Tucson Reflection #4

A little travel trivia for you based on an article by Livability (2016):

  • The average American has visited 12 states.
  • The top five visited states are Florida, California, Georgia, New York, and Nevada.
  • California, Florida, and New York residents have visited fewer states than the typical American.
  • 10% of Americans have never been to a state other than the one they live in.
  • Americans take more than four leisure trips per year.

My Thanksgiving trip of 11 days, counting airports, took me to five states. Looking at these trivia points, it would be foolish of me not to see my life as privileged.

At some point on this trip, maybe on a plane or driving around Tucson, a thought occurred to me. The more I travel to new places the smaller I get. I’m pretty sure it was while I was in Tucson. I’m guessing because Tucson was unlike any other city I’ve visited.

Sure, it is American. Sure, it is modern. Sure, it is multicultural. Sure, it is a University town. Sure, it is picturesque. Sure, it is probably just about anything you’d want a city to be where you live or visit.

Something about Tucson, though, expanded my world and reminded me that the world is quite big. Therefore, I am quite small.

Now, someone might read that and the takeaway would be, “That sounds depressing.” Thankfully, with the worldview I have, my response is the opposite. I’m grateful for the reminder.

Too often my world revolves around me. I’m “bigger” than I really am. Is that because I’m American? Single? Male? White? Privileged? Floridian? Alabama fan? Probably. But it’s also because I’m human, in the lineage of Adam. I fall prey to wanting to be like God.

The smaller we children of Adam see ourselves in comparison to God the better our lives are. We allow the fullness of His presence; we give him more space to reveal he’s bigger. Bigger than us. Bigger than our stuff. Bigger than our circumstances. Bigger than our doubts. Bigger than our fears. Bigger.

On behalf of all the children of Adam, thank you, Tucson! You remind us God is Big!

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

Tucson Reflection #2

Getting to Tucson was no joke. The trip started by a 5AM EST (3AM in Tucson) alarm in St. Augustine followed by a three-hour stop in Orlando before boarding flight #1 in Tampa. After a four-hour layover in Denver, the final leg of the trip landed me in Tucson; after a short ride to the AirBnB, I got in bed at 12AM. If you’re counting, that’s a 21-hour day. Not necessarily the smartest start to a weekend for running a half marathon.

When you arrive in the middle of the night to a place you’ve never been, you pretty much have no idea, nor do you really care, what that city has to offer. I apologize to you, Tucson, but I had no idea what you had in store for me when I walked out the door to go to lunch a few hours later. You slapped me in the face with this view:

I didn’t mind the surprise. In fact, I couldn’t get enough. For the next 48 hours, I kept shaking my head and saying to myself, and I guess to God, “What? This is spectacular.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve been in Florida most of my life. Maybe it’s because different is intoxicating. Or maybe it’s because most surprises just aren’t this good.

Regardless of the maybes, here’s what I do know. I will never get over that the Creator of things that slap me in the face also humbled himself to see me, to know me, to rescue me, to offer me hope, to say, “Just wait ’til you see what I’m making for you.”

On behalf of all who visit you, Tucson, thank you! You remind us there’s a matchless surprise to come!

We See What We Look For

Recently a friend gave me a copy of Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus journal. So I’ve taken the challenge to complete it’s 90-day design.

The journal page for today had a portion of this quote by author John Lubbock:

What we do see depends mainly on what we look for… In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in

I instantly narrowed that down to this thought: We see what we look for.

How we view what we see is very dependent on what we are looking for. For example, when we read current events or listen to the news, we have biases that filter what we read and hear. How often do we evaluate those filters? How often do we assess if those filters really are ours or are they residual from other influences? Do we ever alter what we are looking for?

As a suggestion, here is a list that I started in my journal to illustrate what I mean. As you read it, consider how such a list in your journal would read.

