Friday, December 23, 2016

Finding Peace And Rest This Christmas

“When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem, buy Christmas cards, and presents for everyone, including some we hardly know.  Let’s put in extra hours with the sheep; for we will need extra money for celebrating.  So they came in a hurry (harried and tired) and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the Manger.”  We mirror this broken bible passage today.  In-between Christmas music, radio stations are playing songs like, “Worn,” and encouraging us to rest.  We hurry past the King in the manger on our way to celebrate.  We bypass the Sovereign one slipping past the simplicity of the story.

We are being seduced; “But I am afraid that, even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted and led away from the simplicity of [your sincere and] pure devotion to Christ.”  I’m guilty.  I do it with the Gospel adding law to a simplistic, “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Such simplicity; the easy burden Christ gives compared to that I choose to carry myself.

He carries the governments upon his shoulders.  He gives me an easy, shared, yoke to bear.  His request is an easy, “Follow me.”  Life is so cluttered with all the stuff I think I need.  Security and control.  Shepherds, wise-men, fishermen, tax-collectors and prostitutes gave up ‘me’ to follow.  Gave up herds and jobs; 401Ks and imagined security to follow the one whom, ‘emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.’

This angelic visit to the shepherds is a hat-tip to Moses whom God has called the most humble of men.  Its that humility that frames Jesus coming.  The attitude of Mary, the stable, the announcement to the shepherds and the response of those who recognized their spiritual poverty.  He became poor that we might become rich.  So they gave up themselves to find fullness and peace in Christ.  For the following is both intentional and simple. 

Simple in that we recognize we have nothing and He is fullness, “For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form…”  Intentional because we give up self and seek to stay as close to Jesus as we can.  Only in that place can we find peace and rest.  For the control is truly never ours.  The grasping and holding tight never satisfy all our yearnings.  “He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself…” For there is born for you a Savior who is God Himself.  In His fullness and kingdom, we find rest.  This is Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2016

This Knowing Is Enough

I woke up from the dream in a sweat,  With the knowledge of evil and good  I looked at my own silhouette - it looked back with a bad attitude  You reached out to touch me  You reached out to touch me - I said it's too true:  You and me we know too much---Mark Heard, “We Know Too Much.”

 Some saints suffer greatly.  I read their stories.  For inspiration; for encouragement.  “The most inspiring testimonies are of those who have suffered deeply and found God to be faithful even in the pain,” says Laura Story who has herself suffered deeply.  Deep faith comes through difficult times. This knowing is knowing too much.  

I think too much. In my naivete; when I was even more naive than I am today, I thought God would simply answer prayer and change circumstances.  God would repair the relationship though it was me that was broken.  God would heal here instead of completely healing there.  God would give me a better job instead of chiseling me to fit the present one. 

Hardly holy.  Not character building nor caring. Still at some level I thought it so.  Wished it so. Lately I flip it all around the other way.  I muddle truth thinking God didn’t solve other’s problems (for character of course) and He won’t solve mine. 

My story is different.  My story isn’t the same as their story.  God works heart to heart; person to person, individual to individual.  God is about relationship. God is eternally fellowship, forever three-in-one. This I do know: God will work for fellowship with Him and goodness for me. God may change my circumstances. God may lead me into deep waters. 

This knowing is knowing enough.  Knowing God knows my frame.  Knowing that my story (and yours as well) will be uniquely written.  Knowing I am loved for me.  “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you…When you pass through the waters I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you, when you walk through the fire you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”  This knowing is knowing enough; that I am eternally known.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Trophies and Thanks

I am reward driven.  We all are.  I’m like an Olympic athlete winning gold when Strava or Duolingo award me virtual trophies.  I run laps around the house.  My wife laughs at me for this. I experience reward in differing ways.  This morning I replaced a shower-head.  My reward; manliness (and better water pressure.)

A trophy isn’t always a reward.  I played on a baseball team as a child. Even bought a jockstrap!  I was small and afraid of the ball.  I didn’t care about the game.  My parents signed me up.  I played bench and far afield. At the end of the season each person on my team received an individual trophy.  I put that trophy up on my shelf.  I didn’t care about it.  It meant nothing to me. I’d not earned it.

I want that affirmation.  I want it in my marriage; “Thank you for taking out the trash." "Thank you for a lovely dinner.”  I want it at work, “Thank you for keeping the shelves stocked.”  I want it from my child.  I wanted it from my parents.

God knows we are wired this way for He promises reward.  Ultimately, we shall hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”  Sometimes doing the good thing, the right thing, the self-dying thing needs greater motivation than being the right thing.  One needs affirmation.

If I want it—and need it maybe others want and need it also.  That’s something I will consider and work on.  It seems a little thing this giving of affirmation.  Plenty are rewarded for keeping the bench warm.  How do I affirm those that are invested in the game?

Thank you for visiting the blog (even if you didn’t invest in a jockstrap).

