter 38 Insert your City

And so it is that I imagine a rogue military unit sweeping in from Ohio and occupying Fort Wayne (insert your city here). They seize control of the city in every way possible. Laws are ignored. The federal government looks the other way. Soon, the leaders of this unit give instructions to start "cleansing" the area of Hoosiers and anyone who is not a native Buckeye. Men are killed, women are raped, and children witness it all.

Somehow, I make it out alive with my family.

In an utter state of confusion and desperation, we depart with others en masse (and by foot) to Canada where we're sequestered in a camp with only the shirts on our collective backs. One week there turns into a month, and then a month into a year. We spend ten years in this camp, and only the lucky among us eventually get a ticket out.

Again, I'm blessed, because my family is intact, and all at once we're sent to Bolivia to start a new life without fear of persecution. They explain that we'll be safe in Bolivia, and that it will be a place of refuge for us.

But we can never return to Fort Wayne.

We try to explain to the Bolivians that we're legal and we're in their country for a reason but the Bolivians don't understand people from Fort Wayne and many of them want us to leave. We don’t look like them. We don't talk like them. We're straining their system.

Yet we're all human, aren't we?

So, we do the best we can in a new culture and a strange land. Our college degrees mean nothing here but we try to get jobs and learn their language and customs, while still trying to preserve some of ours.

It’s not easy, but at least it’s better than what’s happening back in Fort Wayne.

Sound too crazy to believe? Try telling that to a refugee.

As you may or may not know, when an individual receives the designation of refugee, he or she is given the gift of life. This may sound a little extreme, but we're not dealing with some casual term. Rather, to be named a refugee is to receive a title of huge significance, granted by the U.N. High Commission to a relatively small group of people who have fled an oppressive government, war, genocide or some other unrest in their country. By contrast to the potential death sentence one might be under by staying (or by being forced to return to the place from which they fled), to become a refugee is to be granted life. As wonderful as that is, though, a new life still comes at a cost -- for those who receive this status can never return to the world they once knew. You may think that's not so bad considering what they're leaving behind, and that's true to a certain extent. It doesn't make it any easier, though. Most people love their homeland, despite the circumstances causing them to leave. Somehow in the midst of all of this, they have to find their way.

I say all of this simply to point out that refugees are among us. The world is growing increasingly flat. The mission field is no longer a distant option that draws near only through missionary furloughs and Sunday night slide presentations. We are all human. Make a friend in a refugee and offer a helping hand. Be welcoming. Before long he or she won't be a refugee anymore, but rather, your friend.

And, if you ever wonder what it's like to be a refugee, read the above story again, and simply insert your city.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Chapter 37 Who will be the Generous One?

Each day, on my way to work, I drive down an access road which leads to a professional office park.

And each day, as would be obvious, I go the opposite direction on this road to head home.

Near the end of this road is a traffic light, and with its not-so-generous cycle, it lets approximately six cars through – seven if the driver is gutsy (eight if he or she doesn’t mind skirting the law).

So I, like many others leaving for the day, wait in line for my moment.

Of importance, is that right near this intersection there is a long entranceway to a Harley Davidson dealership. While waiting forever in line, one can watch a variety of un-helmeted bikers arriving on an assortment of vintage or newer Harleys. And, as also would be obvious, there's usually a large number attempting to exit.

Accordingly, a choice must be made by any number of drivers in regular cars and SUV's, as one or two (or seven) of these motorcycles and their riders wait to turn left; to be let in and join the line. Assuming someone is magnanimous (like me), and a biker is deemed worthy, he will inherit a placement not only at the front of the line (and in front of me and others who have been waiting our respective turns), but, quite often, his coveted position results in him being the last one to squeak through the intersection.

Some believe the riders should turn right and go to the back of the line, and wait, just like everyone else. It’s an awkward dance, no doubt, for to let one or two in means that my arrival at home or another engagement will be delayed. Or perhaps the delay will befall not me, per se, but the person (who works down the hall) waiting behind me, the very same person who will remember how I left him hanging as I darted through the last possible shade of yellow and off to freedom.

And then, perhaps, he’ll snub me.

Technically, society and etiquette deems that one rider should be let in, and then the next should enter in on the heels of the driver that let the first one in. And so forth and so on.

But society is not always so kind.

So the pressure starts to build, and the questions start forming in my mind, and I’m sure the minds of others while waiting: who will be the generous one? Am I even in the mood to let someone in? To be sure, these people in line with me, well, I work with them, so everyone is watching. What type of person am I now that I'm out of the office setting? What about that guy from accounting two cars ahead? What will he do?

Who will ignore the obvious and feign some distraction with the radio?

Who will pretend not to notice and speed toward the intersection?

The power is with us, the line of the expectant who have made it to the front. It’s a twisted mini-caste system but we hold the right of way, and with each passing moment we smugly enjoy our upward social stratification. Only due to some benevolence on our part will a rider be granted entrance to such a desirable spot.

