Inside the Storm

21 03 2011

After hearing the forecast, my anxiety subsided a bit as I anticipated the evening drive to McHenry, Maryland and our annual Youth Ski Retreat – just scattered snow showers in the higher elevations. However, just past Cumberland, Maryland, we hit one of those higher elevation snow showers…a sustained snow shower…a sustained snow shower in the dark. The wind blew snow across unfamiliar roads, leaving just one lane visible on West-bound I-68. The snow was relentless and the white crystals that normally falls soft and quiet, seemed angry this night. After several “heart-in-my-throat” moments, the exit toward Wisp Ski Resort was in sight. As I slowed to turn onto the exit, my grip loosened from the indentations I had created and my knuckles regained their natural color. The slowing also revealed what my anxiety and fear had kept me from observing – the interstate speed I maintained fed the perception of an angry storm. With the slowing, the snow blew across the road gentler…softer – the knot in my stomach loosened. My body began to relax. But the adventure wasn’t over.

The lights of Wisp’s Ski slopes illuminated like white brush strokes on the mountainside. Passing the main lodge, I knew we had just one more hill to climb. (I soon was reminded that we were in the mountains of Maryland.) With an adult, five teenagers, and our luggage, our van began the ascent…up the “hill”. Even with gearing down, my wheels could not maintain traction and we slowed to a stop…half way up “the mountain”. A kind person, on their way down, stopped and asked if I needed help. Inside I was saying, “You have no idea,” but out of my mouth came a prideful, “We’re okay.” Thankfully, God is good…looking beyond my pride to the care of my precious teenage cargo, somehow the van wheels found a patch of clear pavement and soon we found ourselves unloading our van at our weekend home.

Our house over looked Deep Creek Lake. From past retreats, I remembered the spectacular views and the sunrise show through the huge living room windows. It was this vista and show I anticipated as I arose before dawn. With camera on my tripod and pre-dawn excitement, I gazed out the window…gray haze instead of fire lit morning skies. With snow still blowing, even the lake below was obscured. Snow and haze had settled in for the weekend. It was not until we had said goodbye to our retreat house for another year that the sun made an appearance.

It’s peculiar – a gift – what awakens us to God’s voice. As we headed down the mountain, snow-blanketed creation was bathed in brilliant sunlight…beautiful! From the back seat of the van, I heard the voice of God – actually it was one of our youth, but the Spirit’s vibrations were in the words that were spoken: “The snow is so great. One flake landed on my hand yesterday and I could see its design. It wasn’t perfect but I could see its pattern. It’s amazing that each snowflake is different.”  She paused, “Look at all the snow on the ground. That’s pretty awesome of God.”

A flash of truth hit me. There I was, in the storm – raging snow, darkness, limited vision, steep mountains, obscured vistas, fear, and anxiety. And now, when I am leaving, my eyes were opened to see the beauty of what happened in the storm. Perfect flakes lying together with imperfect flakes…beautiful – covering the ground, the trees, the rocks…and now blanketing my own soul.

We all experience storms – in relationships, in faith, in health, in finances, in life experiences. What’s so hard about being in the midst of the storm – the wind blowing, snow whirling, darkness closing, limited vision, huge mountains – is that it’s hard to see beyond the immediate. We believe if we go faster we can get through the storm sooner or escape it altogether. Too often, as we move faster, we find the storm rages even harder against us. We forget that slowing down my help us see clearer. We forget that we can say “yes” to help that presents itself. Unfamiliar paths and situations make us uncomfortable so we try to tighten our control on life. We become more rigid and our senses develop tunnel vision; disappointments born from unmet expectations blind us from the growth occurring within the haze we find ourselves.

The good news is we are not alone in the storms of life. God promises to never leave us…in the haze…in the darkness…even when we can’t see God because of the storm.

Skies on Fire

15 03 2011

Sometimes it seems as if the sky is on fire…

Earthquakes…tsunamis…power hungry leaders…revolutions…bickering over millions while others just hope to make it paycheck-to-paycheck…cancer…nuclear meltdowns…hunger…addictions/unhealthy attachments…self-created delusions to cope with the failure of not living into who we were created to be. How can one hold all this? – so many questions to God…of God. We look to the skies – arms raised, and ask, “Why?” My hands have been lifted skyward many times. I claim this question too.

Many Sundays I pronounce the following benediction as our community of faith walks back into the world:

“And now go in peace, and as you are going, know this:

by the grace of God you were brought into this world;

by the mercy of God you have been sustained to this very moment,

and by the love of God, fully revealed in Jesus the Christ,

you are being redeemed, now and forevermore. Amen.”

(Bill Leonard – adapted from John Claypool)

Redeemed…to save…to restore…to bring back to wholeness. Is this taking place in our world…in creation…in you…in me? Within the events of this life – the good and the bad, is there hope for restoration…or at least to move toward wholeness? Where is God in all of this? Are we, too, a part of the restoration equation?

Being human…being one that has experienced – and will experience – pain and grief…being one who watches devastation beamed from across the world and in my community…and being one who has seen – and will see – the pain of others…I am thus invited into a deeper conversation with God – hard questions to ask…truth and reality become palpable…what is most important in life becomes crystal clear. What am I to do with this all? What am I to do with this question of redeeming?