Monday, November 28, 2016

Finding Rest And Finding God

Finding rest is hard work.  Your mind and flesh will fight against you.  First you must overcome inertia; leave comfort and the known.  I had to return a bunch of phone calls from home this morning.  I have to fix a leaking shower head.  I want to hang Christmas lights.  Instead I got in the car to go hike.

Enroute my body told me it craves a hamburger.  I’d eaten lunch; didn’t need food.  I told it I would feed it later.  Once on the trail there came the jumble of thoughts.  I’d come to rest.  I’d come to just be; to experience time with Jesus.  The mind fights that.

Rest isn’t a thing the mind does readily.  Amusement—yes; the 10 hours the average American spends in screen time.  Quiet resting though is a discipline.  I found myself praying for stuff; planning my vacations, blocking out my work week.  I had to actively bring thought back to God; to meditation, to quiet the hum. 

I don’t think the rattle of thoughts is a bad thing.  Perhaps it calls attention to the state of your heart.  Having set aside being busy at home my mind was trying to busy itself with thought.  I found I had to focus on the now.  I told my lungs to breathe deep.  I stood beside a pool and noticed moisture on the sides of the bank; the dry leaves still clinging for it hadn’t been wet enough to wash them downward.  The thoughts continued as I strove to order them.

I saw no visions.  I didn’t find the perfect zone.  Still it’s amazing that as thinking creatures we can seek stillness---that we can wrestle with thought and gray matter to bring it into a place of quiet.  To order our thoughts around meditation and quiet; to focus on God and to listen for Him---and to Him.  Still most amazing is that an infinite God reveals Himself; and allows Himself to be found.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Resting Is Hard Work

I miss backpacking.  I miss the naps.  Miles on the trail.  Then camp set-up.  Some gorp.  Then the search for the perfect granite slab to spread out on.  Sweat cooled on my body.  The sun hot above; a cool breeze to mediate.  Secure on the rock.  Work done.  Free to enjoy a perfect nap---without stress.

Today that kind of rest eludes me.  I’m honing in on the foxes---the ones ruining the vineyard.  Here’s a partial list: Social media news knowing and keeping abreast; I-shoulds (spending time with blank, working on the house); blogging and writing; exercise.  This isn’t to say I don’t have time to relax; to enjoy coffee on the porch or a good book.  But there’s a niggling; a call to a real rest, deep to deep; Sabbath healing.

When living in The Valley I carved out time on Thanksgiving to be alone with God.  Off a curving canyon road there lay large boulders; behind you the mountain, below Pacific Coast Highway, miles of shoreline and an expanse of blue ocean stretching out to eternity.  I’d go and just sit.  Pray.  Maybe think; maybe not.

I’m working six days this week; squeezing in Thanksgiving and Friday off.  Downtime with family will be great as always but quiet soul feeding won’t be happening.  I’m off Monday too.  I’m set on getting in a bike-ride or a hike.  To cultivate soul quiet.  To think; to process, to plan and dream---or not.  Perhaps to just be---still.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Five Ways The Psalms Give Strength For The Battles We Fight

"Up, God! My God, help me! Slap their faces,
First this cheek, then the other,
Your fist hard in their teeth!Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes your people!"
Deliverance, shield, shelter, safety, bloodshed, night-watch, sighing, death and Sheol.  The Psalms were written for the trenches.  Warfare; not peacetime.  Physical, mental and spiritual warfare. 

We have little control over life. We are afflicted; in need of deliverance from a sickness or situation too strong for us.  We are needy; people and life rob us of what little we have.  Seasons stretch personal limits to breaking.  Trials show up announced.  The body reacts; stress breaks down.  Stir sick and elderly parents into the mix; some stress into the mix, churn in some daughter drama and a little financial pressure and hope diminishes.  At home.  Abroad.  Big world.

The Psalms give words to our frustration.  Here are five ways the Psalms give strength for the battles we fight:

Positive purpose: “For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined…We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us into a place of abundance.”

Character development: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle…”  “Who may dwell on Your holy hill?  He who walks with integrity…and speaks truth in his heart.  He does not slander…He swears to his own hurt…He does not take a bribe against the innocent.  He who does these things will never be shaken.”

Mental Attitude (positive prayer/self-talk): “Why are you in despair, O my soul?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence…I will bless the Lord who has counselled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.  I have set the Lord continually before me…”

Coming conqueror: “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep….Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Transcendent hope: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;surely I have a delightful inheritance….You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Let us persevere with the picture that opens the book of Psalms.  That of a strong tree secure through the winds of life; “ He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Kind Of Men We Are: That's The Trouble With Us

That’s the kind of men we are.  That’s the trouble with us.  We’re content---but not with status quo. Not bound by the size of our circle of influence.  We have our principles and we’ll push the envelope; softly, maybe gently, maybe massaging it over time.  Still we’re pushing.  Content; but only so-so.

That’s the kind of men we are.  Weekend football, monthly mortgage and rounds of Happy Hours don’t satisfy.  We’ll go, we’ll have fun.  Still you might catch us looking out the window; or just staring; that far-off look in our eyes.  We’re seeing a glimpse of something that you’re not.  You’re drinking beer; we seeing Borealis.