  • We see God when we look for him
  • We see enemies when we look for them
  • We see offense when we look for it
  • We see opportunity when we look for it
  • We see solutions when we look for them
  • We see danger when we look for it
  • We see rejection when we look for it
  • We see grace when we look for it
  • We see humility when we look for it
  • We see strength when we look for it
  • We see courage when we look for it
  • We see unity when we look for it
  • We see love when we look for it

What are you looking for today? This week? This holiday season?

Family Grace

Today I was privileged to attend the celebration of life for a friend’s husband who passed last year. Due to COVID concerns, the family put off holding a gathering until now. I had only met her husband once that I recall, so I was attending purely to support her. I have found that when I attend such gatherings without much history with the deceased I actually walk away with more to think about. No exception today.

The top thing that struck me was an admittance from the youngest son. In his sharing about his dad, he spoke transparently stating that they hadn’t always had the greatest relationship. He said he didn’t want to go on about that. Instead he said this:

As an adult I’ve come to realize that parents are people to. My dad was a person. We all mess up.

He then went on to tell terrific stories of how he relied on his dad in many ways and will miss his being there to give advice and fix his mistakes. He gave a terrific image of how he remembered feeling like his dad would be behind him watching him do something and sensing that his dad wished he could wrapped his arms around his sides in order to fix what he wasn’t doing right. He said he imagines that his dad is still doing that.

This husband/father/friend was loved. And it appears he was loved because he accepted everyone’s humanity including his own. Could that be the answer to a tight family? Each one receives and shares grace out of their acceptance of their humanity?

As I listened to this son laugh and cry talking about his dad, this passage came to mind:

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children-with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

Psalm 103:13-18

May families remember that they are dust.

May families receive and share grace.

May families bask in the everlasting to everlasting love of the Lord.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Into the Silent Land (a book review)

A few days ago I included a reference to Into the Silent Land in a post. When I heard about this book, I thought it was going to be about the spiritual discipline of solitude. To my surprise, it turned out to be much more than that.

Laird shared in the introduction that his objective was to examine two contemplative practices: the practice of stillness (meditation or contemplative prayer) and the practice of watchfulness or awareness. He had my attention.

I won’t be able to compact his descriptions of these practices with justice. What I can do is relay that if you believe you’ve read or heard all there is to know about prayer, you might want to make sure by reading this book. What I thought I knew about contemplative prayer has been deepened. What I practice in meditation has been retooled.

The meat of the book is chapters four and six. Chapter four introduces and outlines what Laird calls the three doorways of the present moment. He describes a method of praying based on utilizing a prayer word. I found it familiar but not. He was putting words to my novice practices and revealing how to mature them. Then in chapter six-my favorite-he makes it real by sharing three overcomer’s stories. Their struggles include fear, pain, and compulsion. The victory in these three human stories support his label of their moving from victim to witness.

You may be wondering if this book is for you. Here are three descriptors to try on for size:

  • If you wonder if the practice of meditation carries value, this book is for you.
  • If you wish your prayer life to be more relational and not just petitionary, this book is for you.
  • If you are looking for a spiritual discipline challenge, this book is for you.

Laird doesn’t write to be quoted, but here are a few highlights worth sharing:

If we are going to speak of what a human being is, we have not said enough until we speak of God.

God does not know how to be absent.

There is a certain wisdom that settles into a life that does not attempt to control what everybody else ought to be thinking, saying, doing, or voting on. Wisdom, health, life, and love cannot be found in trying to control the wind, but rather in harnessing the wind in the sails of receptive engagement of the present moment.

It is very liberating to realize that what goes on in our head…does not have the final word on who we are.

If you want to make fear grow, run from it.

Fear, anger, envy-any afflictive thought or feeling-cannot withstand a direct gaze.

We commonly meet our wounds in temptation and failure.

Divine love doesn’t have to decide whether or not to forgive. Divine love is forgiving love.

Photo by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash

Parent, You Are Chosen!

Read Judges 13 this morning and a question came to me. What would it have been like to be Samson’s parents?

