Category — Observations
Just came off an unusually rich week of collaborations. I got to participate in a couple of world premieres: a new orchestral piece and a trio of songs written for harp and voice by my friend Cole Bratcher (set to poetry by another friend, Jana Gering). (Jana wrote a lovely post articulating her thoughts on the experience.)
The songs were a particularly delightful project, the result of worlds colliding. I met Jana something like 15 years ago at Worldview Academy. We kept in touch through random run-ins and Facebook, and years later she introduced me to the Bratchers, Luz (a designer) and Cole (a composer). The Bratchers have been wonderful Parnassus supporters and friends, so getting to work together on Cole’s composition recital was great fun. At the reception afterwards, I felt strangely pleased to see acquaintances from many walks of life in the same room: two photographers I knew, my musician friends, Jana, the Bratchers, a couple other people I’d met through other work.
Probably the high point of the week, though, was my church’s annual Thanksgiving service. Each year we have a time when members of the congregation, kids and adults, praise God publicly for His working in their lives. Often these praises rise out of difficult experiences.
Such was the case this year. We heard courageous testimonies from a woman who had recently miscarried and a family with a teenaged daughter battling a perplexing and life-threatening illness. What an encouragement to hear, amidst the still-fresh grief, about those particular graces — an unexpected conversation, a well-timed song, a sudden turn of events — granted in times of need. What a testament to God’s grace that these painful situations were being transformed from heart-breaking to hope-bringing.
I was freshly reminded of the beautiful collaboration that is the church. As members of one body, we are co-workers in Christ. We rejoice with those who rejoice; we mourn with those who mourn. We share in the Lord’s sufferings; we bear one another’s burdens. We love because He first loved us. We strive together, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring God glory and to build His kingdom.
I do believe that salvation is all God’s doing, but find it remarkable that He often accomplishes His purposes through ordinary people. God allows us to work with Him (2 Cor. 5:20-6:10), and I think that imparts to us a special measure of joy. A privilege, and a beautiful collaboration indeed.
November 19, 2012 No Comments
My parents celebrate their 30th anniversary this month. We’re having a party / family reunion this weekend; and in preparation I was recently quizzing them on their childhood and relationship history. At one point my mom suddenly burst out, “We’re really pretty boring!”
I laughed off that comment at the time, but later on I realized, “That’s what makes you guys remarkable.”
To clarify: being boring doesn’t mean they’ve been bored. Between running a business, raising five kids, and helping plant a church, boredom has difficulty existing.
But over all the years I’ve known my parents, they’ve been boringly consistent in matters of first importance — not through sheer willpower, but by God’s grace. Here are three particular areas that stand out to me.
“Do they really have to meet here again?” I remember my preteen self grumbling to my dad, referring to one of the many church-related meetings or practices at our house. My dad sort of shrugged and said, “It’s not really our house.”
And I think that attitude is what has enabled them to faithfully and joyfully give of their home, resources, and lives — this understanding that they are just stewards of these earthly belongings.
It’s not a matter of giving when it’s convenient or emotionally satisfying, but an open-handed lifestyle. My parents don’t just wait for opportunities to give to and serve others — they actively look for them, and they’ve done that for as long as I can remember.
One time at church my parents and I were standing in the hall laughing about . . . something (can’t remember what). An older gentleman walked by and gave us a strange look. A little while later, he came up to me and said, “You know, it’s really special to have a family that can honestly laugh together.”
I appreciate that my parents both have a good sense of humor and enjoy each other, family, and life. I appreciate that I can go to them to discuss a weighty matter and also to enjoy a good, lighthearted conversation. And that they still genuinely enjoy each others’ company after 30 years and 5 kids is wonderful to see.
My parents are very different people (opposite in several ways), and I know they don’t always agree. But they have always appeared united in matters of discipline and in laying down house rules. My brother Dan said it best when he said,
I see just how blessed we were to have parents that constantly shared their thoughts and feelings with each other. Even if [they] disagreed in how to discipline us, [they] wouldn’t display that division in front of us. In this way, [they] really modeled to me the dedication, love, and respect that a husband and wife should have for one another.
So happy anniversary to my parents, and here’s to another boring and blessed 30 years.
June 21, 2012 No Comments
“Delight yourself in the Lord; and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about decision making. Not the “Do I want eggs or oatmeal this morning?” kind. The more life-altering kind — like what you choose to do, where you decide to live, what risks are worth taking.
So often I want to be sure before plunging into things. Yes, there’s wisdom in making informed decisions, in being patient, in seeking godly advice. But in the end, what ultimately matters is, “What’s driving your decisions?”
Asking myself that question hasn’t necessarily made decision-making any easier, but it’s revealed a lot of what holds me back.
I suspect that part of the reason certain decisions are so difficult is that failure scares me. (Where Failure = “things may not turn out like I envisioned.”) I think for everyone, Christian or not, the driving decision-maker is, “What will make me happy?” I’d like to believe that I’m pursuing God and His righteousness above all else and that I truly trust Him as the only source of true joy and happiness. But these feelings of possible failure prove otherwise. I can put far too much faith in myself and my ideas of what will make me happy. I can use what makes me happy now as the plumb line for what will make me happy in the future.
