Saturday, July 31, 2010

Losing My Religion: Phase 3 It Was A Good Death

(Important: This is the third entry of a three part article. I recommend going back to the first phase of the series found in this blog for the sake of understanding the context. Thanks.)

Well, hopefully I haven't scared you all off with my intensity. I realize this whole "Losing My Religion" section is very heavy and may even sound depressing to some. But for me it is a story of immense hope. It is my proof that God has amazing 'keeping' power. It reminds me that all the friends I've seen walk away from their faith are being pursued by the same Person who was able to anchor me in my storms.

With that hope in mind I feel more capable of sharing my dying process. One purpose of my long winter was to kill off immaturity, in other words, it was a purification process. Bare with me for a quick side note. Regarding immaturity, I'm not convinced that it can be considered inherently wrong in every situation. A five year old will be immature. It's just the nature of being a child. In the same way, our own spiritual immaturity is to be expected. Immaturity is only dysfunctional if we never grow past our various child like expectations. To keep the faith and innocence of a child is a beautiful thing, but to remain needy and naive like a toddler is just sad.

When I first became a Christian I was soaked with emotional rewards for choosing Jesus. I could easily compare it to the euphoria associated with alcohol or drugs. Since I had just left the party scene I think God allowed similar feelings of euphoria because He knew as a young Christian I would need a lot of emotional motivation to keep me close. As incredibly corny as it sounds I really felt 'high' on Jesus, weird. When those feelings were withdrawn I was beside myself with grief. This was God weaning me from the bottle. He could have allowed me to keep those amazing feelings for the rest of my life, and He does allow some. But for me, this was milk. It was time for move on to solid food. (Hebrews 5:12)

In a recent Bible Study we studied the story of Joseph. If you're not familiar with the story you should go read it in the book of Genesis or else this next part may not make sense. I picture my Dark Night something like the image I envision when Joseph's brothers sell him off to be a slave. God allowed him to be tossed deep into a dark pit so that Joseph "the mommas boy" could die and "Joseph the man" could emerge. I picture myself taking that same death dive deep into real spiritual transformation. Jesus says it best in John 12:24, I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

My Dark Night began in 1998 and a very slow dawn has been sneaking up on me since the birth of my son Josiah in December of 2006. Now, in retrospect, I can look back at the past four years and see that His light has been warming me and luring me from a cowering posture back to a safe, open faced rest. I can look back and say, I suffered real spiritual torment. But I cannot say I am scarred from the process. On the contrary, I am healed.

p.s. There are few things comparable to the "Dark Night of the Soul". If you are going through something like this there is a book out there with this very title by an old sixteenth century Catholic Spanish mystic named St. John of the Cross. The book was one of the few life lines I had and I highly recommend it, be careful to get a good translation though. If you are in a season like this be encouraged, you are in good company. It's just proof that He is committed to maturing you.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Some Adorables

Uh, hello corny GAP commercial pic, it's still so cute though... shouldn't there be a bat involved with this situation. Where's the props guy when you need him!

I'll eat you up I love you so...

Josiah conquers the Grand Canyon!

Rosie's first smoke with her proud daddy

that face says it all!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Losing My Religion: Phase 2 Waiting is Hard

http// (This link is a perfect picture of what I believe God was trying to teach in me in my "Dark Night").

If you're just joining the conversation it would be a good idea to go back and read the blog before this for the sake of context, for the rest of us, I'll just jump right in.

In phase 1 of Losing My Religion I realized that God orchestrated the seasons of my life and that I could not often control my spiritual climate. The hardest part about all this for me was the waiting! My dry season lasted for more than eight years! Keep in mind that throughout all this I was still very active in ministry. I taught Bible studies, I co-lead a women's ministry, I was a missionary and I helped to plant a church. I did all this feeling about as much emotional connection to God as I felt towards a stranger on the street. I was tormented by thoughts that Christianity was a a big lie and I was the sucker that got dooped. At times I entertained ideas of divorcing my faith all together but, strangely, it was these thoughts that tethered me back in to God. The thought of leaving Him somehow tugged at a deep part of my heart that was irreversibly welded to Christ. Even though I felt incredibly far removed from Him the thought of abandoning my faith only proved to me that He was real and He was closer than I thought. My thoughts of apostasy, for some reason, evoked an even deeper sense of loyalty to Jesus. But the waiting was killing me! I wanted to know why my "Dark Night" was so long and why it hurt so much. I wanted to know the reason for it.