What's more, even if we grant it, the spot is bequeathed not for the goodwill in our heart as much as it is for the expected thank-you wave, which is really what it all boils down to, right? That some stranger will render us kind, and acknowledge publicly what our mothers have told us all along: that we are good, and sweet and how could anyone not like us?

And so, this very non-fictional scene is set so that you may believe and imagine just a hint of fiction, for he, yes, none other than He, was riding away from that Harley dealership and he was waiting to be let in. I had watched him from my position much further back in line, and on this day, those with the collective power of the line were not kind to him.

(We can imagine him for Who he is, you and I, because by grace we have been given permission to dream such a thing, and the moxie too, to let fiction and fantasy overlap into the harsh rhythm of reality.)

So, there he waited, and he watched for someone. And he did so with patience and an otherworldly smile, for he had the time.

This was no easy choice for those in line, for truly that same time is of the essence. With each progression forward, I knew that others were expecting much of me and that co-worker in front of me – that we’d fall into line and keep things moving; that the crowd and the pressure of those expectations would dictate our next move.

With the time I had to mull this over, it became clear to me that conventional thinking keeps us focused on the intersection, our turn, our place, our destination. This not-so-generous cycle of life is beckoning us to press ahead – to give grace to others as we deem fit, not to accept it from someone who has too much time on his hands. It’s a Siren’s call of society that deafens and dictates that we’ll ignore the obvious, feign some distraction and pretend not to notice those waiting on the side, as we’re caught in the wake of another, squeaking out our last chance to make it and leave others behind

He knows this. And it took me a couple light cycles, but I slowly realized he was not trying to get in; he was simply trying to get our attention. So he pulled to the side and he parked his ride. He probably skirted some law as he walked across and he stood in the median, waving not a thank-you but a greeting: to come, perhaps, over to where he had parked, and to hear more, away from the line of cars and the pressure and the awkward dance.

Truly this would be a dropping of everything to go and follow, would it not? The release of a coveted spot, among other things. My arrival at home or another engagement would be delayed.

And this is what I was thinking, snubbing him as I waited in line for my moment.

Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. (Matthew 16:24 The Message)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chapter 36 Blinded by the Light

It was 1977 and the Manfred Mann Earth Band was Blinded by the Light. I was ten and the lyrics were nonsense to kids and adults everywhere, but it didn’t really matter. We sang that song and danced together like a bunch of idiots, and shouted that one particular word so loudly – you know – the one that was supposed to be deuce, but it came out sounding much more like something else; something that was tantalizing and oh-so-scandalous for a pre-pubescent mind.

To this day, I’m not even sure what the lyrics meant, but that anthem played out that long summer of my youth. Manfred Mann probably didn't know what they meant either because, what few knew at the time, was that Blinded by the Light was actually a song re-done. The words were the same and the music sort of close, but the actual songwriter was an artist who was well on his way to becoming critically acclaimed and much more famous than Manfred Mann and his Earth Band would ever be.

His name was Bruce Springsteen. He knew what the lyrics meant.

His original version of Blinded by the Light was a bit more disjointed and folksy and not as well received. It was his first release from his very first album. The song was a stream of consciousness sort of tribute to his life thus far, and though it made sense to him, maybe the general public just didn’t get it. So, while it went to # 1 for Manfred Mann four years later, in 1973 it didn’t even make it to the charts for the Boss. It could be that the Manfred Mann version fit the times better, or they were more catchy with their arrangement, but any way you look at it, this was Springsteen’s first shot out of the box and he fell flat on his face. But, thankfully, the artist would soon emerge, and he would rarely taste that dirt again. Just as cream rises to the top, so would the world know that this particular songwriter could not go unnoticed for long.

And while he was rising, the Manfred Mann Earth Band started to fade into obscurity. Their version of the song endures, sure, but most can't recall any original work of theirs that put them in the same league with other greats.

This got me to thinking, which is a dangerous thing, I know. There’s a song that was written long ago and many of us dance to it, in one way or another. It’s a familiar tune, but someone always tries to improve upon it and in subtle and not so subtle ways, he or she calls it their own, and sometimes, even turns it into a hit. Could be that this particular someone makes it more catchy, to fit the times better, and it connects with a more modern audience.

Nothing wrong with that. In fact, sometimes a modern rendition endures.

Whatever the latest version may be, though, we sing along with it like a bunch of idiots and sometimes lose sight of what the actual lyrics mean. The music is sort of close to the original, but we’re butchering some of the words, sometimes to the point that they tantalize and excite us into a frenzy.

Now, far be it from me to draw any similarities between the Boss and Jesus, but you see where I’m going with this. Regardless of how we mix up the message and the music and try to make it better for listening ears, the true songwriter will rise. In fact, his lyrics make perfect sense to him as a stream of consciousness tribute to a perfect life, and if we try to improve upon them, we may know some success for a time, but we’ll eventually fade away into obscurity.

