We are not in the Wind, We are the Wind

What an interesting time for an interesting and interested God. A God that is not idle but who remains an eternal intercessor in Christ. A God that we may feel is silent about circumstance yet still resounds about who He is.

John 3:8 reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Metaphorically, Jesus draws a comparison between the wind and those born of the Spirit. And it is interesting that Jesus would draw this comparison because wind can only be evidenced by the things it is moving. How do you see wind without seeing something else moved by it? Jesus acknowledges that we hear it.

Scientifically speaking, in a wild oversimplification, wind comes through temperature and pressure changes. Thus the expression winds of change is interesting because wind itself is the result of change not necessarily the cause of it.

We are the wind. Or rather we are like the wind. We are the products of the change of being born anew, born again, now learning and adapting through the Spirit to our current environment.

The time and circumstance in which we find ourselves now, does not change our identity or our ability to be present and to embody the life giving Spirit in and to the world.

Wind-palm-trees-golf-course-Hawaii-Maui

But!!!! There is more. Being born of the Spirit, according to John 3:8, means that it is impossible to be in the wrong place. The question that I plague myself with and need to let go of is: am I in the right place to fulfill the will of God? And the answer to that is, Yes! If you’re breathing moving and having your being, you and I are in the right place. Whether or not our lives are bent towards obedience is a different question. So the question I need to be preoccupied with is, “Lord, how do I love you and others right where I am right now? Help me stay yielded and in step with you. I want to move like the wind with You.”

Even the wind and waves obey Him, so must I. I must obey because that is where I will find my heart delighting. That is where I want my heart to delight and how to delight others and in some cases disappoint others. (there are power and principalities that would like us to fail)

Yesterday I went for a bike ride down the shore for about an hour. It was the first exercise I have done in almost 2 months. It was phenomenal. It was a breezy ride along the bay in very wealthy neighborhoods. On my way home I stopped outside a church that had a prayer labyrinth (imagine a giant circle with a maze painted path on it).

It moved me because that labyrinth was much like a stone labyrinth in the prayer garden at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in South Carolina where I started my chaplaincy residency. It was the perfect place to pray and walk. For the first time in months, I prayed with passion and confidence in who God is. I’m sorry it has been that long.

But something amazing happened at the end of the labyrinth. These labyrinths start on the outskirts of a circle and have their ending point in the center. It took about 3-4 minutes to walk. But as soon as I hit the center I paused briefly and turned toward the church steeple and was hit with several successive massive gusts of wind. These winds moved me multiple times while I stood facing it.

I tried to speak to the wind to stop it. I verbally spoke, “God, how am I supposed to hear you when the wind is so loud?” The Spirit replied, “The wind won’t keep you from hearing my voice, and I don’t need the wind to move you.” It was sustained and kept moving me affirming that I too am born of the Spirit. In Him we move, we breathe, we have our being. Let us, the Church billow with blessing.

Leaves that Heal Nations

In the Kingdom, when it comes, there will be the tree of life that bears different fruits and the leaves of that tree will function like medicine to heal the nations. It is not often when reading Revelation that I know if I am reading a metaphor or imagery or literally, but in this instant, I don’t think it is harmful to believe a literal very large and very happy looking tree fulfilling this purpose.

But the tree as it stands and sways is made and moved by Jesus, in Him it moves, we breathe and have being. In this same Kingdom, in those same eternal moments every tear, every sorrow, all recollection of death and pain will be wiped away.

It is on that hope, I hope to encourage you with these brief words. Jesus came and comes again with one intention, to lavish love on His Bride, His Beloved, His people in restored relationship.

10794631-beautiful-autumn-leaves-filling-the-frame

There is a strange dichotomy at play though, right now. Winter is supposed to pass; it’s supposed to be done with on Thursday. The time of things dying and being laid bare is supposed to be behind us, even during Lent, a time meant to prepare us, a season of repentance of sins, of giving away, of denying our self. The leaves and flowers are determined to make their appearing. And yet the world is slowing down and simultaneously crying out because of sickness.

