marble walls & barbed wire

January 30, 2010

It’s 5am.  I’m 16 stories up over looking the Presidential Palace at the nicest hotel in Delhi, India.  There’s literally a marble wall covered in barbed-wire surrounding the hotel grounds.

This is the nicest section of town.

Coming here, it was clear from the stories of friends who have been that there’s a tremendous culture shock.

more like culture tsunami. of all the things I heard about India, I actually thought I was over-prepared.  At one point, in frustration, I said, “I get it but it can’t be that bad.”  It is.  The poverty is pervasive & desperate.  Every glimpse outside of these marble walls is full of indescribable images of a people who have lost their humanity.  India may be its own circle of hell.

And this isn’t the poorest part of the country; nor the planet…

and I’m behind a marble wall topped with barbed wire.  If I wasn’t here, I would have left a long time ago.  Hopped a plane, 24 hours in flight.  Gone home.

Was I scared? not really.  Did the poverty just offend me that much? not exactly.  When I landed, I went two straight days out “there”.  A few friends and I drove south to Agra, then east to Jaipur then back to Delhi – all in 36 hours.

My eyes were on sensory overload.  My stuff was in bags.  The next meal or bathroom or safe drinking water was indiscernible to us.  My heart was exploding and shutting down.  I was sick, tired, vulnerable, weak.  I just wanted to go home. I had nothing left to give.

Robert Frost said, “Home is the place that where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  I could not disagree more. – I like Oliver Wendell Holmes version better, “Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”  – Jane Austen actually nailed it, “There is nothing like staying home for real comfort”

I guess it’s safe to say I’ve thought a lot about what “home” is, what it means, where to find, how to build it.  There’s nothing I want more than to have the kind of home where strangers feel like friends and friends feel like family and family have a place of disarming rest in the security of love that’s fueled by the creator, the source of love.

Crawling behind these marble walls & barbed wire in India, I started to feel better – to catch my breathe.  To be honest, I was disappointed with myself on a lot of levels (i’ll explain more in the next few days).  In this case, I wanted to not need protection and safety.  I wanted to go without peace and rest and still have something to offer of value.

What was I thinking?  We all need marble walls and barbed wire.  We all need homes to run to, lean in to, & feel in a warm embrace.

In some ways, when my family, my home crumbled at 13, I resolved to no longer need home – to be strong enough to protect myself or to create it for myself.

I was foolish to believe that home existed a block off the ocean in Florida – or in a boys arms – or in friend’s places – or finding new parents…I’ve looked everywhere.  But for the past 6 months and for the next 6 to come, I’ll be trotting around the planet.  Feeling awkwardly, experiencing the new, seeing the stuff that knocks the wind out of you.  The stuff that makes you want to go home to process it all, to figure out what it means about you, life, what you need to be responsible for about it, and where to go from there.

And in all of that, more than ever, I realized it took trips around the world to find home.  In Psalm 62 it’s so clear,

“To [my enemies] I’m just a broken-down wall…Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my…fortress where I will NOT be shaken…He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. Find rest, o my soul, in God alone…”

Do you know what that means? Can you even imagine the seismic shift this is in my life – or anyone’s?  God is the marble wall & barbed wire that never leaves, that forever protects, into which I can always find refuge.  He is my home.  I have a home here, anywhere, always.  I’ve never been able to say that and now I can never lose it.

Selah.

pathways

January 26, 2010

So i’m sitting in the airport, embarking on this journey to india and nepal.  There are people running around, as I’m sure I will see in Paris and Atlanta too, and watching them, especially on THIS day, I can’t help but stand in awe of how we get where we go.

Four years ago, I had a knee surgery that set off a course of events that changed my life.  Three years ago, I had a 2nd that ultimately healed my knee.  I don’t know why both were scheduled for January 26th, but I know that this day is a “stone” (Joshua 3 & 4) to me – a memorial for the ways in which God orchestrates a way for us to move into real life and freedom.

I will never stand on this day without realizing the course of events that transpired were out of my control – and ultimately the way that I found healing (for my knee and my heart!) was beyond it as well.  I love that.  It reminds me that God is God.  He’s sovereign.  He’s aware.  He is not so worried about the stuff I am; instead, He’s confident in how everything plays out – and ever delighting in my (and our) lives.

Erwin McManus said once, “God is celebrating the wonder of your life.”  I feel that today – as I remember and also as I leave for India, a place I certainly never thought I would go.  I will probably not actually believe I am flying around Mt. Everest until I’m staring at her peaks with my own eyes.

I’m leaving for and going places I’d have never thought to dream of.  I have been places and become someone in these past 4 years that I never imagined.  I know today, in my bones, that God is faithful, He loves perfectly, He is always with me…

And that makes this road worth traveling.

saved.