We tilt at windmills.  Our hearts stir when neighbors’ oppressed.  Perhaps its Putin pushing boundaries. Could be local.  Injustice anywhere…. Our world views may differ but we’ve come to them through thought, reading and reflection. Conviction moves us.  Conviction steadies us.  Conviction makes us targets.

There’s trouble with the kind of men we are.  The world doesn’t get us.  The world doesn’t like us.  Hence we often go it alone or with six; or with twelve.  Or with six-shooter.  We reason; pen mightier than the sword and all that.  Times may call for the sword; lying down the pen, laying down our lives. 

Something; Someone, someplace calls to us louder than the current din.  The mountain calls; the wilderness calls, the challenge calls.  Complacency; not us.

That’s the kind of men we are.  Moments there are that we wish it weren’t so.  Still sleep is deeper.  Our dreams bigger.  Friendships tighter.  Need be we’ll go alone; Borealis beams.  Mountains call.  Adventure waits.  That’s the trouble with us. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Burgers, Chili-Sizes and Dining With Dad

Thinking about hamburgers.  Thinking about foods I enjoy.  Thinking about being introduced to those foods.  Thinking about my dad.  I remember going with dad to Tommy’s.  I didn’t like it then.  Kids like plain food. Though simple; Tommy’s is far from plain.  The basic burger with fresh tomato and lettuce and the famous chili in the burger.  Simple but so good.  There was a family outing to El Tepeyac—pork aplenty, fresh salsa, beans and house-made chips. (1, 728 reviews on Yelp.  4 stars).  Too hot, too spicy.  Today I could happily live on El Tepeyac and Tommy’s.  There is one strong link between burgers, chili and comfort that links childhood comfort and contemporary delight.
The chili-size at Bob’s Big Boy.   Dad missed segments, seasons and years of my life there was a season we frequented Bob’s Big Boy.   Always the Chili-size and a brownie for me.  I don’t remember what dad got.  I remember that we talked.  I still enjoy a good chili-size and I wonder if in part it’s because my senses recall the delight of those first experiences.

My memories disappear faster than snapchat photos so it’s tough to remember first experiences.  The first taste of a Butterfinger; first bowl of Capn’ Crunch, first Halvah, Gyro, Baklava…the list goes on and on.  Yet I remember when I fell in love with onion and bell-peppers atop a pizza.  I was alone for a week in Manhattan.  Walking the city, hungry, I stepped into a little cafĂ© and bought a slice of pizza.  So simply straightforward but so richly delightful. 

Thinking about burgers I want to chart my favorite foods.  A food time-line of sorts.  So much I don’t remember.  Once in a while though a tasty treat will make connection with those neurons linking sense and memory.  If I linger there long enough; there it is---Baklava, yes, perhaps, the Greek Market.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Five Steps To Refocusing Your Life

Determined or drifting?  Those are our two choices.  Life will throw curves.  We either re-calibrate or we drift.  Drifting is; at face value, easier.  Going along, reacting, coping.  If you are on track, then you can coast a while; that’s not drifting because you are heading toward your desired goal.  Drifting implies aimlessness.  Determination implies a stated target you are aiming at.

The Dillo household is re-calibrating.  We’re in process---don’t know if it’s a day, a season or a year.  We face aging and sick parents.  Work issues (tension and stress) are beyond normal this year; so that they bleed into our normal outside-of-work living (having to work to 10 pm; classroom with large population and beyond-bell curve behavior issues).  We left our church family of ten-years after communicating our concerns.  So we ask ourselves questions.  We wrestle with answers---take small steps.

Here are five small steps that may help you when refocusing your life:

1) Question. Ask yourself questions.  Have friends ask you questions.  What are you looking for?  What works?  What ignites the fire in your heart?  When deciding to leave our church we kept asking questions: What’s personal preference?  What’s scriptural?  What do we feel we’re missing?

     2) Get feedback from your community.  Vacuums suck.  Don’t make your decisions by yourself.  Get other people’s perspective.  Ask friends for input.  Ask enemies for input.  Get input.

     3)Set goals.  Brainstorm if you have to; set a bunch of goals. Soon you’ll recognize the ones that don’t apply. 

     4) Make the goals measurable.  There are a bunch of great techie tools to measure progress; word counters for books, heartbeat monitors for workouts.  I’ve found Strava to be a great training tool for solo workouts.

     5) Recognize the process.  Wrestle.  The answer probably won’t come overnight. I’m still trying to prioritize actions I take and activities I chuck.  Give yourself grace.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Freud, My Dad and Scrambled Eggs

I lay back on the analyst’s couch.  The discussion resumes.  In a thick, German accent he revisits the question, “Why breakfast?”  I don’t think it's only me.  There’s something deep and archetypal about it.  Perhaps it's the eggs.  