Does the more modern adaptation help us get it? I hope so. Just so we eventually know that the song is re-done, and the true Artist is on his way to becoming more famous than we’ll ever be.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm a terrible blogger

Friends.. I'm a terrible blogger. I've been in a funk for a few months, but have been very busy with The Reclamation Project, the organization that has been described and written about throughout these pages for lo these many years. I suppose that's a good thing. You don't want me to just be a slacker, right?

Anyhow, we're starting a fundraiser to keep our hopes and dreams alive: dreams of serving well the refugee community in our midst. TRP is far more than the renovation of the Rialto. It is, right now, a critical hub in a growing network of people and agencies who are helping resettled refugees acquire language, affordable housing, driver's licenses, free legal help, jobs, and -- most importantly -- American friends. What's more, our two dedicated and skilled employees, with the help of TRP's Board and scores of volunteers, are seeing many innovative, potential solutions to these challenges facing resettled refugees.

Unfortunately, we presently lack the capacity to seize these solutions. In other words, our current operational revenue is not sufficient to achieve our mission. So, we've come up with what we hope will be a creative response to it. We're calling it "10" -- a broad-based, grassroots movement to mobilize young and old around TRP's refugee message and mission.

I hate asking for money. But I am inviting you, my faithful readers and blogging community to be a part of this. What am I asking for?

To give 10 dollars a month for 10 months

You're probably wondering "why just $10?" or "why wouldn't I just give $100 and be done with it?" Please know that we believe the future of TRP depends not on a few occasional larger donors, but upon thousands of smaller, regular donations from people like you and me.

We need your help today -- so we've made it easy for you to get involved! For your convenience, we want to extend the option of authorizing your gift of $10 to be automatically debited every month from your bank account (Electronic Funds Transfer) or your credit card through Pay Pal. We have all of the information for you to choose various options at this link:

TRP Online Donation

Regardless of the method, I sincerely ask you to get behind the development of "10" by giving a tax deductible gift of $10 every month.

Thank you friends!! If you trust me and what we're doing, and feel so inclined to pass this around or post on your blog, it would be much appreciated!!

In Him and full of Hope,


Monday, April 21, 2008

Chapter 35 The God Lakes We Drink From

My favorite lakes entertain big old trees that belly right up to the edge of the water. I love it when their branches hover and draw near for nourishment in a natural dance.

These lakes are not man-made; no, they’re thoughtful and the spacing between the tree trunks and the water is perfect. In the autumn, the leaves fall on the surface and create a beautiful, multicolored blanket. I imagine the tree is warming the lake for the winter ahead; the poet in me presuming the tree’s devotion and thankfulness.

I suppose man-made lakes can still be pretty and maybe even majestic, but God lakes are mysterious, profound and inexplicably true. The water in them tends to be deeper and darker because the hole in the ground is a mystery that’s not been seen. Perhaps the floor of it bears the very fingerprint of God.

I’m not an expert on lakes, but the man-made ones seem to always need maintenance and chemicals to look the way they do.

The God lakes we drink from.

A carpenter worked in a barn with his father. Together they labored in a cloud of sawdust, their fingers calloused and blistered. Blueprints were given to them to build stage flats for a theatrical production. It was a tedious job, as each flat was identical: four feet by eight feet, and a foot off the ground. The production itself was quite lavish, and so, its set was correspondingly large. The flats would eventually be laid out to create a mammoth, cross-shaped stage.

What better shape and size to display the story of Jesus?

Many weeks went by and the carpenter and his father were true to their task, completing their work on time according to the blueprints given them. Afterward, the flats were neatly stacked in the back of their barn until such time they'd be needed, which was just around the corner.

However, as many things of such magnitude go, there were delays. And then, even more delays. Pretty soon, it became obvious that just around the corner would never come.

Eventually, the flats began to collect dust in the back of carpenter’s barn. One day, the carpenter called to ask if someone would please come and get them. And so, the man in charge of the lavish (albeit stalled) production did just that. He moved the flats and stacked them one by one in the back of an old theater where he hoped to someday perform his play.

Years went by and the play for which the stage was intended, despite all of the man's best efforts and planning and blueprints, well, it never quite made it to the light.

Deep within that theater though, another kind of light crept in. Oddly enough, even without the play, some very needy people from all around the world found a place of warmth and hope. They were loved and served while the theater underwent renovations. Soon, some sections of it were finished and it became a place for them to call their own.

And then, one day, a very passionate Sudanese woman decided that she wanted to send clothing back to her country men and women, many of whom were trying to survive while nearly naked in the neighboring refugee camps of Chad. So she held a clothing drive at the theater. And the clothes came, indeed they came to overflowing: in bushels and bags and they started to fill most of the theater's basement in big piles until such time that they could be shipped overseas.

The man (the one who originally planned to have a play about Jesus) thought it would not be good for the clothes to be on a damp basement floor for very long, and since the theater itself seemed to always be in a state of construction and disarray, he wondered if he could find something -- anything really -- to get the bags off the ground.

Even a foot off the ground would be enough.

So he thought of the flats and he found them in the back of the theater, where they had been quietly stacked for many years, and he began to carefully lay them out, one by one, so that the clothes could be on something dry.