Sometimes the long wait proved to be too much for me and my sense of hope would run out. It was during these times that I wondered if I was a Christian at all. I thought that maybe I was destined for hell and that's why God was ignoring me. Again, it was in the lowest place that I learned the greatest lesson. I remember thinking "Even if I burn in hell for eternity it is still worth it to live my life for God". I realized then, at that moment, that I belonged to Him. He was stuck with me for good and better than that, He actually did love me. It was that love that tethered me in my many weak moments, and it's why I can understand, if only a little, Jobs statement "Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him". Part of the reason for my dark night was to begin to kill me. That is, to kill the parts of me that kept me from offering deep compassion to others, yet expecting comfort and consolation from God for myself. I am still very much in this process and still have a loooooong way to go. I have so many more thoughts on the subject, but I'll share this for now and hope you join me for phase 3 of Losing My Religion to be completed at some other insomniatic hour in the future. Peace. One last word though...

...a quick commercial for my favorite nun because her example helped me through this tough time!

If ever tempted to pity myself I think of Mother Teresa. She experienced her "Dark Night of the Soul" for forty years! This woman spent those years serving the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick all with no sense of God's presence sustaining her. She writes in her journals of deep loneliness and aching for God's comfort in her life. As far as I know in what her journals record, she died with this feeling of emptiness. What amazing loyalty and devotion to God. Most others would've abandoned their posts or worse in the face of this kind of pain. But Mother Teresa waited, she waited and suffered loneliness and deep sadness. It has been said that God never wastes a tear and that all of our pain will be used for good in the end. I believe Mother Teresa is in heaven today reaping all the rewards of her loyalty. Glory to God.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Losing My Religion: Phase 1 I Can't Fix It

My faith journey began a lot more like a love story than a conversion. I'd say I quite literally fell in love with God as a new Christian. I felt His comfort, direction and care in a way that rivaled that of any tangible person in my life. From the day I was reborn God surrounded me with mentors, friends and family that all pushed me closer and closer to my new Divine Friend. The thrill I got from partying couldn't compare with Who I found to take it's place, so I happily dropped it. After high school I went on to attend Bible College because I knew that as a new Christian I would need an environment that would support my choice to follow God. I feared that without this support I would forget Christianity or worse, lose the new Love of my life. Neither of these fears were realized, but a crisis was waiting just outside the reach of my foresight.
I remember it so distinctly, like a switch was shut off in the heavens and the feeling of God's presence was gone. The intensity of the emptiness and sense of abandonment I felt at that time is difficult for me to describe. Let's just say I was overcome with disillusionment. I went to various church leaders for help and spiritual guidance. They all told me the same thing, "You must be in sin". Maybe they were mentored by Jobs friend Bildad in Chapter 18 ;) . I readily accepted this explanation and begged God to show me what I was doing wrong, so I could repent. Thus began the witch hunt for my mystery sin. I played the guessing game with God, like a pathetic game of charades. "Sounds like..., am I getting warmer?" This went on for about three years until I became frustrated with God. I was desperately trying to repent of whatever it was that caused Him to withdraw the sense of His presence. I began to see God as an aloof mocker of my efforts to love, honor and seek Him. I didn't realize that in trying to discover my secret sin I had committed a much worse error, I was really trying to "God" myself. I somehow thought that self-hatred, self condemnation and a merciless self examination would get me back into the Lord's good graces. With a deep sense of grief I can clearly see I was wrong. I finally came to the conclusion that the wild goose could not be caught. There was no habitual, willful sin in my life that God had clearly asked me to turn from. There were plenty of imperfections, mistakes and ways I fell short, as there still are, believe me! But I could have sworn that's what Jesus died for, willful sinning included! On this earth we will always live with shortcomings and flaws. Then the light bulb turned on. IT WASN'T MY FAULT!
Within a week of my light bulb moment I gained a deeper insight into what it was that was happening to me. I saw a picture of a tree in the winter. There was a clouded sky in the background giving only that special kind of glow that an overcast day can give. The silhouette of the dead looking tree, strangely, gave me a deep sense of hope. We all go through seasons. We cannot control the seasons, they are in the hand of God alone. The tree couldn't help that it was winter. It just was. The tree couldn't make the sun come out, or grow leaves. All it could do was wait. All I could do was wait. Anyone out there a fan of waiting? My spiritual winter had little to do with me and my performance, but everything to do with God's plan to prune and mature me. This realization helped to correct my anger and confusion at Him. I knew my emptiness had a purpose and I believe it was this sense of purpose that empowered me to wait another five years, when my long winter finally started to show signs of letting up...
There will be more to come in my story of losing my religion and for the sake of clarity, I am referring to the type of religion that is an ugly contradiction of true spirituality. That is, the religion that demands to be in control and dominate through performance, laying guilt trips on its disciples. I look forward to sharing more of this story with you. My winter season created a depth of compassion for others and loyalty to God that I am sure I wouldn't have learned without it. Phase 2 of this story will come another day. I know there is a handful of people who keep up with this blog. Love you guys.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stay At Home Mom-ness