But maybe the world, the creation and the command of God are all crying out the same thing.

Maybe they are crying out, “Do not be afraid!” Particularly afraid defined as running away or fleeing. We may stand our ground or even be forced into solitude or quiet in these times but the potential for relationship and community and conversation still exist in abundance. The potential for love and kindness and mercy is present.

And though we wait, for the day when leaves will heal nations, perhaps Jesus has left us, His church to heal and bless the nations. 

Little Hands

I had a profound moment this weekend. I paid a visit to Charleston to see the sun, hang with friends, and attend some sessions of a Missions conference. This past week has been helpful in reflecting about a sense of purpose and what brings me joy. My trip was a nice, not nearly long enough visit and break, but I fit a lot into a lovely weekend. One moment stuck out, not because it was the best moment of the weekend, but it was certainly unexpected.

Sunday morning at the end of church, the entire congregation was called forward to lay  hands in prayer on missionaries who shared throughout the weekend.  I was initially unsure if they wanted everybody to come forward but when it became apparent everyone was, I walked forward and laid my hand as a point of connection on Milton’s (and elder at the church’s) shoulder  to pray. I was standing against the stage and did not have much of a thought about anything.

I pause the story here to say that in all honesty, part of my hope for the weekend was a moment of clarity or revelation regarding next steps in ministry or locale or vocation. I’ve written previously about trying to be an augur to (predict) my future and that trap, but I think this weekend served as a reminder of the will of God (sanctification) and being faithful with what God has already given, being grateful for it, and not demanding something I would deem better. That’s a lot of wonderful things to feel and hopefully hold onto in a whirlwind weekend.

But I want to come back to this one kiss from the Lord.

We are praying. My mind is clear but not focused and suddenly, as my head is bowed eyes closed, standing with arm outstretched, a little hand grabbed my hand at my side without a hint of timidity. I don’t know if there was hesitation, but it felt like the hand grabbed mine so quickly and gently that there was none.

And in that moment, something fascinating happened, for a split second it was curiosity, then a laugh, then a flood of pictures ran through my head. I saw myself praying at a table with I presume, my children. I saw myself reading the bible with them and highlighting the promises of God. I saw eager and excited eyes and was a bit overwhelmed. So, I looked back, almost behind me and saw a boy about 7, holding my hand with his head bowed in prayer.

I smiled, thanked God, and prayed something along the lines of, “Lord thank you for this reminder, please tell me I’m not crazy for wanting to be a dad and having a family.” I mouthed that prayer, but not out loud. Immediately, the little hand gave a little squeeze. Perhaps confirmation, probably coincidence but it felt right, and I felt God’s delight.

I gave God a knowing nod and appreciated the moment as the time of prayer was wrapping up. But then another gift, 20 seconds or so before the prayer was about to end, another even smaller hand slipped between our hands. The little boys presumably 4-year old brother, wearing a backpack, wanted to be connected in prayer as well.

There really isn’t too big of a lesson or metaphor here. After the Amen I looked at a man who I assume was the boys dad and smiled and returned without much of a thought. Thoughts and doubts, you don’t need them when you know you’re known.

Love Theories 3: Laid Down

Anticipating the end

you emptied

carrying the burden of perfection into the marketplace to barter away your breath

surrendering it to the world while we try to give you something in return

In our pride mingled with ignorance, we desired to invest a portion of our work to lay claim to something we could not pay for

often forgetting, you were paying a debt we would not comprehend

you seemingly overlook that I murdered you by the violence I exact on myself as I incarnate sin

You did not rage at this injustice, you forgave it, calling my wrong reproachable yet remain approachable

sprinkling, then pouring your blood upon the pitiable life I’ve offered you

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calling this small movement, beautiful, making me believe, giving you my heart was worth more than gold and myrrh

as if I am the frankincense, the fragrance, the aroma you desire

my almost obsolete obedience, you mold into something and call it the delight of your eyes

you embrace, you wash, you display, stopping my decay

offering me a better body

offering a “where are your accusers?’ to your shamed daughter

offering a “welcome home” sandals, robe and ring to your unforgotten son

offering “behold your son” to the wounded heart, blessed mother

offering your footsteps to mimic and show us the Father who is Ours

offering yourself, as if, I was never not your friend.