Symbolic; I suppose.  Reaching back to childhood I equate quick breakfasts ---Frosted Flakes, Cap'n Crunch, cold cereals and hot cereals--with school days.  Summer days and weekends tantalized with morning cartoons and full breakfasts; eggs, bacon, fresh melon; peaches and bread-with spreads of butter, peanut butter, marmalade and jellies.  Years later I would add coffee to the list---the smell, the heat, the senses coming awake.

The doctor taps his pipe against the table and mutters, “Der pater.”  Father; yes.  In the early days before the screaming fights and the long absences dad would come into the kitchen to cook.  I remember scrambled eggs with other ingredients; sausages and salami; flavorful but different than mom ever made.  Bathrobe on; which was dressed-up for dad on a Saturday, he scrambled eggs. Mom percolated coffee and set out the table.  My sister and I sat at the table waiting to be served.

The analyst inhales; adjusts his pipe.  A clock ticks in the background.  “So---you were served,” he says--both statement and question.  So we were.  That may well be the crux of breakfast’s hold on me.  The good breakfasts I’ve had have all been served.  I’ve enjoyed them in repose; most often in community with others.  I’m being served.  I’m ordering what I want.  Extra bacon or absurd amounts of butter and syrup-even pure maple!.  All mine.  Id, ego and Sabbath rolled together like a crepe.  The alarm sounds.  Reflection ends. I go on my way--- thinking about breakfast and planning my next Sabbath rest.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Zombies and the Prescription Panic of 2016

70 percent of Americans rely on prescription drugs.  That’s a lot of zombies.  Horror movies are just real-life situations turned upside down; right?  Okay maybe it’s not every day that you are trapped in a room with no-way out except for a saw.  But the bad-girl is always the first eaten by wolves.  So what if they closed down your neighborhood pharmacies?  What if you couldn’t get your prescription anywhere; not even Los Algodones?

You run out of Thyroid meds.  Without thyroid supplements you become cranky; irritable, slow and lethargic.  Over time you could drop dead or slip into a coma.  Not a problem though because it’s a quick, cheap, easy refill at your neighborhood Rite-Aid.  Until you get there and it’s closed.  And so is every other pharmacy in the city.  Now you’re angry, anxious, cranky and irritable.  And so are 75 million other Americans that rely on Thyroid supplements.

In 2010, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States with 69,071 death certificates listing it as the underlying cause of death. In 2010 getting your insulin was a piece of cake.  In the prescription panic of 2016 you have to rely on your wits; your money and your connections. Imagine the shut-downs beginning.  Think of black markets; crime synonymous with legal drugs.  Now you can’t rely on your insulin to save you.  That’s a lot of metabolic shut-downs.  That’s a lot of fear raging rampant.

There is one bite of good news that comes out of all of this.  It could save you from being dead—or being brunch for the undead.  If the plot of a money-making zombie film is correct: zombies like healthy flesh.  The slothful thyroid or the partially-paralyzed pancreas may kill you---but the zombies won’t.

Copyright © 2016,, All rights reserved.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Positive Perspective: Life Can Change On A Dime

A small e-mail and a world of changes.  My note to Johnny said in short: “I’m in a smaller house, I’m no longer in my marriage and I’m within miles of Joshua Tree National Park.  There is room in the house for a visitor.  Let me know when you can drop by.”  Johnny died of cancer shortly after our correspondence.  I’m happily remarried and living in a beautiful house—closer still to the National Park.  Sitting at my desk in 2006 I couldn’t imagine how much could change in ten years.

Life can change on a dime.  For good and for bad.  Out of the blue my store director asked me if I’d manage the ‘new’ Coffee Bean kiosk.  Change on a dime.  A dalliance with E-Harmony led to marriage.  Change on a dime.  The cough is cancer.  Change on a dime.  Christ comes like a thief in the night.  Change on a dime.

“Will we see the sun at last? Or could this be our lot in life?”  I get stuck in a rut and think it will never change.  It is a battle to gain correct perspective and look at the big picture.  I can see the beautiful canvas for everybody else-just not for myself.

If it’s looking like another hard day in a season of hard days---I need to pull back and look back at the last year (or years).  What positive things happened?  What positively turned out?  Not enough perspective?  Read other people’s stories for hope (The Old Testament is full of them.  Or Instagram?)  Then embrace the ups and hold-fast through the downs.  It may change on a dime.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Best Marriage Advice: Don't Settle and Keep Shoveling

I wanted to shout, “Run, run.”  I knew it was coming for her though.  Some day; like it comes for so many of us.  Yup.  The daughter just changed her Facebook status to “In relationship.”  I don’t really know what that means but take it to be some point between a first date and walking down the aisle.  There’s so much I want to say to her but so little she’ll hear.  It’s first love.  Raise your hands if you rushed into that head-over heels.  How many tripped over themselves in the process?  So many bloodied knees and hearts along the way. 

Stories and statistics witness that marriage be entered with sobriety.  My knees have been bloodied too-I’m five years into my second marriage.  My wife and I are committed for the long haul.  Just doing that is good—but not enough.  I want more. I want intimacy.  I want romance.  I hope we all do. 