Manoah and his wife display such a teachable, humble, surrendered, and reverent spirit. Neither of them give a vibe of bitterness, doubt, or frustration at their lack of having a family yet. Neither of them display disgust at being told that with the promise of a child came a restrictive vow. Nope. Instead they reply with awe and an outlook of being blessed.

No wonder God chose them to be Samson’s parents. Unbeknownst to them, Samson would make some irreverent choices. He would not follow in their steps of humility. His surrender came by force.

Does this mean Manoah and his wife failed as parents? No. There’s where my judgment has gone in the past when reading their story. But it doesn’t seem to be the best view.

Rather than view them through their son’s actions, it seems better to view them through the eyes of the angel of the Lord who interacts with them in this chapter. They appear to be chosen. They definitely were heard. Without question, they experienced blessing through a promise personally delivered by “I Am” and its fulfillment.

God chose them. Just like all uncapable-of-controlling-the-future parents, they were chosen. God saw something in them and said, “You are the right couple to birth the last judge of my chosen people. You have the spirit to stay with me when your son chooses otherwise. I choose you.”

Father, you were chosen to father your children. God knew what he was doing. You can trust him, surrender to him, allow him to teach you.

Mother, you were chosen to mother your children. God saw your spirit. You can trust him, follow him, lean on him to sustain you.

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Pick Them Up

When a baby is distressed, they’re distressed because they are sleepy, hungry, uncomfortable, cold. And the way we respond to newborns is we pick them up…We are helping them begin to learn that when you are in distress you express your distress and someone comes to comfort you.

Curt Thompson, MD

Several takeaways from this statement in Episode 7, Season 1 of Being Known.

  • It’s normal to express distress. We were born doing it.
  • It’s normal to comfort someone who is expressing their distress. The majority of us have been comforted and can reciprocate it.
  • Comforting someone is picking them up. We pick each other up when we respond to distress cries with comfort.
  • The ultimate picker-upper is God. We express our distress through prayer. He comforts. He picks us up.

Are you in distress? Who are you sharing it with? Where can you trust to go for comfort? Have you expressed your distress to God?

Do you know someone in distress? How can you pick them up today? Have you prayed for God to pick them up?

Psalm 113:1-9 (The Message)

113 1-3 Hallelujah!
You who serve God, praise God!
    Just to speak his name is praise!
Just to remember God is a blessing—
    now and tomorrow and always.
From east to west, from dawn to dusk,
    keep lifting all your praises to God!

4-9 God is higher than anything and anyone,
    outshining everything you can see in the skies.
Who can compare with God, our God,
    so majestically enthroned,
Surveying his magnificent
    heavens and earth?
He picks up the poor from out of the dirt,
    rescues the forgotten who’ve been thrown out with the trash,
Seats them among the honored guests,
    a place of honor among the brightest and best.
He gives childless couples a family,
    gives them joy as the parents of children.
Hallelujah!

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

Regulating

We don’t control things; we regulate things. Human beings actually don’t control anything. We have agency, and we can regulate things; but we don’t absolutely, like dictators, control anything. I can’t control my heartrate absolutely. I ultimately can’t even control my breathing rate. I can regulate it-I can move it up and move it down-but there are going to be certain perimeters within which, you know, I can only hold my breath for so long and then I got to start breathing again.

Curt Thompson, MD

First I came across this graphic posted on social media. Within hours, I heard Dr. Thompson’s quote on his podcast, Being Known.

Our extremely accessible world tempts us to focus on the wrong things, to believe we can-or must-control more than is possible. When accepted, these temptations lead to overwhelming emotions that take us down roads we weren’t designed to travel.

This graphic states a helpful principle: focus on the things that matter that you can control. Everything else requires faith. Faith that all things matter to God. Faith that he controls all things. When I misplace that faith, I’ve given into another temptation-playing God.

These temptations need regulating. Working on regulating is less overwhelming than working on controlling. That I can work on. That makes me think of some of the Beatitudes-Jesus’ teaching on what blessing looks like.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

Matthew 5:3-9, The Message

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Welcome to Egypt!

“Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards.” (Genesis 37:36)

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Now that your father and brothers have come to you, the land of Egypt is open before you; settle your father and brothers in the best part of the land. They can live in the land of Goshen. If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” (Genesis 47:5-6)

No idea what Egyptian road signs existed in 1700BC, but it doesn’t take much to imagine that Joseph and Jacob would have had different emotions if they passed one welcoming them to the country.

Joseph: “What just happened? I don’t want to be here. God, why did you let this happen?”

Jacob: “What is happening? I’m so glad to be here. God, how can I thank you?”

Genesis 37-47 recounts many of the most familiar biblical dramas. Dramas that were foreshadowed in dreams. Dramas that no one saw coming. Dramas with immediate answers to questions. Dramas where silence still lingers.

Our lives aren’t much different.

Rolling along with seemingly no problems, then WHAM! Welcome to hatred, to betrayal, to dysfunction, to lies, to prison, to loss, to loneliness, to misunderstanding, to abandonment, to…..

Or doing the best with what’s been handed to us, then SURPRISE! Welcome to blessing, to grace, to forgiveness, to renewal, to acceptance, to explanation, to honor, to peace, to hope, to…..

We can learn many truths from Jacob and Joseph’s lives. Today, wherever and whatever you’ve been welcomed to, know that God has walked with many of his children through their whams and surprises. He goes to Egypt with you. How do I know? Here are some other verses within these same Genesis chapters:

“The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master.” (Genesis 39:2)

“But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21)

“Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: ‘Jacob, Jacob!’ he said.

And Jacob replied, ‘Here I am.’

God said, ‘I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.’” (Genesis 46:1-4)

Welcome to Egypt! You are not alone!

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

Today, I Remember

May 31st was Memorial Day. A holiday to remember those who have given their life for freedom.

That morning I decided not to start my day with a run. Instead I felt led to have a Sabbath moment. Just follow the promptings and see where they led.

To begin, I picked up my Bible reading where I was. It just happened that I was reading in Exodus where the Israelites were first instructed about Passover. I’ve read that many times. But on this particular day, it mattered a little more when I read this verse:

“This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.” Exodus 12:14

How could I ignore the connection, right? So, note to self.

I don’t remember how or why, but after I finished reading I came across a youtube video of Max Lucado sharing a personal story that I hadn’t heard before. The title read “Max Lucado Testimony: Jesus Healed Me From Sexual Abuse.” About three minutes into this clip, Max shared a unique communion experience he took upon himself to take when he was twelve years old. He described going to the refrigerator and finding what he could to observe communion right then and there. He felt like he needed to remember. He ended up with a glass of milk and leftover potatoes. And in his heart, he remembered and felt cleansed and embraced as he took that private moment to remember.

How could I ignore the connection, right?

Now it was more than a note to self. It was a call to remember right then. So I followed Max’s example and went to the refrigerator. I ended up with a bagel and a cup of fruit punch. Then with further scripture reading and listening to a playlist I put together of communion music, I had an hour or two of memorial and celebration.

It hit me that a further following of Exodus 12:14 could be that I make this a habit. I don’t have to wait on my church to dictate when I remember and celebrate. I can follow God’s direction and repeat this moment whenever I wish.

For now, I’m putting it on my calendar once a month. And this morning was that time. And I share this for you to consider how you might make remembering and celebrating a part of your home as well.

(From my time this morning) Today I remember that…

  • you were betrayed
  • you knew what you were doing
  • you desired to be glorified
  • through you your Father was glorified
  • envy was your enemy
  • you chose to give your life
  • you are the way to life now and forever
  • you knew the prophecies and surrendered to their fulfillment
  • you could have stopped it all
  • you were alone
  • you gave the charge to love one another
  • the shedding of your blood washes away my sin
  • you humbled yourself completely to the point of death

Photo by David Weber on Unsplash