Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bumblebee Pilots

Side-by side we sat in a Chevy Chevette.

In a cemetery.

Two men. Confident and scared. Teacher and student. Father and son.

Tree-filtered breezes meandered across the polished yellow hood and through windows hand-cranked to full openness. The contrast of the car’s deep space black vinyl interior gave the impression we were pilots of a man-sized bumblebee. A masculine carriage, it was not. But that was of little concern.

Because I was under siege, pinned-down by a series of moments strung together with a thread of terror. I could not master the mechanical dance between the brake, clutch, and accelerator. Stooges, those three. Starts and stops and stalls was their schtick. A humiliating assembly of cyclic failure - which I didn’t find funny.

Succumbing to numerous resets, I struggled to gain ground toward acquiring stick-shifting skill. During each re-collecting, I’d direct my gaze past the windshield and upon the root-heaved asphalt further along. I yearned to cruise the curvy paths, deftly marching through the gears. But that required something I did not have. And at the time, I was beginning to think never would.

Amidst this battle between man and machine, my passenger-seated father was calm, fully immersed in saintly patience. From the noisy barrage of a high-revved engine and grinding gears emerged phrases of gentle instruction and well placed encouragement. Over and over, he renewed his commitment after each false start. He loved me well.

That scene from my 16th summer is a highlight, still vivid in the present because of its ongoing effect. I now fill the office of father and have spent time in the passenger seat. That seat is revelatory. It has brought forth some of my finest, and most despicable behaviors. It has frustrated and badgered. It has made me laugh and wonder and cry. That seat demands much - day after day.

There are many tasks and requirements we as students and spouses and parents and professionals do because we must. That’s our reality, and it is good. Even so, how we engage our compulsory duties is a strong indicator of who we are, what we value, and how we grant our trust.
 
Recalling my rough road to mastering a manual transmission brings to mind this quote from Thomas Watson: "To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” (All Things for Good, p.88) My father had a duty to teach me how to drive a stick shift. But in that necessity, he chose long-suffering, patient love. He went beyond himself, and through his risk of releasing control I felt his side-by-side care for my development as a young man.

I have wandered into loveless duty and found - indeed - it is punishing. A snare of ungrateful effort. A joyless enduring, pock-marked by missed opportunity.

Yet, today is new! Mercy abounds, and each relational intersection is a divinely planned setup for us to love with patient kindness. To give not only because we should, but because it is our desire.

With the onset of a new season of school and activities and fresh routines, my desire that those things I want to do - as well as my duties - be done with tangible, sincere, freely-gifted love.

Like that which was given to me on a breezy afternoon in a car the color of sunflowers.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Lunch Lake Challenge

Lunch Lake - Gros Ventre Wilderness, Wyoming
This year my July 4th celebrations were light on fireworks, grilled meat, and sunburn. Instead, at 7am on the day of our nation’s birth, I willingly embarked upon a 26-hour ride to Jackson, Wyoming. This cumbersome, but necessary travel was the starting point of a nine-day backpacking adventure in the Gros Ventre Wilderness. That experience, which I shared with one of my sons and four other fathers plus their sons, was spectacular. It was an expedition ripe with physical, emotional, and spiritual challenge.

For example, first day on the trail I met an acquaintance from 14 years ago — Mr. Altitude Sickness. Like our last meeting, he gut-punched me for 18 hours straight. Physical challenge? Check.

With that ominous beginning, I was a bit unsettled. My personal sea had waves building. And then it roiled when we pursued a shortcut that wasn’t, had water filters that didn’t, and marched naively into mosquito hordes strangely similar to the zombies of World War Z. With an emotional tsunami cresting, I had to call upon my small reserve of positivity, desperate to keep my self-talk 51% free of grumbling, complaining, and murmuring.

Was there any room left for spiritual growth? Of course. The physical and emotional struggles were simply setting the stage. Loosening me up. Tenderizing my heart. So on day three, when I was ready to listen to my Father in Heaven, what he confronted me with was surprising.

God challenged me to rest.

Not rest from hiking or noisome, blood-sucking insects. Rather, a break from the routine. An intentional pause. A time to reflect, regroup, and re-create.

Sure, I desire rest. Yet it's conspicuously absent from my schedule. Why? Good question. Neither my job nor my kids nor a long list of projects prevent me from a time-out. So what does?

Me.