Wanting isn’t enough.  As a child I knew a handful of divorced people.  Now I know a handful in strong marriages---and some of those are second-go-around.  So what can I say to my kid?  To the woman in her thirties starting her third marriage?  To the oh-so-many that have settled? 

Don’t settle.  I’ve screwed up; sinned, stumbled—pick the verb.  I have this romantic stupid streak inside.  I believe it will get better.  I think Bob Goff said it-Live in grace.  Teacher John Piper has this thing about the manure pile.  In essence he says crap crops up in marriage; look at it, deal with it, and agree with your spouse to take it out to the manure pile.  Perhaps the best advice for marriage is this: Don’t settle and keep shoveling.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Way Out Of The Wilderness

“Late in August the lure of the mountains becomes irresistible. Seared by the everlasting sunfire, I want to see running water again, embrace a pine tree, cut my initials in the bark of an aspen, get bit by a mosquito, see a mountain bluebird, find a big blue columbine, get lost in the firs, hike above timberline, sunbathe on snow and eat some ice, climb the rocks and stand in the wind at the top of the world on the peak of Tukuhnikivats.” 
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

 Wilderness cuts both ways; testing and blessing. Daytime temperatures peak at 120, the nights cool to the mid-nineties. Hot and barren the days, day after day. No cool wind (any wind seems a cool wind at 120 ); few thundershowers.  I hunger for that cold breeze, for the sight of water falling over rock or waves crashing against rock and sand.

Dry, hot, intense and waiting for change.  This has been a long summer season, “Deep water faith in the shallow end.”  But life happens on different levels.  Like this desert.  Springs form from faults; aquifers run deep underground.  There is life giving water. 

There are tantamount blessings on my plate; food, happy marriage, darling daughter, two great vacations this year including Spring in Yosemite.   Work and ministry are dry areas.  No driving vision; nothing pulling me hard forward.  ‘Seared by sunfire’ I don’t look for shade.  I search for fullness.

Tourists in Palm Springs can take a tram up past timberline.  Most mountains require sweat before they reward you with beauty.  The desert will bake you if you bask too long.  Movement is the key forward.  The mountains lure is that they are reachable.  God is a rewarder of those that seek Him. Walking forward is the way out of the wilderness.  “He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.”  

Monday, June 06, 2016

Naked Grandeur: How I Became A Fan Of Cory Richards

On February 2, 2011 Cory Richards became the first American to climb an 8,000-meter peak in winter. He carried a small camera and filmed constantly.

Today, at 6:34 local time on May 24th in Tibet, Eddie Bauer Athlete and adventure photojournalist Cory Richards made his first successful ascent to the peak of Mt. Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen.

“What is your fascination with those two?” My wife asked as I checked Instagram for the 20th time.  Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards were to attempt to summit Everest without O2---and they were communicating the attempt in real time with social media.  Why my fascination?

My interest is vicarious.  I’ve been fascinated with climbers of Everest since my youth.  Krakauer heightened my interest in 1997.  I’m never going to climb Everest.  I like sleeping in cold---but not below zero temperatures.  Guaranteed stomach problems don’t excite me nor digging holes in the ice for relief.  I’m not motivated by the prospect of ‘every orifice being cracked and dry,’ as one climber described it.   On top of all that it’s tough to justify the 45 to 89-thousand-dollar price tag for the trip.  So why?

“Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there’s nothing else to gaze on...” is the first line from Robert Services’ great poem.  To experience pristine wilderness; cold blue water, air thick with pine and quiet—such quiet unimaginable til you’ve been away a while; that’s one reason.  Jagged peaks few will ever see and fewer will be victorious over.  That is the second reason.

Every man feels it but not every man acts on it.  The urge to push oneself so hard until you’re at the end of yourself—then to overcome.  Everest is the ultimate challenge.  This years’ climbing season ended with six dead on Everest.  That’s some high-stakes poker.  That too is why you climb with the likes of Ballinger and not someone else.  Great to summit.  Nice to make the trip back home.

Finally, there’s the spiritual component.  I wonder if part of the drive for Ballinger and Richards isn’t spirit driven?  “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”  God’s handiwork shouts His praise, power and vastness while at the same time quieting my ever-disturbed soul. 

“Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
"Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?
(You'll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things --
Then listen to the Wild -- it’s calling you.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Loss And Overcoming: Rethinking Story

I’m reconsidering what it means to live a good story.  Dream and fame; couch and comfort, a nice city in a picketed community---the image in my head.  I’m on this road now where I’m paying attention to different stories.  A married couple in their twenties face the wife’s massive brain stem stroke; a popular preacher faces the death of a five-year-old daughter from sudden asthma attack (one day here, next day gone); the teen dives into shallow water leaving her a quadriplegic.  The good story isn’t in the loss.  The good story is in the overcoming.

