Dripping Wet

rain-raindrops-rainy-110874When I was little, I remember thinking that I could run out in the rain and not get wet. I thought I could look up, track each raindrop as it fell, and dodge out of the way of each of them. I really thought that. I thought I could zig-zag: left, right, left, left, right–like a soldier through enemy fire–and not get hit.

The problem is I still think like that in some ways. I think I can pick up whatever book, watch whatever movie, play whatever video game, and nothing bad about them will rub off on me. In other words, here I am in my sixties and I find myself still thinking that I can run out into a rainstorm and not get wet.

I believe the Apostle Paul is talking about this kind of thing when he says, “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). The “bad company” part is clear enough, even though we may not really believe it in practice. But why does Paul first say, “Do not be deceived?”

I think because we are deceived, constantly. We’re deceived into thinking that we’re grown-up and bullet-proof and nothing bad is going to rub off on us no matter what kind of company we keep. No matter what TV shows we watch, no matter what novels we read (my failing), no matter what video games we play. In our ignorance we assume that we can easily maintain our own, better, higher, individual point-of-view regardless of the electronic, literary, imaginary, and/or physical company we keep.

Did you ever have a friend in school who drifted away from you and started hanging out with a new group of people? Did you notice how your friend started picking up the way that group talked? Started using their slang? Started using their gestures?  I think the reason why is that human beings are half sponge. We absorb what’s around us without trying, without even being aware of it, and it changes us. We become like the company we keep. No matter the medium in which we hang out with our new friends. No matter how old we are.

I don’t think there’s any way around this. It’s human nature. So what do we do? I think we need to admit that we’re still little kids in some ways and submit ourselves to the same kinds of safeguards that little kids need, like older-brother Paul said. Make sure we play where it’s safe: on the playground prepared for us, instead of out in the street. Listen to Daddy’s warnings about who to play with. Let Him introduce us to good friends in every medium. Don’t sneak behind His back to watch that scary, nasty stuff on TV. Don’t play electronically at doing things He’s forbidden us to do in reality. That kind of thing.

Sounds boring and ridiculous for adults, doesn’t it? But really, when it comes to this kind of thing, I don’t know many adults. I know for sure that I’m not one. I’m dripping wet.

The Invitation Stands

John 15: 15–“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

The Lord has brought up the theme of friendship with Him at two turning points in my life. The first time was when my grandmother died in 1976. The second time was in Belgium last year. I was still reeling from the cancer diagnosis and from whirlwind surgery when the worship leaders at the Antwerp Vineyard decided to sing John Mark McMillan’s “Future/Past” every Sunday for a month.

Every Sunday for a month, which is to say, I couldn’t get away from it, even though I wanted to. I really couldn’t tell you why I wanted to get away from it, only that I felt so overwhelmed, like please don’t ask me to one more thing. Didn’t matter how I felt. They just kept on singing the song. The pre-chorus goes like this:
“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in this fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend.”

Jesus chased me for a month with this: “In the midst of everything that’s happening to you, be My friend.” I finally went so far as to at least start thinking about it. Ok. What would it mean to be His friend? I started thinking about how often Jesus encourages those listening to Him to talk to Him:
“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7: 7).
“Pray in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…’” (Matthew 6: 9).
“If you ask the Father for anything in My name He will give it to you…(John 16: 23).
And I thought about how Peter and Paul echo that:
“Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you…” (1 Peter 5:7).
“Be anxious for nothing, but…let your requests be made known…” (Philippians 4:6)

Clearly, talking to Him was one of the keys to being His friend. Pretty obvious. Friends are people we confide in. We don’t keep anything important from them because we trust them. We tell them everything. It struck me that during the last supper Jesus told the twelve that He had done that with them. He had told them everything. “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you,” He said. He had told them everything, like friends do.