I've heard it said that the love a mother has for her children is the deepest type of human love one can experience on this earth. I would have to say, as far as I know, that's true. At least for me. It's worth all the garbage women have to endure in this world.
In the spirit of loving my kiddies I'd like to write a little about each of them. Let's start with my Rose. She turned one May 31st and I would say the words that best describe her would be intuitive, happy and tenacious. This is mine and Rose's honeymoon phase. We giggle and play and sure she bites me from time to time but then she shoots me that three toothed, wrinkled nose, shoulder shrugging grin and amnesia sets in. She is not a huge fan of large groups, loud overbearing greetings or strangers. In the absence of these things there is nothing to quench the beauty that illuminates her jack-o-lantern smile.

Next, Josiah. He is pretty much one of the coolest cats I have ever known. He is a natural charmer although he is still experimenting with what is charming and winsome and what is just annoying and rude. He figures it out pretty quickly in most situations, proof laying in the fact that at today's gathering he was the husband of about 3 of his female cohorts. He loves to be the hero but is also, hands down, the most compassionate three year old I have ever known. If someone could be an emotional genius I think it would be him. Now, I can't get too carried away here. He still has his tantrums and various discipline issues but even in the midst of those he is regularly asking for forgiveness and offering empathy to his discipliners... weird. My real challenge with him comes in the form of a little boy, energy, wiggles and roughness at the wrong places, with the wrong people at the wrong times. He is incredibly energetic and talkative. I honestly cannot keep up with this part of him. But I am learning and he is growing in self-control, so thankfully we are both on a journey to make life a little easier for one another.
While I do look forward to the day I start my career out there in the big world, I would rather die than swap these precious years with my kiddos. Eventually, when the time is right, I'll get myself back into school to pursue my doctorate in psychology, but until that day I will be present in this moment, enjoying Rose and Josiah.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Fine Art of Unbusyness