I don’t know if it’s the age I’m at or the age I’m living in but all around me people are facing difficult personal trials.  Friends with cancer, parents with cancer and children with cancer startle me at every turn.  I can easily name friends that live in pain from the moment their feet hit the floor in the morning until their muscles settle down under the sheets at night.  On top of that friends face income issues and aging parent issues.  All of these bring with them unique battles for spiritual perspective; prayers for peace in the midst of soul-shaking storms.  Some simply endure while others pursue the best of stories in less than perfect circumstances.

Life is a process of re-calibrating.  I just reviewed some previous blog posts.  There is a honing and sharpening of my perspective and my direction; sharpening the point of life while it pushes in to sharpen me.  I say sharpen but life pushes in with tremendous pressure.  God does whatever sharpening He wants.  I try to submit and learn.

Good story isn’t the perfect life.  It’s the unexpected kidney punch life gives.  It’s how the hero deals with the unforeseen circumstances—character forged in the journey.  Finally, it’s God’s grace we see in the overcoming.  As MercyMe sings; “like a hero who takes the stage when we're on the edge of our seats saying it's too late, well let me introduce you to grace, grace God's grace.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Safe and Vulnerable: The Beauty Of Being Known

My friends are vulnerable.  It’s not something males are prone to.  I’m not certain females do it better than we do.  Close friends know my failures.  They’ve heard me when I’m caustic and bitter.  I’ve shared moral failure and perceived failure.  They’ve put arms around me---and not stabbed me in the back.  Stranded on an island the most difficult thing for me would be to not connect with friends.  I am, we are, wired for friendship; our souls long for deep vulnerability.  This open place can be a place of peace and beauty.  It can also be an unsafe, shaky and scary place.

A friend once broadcast a personal failure that only they knew about to my email list.  That is one dark side of vulnerability.  That our real selves including the darkest parts will be used to embarrass and malign us.  Friendship must be a safe place.  Our personal relationships and our small social groups must be safe.  The bible study groups I am involved in all have a rule: What’s shared in the group stays in the group.  

We all present one face to the world.  Some attempt to live their whole life with game-face on.  Our Instagram and Facebook posts present all our perfect moments to our audience.  We don’t air our kid’s tantrums or arguments with our spouse.  Even at church (especially at church?) we present Mr. Perfect Peace when chaos and crumble are what life really looks like. 

I know of three suicides in my circle in the last years.  All male by the way.  How depth of friendship may have broken through.  Not surface friendship—but deep honest, transparent friendship.  That’s the treasure in friends.  That’s the privilege of prayer.  It is soul shaking stuff to let people in.  It goes against grain.  Vulnerable and committed is the safest and freest place to be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Periods of Pressure and Future Escape

“Mommy, is Pharaoh’s army going to kill us?”  The little boys’ mom hesitated.  The Red Sea in front of them and the army behind them left little room for a positive answer.  Remembering their spiritual father Abraham, she responded, “God will deliver us.”

Often what makes a trial bearable is the assurance of future escape. Trials present us with this Red Sea motif; we are stuck in a situation.  The options for escape look grim; diving into a churning, dark river. My job feels that way today. 

 Weeks ago the wife and I went to Yosemite!  We had the chance to see Yosemite in the spring for a week-long vacation.  Before going we spent an evening choosing lodging.  We viewed waterfall live-cams and sunset still pics on Instagram. After days at work we whispered, “We are going to Yosemite!”  Before sleep we’d share with each other our expectations. Our upcoming escape pulled us through; tough day after tough day.

Heaven should have the same affect.  Not some dreamlike escape but a solid place that I’ll be at home in soon.  The still-pics stir imagination.  Being close to Jesus; an eternal escape from sin and pain; mansions of glory and fullness realized.  The New Testament refers to heaven 217 times.  Obviously I should focus on it more than I do.  Much, much more.

The blessing in a period of pressure is this crying out for escape. The hand is jarred loose.  Eyes, God willing, are refocused on heaven; on deliverance, on deliverer.  “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Deep Chasms of Evil

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” …Deithrich Bonhoeffer

“Banality of evil: A phrase coined by philosopher Hannah Arendt that describes the thesis that the great evils in history generally were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.”---intro to Breaking Point;  by C.J. Box

The three a.m. knock meant your neighbors had reported you to the authorities.  This was the case for Nazi Germany and the Russian ‘Gulag Archipelago.’  Today, “France’s 475,000 Jews representless than 1 percent of the country’s population. Yet last year, according to the French Interior Ministry, 51 percent of all racist attacks targeted Jews. The statistics in other countries, including Great Britain, are similarly dismal. In 2014, Jews in Europe were murdered, raped, beaten, stalked, chased, harassed, spat on, and insulted for being Jewish. Sale Juif—“dirty Jew”—rang in the streets, as did “Death to the Jews,” and “Jews to the gas.”  This is a form of evil once escalated.  Yet in all its forms it isn’t so obvious.

‘Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process, wrote Milgram after his Yale experiments indicated that the general public is capable of inflicting harm on others.  We are so easily influenced by culture and peers.