And right around that time, the man believed that a Carpenter and his Father were true to their task, completing it on time for another kind of production; a much less lavish one indeed, with a stage built according to a entirely different set of blueprints.

I suppose man-made projects can still be pretty and perhaps even majestic, but God projects are mysterious, profound and inexplicably true.

The God lakes we drink from.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Chapter 34 He Carefully Untangles Me

There’s a low growl of pistons exploding beyond me and I stand still, hoping such a storm is approaching. I count the echoes as they defy my silence, and then I lie still and listen as they overlap and threaten each other, over and over some more. It’s coming closer, indeed and I’m nervous, for I’ve lost my way. Again.

Will such a disturbance confront my rebellion and stop to see me, or will I be denied? The collective bleating of a flock is a low hum now, a cackle off in the distance, over and beyond some hill I snuck away from. There are thousands calling out his name at the very moment I am, dare I say millions, and so, just like others bowing to such competition, I forfeit. I will let them have him, for surely I am just one and very unnoticeable.

But he knows me, and he calls me by name, louder and louder still. I know his voice too; I hear it above the thundering lack of a muffler and he’s weeping. I am hoarse from shouting back at the top of my lungs, no less a sheep who has strayed from my Master. I’m caught in a thicket, in this dark exile, my once able limbs broken symbolically in the brush.

Before long his engine is idling and he runs to me. He carefully untangles me and lifts me up and out of it; he fears no emasculation as his tears flow, for he knows they cleanse. Each and every one will cleanse.

“It’s time to ride again, Jeff” he says gently. “But first, a celebration!”

He's not angry? Surely, no one has loved me like this. He knows my name. He knows it like I'm the only sheep around. I was but one, drifting from some ninety-nine in a drove who stayed, and yet he is dancing and beckoning such a feast.

I was lost and now I'm found. That is all the explanation I need.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sacred Cows

I was honored to be asked back as a guest editor of the Porpoise Diving Life's monthly e-zine. April is my month, and the theme is "Putting Some Sacred Cows out to Pasture."

Here is where you'll find it.. and you might see some familiar names when you visit!



Monday, March 03, 2008

Chapter 33 Lukewarm I Lie Today

Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
(I) just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom

"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

Peter Gabriel “Solsbury Hill”

Early spring is fickle this year, just like always. The Indiana wind is whipping up something fierce and it takes turns deciding whose side it's on. Today it swirls a soothing, temperate gust, but tomorrow it will turn crisp and bitter, nearly cutting into my skin with its forceful rhythms and frigid barbs.

Even so, he stood in the middle of it, out in my cul-de-sac. His ride was leaning heavy into its kickstand and the blustery swirl had no influence on it. The tipping of such vintage steel wasn’t even an option, nor would he waver. His hair was all that moved -- what wasn’t shielded under a tattered bandana was nearly horizontal and it flowed free and easy, with disregard for any seasonal squall.

He was fifty yards or so beyond my comfort, but his eyes spanned it with deep concern. I thought I should tether myself to a pillar, perhaps one of grandeur that adorned my home.

How he didn’t get swept away was beyond me.

And then, just like Peter I doubted my step. Deep water was now a prevailing easterly wind and it would surely carry me to Ohio and beyond. Like another Peter my heart was going boom, boom, boom but I managed to split the distance between us, my eyes on his, and approached close enough to hear him over the storm. I had to listen, I had no choice.

"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

I imagined him there, disbelieving his words, but still needing to trust him as real, simply because he wouldn't press his flesh to mine. He had to be there with his dark eyes that always love more and judge less, but even so, he'll no longer trifle with my disobedience.

"But I’m fickle this year, just like always," I say. "I take turns deciding whose side I’m on."

He spread his arms then and I was in the eye of it. He spoke of lukewarm as if I didn’t know and I begged him to make me refreshing: cold to one on a hot day, or hot to another on a cold one.

He was not there to negotiate, my chances gone. And so he repeated.

"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

I woke up then and I was still.

The sun is peering over the eastern sky, and lukewarm I lie today. Before I move from this spot, I have no choice but to listen to random gusts beat against the walls with their own forceful rhythm.

I crave some tethering to an unwavering influence, and I know it's him. It's got to be him! The tipping of me can't be an option anymore.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I've been listening to a lot of Weezer lately, and now, through the wonders of Play Station and Guitar Hero, so is my teenage son. If you're not a Weezer fan, that's OK. I'm really just focusing here on one particular song, about sweaters, and because it's pretty dang cold out today, the sweater seems to fit.

So, from Weezer to sweaters, I somehow want to land on a particular topic, and that is, specifically, how we relate to those who are different from us. I happen to have some friends who are refugees (you may too), and what I'm finding these days is that as my relationships grow and mature, the differences between us, which once seemed so daunting .. well, they really aren't. Yeah, many of them are Muslim and I'm not. I get that. They get that. Doesn't seem to come up much, but when it does, I'm thinking we'll have a pretty healthy debate. Maybe they'll hear what I have to say, because I'm their friend. Or maybe they won't. Really, by that point in the game, after I've shared my side (you know, about Who it is I've chosen to follow), well, I've got to exit stage left anyway and let God do His transformational thing.