January 25, 2010

12 years ago, maybe 13, I remember sitting in a sleeping bag on the floor of a sunday school classroom in North Carolina.  It was early and I had been thinking.  These church friends of mine – who dragged me to build houses in NC for a week kept talking about some moment, some prayer.  It wasn’t quite “turn or burn”; but everyone seemed to know of and discuss a moment when they “accepted” Jesus.

To be honest, I didn’t understand what they were talking about.  In some ways, I still don’t.  But I thought maybe I needed a moment too.  So with folded hands, I said “ok God, You seem like an OK guy.  I’ll do this.  I’ll give you a shot”  Maybe it wasn’t so poetic, but I did make a conscious decision to pursue this Jesus character for myself.

Life moved on.  Through college, my first job, my sixth promotion, a new job, family drama, and boy after boy after boy after boy. I stumbled through rape, through churches growing up as much as I was, through travels around this country and foreign landscapes dotted with different looking people, with new friends and old ones who were no longer the same.  Life shaped itself compliments of many many vodka cranberries and a cacophony of new perspectives, new things to consider, layers of me being added and pulled away – and a friendship that informed it all.

I sincerely came to love and adore the one called Jesus.  The truth of the Gospel was actually the only thing that made sense of it all.  It pulled together bliss and despair in a way that was beautifully human.  And I marched along, no longer a curious observer but a devout follower. I knew enough to know He knew life better than me – so it was easy to be humble and obedient.

Imagine my surprise, at 5:22 am yesterday, when I woke up…slightly dizzy from having lost count of the number of margaritas at dinner…and started reading through my journal.  Stories and words from years ago read like breaking news.  Granted, many a vice manifested itself to a lesser extent, but in a moment life seemed meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

“Something is wrong with this picture,” I wrote.  “I should be different.  I am different, but I should be a different kind of different.”  I heard a familiar question ringing between my ears, “what are you trusting to save you?”  Where the collage of answers past have been boys, sex, booze, money, beauty, the word sputtered out of my mouth surprised me:

Wisdom.

It had never been so obvious.  Wisdom will change a person and it had.  Not radically, but slowly.  I was better for it; but there was something better for me.  Change isn’t salvation, it’s just change.  I believe God healed me in internal and external things – but healing doesn’t mean the Messiah has come – even Peter’s shadow had the power to heal.

Plainly, I knew…for a decade I had drawn close to Jesus but without having asked Him to save me.  Maybe I had assumed He knew.  Maybe I assumed I didn’t need it because I was around Him often and part of the posse.  Maybe the cycle of slight change and short-lived resolve deceived me into thinking He was saving.  I had a glorious run – getting to know Him, question Him, trust Him.  He proved faithful, trustworthy, magnificent.  I love Him more now that I ever thought I could; in my 12 year journey, He’s unquestionably become my best friend and most intimate relationship – but savior?  never-the-same again kind of saving? No.

So quietly in my room, after years and relationships taught me that all the people way back when who discussed such a moment really had no idea what they were talking about. There was no card to fill out or box to check or aisle to walk down, this was just me and Him in perhaps the most intimate conversation I’ll probably ever have and the details of which I’ll probably never share.

In that moment, I met Jesus the savior.  Hosanna in the Highest…

further still..

January 23, 2010

I have a problem feeling.  I don’t mean like nerves and stuff; I’m talking about emotions.  There were definitely enough traumatic events in my life – all be it probably not as traumatic as most – that essentially said the only way to survive life was to no longer feel or care.  So I didn’t.  And I was great at it!

but in came God, and as I fell in love with Him, my heart fell in love with people and it started to break and swell and beat.

i have moments though…there is an ever-present temptation to stay insulated.

As I planned my non-school time in india, I reached out to a contact who runs orphanages in Delhi.  I could, I thought, maybe spend an afternoon playing with the kids.  Or maybe I should stay in my hotel.  Rest.  Write. Think.  Get to know my classmates.  All of those are good things.  But, the invitation to the orphanage felt a lot like an bigger, more existential invitation – to go past studying how to love people and just go do it.  So I emailed to say I’d love to spend the day w/ the kids.

but the hesitancy remained.

the thing is, when you’ve been abandoned by your parents, orphans aren’t necessarily the people you want to be around.  It stirs up a lot.  I fear I will go there and leave with more questions than answers.  I don’t like that.  I like neat resolutions. I like justifications, rationalizations.  I like cause and effect.  I’m the person asking Jesus “was this man born blind b/c of something he did or his parents did?”  I want something or someone to be responsible because then I can control the outcome. I can prevent tragedy.  I can architect my destiny.  I can be less responsible to identify with and step into someone else’s pain.

but that’s not life, at least not the kind i want to have…

So I amped up to visit an orphanage.  And no sooner did I say to God “fine, i’ll go. I’ll see.  i’ll feel.  I will trust you to walk my heart through some scary questions and emotions” did I get an email back.  No orphanages.  Only slums.