What then are we to do?  In an election year when Trump is riding a storm of fear and hatred to popularity.  In Kansas City, he mouthed the words, “I’ll beat the crap out of you,” when describing what he would have done to a protester who charged him in Dayton, Ohio, earlier in the day. “Boom, boom, boom,” he said, mimicking a schoolyard beat down with his fists.  Yet so many support him in the name of change and reaction to the status-quo.  Why are so many so blinded?  Why so easily swept up by the cultural tide?

We are an isolated people.  Few of us have relationships that go deeper than those at work.  There is nobody to speak truth into our lives.  I follow ministries on Instagram for entertainment---I fail to pray for the people who are actually doing the work (God forbid I should maybe also get involved or send cash).  We don’t even know what truth is.  How was it that a Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against Hitler while his peers did not?  Perhaps it is because in an earlier age of shallow waters he understood that, “The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path…and it is hard to find.  On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn.”  So we should use all means to stay on the path; fellowship with truth seekers and adherence to the unchanging scriptures.  Still we will slip and slide.  May He give us grace to be different when all the world around us cites its actions as decent, sensitive and normal.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

El Nino: Bringing Snow and Dissapointment

As a kid it was summer---every kid’s favorite season.  An opinion greatly influenced by three months of vacation.  As an adult I particularly enjoy autumn and winter.  I like the cold.  I take pleasure in rain and snow when it comes.  Occasionally the blowing wind feels great.  I live in the California high desert.  In winter we get some rain and historically, we get snow. 

I shivered with anticipation at a coming El Nino winter.  Most certainly I’d see a snow-day or two.  The mysterious dry-washes that riddle the desert would flow with water.  Weeks of brisk days and freezing nights would guarantee sweet sleep underneath down-duvet and colored quilt. 

I wasn’t the only one.   A ton of people purchased flood insurance.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported (that) insurers have written more than 55,500 new policies from Aug. 31 through Dec. 31, 2015 — a 25 percent increase.  So the snow came!  It came to the dry Sierra, bringing a much needed snow-pack to assure water for 2016.  An almost empty Lake Shasta experienced a massive replenishing of water.  The city of Big Bear, an hour away and only some short miles ‘as the crow flies’ got snow too.  And we got---what?

Snow fell all around.  The hills that make this a valley received fine dustings of white.  It snowed in Pioneer Town twenty-miles away.  Our front yard remained snow free.  I pulled my favorite winter jacket from the closet for one cool morning that got into the forties!  I spent this winter clothed in short-sleeve shirts.  Favorite sweaters remained in a box.  If dust caused rust our umbrellas would be stuck shut.  From the porch there have been great views of snow; always in the distance.

Summer may bring my long awaited rain.  I’ve heard that 60% of rainfall occurs during summer monsoons.  Summer rain comes with humidity; its more difficult to sleep under light sheets with fans blowing.  I hold onto hope that April will surprise me with the improbable Alaskan cold front.  Could happen.  Barring that I look forward to summer rain…and a week of vacation.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Shooting For Fame Completely Misses The Mark

Chariots Of Fire from Anchorsaway Ministries on Vimeo.

I’m never going to be a famous writer.  But the idea of fame completely misses the mark.  It. Is. Not. Even. Close.  I won’t be famous because I won’t leave my life and live out of a car ( a la Steven Pressfield) with only essentials and a lap-top to spend all my time typing up stories and writing my first novel.  I won’t be an Annie Dillard stealing away to a cabin for a year to write.  So many authors have stories like this.  But I confuse the act for the art.  I miss the heart of the writer which is the reason they break away.  The art drives them.

My search for a Pressfield quote led me back to The War of Art.  I am reminded; the art is the most important thing.  I write to write.  I’ve been writing since junior high school (a poem was a great way to sway a girl to go out with you).  Through junior high and high school I kept a journal.  I am compelled to put pen to paper, a need to process and synthesize life with ink. 

The struggle is to make time for family, and bills, and all the life interruptions while still writing.  This is where I feel I’m not dedicated or disciplined enough.  I choose other things over writing.  One doesn’t become a famous writer without writing.

Its not about fame.  Its about creating.  God is a creator.  We are created in His image.  Using what we’re given blesses Him that gave it.  Through my writing others come alive!  The pursuit of fame is a dead end.  Pleasure is the right pursuit.  I am reminded of two quotes from the film, “Chariots of Fire.” 

Harold Abrahams: If I can't win, I won't run!Sybil Gordon: If you won't run, you can't win.”  
Eric Liddell: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  

I choose pleasure and hope you are lifted along as well.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jesus Served-The Heart I Should Have

Today Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.  I have that thought this morning as I bring my tired body to the keyboard.  It’s a strange overlay to think that somehow that act leading up to crucifixion has a bearing on me as I wade through another morning. 

Two hours from now I’ll drive to work where I’ll serve demanding customers who are hungry (first-world hungry) for fried chicken, cold-cuts and side salads.  I’ll spend another eight hours struggling to maintain a good attitude---to choose joy while working a job I didn’t choose.  I hope that in my serving I made some small difference in somebody’s day.  It doesn’t feel as if I’m living the life of a Christ follower.  I grumble more than I give thanks.

