Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spiritual Sonar

The other night we were driving to Sam's indoor soccer game in Harrisburg.  While driving through the cold and dark landscape, our lights illuminated snowy patches roadside and spindly tree branches pricked the night sky as we listened to This American Life on the old tinny radio.  The story, "Batman" was an intriguing narrative about how the collective thoughts of a culture can profoundly affect what the blind believe they are capable of doing day to day.  This story is one in a series of stories called "Invisibilia" Latin for "all the invisible things" thus, delving into "the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions." - npr.org

They interviewed a blind man, Daniel Kish, who can get around quite well by clicking his tongue and using those clicks as a way to navigate, bat-style, through the world.  He was raised without normal blind intervention and climbed trees and rode bikes in his childhood simply because no one told him he couldn't.  His mother, also interviewed, said she wanted him to have as much freedom as any sighted kid.  Kish is able to picture in his mind things around him by clicking, sounding his way around.  The sound bounces off objects and allows him to "see" the world around him.

They interviewed a neuroscientist, Lore Thaler, to explain how his clicking might allow mental images to form in his brain.  It was quite fascinating.  The neuroscientist explained when she hooked him up to brain sensors the areas in his brain that lit up were those dedicated to sight.  His clicking painted a picture.  She said it can be described like walking down a street reading a book using only your peripheral vision.  You can see buildings and the basic landscape but you can't read the street signs or take in the details.

Through out the broadcast they interviewed people connected closely with the blind and the blind themselves to explore the beliefs we hold in regards to what blind people can and cannot do.  So often the blind are led around by the sighted simply because the accepted collective belief about the blind are that they need help and cannot do it on their own.  Kish argues that the blind are capable of so much more and they can in fact "see" using his bat-style clicking technique.  He said he was raised without the handholding parameters to fence him in.  He rides bikes and climbs trees and walks freely about unafraid.  He now trains blind kids to "see" the world through his clicking technique.

His largest hurdle in training blind kids in this way are the parents.  They don't want their children scraped or bruised or worse as they learn to navigate.  Kish said parents jump in half a second too soon to pull their child back from a potentially dangerous situation.  Of course he can understand their desire to prevent what could be catastrophic if they waited half a second too late.  However it still robs them of that moment of clarity and confidence.

At one point in the broadcast the interviewer exclaimed, "You don't have to have eyes to see!"  It was during the moment the neuroscientist explained how Kish can "see" using clicking to light up the areas dedicated to sight in brain mapping. That statement, "you don't have to have eyes to see", reminded me of seeing the invisible, spiritually speaking.  In the Bible there are quotes about having eyes to see, or more importantly, not see.  2 Corinthians 4:18, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

I often pray for eyes to see what God would have me see.  To realize the unseen is more real than the seen.  What is around us now is temporary but what is to come is eternal.  In Matthew 6 we can find the Lord's Prayer, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Oh that I would live the truth of His kingdom in the here and now.  I so struggle to see the invisible.  Yet this story of a blind man seeing by listening, bat-like, to navigate unhampered and unafraid reminds me so vibrantly that as we listen to the Spirit we can see the invisible.  We don't need eyes to see!  We can map our brains to see what our eyes can't detect.  We walk by faith not by sight.  We can develop this skill.

However, I think if we're honest with ourselves, we will admit to having the same hang ups that the parents of the blind kids have.  We don't want to risk the scrapes and bruises and very real danger of serious injury or death while treading so closely to potential disaster.  We want to insulate and protect.  We want to stay far from harms' way.

We do this with ourselves and with our children.  We pull back half a second too soon and miss out on the startling moments of clarity and confidence that lead to sight.  We stunt growth and those areas dedicated to "sight" don't light up in our brain mapping.  We stay in darkness, afraid and faithless, but we think we are safe.  Safe from what, though, and to what end?  Are we to be led around by others?  Do we live in darkness and stay far from adventure for fear of what might happen?  Do we train our kids to stay on the sidelines due to our sightlessness?  Or do we step out in faith calling out to an invisible God to guide us and build up spiritual sight?