That phrase started sticking in my mind: “Tell Him everything.” I went to my go-to guide to prayer, Richard J. Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, and read the first chapter, called “Simple Prayer.” Here’s Foster’s definition of simple prayer:

In Simple Prayer we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions. We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health. In a very real sense we are the focus of Simple Prayer. Our needs, our wants, our concerns dominate our prayer experience…. Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. (Foster, Richard J., 2009-10-13. Prayer – 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart’s True Home, pp. 9-10. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)

The Holy Spirit kept insisting, and somewhere in the middle of chemo, I finally broke down and put Foster’s advice into practice. I started sitting down, Kleenex and a notebook at hand, and started pouring my heart out to my Father. It didn’t matter if I was often barely coherent. (Incoherence is to no barrier to God’s understanding. There aren’t any barriers at all for Him, actually.) And the wonderful news is that it worked. Telling Him everything does result in friendship, because He responds. Because it leads to dialog. Dialog with God.

It’s still the hardest thing in the entire world for me to do on any given day, because it’s the key, and all kinds of enemies, including my own pride, don’t want me to turn that key. Nevertheless, I do. And on any given day, telling the Father everything is also the most wonderful, most blessed, most fruitful activity in the whole world. “Pour out your heart before Him,” David says (Psalm 62). It leads to friendship.

“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in the fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend”

Northern Light

I’m living in western Europe for awhile. It came as a surprise to me, but not, clearly, to my Father. (More about that later.) It’s the farthest north I’ve ever lived.

We’re at fifty-one degrees north latitude here in northern Belgium, the same latitude as, for example, Hudson Bay. Moscow is only four degrees farther north, as is Novosibirsk, Siberia. It’s July, but if a cold front drops down from the North Sea, the temperature can drop from 85 to 55 overnight.. At fifty-one degrees north latitude, you get brisk autumn days in the middle of July.

But the biggest difference is the light. The sun acts differently this far north. It seems to be traveling across the sky in a normal, middle-latitude manner until it starts to dip toward the horizon. At that point, the whole process of setting first slows down and then stops.

It’s like the sun’s playing peek-a-boo with the horizon. At about 8pm, it dips below it, but it doesn’t really set. Instead it lingers just out of sight, delivering a long, slow twilight that lasts until after 10pm. Two, two-and-a-half hours of twilight. It’s not truly dark until after 11.

I guess I thought vaguely that Europeans were somehow genetically or culturally disposed to be great artists. Now I think it could just be this light–these rich, low slung rays that flow through everything like honey, turning a stand of trees into a shimmering green screen with gold seeping through it.

And God said, “Let there be northern light.” And there was northern light.

Can’t Sleep

Can’t sleep. You could be anywhere in the world, and it’s all the same. Can’t sleep is can’t sleep. You could be sitting staring at a bamboo screen in China or a lace curtain in Belgium. Doesn’t matter. You’re not seeing anything anyway. You’re staring at nothing and nothing is the same everywhere.

Did You bring me half way around the world to be wheezing so hard I can’t sleep? Thoughts like that. Not worth the neurons they’re printed on. I know it. I know I can’t pay any attention to what I think after about 10pm, even on a normal night. On a night like this? Fa’ gedda ‘bout it.

Still, You seem so little offended by the question that an answer appears. It comes to mind how deeply my friend and I talked about You this afternoon and how refreshed she was, here in the European desert. Was is worth this whole trip and these sleepless nights?

Yes.

Now I’m thinking about recording this wheezing on my iPhone. It’s symphonic. It’s not just the regular whistles and squeaks. There’s a sub-bass rumble, high creaks, crackles, and a gurgling, backed-up-sink sound effect. It’s the stupidest thing in the world to lie awake listening to.

It’s definitely better than yesterday, though. It was so hard to breathe last night, I couldn’t lie down without gagging. That scared me. You had to reassure me–and I swear I heard a patient, fatherly smile in it–that I wasn’t going to die of bronchitis in Belgium. But I was scared and I asked You over and over again to heal me. In the last hours of the night, I sat hunched on the edge of the bed whispering, from the depths of my heart, “Son of David, don’t pass me by. Son of David, don’t pass me by.”

And You didn’t. “Wait for the dawn,” is what I heard. I knew You meant, “Healing is coming. Wait for it. I’m coming. Wait for Me.” And I did. And the dawn came and I watched it grow and, sure enough, I lay back down and fell asleep to it. And when I woke up, I knew You’d been there. I could feel the difference. Recovery had set in. It hasn’t reached all the wheezes yet, but it will. You’ve been here. I’ll sleep again.