I recently read an excellent book called the Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. I found it put words to the many feelings and impressions that had been stewing in my mind over the last year or so. I felt so refreshed by his words and hope to share some of these pearls in the next paragraph or so. That is, pearls integrated with some of my own musings on Peterson's wisdom.
Each chapter in this book wrinkled my brain in new and lovely ways but this blog will zero in on Peterson's chapter entitled The Unbusy Pastor. Just to be clear I do not consider myself to be a pastor in the traditional meaning of the word but I do know we are all called to lead and teach something to someone, sometime in our lives, so arguably, in this small we way all share in the work of shepherding to some capacity. It was in this spirit that I applied this book to myself. Ok, enough with the disclaimer and onto the juicy stuff.
Our culture is plagued with busyness. It is one of the ways we measure our importance and I would even dare to say it is a subversive way of saying to others "I matter! I'm important! I'm busy! People need me!" These proclamations are not necessarily wrong but I wonder if we realize the potential danger in constantly filling our schedules with "stuff". One cost to the 'rat race' life style is community. One may argue that they are busy doing things with their communities and to that I would say, good. Maybe you are busy about the right things. But too often our busyness is not about community. It is about making more money, people pleasing, building a false sense of self importance and avoiding the real problems in our lives that have gone undealt with for too long. My words may sound a bit strong here but they are meant to.
Sadly I have seen this type of dangerous ambition creep into the church and nearly crush the wind pipe of many Christians under its yoke, myself included. A Christian group I helped to start built it's foundations on the premise that the cost of leadership involved this kind of full calender type of ministry. My leader at the time actually discouraged me from taking a sabbath because he did not believe the New Testament supported this kind of regular rest, Hebrews 4:12 disagrees however. I get tired even remembering this season in my life and pray that you have been spared this incorrect doctrine. The ending was very sad for the original leaders that helped to found this group. A disproportionate amount of attention was given to task and programs. Inevitably, the better part was forgotten, relationship (Luke 10:41-42). Our relationships were destroyed, marriages strained and broken, friendships ended. But God is faithful and the group continues on in health, minus the original leaders. It was unfortunate and unnecessary that there were so many causalities along the way. I count this as a valuable lesson in my life. A full calender does not necessarily equate to a full ministry. It may equate to more of a red flag. Extreme busyness can sometimes be indicative of immaturity because I have observed that it is the younger folk that are seduced.
As we grow in our faith we begin to trust in the soveriegnty of God more. We begin to see Him faithfully bringing people in and out of various seasons of life with or without our involvement, yet we are blessed and called to be a part of the process. Not because it can't happen without us, but because the Lord wants it to happen with us. Resting in this truth has brought an unparalleled peace to my spirit and refreshed enthusiasm in my attitude towards service. I sense my burdens lightening even in the rememberance of these things.
Do not misunderstand what I am saying here. I am not advocating that we go to the other end of the spectrum, throw our calenders in the trash, quit our jobs and all earthly commitments and stare at one another in sweet community all day. Clearly we are not called to be a bunch of slackers sipping coffee with one another. Work is good. Commitments are good. The question is this. Are our schedules God directed, or are they directed by our culture of self-importance? Or here's another way of putting it. Does our desire to achieve override our desire to relate? Your calender will tell you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I love the Bible. I love that God has given us clear boundaries to live within and I don't find His boundaries a drudgery to honor. They make sense. I have heard that a life without boundaries can be compared to a freeway overpass with no railings, it is not more freeing, it is only more scary and more dangerous.
Here's when the tension comes in. The Bible I believe in says of itself that it could not contain all the things that Jesus said and did (John 21:25). In other words the Bible is true but not exhaustive. The apostle Paul says that for now (that is on earth) we only see through a glass darkly, meaning we won't have total clarity in many areas until we're in heaven. I just happen to love that God left us with so many muddled areas in this life. This leaves room for so much diversity within the body of Christ and gives us even more incentive to talk to God on a regular basis. Utter brilliance... only let us see through a glass darkly. This makes it so difficult to judge others or turn our Savior into a formula. The mysteries of God remind me how big He really is, and gray areas force me to prayerfully discern the finer points of truth. This push to think has made me a better a listener and a more patient friend to my King.
The mysteries of God are some of the very reasons I am so intrigued by Christianity. I am captivated by this God-Man called Jesus that has enraptured the hearts of so many for so long. How does He do it? There's only one reason. He answers back to the emptiness in our hearts and says "I can satisfy you, when nothing else does". Human hearts ache for compassion and answers. This collective heart begs for something it cannot always name. But He has name. That, I know.

First Things First

For those of you who don't know me very well I just wanted to include a brief story of how I came to be where I am today. One name sums it up. Jesus. I firmly believe that God divinely intervened on my behalf in the 17th year of my life. To be more correct, I see how He was drawing me to Himself all my life. If you're reading this and you're not "churchy" don't give up on me yet. This will be short and sweet. When I was 17 God figuratively grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me awake into His invitation to walk with Him. I accepted and although my walk has at times looked more like a crawl it has never stopped. With God I have been elated, confused, angry, in love and just plain beside myself with awe and gratefulness. I love Him dearly and He's got a firm grasp on me.

My First Real Blog!

First off I must confess I feel a bit hypocritical starting a blog when I, in fact, literally never read blogs. Well, that's not completely true there are two friends whose blogs I read from time to time but that's because I find them a bit mysterious and it is my humble attempt to understand them better. I suppose this blog of mine is my humble attempt to be understood. I have recently re-entered my home land of southern California after living overseas, out of state and just simply out of sight for the past 13 years. It has been a strange re-entering in that I have been welcomed home with open arms but confused faces that seem to be asking "Is this the desi I once new?" The truth is some things never change. I am still a thinker-introvert-evangelist-goofball. I'm sure anyone could think of ways in which we all stay the same. But the truth is God has also done a lot of work with me and I do return home changed from His dealings. To be quite honest it feels a little gross to write about myself. I have never enjoyed the spotlight and quickly divert it when it happens to fall on me. Unfortunately this discomfort with attention has also caused me problems. I have been called mysterious, intimidating and stand offish. I guess this blog is my attempt to grow out of these characteristics, or at least grow through them. This may end up my public journal that only I read, but it is my attempt to mature and hopefully shed some of the intimidating stand offish ways I unintentionally learned along the way. I hope to do this through sharing some thoughts on God and love and life, and not venting my feelings or focusing directly on myself. I think one of the best ways to get to know someone is to understand what really wakes them up from the routine of the day, so that is what I intend to share here on a somewhat regular basis. I would love to discuss these things with those of you who read, so leave comments... the good the bad and the ugly.