Because that's just how He does it, if He's gonna do it, methinks.

So, with all of that said, I thought I'd dust this old piece off and put in back up. Not much has changed since I first wrote this, and I still need to be reminded, daily, of why I wrote it in the first place.

My Handsome Sweater

If you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away.
Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked.
Lying on the floor, I’ve come undone.


It occurs to me, right about now, as I’m listening to the angst-ridden lyrics of Weezer, that I too wear a sweater. Thankfully, mine is still intact, but it seems I take this for granted, when in fact I should count it all joy and be forever grateful, if only for the simple reason that I’ve been adorned with much splendor.

Still, I casually but confidently dither about in these garments of grandeur – the very regalia of the One who loves me. Certainly it’s a leap of epic proportions to jump from Weezer to God, I know, but you'll just have to trust me, and I promise to stitch it all up by the end.

You see, He, being in fact God, fills my lungs and suggests my pulse this day – and, come to think of it, yours as well – and He clothes us in such a fashion that we are quite beautiful to Him. So, to expand upon this darn of consciousness, Weezer got me to thinking that even as God weaves amazing and stunning beauty into His design, the stark reality is that we're always just one string pull away from becoming drastically and quite conclusively undone.

Indeed, I'm but a mere moment away from being discovered – naked and prostrate, lying face first on the floor next to a bundle of yarn that used to be my handsome sweater.

I say all of this because it seems, in my audacity, that I have ignored this notion, and I am perhaps not alone – especially in the Church – because we've reached a supreme level of self-sufficiency and superiority, and for lack of a better word, superciliousness.

Somehow, in some way, Weezer is enlightening me, and hopefully you, and revealing in no small way that we need to dispense with the misplaced and long-held presumption that God, in His infinite wisdom, saw fit to love us more than the next group of people. Certainly, He loves you and he loves me with a passionate, unrelenting and often unrequited love, but he loves you just as much as he loves me, and yes, he really does love that man or that woman or that group of individuals you’re pondering right now, which is certainly unthinkable, but it is ever true.

I have a hunch that in our circles, we don't give this much consideration. At least I don't, as I toss stares of judgment at the stylistically challenged and repeatedly render guilty verdicts in the fashion trials of my mind.

We go to great lengths to muster our own strength and we elbow our way to the front of the line and we endeavor quite smashingly to do it all on our own; we smugly assume that we're entitled to more favor in the eyes of our own private Creator, more favor than perhaps He would or should show for the next guy. We conclude that we're more pleasing to Him and more obedient, and with that affection and preference locked in for a lifetime, we set about to capably and confidently choose our own outfits and attempt to accomplish much through our garb and gear and accessorizing.

And this ability, this self-sufficiency, this cavalier independence, whether we like it or not, has its way with our denominational dress, our righteous and regal religious trimmings, our chic bias and our prideful and prejudicial panache.

But somehow we must repudiate the notion that these new trends we fashion and these styles we strut are exclusive reflections of God – the very One who, lest we forget, became a common, unadorned man, by choice, two thousand years ago, without pomp and circumstance. The very One who, right about now, in my imagination (and maybe yours), is seeking and loving all as he circles our respective towns as an unassuming Harley-riding peacemaker, wearing a leather vest that has some dried mud on the back of it, jeans that need a good wash, and boots that are beyond polishing.

Malign others for their inherent differences and their errancies if you must, but beware, for each of us bears the unfortunate but true unraveling point – that dangling, hanging string. We are, in fact, a mere stitch and pull away from being stripped naked on the floor, our destroyed sweater in a pile next to us, crying out to a Maker who sees mankind as His creation, a Stylist whose vogue is ever now; his love, ever true and unchanging.

Indeed, there must be acceptance and humility, a nimbleness and flexibility of spirit, a darning of a gentle mosaic manner, especially as a new kind of Church that serves not merely to tolerate, but to appreciate and integrate, for our world is increasingly made up of those who don't always fit into or match the clothing we pull from our collective closets.

And that, my friends, in a thimble, is what Weezer taught me today.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hallie Update

For those of you who were following Hallie's story, and prayed so faithfully, here's an update via a note from my sister & family :-)

Hallie had her 1st Birthday this past week (1/31) and her 2 month transplant anniversary. She's still on restricted access to visitors due to her immunosuppressive medications, but we were able to have a small birthday party. She continues to gain weight (14 lbs 12 oz this week) and is on track with her visits to the transplant team.

Hallie is fighting a virus this week (which was expected), so is back on IV antibiotics for a while.

This birthday is a special anniversary for me. When we first received the diagnosis of her disease, biliary atresia, we of course read up on it. I can still vividly remember trying to understand all the medical descriptions but the part which needed no clarification was the part that said: the child "if untreated" would rarely live to be a year old. The miracle of her treatment and recovery are underscored by God's timing. If she was born in a different time or place she would probably never have celebrated this special birthday.