Love Theories II: Coming and Going

It is leaving Heaven

It is finding luxury in sharing the suffering of the dirty and fallen in order to make them clean and whole again

it is eyes fixed while awaiting the gaze of the beloved

it is resolute patience, incomparable kindness,

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it is the greatest guard

it is the hopeful guardian

it is the eternal guard

of the heart

it is the seal with a kiss, with blood, with the Spirit

it is the coronation before consummation as it fills and overflows a kingdom

It is returning to Heaven, leaving an army behind

It is coming from Heaven with an army behind

It is making  it’s home with us forever

patient for us to desire it, as desperately as it desires us

It does not regret what it endured

it was it’s joy to give us everything

it waits for our everything

Temporary Flights, Indiscernible Heights

731E86F3-D5BF-45A4-9D6F-D144A5D2F680I’m somewhere in the air floating, waiting to land. This wasn’t the plan, but this is where I am. God may have called an audible.

I still am not sure this is where I am supposed to be but God has promised to be with me.

And my soul has grown quiet. The one thing this season has done is simplified my soul. That does not mean that temptation is not sometimes loud or that the weight is less heavy. But I’m learning to tread softer. I’m learning to make less noise when things don’t go as planned. And I’m accepting I might not know God as well as I thought.

I’m also having to accept that my intuition regarding people cannot be ignored. That doesn’t mean I have to speak bad about them or slander them which I have been guilty of. It just means I have to accept that some people’s character is just unattractive, not becoming and in need of transformation.

I thought a year of chaplaincy would mark me more. While it may have helped keep me tender, it did not thicken my skin. Nothing has hardened to help protect myself as a result. So little if anything can bulletproof you from loss.

I should give you an update. The amount of doors that have closed or never opened for ministry in the last few months have been humbling. And where I find myself is on a construction project in Atlantic City, installing power lines via helicopter. It is a job so foreign to chaplaincy, yet perhaps not so foreign.

I replaced someone who was beloved and died tragically far too young.

I took this while interviewing for somewhat of a dream job doing campus ministry at Princeton University ministering to college students across the street from the church I came to know Jesus in. It would have felt like it brought my endeavors full circle, instead like opportunities before it, I interviewed more than once and came close.

Now, my job is new and can be isolating and my heart is grieved, not so much by the job, more so how out of control it all has felt. I am on God’s time which is less urgent than we can imagine; the only thing that has a time stamp of “now” on it is salvation and reconciliation in relationship to the Father. God’s preeminent priority is our hearts.

I’m starting to believe God only cares about our vocation so long as it does not keep us from Him and the calling and creativity in our lives, by which we give Him glory.

For me that is writing, preaching, teaching, listening to the way people are loved by God, persevering through suffering and experiencing joy.

I need more of the last one. I need more of the hope that there is indeed a thread knitting us together in love and purpose to see the Kingdom established on earth as in Heaven.

I also need help and hope for life itself.

EDD42FEF-82F4-4DDB-9FEB-96C1563CDDF5Because dangling through this season, I am looking down and don’t recognize where I should land. I don’t even know if I can guarantee a safe landing. This job gives me a chance to figure out where I want to land, and that makes me sad because no one else is surveying up here with me.

There are only cherished voices shouting up to come back down or to stay where I am. It is lonely in the clouds and I have never been too confident about landings.