Certainly I’d serve differently if Christ hadn’t served his followers.  When customers curse, I’d curse back with a better curse.  I would simply see people with bumps and bruises.  There would be no eye to see them as they could be at their fullest potential.  The Son of God served.  I struggle with having that heart but I know it’s the heart to have.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Fenced In For Good

A fence is two sided; inside and outside.  Often inside is safe, shielding from outside forces.  The house I grew up in had a backyard surrounded by brick fence and along that a green hedge.  Sam the Samoyed, furry and large, would lean into the hedge and walk the circumference of the yard; the hedge supporting and brushing his hair all at once.  Thus the green hedge had a white fur-line at dog height all year long.  The inside of horse stalls and rodeo corrals are lined with horse hair and bull shreds too.

At rodeo the young cowboys sit in a row atop the fence their shirts a quilt of color.  Apart from them the older cowboys lean, sideways near the gate maybe or with butt and backs resting on rung.  The fence supports while inside bulls kick and horses paw. 

Today when we think fence we think of aliens clawing out of their countries and trying to get into ours.  We throw up our hands and build up a wall because it will keep us safe, secure our resources and protect our children.  Because it worked so well at Babylon and Siloam---trusting in man-made towers and barricades.

God has set fences in our lives; visible and invisible.  Like the cowboy we can lean against them.  In leaning we say to our bodies; you can rest—no need to run right now.  We are safely hedged in; even when it looks like the bulls have stormed the gates!  We lean like Sam the Samoyed.  So too we are hedged in. Psalm 16 says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance,” and in the Message it reads, “You set me up with a house and yard, and then you made me your heir!” 

Cowboys trust fence and gate (until the chute is opened).  Though we may say with the Psalmist, “Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me,” we need not fear.  The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places.  We are playing in our Fathers yard.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Battle to Behold Beauty In The Everyday

 Sloth and frantic busyness are two sides of a pendulum.  I slept in today.  There’s always a niggling voice when I sleep in saying; “You are wasting the day away!” The voice doesn’t realize that being busy isn’t necessarily a sign of accomplishing anything either.  It feels like stuff has been accomplished though so we feel better.

The mountains are still snow-capped.  It is seventy plus degrees outside with a cooling wind.  Today’s bicycle ride was wonderful; I don’t know if it was the sleep or the change in weather but I felt exhilarated.  I pedaled and thought about beauty. 

I queued Queen on Spotify---don’t ask me why.  Listening to ‘You Take My Breath Away,’ I remembered why. I enjoy their music.  Though not the gospel music I usually listen to; there’s a beauty that overarches the earthiness of most of Mercury.

There are blocks of time; days and weeks of gray where I live in-between busy and sloth where I just go to work; come home to my wife, touch base with my kid—then do it all over again.  God still exists during these times; I barely live like He does.  It’s a slow-motion-blur. 

When I’m in the mountains or at the beach I think, “It would be great to live here.”  I would miss the beauty living those places as much as I skip over and miss the beauty living life where I’m at.  This noticing beauty; this breathing out thanksgiving, is (like so much of life) a discipline.  A battle to behold beauty in the everyday. 

So I remind myself again (How many times, Lord?) to live fully when the pendulum is swinging hard to busy or bending slow to sloth.  And in the in-between times I trust grace and lean on beauty trusting she’ll pull me out of the gray.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Intimacy---Sometimes I Say Things Trembling

My wife has seen me naked-emotionally.  We’ve shared card we’ve held close for a long time.  There are two sides to intimacy.  Ideally there are two people (at least).  It opens doors to closeness.  Used against you it will rip you right open.

Marriage is an intimate institution.  It’s difficult to get around that.  You’re going to see stuff; you’re going to share stuff.  In my first marriage I shared too much.  Being honest; seeking intimacy only lent fuel to the fire.  Sharing flesh and bone; one doesn’t expect the same sinew to be used as a weapon.

In this, my second marriage, God has flipped everything that was wrong with my first to be as it was intended.  Sharing intimate secrets and being vulnerable (not always intentionally) have brought greater intimacy and depth.  Safe and secure in commitment allows us to go deeper.  Don’t get me wrong—it’s still scary as heck.  Sometimes I say things trembling.

Relating to God should be intimate as well.  He already knows my every thought, right?  But how do I live that out?  When I’m stumbling in darkness, when my thoughts cause me shame---I can share with God.  When food or sex or life makes me laugh—I can share with God.  I delight in that intimacy.  It too is a safe place.  Though yes---sometimes I say things trembling.

We live in a guarded world.  So much time is spent shining the outside of the container while inside, Jesus said, its full of rot and death.  To live honestly means we live intimately.  The problem is the same as my first marriage.  This world is not a safe place.  I don’t know how to do it apart from Jesus.  Heck; many followers of Christ play it safe and fake too.  Christ makes it possible.  Though it still takes an act of will.  He is steady-I lean on Him.  Though yes, sometimes I say things, and oh, oh, I’m trembling.