I want to risk the pain of momentary scrapes and bruises to develop spiritual sonar.  To be guided by listening to the Spirit, clicking prayers out into the vast unknown to map out images of a heavenly kingdom come.  "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." Psalm 119:18

Back to Invisibilia, "the invisible forces that shape human behavior" and how it relates to our belief system as Christians.  We flesh out our beliefs in our everyday.  How we live and what we do shows how the rubber meets the road.  Are we living by the sight of the here and now or are we living in light of eternity?  Do we step out into the dark unknown with a steadfast belief that God will be our ever present help in times of need?  Do we believe God is enough?  Is He worth the risk of our hearts and our very lives?  Our God calls us out of darkness and into light.  We are called to show the way.  We have all we need but do we believe it?  Our lives will show the answers to these questions.  Push into that half a second between clarity and darkness to find confidence in our Holy and Everlasting God.  He separated darkness and light and calls us forward into the unknown.        



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Disturbing patterns and aggressive grace; A religious experience in the pew

One of the best things of being in the states this year is getting to go to our home church, York Alliance.  We started out at YAC in 2000 with Steve on staff in youth ministry and it since has become home.  Just the other week I had a religious experience in the pew during the sermon.  Our good friend and pastor, Brian Kannel, is preaching on a series called, "The God of Promise", a study of Genesis 12-35.  He was preaching specifically on Gen 31:1-32:21, I won't recap the whole sermon here but just highlight the part that hit me with a bona fide religious experience.  Jacob was fleeing Laban and God told him to return to the land of his fathers and God promised to be with him.  Jacob was fleeing one bad situation to find himself in the midst of another.  The schemer was being schemed and forced to return to the place of his birth, a place he fled years before after swindling his brother, Esau, out of his birth right.

Brian points out a disturbing pattern had developed in Jacob's life.  In Genesis 32:9 Jacob finally prays to God asking for help.  However in that prayer he doesn't ask God for direction but instead goes about the crisis in his own way, acting out in fear. This disturbing pattern in Jacob's life is evident each time he gets himself into a bind.  This time he does cry out in prayer which is good but closes the prayer without asking for guidance.  Jacob recognizes the depth of guilt in his sin, he has lied and swindled and cheated many times.  That guilt had led him into fear.  And he has a legitimate reason, sin has covered him throughout his life.  His name actually means, "deceiver" and he lives up well to his name.  We are often so like Jacob when we have a crisis, we seek God and then try to work our own way out without seeking and following God's direction.

Isaiah 6:1-5 tells how Isaiah has seen the King and he has come undone.  In verse 5 he cries out, "Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."  He feels the weight of his sin.  Brian pointed out that unless we can feel the depth of our sin we can never grasp the wonder in the forgiveness of that vile sin that covers us so completely.  God touches Isaiah's lips with burning coals and takes the sin away, not only the sin but the guilt of the sin also!  The joyous results Brian tells us are found in 1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

The freedom of Christ is knowing He has made us right.  Our guilt is taken away and we don't have to forever cower and react in fear because sin and guilt of sin is removed...gone!!  1 John 4:17-18 says that God's love is perfected in us.  We can have confidence coming before God, true worship!  We are able to fully love God and one another!  Verse 18, "There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

I sat there in the pew asking myself what disturbing patterns are in my life?  Fear is a major issue in my life, has been for as long as I can remember.  I am afraid of so many things.  I can become easily over-whelmed and retreat and disengage.  I sometimes run from responsibility.  And at times I take to my bed, burying my head beneath the sheets which tragically transforms into a giant white flag of surrender.  Oh the cowardice!  It's really quite embarrassing.  I hate to write it out loud.

When I live my life acting guilty and running and not living the truth that God through Christ has taken my sin and the guilt of my sin away, I allow the weight to flatten me.  The enemy never tires of condemning.  Freedom, from sin and the guilt and fear that follows so closely, is what I want to embody.  The three headed monster of sin, guilt and fear is ever after me.  I can feel it breathing down my neck.  I must hold on tight with every fiber of my being to the freedom that Christ's sacrifice has brought me.  Satan twists Christ's sacrifice into something cheap and meaningless!  God forgive me for believing the lies and sometimes living a craven life filled with doubt, retreat, mistrust and taking to the bed and burying my head beneath the covers!  May I live in light of God's truth and may I not cheapen Christ's sacrifice by thinking I can do anything to separate His profound love for me even while I still sin. 