I’m my biggest obstacle to rest. At times my choice to crowd out a day-off dips into the realm of disobedience. God has told us the best way to live — a day to refresh for every six of work. That rhythm is good. Good enough for God, even. So in His providence, God took me out of my routine via a backwoods adventure to show me my unbalanced life. He spoke with gracious firmness about my need to regularly stop, take a break, and refresh.

So I got busy at resting. Right there, at 9220 feet alongside a lake filled with snowmelt. A lake named Lunch, that provided a bounteous feast of relaxing, restful moments. Moments of joyful wonder at the creativity of my Creator.

The poem below got it’s start during those too-short hours spent in restful recreation at Lunch Lake.

——————————————

Lunch Lake

Stop.

An alpine oasis.

Rest, and dwell.

Skies of peacock blue,
blemished sporadically by orphaned tangles of cumulus moisture.
An ocular playground.

Heat, cool, repeat.
Mountain-fed convective gusts ripple-away the lake’s placidity.
Translucent water blushes to turquoise in its excitation.
Cold water.
No, frigid.

Winter snows yet taunt old Sol, King of July,
wringing existence from every sheltered and shadowy recess.
Triangle and Darwin Peak
(normal and ironic namesakes) preside authoritatively.
Fields of shale skirt the majestic up-risers,
a harsh and appropriate adornment.

Flowers.
Tenderness cohabiting with ruggedness.
Fire orange clusters.
Yellows — bright and pale.
Purple spires and delicate bells.
Five-petaled phlox,
creeping with spring-fresh whiteness.
Sedum, azalea, and Daisy-like forms.
All anxious start-ups,
desperate to live, die, and live again —
they hope.

Waterfowl — him and her —
the lake’s ruling royals.
With graceful precision they turn an ancient dance,
a tense but trusted interplay.
Air, water, air.
Distant then close.
Aloof then intimate.
Disagreement.
An audible burst resets the hierarchy.
They glide with majesty, paddling with purpose —
together.

Sunset orange and thundercloud gray,
resilient lichen thrive on rock-faced scarcity.
A silver-dusted green-colored cousin nestles among familial associations
completing a calico palette.

Sage brush,
gnarled and dry,
scraper of legs,
sprinkled like powdered sugar upon un-forested landscape.

Evergreen.
Everywhere.
Rod-straight. Leaning. Scorched. Dead. Cone-laden.
The wind presses densely needled, short-armed limbs,
affecting an undulating swell through the coniferous community.
Toneless, peaceful waves of mollifying noise traverse hilly contours,
compliant to the wind’s irresistible agenda.

Active in rest.
Re-creating in the created.
A happy voyeur,
I sit.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June

Shortening shadows.

Lengthening days.

Solstice.

Waking to life,

an arboreal yawn.

Truest colored tendrils — 

freshly born.

Joyfully rooted.

An ornithological chorus,

pitch-perfect in cacophonous harmony.

Serene undulations of oratory pleasure,

Nature’s soft call to a new day’s dawn.

Miraculous feathered levity.



Bladed soldiers —

a chlorophyll platoon.

Cut-to-length obsession.

An ever-cool

barefoot temptation.



Coating chins and noses,

a sticky tributary.

Spread-legged postures and seed-sorting tongues.
Striped, watery sweetness.

O happy, heavy fruit!

Sun brewed leaves,

cubed with ice,

captive to moisture wrapped vessels.

Humidity's antidote — 

sweet or not.



Straw hat lady,

smiling at the sun.

Resting in reclined absorption,

relinquishing winter's pale coat

for human color.



Waves on feet —

a delightful rhythmic torment.

Squawking sand-steps and angry Gull croons.

Gritty snacking.

Crowded solitude.



Warm.

Green.

Alive — again.



June.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pinch Me

Reality can be a Vulcan nerve pinch. A painful, paralyzing squeeze.

A few weeks back, I intruded upon my daughter and her friends in the midst of a hairstyling frenzy. After twisting and tying and combing and spraying they digitized their artistry via an iPad camera. I perceived this as ripe opportunity to enhance my ‘super cool dad’ image. After asking for an appointment to get my hair done, I weaseled my way into their photo shoot. I felt youthful and cool, expecting to ‘wow’ with a smoldering mugshot. Of course, my intense self-absorption blinded me to their collectively raised eyebrows and silent thoughts of, “Ummm…he’s, like, weird!” Reluctantly, they took my photo.