I also don’t know how high up I am or will go before I come back down. I feel lower than those tethered and planted in the ground and I want to be planted somewhere. So I reach. I write, I wait, I hope I land and not drift away.

 

 

100% Responsible and Forgiven

Have you ever noticed that blame is never beautiful?

Deferring responsibility may be celebrated, but it only entices others at the expense of creating victims. Forgiveness though, that is beautiful. It has the power to free the victim and the guilty party. Jesus forgave his executioners while it was happening, not holding their responsibility against them for crucifying the One whom they did not know.

Jesus says, “You did it, but you didn’t know, and I offer you my embrace.”

It is beautiful yet fearful. The Psalms state forgiveness makes God fearful because God is the only one that can truly cleanse us from our wrong. And that is terrifying, yet equally terrifying is the Spirit God gives that enables us to forgive. I am presently overwhelmed by this, primarily because of having to take responsibility for myself.

I am responsible for my anger, even rage, for what I do with my feelings, for who absorbs it, for how I act in light of the temptation to despair. I am responsible for what I do with my time so long as God allows me to wake up to new mercies every morning. Nobody else gets to choose what I do with my day or how I heal, except me and God.

No

body

else.

I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time and I am currently on Book 4 Prince Caspian. Until yesterday, it was my least favorite of the books, until Aslan came and talked to Lucy. I’ll share the excerpts, you can fill in the meaning.

“I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” asked Lucy.

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh Aslan, you don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” Lucy said rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right– somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I to know?

Aslan

Jesus, I mean Aslan, says “No” to the answer of what would have happened in the past if we had obeyed. Instead he offers a way forward in forgiveness. Because He has already made a way.

Oh how Lucy wrestles internally without an immediate reply, without an answer to the why.

“Oh dear, oh dear, said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away– like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

blameNo.. body… else. Nobody else can have a relationship with Jesus for us, and we shouldn’t want someone else to have it for us. I should want it for myself. I should want his lion heart love for myself because Jesus will not leave me alone especially when I bury my head in my pillow with tears crying out for help.

I made the choice to move back to New Jersey. I made the choice to switch jobs. I made the choice to yell and curse and critique the body of Christ. I made the choice to get my hopes up and make my heart vulnerable and spend time with the dying. I make the choice to be quirky and weird, to dress like I don’t care, to get a cat, to write, to wrestle, to reflect too much, and all of it could become a vapor in a moment because I am responsible but not always in control.

And that’s where the surrender comes. That’s where the “I’m sorry, I’m ready now,” comes into play. I can get up and go. Forget about blame and go and not let love be hindered.

Forgiven much, love much.

I have one more passage if you’ve gone this far. It’s Aslan to Susan, Lucy’s sister, who didn’t believe and could not see Aslan longer than her other 3 siblings.

“You have listened to fears, child, ” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Me too, Susan. Add our little to Christ’s infinite much and I’m hopeful we will be more than okay. I’m hopeful that I will stop getting angry, then exhausted by the restlessness of my soul. I’m hopeful for the breath and wind of the Spirit to overcome me each day, to posture myself to move and live and have my being in Christ.

Responsible, yet forgiven and more beautiful than blame.

Set apart, beloved, no longer hindered by shame

This is Our Vapor

Life isn’t solely tragic, I know this, hopefully you know this. When tragedy does happen it typically becomes everything. It demands urgency, commands that you be present to either run from it or face it. Sometimes we need to run just far enough to make sure we are safe, sometimes we stand and face it, and sometimes we move towards it.

As a chaplain, there are times when I am asked to move towards someone else’s tragedy because someone has trusted me to be able to, and I also have trusted myself to be able to.

Today a Turkish Muslim family lost a child at 23 weeks. If you know where I live in the south, you might be surprised to hear that there aren’t many Muslims here. There is one mosque here, probably the only one within a 2-hour radius. I sat with the couple, made phone calls, then accidentally saw the child, which was a new enough sight to me that it made it difficult to concentrate on the information I gave them regarding who I contacted and what numbers I found.