This past week Brian continued with Genesis 32 and 33.  This passage of scripture contains the infamous wrestling match between God and Jacob.  Brian talked about the aggressive grace of God.  I love the juxtaposition of the words aggressive and grace.  One way Merriam-Webster defines aggressive is, "marked by combative readiness... by driving forceful energy or initiative."  Whoa, to think that the God of the universe is so intentional as He pursues Jacob the deceiver.  I looked up the definition of grace and didn't like the lack of vibrancy and depth of Merriam-Webster.  Grace is sweet and unmerited and a gift so remarkable it defies concrete explanation.  So God became a forceful, combative initiative that night wrestling with Jacob till dawn.  God's aggressive grace accomplished transformation in Jacob's life. 

Brian points out that God wasn't at full strength.  He matched Jacob's strength, met him where he was.  God touches Jacob's hip and wrenches it so completely that Jacob walked with a limp all the remaining days of his life.  Yet Jacob refused to let go until God blessed him.  God asks one question, "what is your name?"  Jacob simply answers, "Jacob - deceiver."  Jacob is honest with God about who he truly is.  God then changes his name to Israel.  This marks a transformation in Jacob's life.  He has a new name.  There is power in a new name.  However just hours later Israel behaves again as if he were Jacob.  He deceives and schemes and goes half way in obeying God.

Half way obedience is another disturbing pattern in my life.  And who are we kidding?  Half way obedience is disobedience.  Brian points out we so easily begin to obey we take steps and start but soon stall out.  Years can go by, decades of starts and stalls.  Consequences come due to Jacob's half-way obedience, horrific consequences.  Jacob was told by God where to go and settle.  He went and settled just shy from the destination God called him to.  Just a day's journey from full obedience.  I think we get distracted or believe it's too hard or just lose direction and we stop just short of full obedience.  We hold out for the sake of pride or indifference.  We suffer consequences.  We make it harder than it ever need be.  I know this because it is my story.  The smallest setbacks in my life are made into huge obstacles.  I sit and stew and stall.  And it's not even uncommon, it's ordinary.  And that is the crux of the matter, being ordinary.  Living an existence of mediocrity.  Oh God save me from myself!  

I have wrestled more writing this post than any other.  I don't want to reveal too much, to over share.  I like being liked.  Yet I have to be honest before God and man.  I need His help, His aggressive grace to stomp out the disturbing patterns in my life.  I'm not going to retreat when it gets tough.  I'm not going to allow my overactive imagination to reign terror and defeat.  I must dig deep into this life less comfortable.  No retreat.  No surrender.  Will you do the same?  Of course all this after I take a nap.... Just kidding!  I hope.       

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lost, Missionary Golf and Highs & Lows Across the Continents

Last night my daughter Megan watched the t.v. show "Lost"with two friends, one in Colorado and another in New York.  Olivia, the one in Co. had never watched Lost before so Meg and another friend watched on their own laptops with her and group texted together.  Oh the highs and lows of Lost!  Our family started watching Lost when we moved to France for language study.  Oh how we could relate to feeling lost in a new world filled challenges and a foreign landscape with "the others."  I think it was some kind of bizarre coping skill we developed where once a week we would download Lost and have Lost lunches in our little apartment in Albertville.  Lunch breaks are really long in France.  It was a bit jarring coming from the states where everything is fast paced, especially meal time.  We had 2 and 1/2 hour lunches everyday.  All of us would meet at our apartment from our three different schools and I would make us lunch.  It became an oasis of normalcy in the midst of great oddness.  

We were fairly certain we were ruining our kids' lives in the process. They were dropped off in French public schools with little vocabulary.  I remember thinking we needed to save money not for college but for long-term psychiatric counseling.  Our kids are terribly resilient and God is good so there has been no need for counseling thus far, of course we have no money for either college or counseling, so that is good news.  I guess watching Lost had some kind of therapeutic value after all.