Mouth-covered giggles bounded among the young ladies as my photo was viewed. I pensively reached for the iPad, expecting to see an unappreciated GQ-like mugshot. I neither giggled nor grinned. I gasped. Shocked, I was, at my visible scalp-to-hair ratio. I was losing population in my hair metropolis (and I’ve been such a good mayor!). The ego-deflating snickers continued as I relinquished my attempt at ‘cool.’ No longer can I deny that my steps are firmly plodding on the ground of middle age.

Confronting the truth about who I am is a curious engagement. A tenuous mixture of pride, fear, expectation, denial, longing, and disappointment. It’s a collision of questions unanswered and uncomfortable truth. It’s thinning hair alongside relational complexities.

It's easy to dwell on what I lack. What I don’t like. What I wish was different. How I desire more ‘this,’ less ‘that.’ Accepting my finite self is difficult. Frustration and sadness and anger can swell in discontented moments. And when I brush against my limitations, I often hear the burdening lie of inadequacy and respond with passivity and silence. At times, I do laps around the pool of self pity or fret away hours coveting the skill or ability or circumstance of another.

But I must live in my reality.

Pinch.

I am what I am. A special blend of the spectacular and deficient. A moldable soul, ready to be shaped - shaped divinely by the tool of grace.

Grace that can sting as it transforms through corrective words, firm nudges, providential circumstances, difficult choices, loss, and gain. In those moldable settings, when confronted with my incomplete humanity, do I reach for bricks and a trowel to build a wall of defensiveness, or submit to the all-wise care of the Gentle Shepherd? Do I embrace my short-comings and yearn to be shaped more and more into a humble, patient, grateful follower of Jesus Christ?

I’m a weak, imperfect creature. So are you. But we’ve been crafted to flourish. To enjoy and promote the good, true, and beautiful. To bask in the benevolent and powerful grace of our Creator, who lovingly shapes us with life’s grace-filled pinches.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV)

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Passion for Paint

“But he gives more grace.” A provoking phrase, purposely placed in the midst of a discourse on desire and passions.*

Something I’m passionate about is a smooth, clean, well-painted wall. Crisp lines. Deep color. Vibrant contrast. In such rooms I long to linger. However, my passion is not shared by all in my home.

Some have lesser affinity for the beauty of walls done well. Instead, walls are seen as objects for tactile exploration.

For example, consider the Albatross Glide. Picture a child, arms stretched wide and fingers extended to the tip such that both the left and right sides of a stairwell or hallway can be touched. From this posture the child glides birdlike from floor to floor or room to room, their fingers leaving shadowy entrails on the painted surface. The walls of my home are marked by migratory patterns flown by my nest of ‘birds.’

For teen boys, high-fiving the bulkhead is popular. A good slap, high up the wall, confirms an increasing stature. Those high-fives have left a dirty, and unwelcome, “hey, dad!” greeting on the second floor overhang.

Other versions of painted wall abuse include the pin-balling backpack, the shoe shake-and-launch, and the momentum saving turn-the-corner hand grab. Left behind are divots, dings and rubber streaks – evidence of happy children who have passion for things other than pretty walls.

Such are the skirmishes with desire that weave their way through the warp and woof of today. We are passionate people. Lines will be drawn on many fronts beyond latex paint.

So as I ponder chapter four of his epistle, I observe James arguing toward grace. Grace for what? Our misplaced desires. Desires that result in anti-God allegiances and destructive behaviors. Passions that can metaphorically, or literally, kill. Passions and desires that usurp God’s proper place. In a word, idolatry.

And we are all guilty.

Yes, more grace, please.

Grace for when I can’t get what I want. Grace to drown my discontent. Grace to unwind me when tangled in selfishness. Grace to reveal that my desire for perfectly painted walls is a log in my vision that obstructs my view to all but the spec of fingerprints.

Many times I’ve stumbled or slipped or even rushed into a tyrannical lecture on the value of a fine paint job. My desires aren’t necessarily wrong. Discussion about the walls in my home should include the issues of respect and stewardship and reasonable behavior. But grace must be the ever-fresh principle that leads to a first place love of God, and a care-filled love of others.

Humility. Submission. Gentleness. Forgiveness. Holy antidotes to misplaced passion. The moments of today will be strung between opposing desires.

Will I give more grace?


* “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:1–10, ESV)