Thanks again for your prayers,

Jeff, Jodi, Kyle, Julie, Evie and of course Hallie.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Chapter 32 The Wine has Spilled Everywhere

There is a certain someone I know, and he lifts a glass to me. He greets me warmly, as a friend. This particular someone has been around for as long as I can remember, so, just for old time’s sake, I’ll have a drink with him.

Admittedly, the history we share is not a good one. His friendship is not something I want, yet, I still maintain it, partly because he won’t go away. I’m pretty sure he’ll never go away. He may leave town for a while, but then he comes back.

He always comes back.

I try to ward him off. I start by being subtle, but then I become quite rude about it. I’m standoffish, and I’m cold toward him. I reject him. I ask others to handle him on my behalf, and they do, for a time. When that doesn't seem to help, I verbally abuse him. I push him out of my life, and have done so more times than I care to remember, b
ut he never gets the hint.

Weary from his constant invitations and pestering, I finally give in, and I do what he wants. I hang out with him. I listen to him. Really, I just listen to his lies. I know they’re lies, but I listen anyway because somehow he makes them seem so, well, inconsequential.

Then he makes me tell my own lies as a show of loyalty toward our so-called friendship.

The first glass of wine he pours for me is sweet. And so is the second. Usually, around the third or fourth, there’s a bitterness, but by this point I really don’t care. I'm coherent enough, though, to know that once again, he’s done it; somehow he’s gotten me to spend time with him, and through my haze he taunts me and laughs at me.

I brace myself, because I know what’s next. He usually finds something hard in the room, and then he hits me with it. Not once or twice, but many times. When I finally can’t take it anymore, I fall to the ground and he kicks me. He is still laughing at this point. The wine has spilled everywhere.

My eyes are swollen shut and with each breath my splintered ribs rub their shards of bone against my lungs. Something inside me has died, again; yet another piece of me.

I’m helpless now and he leaves me, alone and bloodied on the floor. He mutters something about not needing me or wanting me anymore, then he kicks me again and I black out.

Time passes and I mostly heal. I promise myself that the next time he comes around, I’ll be firm. Somehow though, when I see him again, I always seem to forget about the beatings until the last minute. But by then, it's too late.

He has a name, though it's not important that you know what it is. You probably know him anyway, but call him something else.

All I know is that, for me, I must cast out this demon.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Chapter 31 Maybe It's All Art

I kick the dust off this slumber, and I lie awake. As I do, I wonder if this art of mine will persevere. Rubbing my eyes, I hear voices saying that really, what I do -- it's not art at all.

But then I argue. I think that it should be, because I like to toy with words and join them together in print, mixing this one with that, to paint something that I cannot speak. These words I choose have no access to my tongue, nor your ears, but somehow they find a way from my fingertips to your eyes. My brush, such as it is, dabs the color of black on white, with just a glimmer of hope that what's left will somehow color your imagination.

Well, alright. Maybe my particular art isn't obvious enough. True art is found in, uhh .. music. I listen to it and I wish I could make it.

Or in museums. I visit real art in museums. And I study it in history.

Maybe theater. I watch as a thespian reveals his art in a play. Or I watch another, as she dances hers in a ballet.

I reach out and touch art, because a sculptor fashions his hands just so.

A poet muses and finds achievement and accolades in the dawn of some tortured awakening. I read it and I know for sure that it's art.

But, what if art was never meant to be defined as some cultural appreciation of finer things or some pleasure to humanity and its senses? What if, instead, it was every good and noble effort rising out of the depth of mankind's ability to create? What if that which is subtle, or crying out -- that which is emanating from some collective passion and giftedness, becomes, well ... art to the eyes and ears of Another?

Like, maybe it’s all art?

An engineer offers his exactness, just as his wife's cleanliness and style splashes a canvas. Together their home is well designed and clean and very hip, and it hangs on the wall of their neighborhood like a priceless Monet.

Another artist paints comfort to the hurting and affirmation as he lifts a slumping shoulder. His mercy rises off the palette, and it pleases the Almighty.

An architect sets the stage, and a builder depicts the skyline.

A physician, immersed in a world of science and sequential practicality is perhaps unaware of the choreography of her healing, and a God who dances in the rhythm of it.

One man fancies himself a teacher, and rightfully so. A gifted orator, his words are perfect cadence, and they spill off his tongue like a melody. They form the greater sum of his intent so students can learn, and in so doing, they render a symphony to the ears of a Father.

So, my hunch is that God knows of this enduring masterpiece; of what hue we’ll paint to accent the whole, of what chord our instruments will play to delight Him, for He alone bequeathed each talent to us. We are artists, each in our own way, and we must find our fatted calf -- to express it and perform it on the stage of His choosing; yes, an altar to bring a sacrifice of who we are in the midst of the art we create.

I sit on the edge of the bed and for now, my arguing is over, because I think this is true.