My faith – my confidence in what I hope for…my assurance in what I do not see – awakens. It allows me to hear the whispers of hope within what I experience…in what I feel…in what I consider. It tells me that just as I am a co-creator with God, I am also a co-redeemer. I have responsibility to do my part in bringing about wholeness in this world – even when I do not understand…even in the shadows of what seem insurmountable odds. Why? Because I have been the recipient of grace…of forgiveness…of nurture…of encouragement…of a challenge to live into whom God created me to be – I’ve been offered and experienced restoration. And I want more – I want it for others…I want it for all creation.  So maybe I can help provide some sacred space for others to discover and uncover their gifts; maybe I can help open up space where nurture, encouragement, and healing can embrace another; maybe I can help provide holy space where another feels safe enough to risk becoming who God has created them to be; maybe I can help have faith for another when the other feels like their faith is a black hole – just like so many has done for me.

And where is God in all of this? Maybe we do not see God in the events of this world – the good and the bad – because we are looking skyward with our hands raised…instead of looking down. Maybe God is down – down in the muck of our living…in the debris of our lives and of creation…within the pain and horrors we experience. Maybe God is in the tears of the heartbroken…in the anger of those who stand against injustices…in the fear of those who are being abused…in the bewilderment of those in the wilderness…in the gaze of those who see – in us. If so, then, there is always hope…a light shining in darkness…the possibility of wholeness.

In the end, I still have deep questions. I do not understand it all…I never will. Many times it is as if my vision is veiled – “I don’t yet see things clearly. I’m squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.” [1 Corinthians 13:12, The Message] So I will rely on my faith…listen within for the conversations between my spirit and the Spirit…ask hard questions, risking a deeper intimacy with God…try to live into the Mystery of it all…and embrace hope as I ask for courage to do what I can to be a co-redeemer with the Creator.


Conversations with God

6 03 2011

I learned early that listening for “God’s call” was an important thing for me to do. I just didn’t know what I was listening for. I didn’t know how I was supposed to listen. And, if truth were told, sometimes, I still don’t know…I’m still learning. I also heard the phrase God’s call used interchangeably with God’s will…so it made sense that God’s call is God’s will for our lives, right? I came to believe that I needed to find that one purpose God had for my life.

We live life, using words to describe our experiences along the way. So when we use the phrase God’s will or God’s call what are we really trying to describe? What experience are we trying to understand…to communicate? Over time, through listening and through my experiences, I’ve come to believe that God is not a God who plays hide and seek. God does not hide from us what God wants from us…I don’t believe God is playing a game. I believe God’s will for us…what God wants from us…is our love – for us to love God with all our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our might. God wants a relationship with us. And if this is God’s will for us…then our call is not just one special task God has for us (that we have to find) – our call is wide open. For me God’s call is the conversations we have with God about who we are…about who God is…about the gifts given to us…about our desire for God and God’s desires for us…about how we are loved and about how we love. It becomes a matter of discovering and exploring the gifts God has given us, and then the willingness to hone these gifts and risk the use of them. It can be a scary thing when you start naming what’s on the inside out loud – things may start to move. And with the presence of this risk, too many times I have gravitated back to what seems safe…what seems solid. My grip tightens, afraid of loosing what, in reality, is of no value to me or to my journey. I want to return to being…just comfortable.

But God wants more for us…from us. God wants to dialogue – Spirit to spirit…creating a relationship of wholeness that involves listening, talking, struggling, questioning, discerning, committing, dreaming, attending to, waiting for, moving toward, co-creating with, and so much more. And in good, soul-connecting conversations there is a paying attention to God’s grace and love flowing through us. The grace – the good news – is that the Conversation is already within us…it’s happening…it’s in our imaginations…in our dreams…in our experiences…in our hopes and desires…in our relationships. The invitation for God-conversations is a daily event.

Some conversations with God, though, take place over a long period time (even though we would like a shorter talk). Some God-conversations begin with an unsettledness within. This unsettledness – this change – is an invitation to start paying attention to God’s movement more diligently…with heighten awareness of those experiences (some seemingly insignificant) that give insight, clarity, courage, and a sense of God’s assurance.

And then, like in any conversation, there are times when clarity is lacking…when there is silence…when attention wanders. There have been times when I thought my eyes were wide open, but I couldn’t see a thing. There have been times when I was without sight…waiting in the dark…all I wanted was just a little light. There have been times when I have asked, “Who are you, God?” There have been times when my concepts of God have been challenged, leaving me to wonder if it was God I was hearing or the voice of my own desires…sometimes wondering if God was there at all. I felt abandoned. There have been many times when I could not understand God – when I didn’t know what God was calling me toward. I was frustrated – “How long is this particular conversation with God going to take? Forever? Is God teasing me?”

So if call is really about staying in a relationship with God – having conversation after conversation – it is not a “one-and-done” event. Call is ongoing…it’s active and open – at least on God’s part. It’s all about orienting ourselves toward God…daily. It’s about listening and discerning… daily; about being open and aware…daily; about imagining and dreaming…daily; about asking, “Who are you, God?”…daily; about asking, “Who am I?”…daily; about trusting and exploring…daily; about mustering faith and picking up courage…daily. It’s about welcoming the darkness –although hard – when it comes. It’s about sitting with others in their darkness. It’s about “holding things lightly.” It’s about letting God love us. It’s about giving ourselves to what is most important in our daily living – conversation with God where we know the deep love of God for us and where we can return that love. God’s conversation with us has always been…it always will be – that’s the adventure in being on the Way.