Joe heads back to Chicago tomorrow.  He is taking the train which he really has come to prefer over other modes of transport.  He has taken cars, buses and planes as well but finds the train a great place to be "in between."  Traveling by plane is so quick and at times jarring in transitioning from one place to another.  There is great value in the "in between" I believe.  He has time to reflect and plan and meet people.  I find the rhythmic sway of a train to be romantic and dreamy.  Watching the landscape roll by is peaceful and beautiful.

Last night after coming home from youth group, we gathered around the table to play cards.  We played a game we learned in Gabon as new missionaries that was quickly dubbed, "missionary golf" since the object of the game is to finish with the least amount of points.  You are golden if you finish in the negatives!  So as we played we each shared our highs and lows of 2014.  The kids are very used to sharing highs and lows as it was regular question around our dinner table when they were growing up.  It's a great way to peak inside a day in the life of your kiddos and spouse.  We hadn't shared daily highs and lows recently so I was thrilled to hear from each as we are spread out in different places more often than not. 

The game wasn't one that needed a great deal of concentration so playing and talking were fairly effortless.  Joe started us out with highs and we went around the table and repeated with the lows and ended with hopes and goals and dreams and prayers for 2015.  Last year was a big year as it was Joe's first year in college and living in the states since he was 12 and the rest of our family was living in Cameroon.  Megan had a big year in that she graduated from high school and started college and living in the states for the first time since she was 11.  Sam had a big year as he has transitioned from living in a hostel with 11 other teens while attending a Rain Forest International school (around 95 students, 7-12 grade).  He has moved to the States and started going to a large public high school, Dallastown, with 1,800 students.

As for Steve he was sick for the better part of 2 and 1/2 months just after returning to the States last summer.  It was a scary time and shook us all up in a major way.  There were teary eyes all around the table as Steve remembered a particularly bad night of high fevers and heart palpitations while we were staying outside of Chicago, all alone, in a guest house.  We were there to drop Joe off at Moody Bible Institute.  It was something we were all looking forward to doing since we didn't get to experience that with him his first year.  We had to drop Joe off at a friend's house and miss out touring Chicago and helping Joe move in since we decided Steve needed to get back to York to our medical team.

Lots of highs and lows were shared around the table.  One of the things that came up was how glad each of our kids were that they got to attend Rain Forest International school.  Joe shared how great it was to come "home" to Cameroon for Megan's graduation at the end of his freshman year.  Megan talked about how one of her highs was taking her senior class trip followed quickly by a low in having to say goodbye to great friends after graduation.  Sam said though he is doing well at Dallastown this year and making the most of being in the States, (taking advantage of being our only child at home) he is missing his friends at RFIS and is so looking forward to being back "home" in Cameroon next year.

It is amazing to hear from each of the kids how much they have appreciated the way they were/are being raised.  Sending our kids away to school was one of the most difficult things Steve and I have ever had to do.  It has caused a great deal of heart ache to this mother's heart.  Steve and I still tear up thinking of the goodbyes we had to make at the end of summer and breaks.  It seemed so wrong to send our babies away.  However, we investigated and prayed and sought advice and came to the decision that sending our kids would be the best thing for them in our situation.  They have each been shaped in profound ways by being away and in the community of RFIS.  They had stand in parents that loved and encouraged and taught them in ways I am forever thankful for.  They made lifelong friendships.  They had inspirational, brilliant teachers and staff that passionately serve the Lord through RFIS.  There were highs and lows all throughout.

I loved last night sitting around our borrowed table in a borrowed kitchen in a borrowed house in York, Pennsylvania.  Our family shared highs and lows and hopes and dreams and prayers for 2014 - 2015.  We could never have known back in France during our Lost lunches how we would be "found" again and again through different places with different people but with the Same God to guide and inspire and love us completely.  How very blessed we have been to live where we have lived and love people that have journeyed alongside us both far and near.  I will close with a deep and impassioned quote from Jack of Lost, "if we can't live together, we're gonna die alone."