But writing this isn’t really about me, it’s about this couple and a grandmother who lost their child and were navigating deep sadness with the sentiment of “I guess this is life” (or “This is a part of life”). And sadly, that statement is true; nothing I could say would change that, so I did the best thing I could do after I left them. I cried and I prayed, and then later I cried, and I write and hope to pray again.

I, like you, have no desire for tragedy to be a part of life. I want to be able to reject it and say outright it is not necessary. But that does not keep it away.

I cannot fend off the reality of loss with a flaming sword. I cannot cure myself nor can they cure themselves of their sadness.

When tragedy comes, we are meant to mourn, and while mourning is not a facet of the Kingdom to come, that is coming, and is near, it is the reality of the in between and that reality is dreadfully painful.

Which is why that reality must also be a vapor.

fire chile geyser andes landform water vapor geothermal energy geographical feature geological phenomenon volcanic landform

James 4:14 reads, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Not only is the reality of tragedy a vapor but so are we. Except, we are the most beautiful vapor that could ever exist through the lens of God.

We were vapors worth sacrificing for.

We were bought through an eternal, tragic, act of romance, once for all time.

And through that sacrifice something fascinating happened to us.

We condensed because Jesus condescended.

We became one with the water of the Spirit, one with the river of living water. We vanish only to reappear unforgotten by the Father, as a bride for the Son, as a Temple for the Spirit, as ones the world is not worthy of.

I ran into the father of the child in the parking lot when I came back to the hospital 4 hours later, he had driven to the mosque to talk to the imam about the proper ritual for the child. They told him to take the child home, wash her, and that would suffice for a funeral.

It had been a very long time since the hospital had ever let a deceased child go directly home, it’s just not a cultural or religious practice for most people here. I could see the relief on the fathers face they told him that would be possible.

That relief was beautiful, you know, knowing he could take the deceased home to wash her,

Like a baptism,

Like this is a part of life.

Augur Between Augusts

Depending on where I look for answers or direction, I can set myself up for excitement or disappointment. I typically act in the way I play the stock market, invest in things I like and allow myself to lose on the stocks I let my brother pick for me (mostly true).

Honestly though, I’m not really afraid of losing money. Not that I couldn’t be afraid of that, I just have more longstanding desires than wealth that occupy my thoughts or worries. I don’t particularly feel the need to name them, but I do feel the need to share a new word I learned which has lent itself to how I have lived in an unhelpful way.1200px-Ein_Augur

An augur, in ancient Roman religious practice, functions as an official who observed signs particularly birds looking for an indication of divine approval or disapproval for certain actions. Have I done this with God?

Instead, of being a minister of the Gospel (Good News) at any cost and trusting in God’s time and God’s way I have watched those flighty birds. Those birds can serve as metaphors, metaphors for whatever you want them to be, perhaps a metaphor for finding direction in woman, perhaps a metaphor in stability of emotion or vocation or family, perhaps looked for in the sign that a cat would function as the great hope to cope with loneliness. I’m sure the above examples serve as everyone else’s birds but mine that they’ve watched for.

The only thing that has taken my eyes off of God is the bird of being such a darn good chaplain, worlds best, flawless. Only one time in the last week did I pray with a family of a patient who was dying and called the patients sons partner  by a name similar to the patient in the prayer, then proceeding to forget everyone else’s name in the room.

Only one time this week did I break down when a fellow resident said to me of clown painting that I painted, “he looks as if he is waiting for life to bring him something.” Only one time did I get angry with my consult committee causing an early ending when interviewing for Level 2 of my residency.

I can’t get those moments back. No sign will bring me a redo.

Though I’m halfway through my residency and think I leveled up and am doing a fine enough job as a chaplain and have provision in abundance, what in the world am I watching for? What in the world am I looking for approval from?

