Posts Categorized as: pilgrimage
There have been several friends recently who have commented something to the degree of “…gave up on the blog, huh?” I suppose I did. It was not a conscious decision by any means but life got a little out of hand for a while.
Last August, Garrett started his Senior year of high school (note his cool Senior pic).
Kate started her Freshman year. Between football, choir and a host of doctor visits we had a pretty full schedule. On top of that, we were trying our best to purchase a home. We had lived in a house owned by the church since late March and we felt we needed to put down some roots. We spent a lot of time trying to find the financing to do that. ON TOP OF THAT, the church/missions ministry was growing and I was still teaching part-time for LCU. It got a little crazy.
In December we closed on a house in the kids’ school district and then we left for Christmas. We were stopped cold (sorry) by a blizzard on our way to see family but when we got back to Texas, I started remodeling the house. For six(ish) weeks I would work all day at church and all evening at the house. An untold number of friends and church members helped us and finally in February, we moved in! Throw some mission trips into the mix and then getting Garrett graduated and I just lost the concept of keeping up with the website.
As I write this, Garrett leaves in four days for LeTourneau University. It’s a crazy time in life. Kate will soon get her license and is as busy as ever. Shannon is now an associate youth pastor at Compass and our lives are wonderfully full in a challenging and lovely way. Our home is beautiful (all who know Shannon are not surprised) and we LOVE being a part of our church.
However, there is one continuing challenge that we need to face. The medical bills that have grown up around us during this time of transition/diagnoses are pretty impressive. Nothing like some people suffer but for now, they’re a tad out of our reach. My petitions to God about this were answered one day during a prayer retreat. I was asking God to give me the money for those medical bills. What I believe I heard surprised me: “work harder.” In this particular age, there is a great deal of talk regarding the imbalance that many Americans face with busyness. This is a valid issue. But as I tried to weasel out of more work, I became more convinced this was what is required.
I approached several friends and asked them to send speaking engagements my way. That did not work out. But, one friend got me connected with CDF Leadership Capital and I applied to work as a part-time leadership consultant with them. For the last few months, our team has been working to get an amazing group of talented facilitators together hoping to be a blessing to churches around the world! It’s a very exciting thing. In fact, I was just certified to facilitate the Paterson Center StratOp™ tool. It’s amazing.
So, here’s the point. I took a year off of writing. That’s long enough. Some of our big transitions are over, the hiatus is over and I am going to press forward at Compass, LCU and CDF to do all that I can to serve my role in the Kingdom of God. If you care to comment or communicate, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you.
I tend to avoid other people’s autobiographical posts. Sometimes it can seem self indulgent or like a form of auto-therapy. Nevertheless, I seem to keep writing them…
During the last six months of my life, I have been in a season of slow grief. It’s a refining time and one I’ve not enjoyed very much. It might be a mid-life crisis but I can’t afford a Porsche. Something deeper is happening. I have sought counsel. Prayer has been a constant practice. I have shared my soul with some dear friends but nothing can change the fact that I’m going through the process of grief. And today, I wanted to write in order to connect with those who might be in the same place.
Grief is not new to me. I experienced it as a boy when our landlord died. As a few more elderly people I loved passed, I began to see it more and more. And then, after my brother Matt was killed in 1985, I endured it first hand in a severe way. Since that time I’ve grieved all kinds of things. You have too. I don’t mean to be maudlin about how we experience sorrow. But this season is different for me. It is a season of slow grief. And it has snuck up on me. It has affected me through at least three areas:
The primary way has been the slow degeneration of my Mom due to her Alzheimer’s. Our family is not unique in this sorrow by any means. And everyone, if they live long enough, has to deal with aging parents. But those are facts and this is about my Mom. My memories of her wisdom and intelligence still amaze me. One time, in order to chastise me for smoking, she sat down by me on the couch and said, “I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” I replied with a negative cro-magnon grunt. She continued, “Do you need me to pick up some more Marlboros? I noticed the pack in your truck is almost empty.” She then walked out leaving me speechless and totally embarrassed. She was so smart! My recollections of her include her impressive office at the hospital, her clean kitchen, her work ethic, and her volunteering at church for almost anything. All of you who know her remember that she had an extraordinary cultural bandwidth. She could work with a crowd of farmers, a ladies’ tea or immigrant women who needed to find a way to immunize their children. She was not perfect, but I am now dealing with a real sadness for her condition and a weird sense of guilt for being so far away, for so long.