That, maybe, just maybe .. it's all art.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chapter 30 He's Relentless About It

In the thick and the thin of all that’s indefinite in the days to come, a moment should be taken to reflect on that which is certain and easily known to me and to you.

From where we sit right now, in a room or open sky, in our town and in our day.

I speak of the days that tumble backward into weeks and the months that cascade into years; the very ones that have led us to this exact point in time, with the view outside our windows. The events we’ve known and the decisions we’ve made have shaped us to become who we are. Or who we aren't. Each epoch of our lives until now can be read like a book, with absolute certainty, because they have been. They were real, not imagined.

I wrote that a few years ago, but I think of it often. It's just that ... well, I’m forever being pursued by a faithful God who is eager to show me what He’s been up to, in my life and the lives of those around me. He wants me to get a clue as to what His Kingdom is like.
He's relentless about it, and He's after you too, just in case you're wondering.

He loves us that much.

For me, seven long years have passed since I set out to produce a play about Jesus. That’s old news to anyone who has followed this blog. Seven years of grappling with the reasons why I was set on this course. Seven years of stumbling around in the dark of a decrepit old porn theater; seven years spent discovering a Jesus who cares deeply for the poor and the disenfranchised. During that time, my eyes were also opened to a new view of Church (the very Bride we are), and to our Bridegroom (who by the way, looks nothing like the one I had created for my own convenience in the aforementioned play).

To Him, of course, seven years is as an instant, but it takes at least that long for new concepts to get through my thick head. Fast forward to today, and through no foresight of our own, the fledgling non-profit that rose from the ashes of a failed play is knocking on the door of potentially becoming a full-fledged refugee resettlement agency. From fledgling to full-fledged must be how He does it.

We've spent years establishing partnerships and cultivating volunteers, all with good intentions, but never quite knowing the full extent of what those relationships would mean. He knew why, of course. He knew in our un-knowing. So now, when a refugee arrives (the very foreigner His son calls us to love), we have a built-in network available to warmly welcome a stranger. A holistic approach to serving (aka “resettling”) a refugee has been His design and plan for some time, for He knows better than us the extent that someone is stinging from the unspeakable pain of leaving his or her homeland -- one of instability and war, from half-way around the world.

Oh yes, He knows.
He always knows.

It is not our place to explain God and the fullness of His plans. It’s a fool’s folly. Certainly a glimpse is all we’re given, but I'm convinced that a glimpse is one of the best gifts He gives us. It's the roadmap He’s pointing us back to. Mine got pretty wrinkled, and the paper is soft from all of the unfolding and re-folding, but it marks a journey from my past to my present. A peek like that may just be the best chance I ever get to know what God's up to, at least in this time we know.

Sure, the roadmap will reveal the many diversions that we've all taken away from Him. It will expose our stubbornness and poor choices. It will surely disclose that we have far to go -- indeed, quite a distance to travel. But there’s a turning, a subtle but true convergence of this road and that, all merging together to ultimately point us due North, and back to His very presence. It's undeniable.

So, all of that to say, what about you? Will you unfold your map and spread it out on the table? Probably a lot of zig-zagging going on. If you're anything like me, you'll need to get out the highlighter and figure out where you've come from and what you've traveled through. And why you did.

What has God been trying to show you all of this time?

These are the decisions that I (and hopefully you) have made, the very choices that we need to find and re-read in the chapters that have been. Because for better or for worse, they brought my fingers to this keyboard, and your eyes to this page, from where we sit, with the view out our window.

And there are more chapters to be written.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Home for Christmas

Hallie came home Christmas Eve! Thank you so much for your prayers and e-mails of concern for this sweet little niece of mine!

Here's a note from my brother-in-law (also Jeff) and sister Jodi:

Hallie came home today; What a miracle. Jodi and I would like to thank everyone who was praying for little Hallie. It is still hard to believe that she has gone from a future of certain and imminent death to one of health and hope. As I contemplate these past few weeks on the eve of the celebration of God's greatest gift to this world, his son Jesus. I cannot help see in a small way a similarity. God's gift of his son provides, to any one who will accept it, the miracle of eternal life with him in the place of certain death and separation. Like most people in this world, Hallie did not know she was sick. She was born that way. Only after her miracle will she know what a healthy body feels like.

May God bless this special Christmas in your home as he has done in ours. Thank you again for praying for and for coming by to visit Hallie while she was in the hospital.

Jeff and Jodi

Friday, December 21, 2007

Chapter 29 And the Soul Felt Its Worth

Long lay the world
in sin and error pining
'til he appeared
and the soul felt its worth

Placide Cappeau (1808-1877)

Lest we forget, there’s something so profound and beautiful about this soul, such that One would appear and find it worthy. This is not discovered in the lights, the candy, the wrappings; though perhaps some in the goodwill toward men.