Why do I live like God isn’t saying, “Son and Daughter, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31), “Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.” “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I don’t want to be an augur, I want to be a lover. I want to live passionately serving and working for the Gospel, not looking for a sign that I’m doing something right. I want to be pre-occupied with obedience not stuck in my stumbling. I want to wait in hope for God’s good gift instead of grasping at things not good for me. I want to live like God is going to give me something because I am beloved in Christ.

To Be A Dad One Day

If I had kids, I see them now.

                My little girl is sensitive and playful, not sensitive as in easily hurt, sensitive as in curious and attentive to the emotions around her and her own. She approaches the world with an intuitive regard for good without suspicion. She likes people and giving compliments. She also likes getting compliments. She’s a little competitive and has these moments when too much newness at once makes her shy. Because of her mom she prefers the familiar. Because of me she is willing to go on adventure, but she asks a lot of questions first and during. Afterward she assumes everyone wants to hear about her adventures and sometimes forgets that the person she tells wasn’t there with her. She carries you with her everywhere. When she meets someone new, it’s as if she is reminding herself in the days that follow that this person will always somehow be a part of her life. As she gets older, she asks more questions about why I lover her mom so much; she would often echo, “that’s why I love momma to.”

                She likes to clap a lot during worship and likes rhythm, neither me nor her mom really have rhythm, but we are thinking about getting her drum lessons. She has a responsibility to people which she probably could not help but learn because that’s the way we are wired. She likes dogs more than cats no matter how much I try to convince her little mind that cats are great. She says dogs are more huggable. She likes to show affection through hugs, it makes her giggle. She agrees with her mom more than with me and she waivers in who she thinks is funnier. She looks forward to bed time because she believes Jesus gives her good dreams. Whenever she has a bad dream, she lays claim to our bed. For a while she would let us know, “Just for tonight.” And she means it.

                As a teenager, she grew with confidence, thank God, still curious, a little more adventurous, a little sterner and more determined. Her mom taught her that. We tried to teach her resilience and have. She holds fast to the stories of our family’s faith and even as a teenager she likes spending time with her grandparents. We are grateful for that. She likes being an older sister, both in looking out for her brother and giving advice. She also holds him accountable to showing up to her events.

                Her brother is smarter than me, so is she, but he enjoys being smart. He’s athletic or at least capable but he says its cooler to be a “nerd.” As a child he trusted us and still does but he didn’t ask for much. He was much more of a content child than me. He dresses nicer than me because of his mom. He’s polite with a dry sense of humor. As a child he was eager to do the activities I was involved in but had more affection for mom. Her balanced was more beneficial to his personality. As he got older, he liked to weigh options and was less feelings driven, but mom taught him to understand and be attentive to how I am wired. She’s a great mom. As a result, my son is very aware. He regularly would ask how I feel about his decisions as a teenager more often than he would ask permission. To which he would always be surprised at the times I would say, “no you’re not doing that.” I learned to give him other options, especially when my no would disappoint him. I admire his independence even being a second child.  66454-fathers-sons-karan-johar-in-conversation-with-sadhguru

                He’s a connector. He calls his grandfather’s for advice, or to be entertained by my dad. He learns fast but also forgets fast. He’s not big into risks and as a kid liked to know how long things would take. He thinks about time too much in my opinion. We weren’t sure how being a middle child would change him. It didn’t really because he felt his younger sibling quite peculiar.

But I think we all did. Such a wonderful surprise in every possible way, making our family a lot less predictable. It’s kind of fun having a child who is unfiltered. I think with the third, we thought we were good parents only to find out again we had much to learn. Our third teaches us wisdom or rather very specific wisdom, that there is not a science, that some days there is total contentment to be left alone and then the next there is a mission from God level of urgency to love our neighbors, while some days refuge from the world is the most important thing on earth. Discerning yet disarming and so joyful. Not the favorite (because there can’t be) but insists on fascinating.

If I saw them now, or saw them more, I’d hold them here.