The second thing I’ve been grieving has been the health of my wife and daughter. Watching the endless doctor visits has played a weird game with my mind. On one hand, I’m grateful we have great doctors and it’s not nearly as difficult as things that other people face. For example, my sweet niece Hannah has gone through two rounds of cancer and our family has prayed and prayed for her (and their fam) during these last years. I know that Shannon (systemic lupus) and Kate (vasculitis PAN) are not in that same severe journey. Hannah’s processes are far more difficult than our family’s. Yet, on the other hand, the journey of seeing my girls have such vast changes in their lives has developed a grief in me that is hard to describe. It is a dual grief of missing Shannon’s health and grieving the potential future of Kate. God has been so good to us considering the suffering of other people. I can’t deny that nor would I ever want to. Gratefulness pervades my heart about the kind of health-care and provision God has given us for them both. Yet an underlying sadness is there, at the back of my room of my heart that has lost something.
Lastly, our transition to Texas has had it’s own breed of grief. It has manifested in two parts: The first was leaving work and people we loved / the second was arriving somewhere new. All four of us had to leave friendships that had become like family. As we had no immediate family in Lincoln, our friends had to play the role of family for us and for our kids. In particular, Shannon and I both had jobs that we believed to be from God. We worked hard to be competent at those jobs and found them fulfilling. Leaving those was difficult as well. The second part was coming to a new place, with a different culture at a weird time in life. Garrett and Kate were both convinced that God was bringing us to Texas and have done a great job working through the process. And, we are blessed at how wonderful our new church leadership has been. They have helped us and loved us in wonderful, godly ways. Regardless, the leaving of our friends-like-family and the cultural punch-in-the-face that comes from being new have caused another kind of hurt. And watching my kids (as adolescents) suffer through this was harder than I anticipated.
Ok, enough of that…I’m making myself sick. Sheesh. You get the picture—no main tragedy; just a slow grief. But even in this season God continues to teach me.
I believe that feelings are usually not accurate indicators of truth. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane should teach us that at the very least. Sacrifice is a normal part of the way that Christ-followers deal with the demands of Lordship. Sorrow is par for the course for all of humanity. But for me, the season of slow grieving is a new phenomenon and it has been a different challenge. And, like all things broken, God has been turning my grief into good. In particular he has given me three things that I need very much.
The first is a deeper humility. No one I know enjoys the process of growing humble because it involves humiliation. But my inability to effect any kind of change in any of the three areas of grief has dropped me to a deeper reliance on God and on the church than I’ve had in a long time. The fact that our life is a vapor and like the short season when grass grows has never been more apparent. Like many an old-geezer, I marvel at how time accelerates and trends repeat themselves. This kind of humility has kept me from the arrogant passion of younger days and has developed a stronger belief in the body of Christ being mature and faithful. It is a desire to be wise rather than clever.
Another gift that God has given through this grief is more tenderness in my heart. The sorrow of poverty, the sadness of injustice and the deep wounds that infect our nation and our world are less “issues-to-deal-with” and more apparent to my conscience. Resources for “dealing” with these problems have not increased for me but the need to address them in love is growing.