Far more stunning is the gesture, the willingness, the absolute absurdity that He would appear at all. And far be it that He would just make an entrance, to chide and counsel, to draw others to some vague light and mysticism. No, he emerged helpless and weak; and even while soft and human, at least two souls in a lowly manger felt their worth. And then another, a lonely shepherd watching his flock by night. Soon, some wise men too, and thus began the process of souls finding significance, multiplying here and there over thirty-three years. But even those were a pittance; those were just the early investment to bolster a public offering, one which would compound with interest: an explosion of mathematical certainty that was worth every moment in-utero, every hammered thumb of carpentry's youth, and most of all, each and every puddle of blood poured out for souls to come.

Yet, despite it all, the world lay in sin, still to this day, and therein lies the error of an ancient poet, for we are once and forever sinners, each of us errors pining to the end, to our death. We must know why He emerged and made good on prophecies of old.
Each and every soul must cry out above these carols and festivities, these tried and true traditions, to find its full value, the high bounty on it; to seek the One who would ransom such rabble.

Shall we realize the payoff now? Shall we cash it in and justly recognize the dividend of each transformed life, of miracles, goodness and grace? Yes, we must, for with each nod of acceptance from the Almighty these souls of ours are sanctified, and they bask in the warmth of His approval; for this, this is why He appeared.

And that is the wonder of Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

12/19 Update


Hallie is doing well! Her weight is up and she's been eating a lot, and due to the proper dosage, she's been responding very favorably to her anti-rejection drugs. She's even been getting special treatment from the doctor who invented the drug (how cool is that?). My sister (Jodi) thought they may move her out of intensive care and into a regular room later today.

Your prayers have meant a great deal to Jodi, me and my entire family .. thank you everyone! Please continue lifting up this sweet little girl as you think of her!

Merry Christmas!



Hallie is slowly but surely responding to the anti-rejection medication! Her doctors seem pleased by her progress this past week. Please keep praying as you think of her, and I'll post more updates as I get them. Thank you all for your prayers this week.. they have been so appreciated by everyone!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Please Pray for Hallie

UPDATE 12/10

This past week had been very encouraging as Hallie returned to a healthy color and she emerged fairly happy from anesthesia, looking more healthy than she had in a very long time.

Unfortunately, over the weekend, we learned that her little body has started to reject the new liver. They are removing her from all current anti-rejection medications and replacing those with the strongest anti-rejection drugs available. She will undergo a liver biopsy today. Though the liver itself seems healthy and viable and her blood work has been good, her color is yellowing again and the liver counts are dangerously low. They are hoping that these new drugs will reverse the situation. If not, Hallie will be placed first on the nationwide donor list for a liver transplant. This will hopefully provide another liver more quickly, but of course it will require a second major surgery for this 11 pound, 10 month old little girl.

Your prayers are so appreciated, and please pass this link on to others whom you know will pray. We know of a omnipotent Father who is painfully aware of this situation and yet, He still uses our petitions to move mountains.

Thanks everyone,


Monday, December 03, 2007

Chapter 28 There's No Other White Like This

I shouldn't wear white to our wedding. This gown should be gray, or ashen. It should be smudged in random places with oily black. Perhaps some color of sin, like scarlet, could be woven in the threads.

Our engagement has been long, and I’ve not been faithful. You know I’ve chosen other lovers. I’ve taunted you, my Groom, and threatened to leave. I’ve flaunted my betrayal in your face while you’ve wept for me. The ring of promise you gave me is tarnished, and the stone, chipped. I’ve taken it off or moved it to another finger more times than I care to remember. Quite often, it just didn’t fit, so I'd replace it with baubles and trinkets.

Of course, over the years, I’ve used your name when it was helpful, to deceive others and advance my cause. I still do, actually. To reveal that I’m betrothed can be quite beneficial, when I want it to be. Especially when those very same others realize who it is I’m going to marry.

You know all of this, but still, you wait, unwavering. My infidelity has been tragic, yet your passion for me has been unrequited. My loyalty has been sporadic, while you remain steadfast.

And here we are, after all of this time. We’ve chosen Christmas for our wedding day. You’ve always said that this age would come to an end, and you were right. The months evolved into generations, and the seasons into epochs. After two thousand years, we’ve come full circle, for this is a time of profound love.

And Love is who you are.

The orchestra has begun and I smell the feast awaiting us. I’m sitting in the back room where I wait nervously, as any bride would. I look down into my lap and I smooth the brilliant white of this silk and satin. There's no other white like this.

You’re not supposed to come and see me, but you do, and you’re smiling. I can’t understand why you haven't given up on me, or why you would want me after all these years; after all I've done.

But yet, somehow, you love me even more, for I am your Church.


I wake up then, still caught in the grandeur of this expectant dream.

I have matured, and I’ve grown; I've learned from my mistakes. Yes, I know that my eyes still wander. My motives aren’t always pure. I get distracted by unimportant things.

We’ve still a month to go, so I’ve got some time; more time for dreaming and waking. Indeed, I've still some waking up to do.

By Christmas, you'll see. Just you wait and see. I promise that I’ll be Bride you’ve been dreaming of, too.