SLUMS?!?! uhhh, it was going to be hard enough in an orphanage.

So here I am. Committed. Going deeper, further still.  Smells, sights, words, pains, eyes…I am going to drown in that place.  Why does it happen that way?  Why, when I finally resign to maybe-being-ok with entering a somewhat sterile orphanage, do I get invited to a slum.  Why does the innocent blind guy end up getting spit on to be healed?

and mostly, why am i so excited about it all?

shades of gray

January 20, 2010

I’m a big believer in choice…choice is, in my opinion, the greatest gift from God to us.  It is the thing that makes us most human.  When we say “i’m this way b/c of my parents, my life, my [insert inciting incident here]” we are lying.  It was actually the choices we made in the wake of those situations (good or bad) that shaped us.  It was ours and ours alone.

Sure, we are more likely to grow in really healthy environments.  I take nothing away from that.  But, in an increasingly accessible world full of many opinions, commentaries, and great people – we can no longer argue healthy environments are beyond our reach.

What I’ve realized recently is that it all comes down to what we see as “healthy” in our environment.  So, our choices are shaped a lot more by perceptions than I once thought.  It’s that whole “guard your heart” thing God keeps harping on.

For instance, I’m drowning with the stress and responsiblity of my life right now.  School, work, friends, travel, and trying to keep myself healthy in the midst of it all.  But the other day, I was reading in Numbers 13 where Caleb said “let’s go into the land!” and everyone else was like “oh shit, the giants are huge!” when it occurred to me, it’s all about perspective.

The variability in the equation is not the assurance of a preferred future or a loving God (that’s all constant) – it’s me.  It’s my willingness and ability to just continue moving toward it. And trust me, that is a LOT easier than trying to figure out how i’m going to graduate and actually learn something, keep my job under control, still be in good shape, and have friends when it is all said and done!

I can keep moving toward God.  I can keep trusting that even though there are some massive giants in the way between here and there, He is faithful….even when I am faithless.   It’s just about getting the right perspective – and then the choice is easy.

residue

January 2, 2010

I woke up to an otherwise normal morning.  I fixed some fruit and flax waffles.  I sat at my desk to check email with a brimming blue mug full of freshly made coffee.  I turned on music.  I lit a scented candle.  I got in a good work out.  I read my bible.  I opened my linen closet to grab towels for a shower when I noticed they were folded wrong.

email. blue coffee mugs. bible. exercise. music. scented candles.

it all made sense with the mis-folded towels.

the things is, I was essentially raised by other people.  My actual parents were pretty involved until I was about 11.  After that, a series of deaths, diseases, crises, and just foundation-on-sand type things rendered their emotional and relational hands tied.  They paid for stuff though – which was cool – but, dollars don’t make a great substitute for unconditional acceptance.  They don’t anesthetize the residue that comes from being abandoned.

Eventually, I wandered across the street to my neighbor’s house.  They fed me when the country club was closed.  They gave me chores.  They signed my report cards.  I liked the rhythm of everyday family.

I’ve found that rhythm in several families other than my own since then – and they leave a residue.  Which I realized that fateful day with the towels.  My actual biological sister had been staying at my house, done laundry, and folded the towels.

I stared at them somewhat blankly.  Shouldn’t we fold towels the same way?  Surely my mother had taught me to fold towels before 11.  Aren’t the idiosyncrasies of upbringing imprinted?  Was that even how my mother folds hers?  I couldn’t remember.  I don’t know.  I think so.

I realized that I fold towels how the Turners do.  They are cleaner lines.  And blue mugs, blue must feel like the color a mug should be because that’s what I saw Carole Hogan drinking out of in the mornings.  The Spragues turned me on to scented candles.  Bob Whitmire lectured me on needing to eat a healthy breakfast while his wife Janet would quietly start her morning in the word of God. They all are healthy, active people…so of course, exercise is a given.

Residue – the kind that I think God alludes to in John 1:12-13.  “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn.” How are we reborn?  We are heirs?

There’s a temptation to think “heirs” of God means wealth and power and prominence. I think we trivialize rebirth because, well, it’s weird to say it, let alone buy into the idea.

But the towels explain it all.  We have access, through Jesus Christ, to the very rhythm of the character of God.  We have been invited to be a part of His family.  To endure the mundane lessons of towel-folding, coffee drinking, working-out, and so on.

by submitting to it, we become different.  We somehow get the residue of pure love, selflessness, kindness, patience, self-control, goodness, joy.  You know the list. It’s is so powerful and authentic, in fact, that it’s like the person we become in the wake of it is brand-new.

And life, expressed with those kinds of behaviors and that kind of thinking, actually leads straight to life and freedom.

What an awesome inheritance?