The last one is a growing sense of God’s presence and provision. In my Bible and in my counsel he keeps using the word “wait.” I’ve kinda grown to expect it and hate it all at the same time (when I’m most honest). My need to tangibly trust God has grown. The rhythms of surrender that I have practiced over the years has become a life-line for me and His response to me has increased as well. When he says “wait” I know that he brought us here according to his good purpose. The church here in TX has been another of God’s instruments to remind me that I am still in his hands. It can sometimes be hard to see through the hazy conditions of grieving but his presence and provision is enough to remind me that he sees me. Recently I’ve been privileged to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book: Miracles . God has used that to remind me that he is cooking up a real doozy. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
People innately seem to have a relentless urge to pursue happiness. When it fails we tend to grieve. I want to have a relentless desire to pursue God: I want him to be my “one thing.” He is my portion. He is my prize and he is the antidote to my patient grieving. When other people grieve, try your best to avoid giving “encouragement” disguised as teaching. In my case, I have a long track record of pastoral work. Answers aren’t my problem. What I need now is prayer—and I’ll take it. Jesus will indeed heal Mom…and my family… and me. I’m thankful to have a great family, great doctors, great work experiences and a great church! Hope is on the horizon. The presence of God will be made manifest to us all—soon and forever.
 I will soon do a review of this book. Spoiler: it’s fantastic.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered - Proverbs 28:26
Most of my readers know that my family and I are in a time of transition. As I write this, my office at Lincoln Christian University is now available for the next tenant and I’m writing from my home that has a big “For Sale” sign in the front lawn. Transitions can be tough (I know… call me “Captain Obvious”) but they are also excellent seasons to experience God’s presence in a different way. An interesting facet of this upcoming move is how I am learning to frame the narrative behind it. This has not been a deliberate editorial process. Rather, it is out of necessity—people keep asking, “Why are you moving?” I need to have an answer for this because, if I don’t, people will try to guess anyway and it’s better to just tell the truth in a concise way. But, since the truth took weeks and weeks of time and many, many conversations to unfold, I am forced to try to edit it down into a semi-coherent story that explains the reasons we would pull up stakes and head southwest. It’s been a challenging venture.
Recently, I saw a video skit from a friend that discussed things Christians say that don’t mean anything. There were several humorous bits as well as this one: “I feel led to do this.” This is a problematic sentence indeed. Over the years when I have tried to explain our family’s moves to Joplin, Carterville, Amarillo, Wheaton, Mexico City and then Lincoln, we have consistently been asked questions about the “why” behind our decision. What I have discovered is that a great deal of confusion can come in to a question like this. “Feeling led” and “hearing God’s voice” can sound pretty subjective and mushy. But “better salary” or “growth opportunity” can perhaps mask selfish ambition or greed. What’s better; a spiritually-vindicated lie or honest greed? Both sound like bad options. What I want to do in this post is explain my understanding and experience with hearing God’s call on our family to move. Disclaimer: I am NOT suggesting this is a) the only way or b) the best way or c) a water-tight theological argument. But please don’t think that I’ve come to this process lightly—due diligence is behind this. I’m sharing this process because many people I work with and love face questions about relocating according to their sense of God’s call, and many have asked how I go about the process. So then, this is how I go about hearing from God. Last caveat: a great intro to the concept of being directed by God is “Hearing God” by Dallas Willard. That book has helped me understand some of the underlying ontology behind this experience…I highly recommend it. Now then, on to my own process.
The first thing on the docket is the concept of invitation. On a day-to-day basis, I want to serve as an “under-rower” (Acts 13) in whatever context God has placed me. It is always a temptation to think about new things, opportunities and look for a good angle. Yet, for me, it is a spiritual experience to just put my head down and focus on working diligently and wisely each day. This idea came from my farming background and reading Eugene Peterson as a young pastor. Yet, because there are so many stories of God moving his pilgrim people (Ex 19:4-5 et al) I believe that there are times to move. When I was at Wheaton, I did an in-depth study on the first missionary journey of Paul. After some robust text work, my study group noticed that Paul was invited to speak, travel or move during that first journey. This the point: I try to stay put and be faithful unless there is a clear invitation to go. Again, I’m not saying this is for everyone—but this is my format.