The Kitten Chronicles: Elf

So. It was a Peruvian afternoon in April of last year. Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Warm and still sunny in Lima but not hot. I was buying something at the tienda (store) that Olinda, our landlady, runs on the first floor of our building. She was counting my change out into my hand when she looked over my shoulder and said, “Allá, Mira, Pamela. Tu gatito,” which is to say, “Look. There’s your kitten, Pam.”

I turned and looked and there was a little kitten, maybe the size of a man’s fist, mewing and toddling away from us down the street. I hesitated, the usual thought detaining me: I can’t take care of a cat!. Then some movement further down the street caught my eye and I looked. One of our neighborhood pit bulls was headed straight for the kitten, eyes on an afternoon snack.

Nope. No way. Not on my watch. So I trotted over and scooped up the kitten.

babyhand2 And, of course, as soon as I picked her up there was no more question about it. I had a cat. She was white with rust-colored patches, which is why Olinda called her my cat (I’m also white with rust-colored patches.) She was dirty and covered with fleas. I took her straight to the local vet, two streets down the hill. The vet cleaned her off with a combination of warm water and flea killer. I bought food right there, took the kitten home, fed her, built her a cozy bed.

She ate and slept, ate and slept for two days, then started exploring her new home. I named her Elf because she looked like one. The young lady who’s house sitting for me in Lima is taking care of Elf until I get home. She’ll be a year old soon. I miss her.

favorite spot

Yesterday on the Weather Channel

Epic scope, conflict, drama, danger, survival: the Weather Channel’s got everything. The Weather Channel is an intensely American experience. It’s one that, for me, highlights the contrast between the two continents I live on. I don’t have a TV in Peru, but, even if I did, South American cable systems don’t carry the Weather Channel. It’s North American weather, of course, so why would they? It’s only when I’m in the States that I get to see the Weather Channel. Maybe I’m weird, but it’s fun to be back and watch those sophisticated, animated, meterological models eat up our continent again.

weathermapLike yesterday. Here comes an arctic front out of Canada sliding its cold colors down the corridor east of the Rockies, curving southeast into Texas. Then here comes a second front up from the Caribbean–a warm storm burgeoning northwards out of the Gulf. “Lots of moisture,” the meteorologist says, as always. And these two fronts are crashing into each other right now, as we speak. They’re colliding over east Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, blending, morphing into something bigger, something with a stronger sense of purpose, something more serious with deeper colors, turning north, gaining speed. Undulating like a snake, the black line between freezing and not advances inexorably up the map, trailing blue rain ovals to the south, pushing white snow oval north. The white ovals multiply, covering the whole northeast; white and blue ovals stack up over the midwest. Indiana shows white; Kentucky, a frozen baby blue. Now the whole country east of the Mississippi is animated, outlined, and colored in. It’s a huge storm system, but it’s always moving; the entire sky is always moving. The sky will take the whole huge thing north and east into the Atlantic tomorrow, they say. Out over the Atlantic to harass shipping there, I guess, and to keep Icelanders pinned to their version of the Weather Channel. (How do you say, “Oh, no! Not again!” in Icelandic?)

Early this morning I open the back door and peek out. Sure enough, the cold Kentucky morning is blue, not white. Rain, not snow. The Weather Channel was right.

American meteorology. Very cool.

Heuristic Obedience

Adam Russell’s message yesterday at the Campbellsville Vineyard was heuristic. It was one of those that make a series of light bulbs light up one after another in your head. Click! Click! Click!

“Heuristic” is a word I learned in graduate school. Webster’s definition is “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving.” It’s a word I most often heard used to describe articles or books that inspired extended discussions, that generated new ideas and new directions.

That’s what Adam’s preaching did for me yesterday. It was heuristic. Especially the insight about obedience. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” Jesus said. Tough to swallow, Adam said.  What does obedience have to do with love? His answer is one that set off a lot of light bulbs for me. It’s a gateway. It’s the door leading into the Father’s love.