The second element to my process is evaluation. I think it’s normal for people to weigh pros and cons and evaluate future possibilities. When I was younger I spent time judging whether or not I was suitable for the work and the context. As I’ve grown older, I can judge that more rapidly but now I spend more time dissecting my motives for leaving. Like all people, I want to flee hardship and find a “nicer” life. At the same time, like all people I sometimes reject change because it is so consuming and difficult. I am a mix of daydreamer and coward; pilgrim and planted. The evaluation process helps me cut through both of those tendencies and listen carefully to who is really doing the talking. Proverbs 28:26 says that “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” I don’t want to allow a foolish desire to trump what God is doing in my life. The issue is that if my heart is centered on Jesus and his voice, then I will trust him leading my heart (see Willard again for more help with this).
After evaluation I seek counsel. I have a list of trusted friends who know me, who have worked with me and who are aware of my deepest brokenness and best intentions. I don’t ask each one of them every time a decision comes up (time and availability play into this, of course) but I do ask a majority. I tell them the situation, answer their questions and then, I listen and write down their advice. Sometimes I dislike what they have to say, most of the time, they are very encouraging but they are always extremely helpful. They bring insight and wisdom to me that always seems obvious after they say it—but I never would have gotten there on my own.
Next, I wait. Yep. I wait. I watch and listen. I pay very close attention during my prayers and Bible reading. I pay close attention to speakers, preachers, friends, neighbors and the ambient things in my life. One of my friends told me (a loooong time ago) that “If you are ready, and if you are listening, then God will show up for you in a time and place that you will know, without a doubt, was for you.” In all of our moves, it has been in the waiting phase that we have received the general direction for where to go or if we should stay. For some of our choices there were dramatic Holy-Spirit-showed-up-and-freaked-us-out moments. In others, a growing realization that God was quietly calling became clear. And, like many times, we began to realize that God was asking us to choose: both options were good ones. The reason I am saying this is that for some people, it’s tempting to try to use any of these as the norm for most Christians. But, the waiting season has allowed us to draw near to God while he speaks. While his methods are not always the same, His character and love are.
The next-to-last thing I do is review. For many years I have journaled. Sometimes I use my journal entries to go back over the all the earlier stages. This time (as well as when we moved to LCU) I bought a specific, pocket-sized journal that I carried throughout the duration of our decision time. I kept copious notes and, as the deadline for the decision drew near, I began to go over those notes and look for themes. For this particular move, Shannon and Kate’s health were on every page. Other themes were repeated in each of those who counseled me. After some time reviewing all of that, I get to the hard part—pulling the trigger.
My personality and history lend me to be introspective. If I am able, I try to find a quiet place, lay out my review before God and then ask for wisdom. Usually by this point I have had a strong idea what should be done. But in this moment, I try to square up to my fears and just ask God for help and direction. If I sense God’s pleasure or peace. I go forward. If I do not. I either wait some more (if that is an option) or decline the invitation. I know it sounds very subjective. I’m sure an INTJ would resonate with this but in any case, that is my process. It’s not always right or for everyone, but God has graciously led me. I have lots of friends that I love and respect who have a much simpler process. Sometimes, life changes are forced upon us by context or illness. In those moments we trust God and do the best we can. But this process is certainly not something I’ve come up with…this is an old way.
The downsides of this process are obvious: it takes so much time and energy! It can also be unclear and hard to describe to others! But for me, the major benefit is a deep conviction that I am willingly participating with a Sovereign God in the square foot where he wants me (for now). This understanding gives me confidence to face difficult seasons and conflict. It keeps me rooted when the cowardly part of me wants to run and it gives me a clear reason to explain to my kids why I do what I do. For me, it is joy.
I don’t use this process while I am in the middle of a ministry context or venture—I use it when I have a major change in life. Walking wisely for me is inclusive of the idea that we need to plan well and use our minds. Sometimes a well-trained instinct can be a good tool. But when the BIG decisions are there, this process has helped.
If you are in a season of transition, I pray that God would speak clearly to you regardless of any process you use (or don’t). His love and mercy are always with us and our full submission to God’s leading is always a privilege. I would covet your prayers as we live out the results of our willing obedience. Blessing and peace of Christ to you.