Adam used the example of the prodigal son. Did he know, experience his father’s love when he was languishing in the pig pen? No. He had to go back to his father’s house, and that’s where he found it. To go back means to repent. To repent is to obey God. The prodigal’s obedience was the gateway to experiencing his father’s love again. Not that his father didn’t love him while he was in the pig pen. Of course he did. But the boy was cut off from feeling it, knowing it, abiding in it, until he obeyed his dad and went back home.

The lightbulb that went off for me was this: obedience is submission. It’s what human beings haven’t wanted to so since Eden and still don’t, but it’s an absolute requirement for creatures who want to fellowship with their Creator. And as I know from giving up and going back time after time (He’s not counting, but I am), submission is walking into the Father’s waiting arms. His loving, waiting arms. It’s something I need to do every day.

Praise God for His mercy and grace and love. For waiting with His arms extended, not to grab and punish, but to embrace and comfort and restore. Wow! There is none like You! Praise God.

Thank you, Adam.

Dripping Wet

When I was little, I remember thinking that I could run out in the rain and not get wet. I thought I could track each raindrop as it fell and dodge out of the way. I really did. I thought I could zig-zag: left, right, left, left, right–like a soldier under fire–and not get hit.

The problem is I still think like that in some ways. I think a lot of us do. I think I can pick up whatever book, watch whatever movie, play whatever video game and nothing bad about it will rub off on me.  In other words, I’m sixty-two years old and find myself still thinking that I can run out in the rain and not get wet.

I believe the Apostle Paul is talking about this kind of thing when he says, “Do not be deceived.  Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33).  We immediately understand the “bad company” part, even though we don’t believe it in practice. But why does he first say, “Do not be deceived?”  I think because we are deceived, constantly, into thinking that we’re grown-up and bullet-proof and nothing bad is going to rub off on us no matter what kind of company we keep. No matter what TV shows we watch, no matter what novels we read (my failing), no matter what video games we play.  We convince ourselves that we can easily maintain our own, better, higher, individual point-of-view regardless of the electronic, literary, imaginary, and physical company we keep.

But have you ever watched as a friend starts hanging out with a new group of people? How your friend starts picking up the way that group talks?  Their gestures? I think the simple fact is that human beings are sponges..  We absorb what’s around us and start becoming like the company we keep. No matter the medium in which we hang out with our new friends. No matter how old we are.

There’s no way around this.  It’s human nature.  So what do we do?  I think we need to admit that we’re still little kids in some ways and submit ourselves to the same kinds of safeguards that little kids need, like older-brother Paul said. Make sure we play where it’s safe: on the playground prepared for us, instead of out in the street. Listen to Daddy’s warnings about who to play with. Let Him introduce us to good friends in every medium. Don’t sneak behind His back to watch that scary, nasty stuff on TV.  Don’t play electronically at doing things He’s forbidden us to do really. That kind of thing.

Sounds boring and ridiculous for adults, doesn’t it?  But really, when it comes to this kind of thing, some adults are not very adult at all.  I know for sure that I’m not. I’m dripping wet.

Trash Pickers

I took the photo of the little boy in the photo above just down the street from my apartment in Lima. It was garbage day and, along with his mom and dad and several siblings, this little guy had been walking from house to house in our barrio all afternoon sifting through the bags of garbage that people left on the curb for the garbage truck. He and his family members untied every bag, sifted through it, took out anything valuable and/or recyclable, and put it in the woven plastic bags that the boy’s standing in front of. All the bags and the load in the moto, the motorcyle car, are the family’s take for the day. It’s the boy’s job now to guard the stash until they get back.

New Year’s Resolution

I’m a Vineyard missionary in Lima, Peru. For eight years I’ve been living and working with a wonderful group of brothers and sisters in Christ at the Vineyard Laderas de Chillón in Lima. One of the things I’ve been the worst at over that period of time is communicating with friends in the States about what’s going on with me in Peru. I’m in the States now, and I just spent several hours with a small group of some of my dearest friends who patiently saw me through my tears of frustration, then took me to school. Blogging school. Free-blogging school.  Teaching me about blogs and links to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all of it automatic and almost self-perpetuating. I’m sixty-two years old so this is like Mars to me. Sure, I’ve heard about it. I’ve even seen it as a distant red dot low on the horizon in the night sky, but I’ve never been there. Now I’m going. New Year’s Resolution. On my way.