My heart is divided, and God is far, far too small. I need to spend far more time searching God rather than searching my desires, trusting that by searching God my desires will either be reconfirmed or realigned.
Two blog posts came across my screen this week, which speak beautifully to this whole heart re-orientation.
First, from Andrew Peterson:
“Here’s what I know, in a nutshell: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.
Early on, I didn’t always seek God’s kingdom first, and Lord knows his righteousness was only on my mind for a minute or two a day, max. Now I’m up to three, maybe four minutes a pop. I’m growing by leaps and bounds. That simple scripture draws into sharp focus the only thing that will satisfy us in our desperate seeking for what it is that we think we want. We may want something harmless, but if it’s out of place, if it comes before the right thing, then what’s benign becomes malignant. We want the wrong thing.
So boil it all down. Chop off the fat. Get rid of the pet monkey you’re feeding, because you can’t afford to take care of it anyway. Wrench your heart away from all the things you think you need for your supposed financial security, your social status; set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where its wind blows.
If you can put aside your worry long enough to feel that wind and to walk with it at your back, it will lead you to a good land. It will remind you that righteousness is more than pious obedience; it’s letting a strong, humble mercy mark your path, even when—especially when—you don’t know where it’s taking you.”
From Cara Meyer:
“The path was not one that we initially wanted. One day Jason stood in the kitchen and started weeping. He said, Lord, you know that I do not want this, but you seem to be leading this way. Why? It seemed as though the Lord said, “But what if you would have more of me in all of this?” It was the answer we needed and it became the watershed moment. It was like Jericho where all of our defensive walls fell down. We were able to say, “We have never wanted this (Pastoring Bethlehem), but we have always wanted that (more of God).”
Everything changed after that point. Suddenly, the path that we were on (which we loved), was now the one that seemed scarier to stay on because the Lord was moving to another. Don’t get me wrong, this path scares me. However, if this path that seems scary and big brings me closer to God, then it is the path for me.”
Lord, help my unbelief.
May 23, 2012 No Comments
In his book Knowing God. J.I. Packer notes the following common behaviors that keep us from receiving wisdom:
Unwillingness to think. It is false piety, super-supernaturalism of an unhealthy and pernicious sort, that demands impressions that have no rational base, and declines to heed the constant biblical summons to ‘consider’ . . . (Deut. 32:29)
Unwillingness to think ahead, and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action . . . often we can only see what is wise and right (and what is foolish and wrong) as we dwell on its long-term issues.
Unwillingness to take advice . . . it is a sign of conceit and immaturity to dispense with taking advice in major decisions. There are always people who know the Bible, human nature, and our own gifts and limitations better that we do . . .
Unwillingess to suspect oneself. We dislike being realistic with ourselves, and we do not know ourselves at all well . . . we need to ask ourselves why we ‘feel’ a particular course to be right, and make ourselves give reasons — and we shall be wise to lay the case before someone else whose judgment we trust, to give his verdict on our reasons. We need also to keep praying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts . . ” We can never distrust ourselves too much.
Unwillingness to discount personal magnetism . . . Outstanding men are not necessarily wrong, but they are not necessarily right, either! They, and their views must be respected, but may not be idolized.
Unwillingness to wait. “Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms . . . [God] is not is such a hurry as we are, and it is not His way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.
May 10, 2012 No Comments
Today’s revelation: had I gone to a regular high school, I’d be attending my 10-year reunion this year.
It’s funny pondering how my life now compares to the expectations I held back then. You know, the elaborate life goals you write about in your college essays with all the wisdom and foresight of a 17-year-old.
The exact details of the fanciful career path I imagined for myself I can’t remember, but back then I figured that in 10 years I’d have settled down — some kind of stable job or a family or whatever else adults have. I didn’t expect that I’d feel more unsettled now than I ever have been — and be ok with that.
On one hand, there’s an inherent unsettledness in my line of work. The freelance career could be called an endless transition. I love what I do, but with independence and variety comes instability. One day you hit the bottomless pocket corporate gig jackpot and start thinking steak for dinner. Then the next day half your students quit . . . ok, so water tastes better from a wineglass.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking more about another kind of unsettledness — the kind that accompanies spiritual growth.
Last week, I had a brief (non-music-related) conversation with a friend that left me thinking, “Am I willing to give this up?”
“This” being the life I know now — family, church, friends, career, community, dreams.
Which is really asking, “Am I really thankful for God? Or am I just thankful for His gifts? Am I willing to let God unsettle me from all that I know, trusting that He is sufficient?” The implications of these questions make me uncomfortable; because as much as I say God’s driving my life, often I want to hold the map and give directions.
The Christian life is full of paradoxes. One is that the more we become settled in who God is — the more we trust Him with every aspect of ourselves and realize He is who He says He is — the more unsettledness we can handle in life.
Oswald Chambers calls this “gracious uncertainty”:
“Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time . . .
If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.”
Who knows what the next ten years will bring. I’ll keep planning and dreaming and moving along; but I pray that as each year passes I’ll feel more unsettled than ever before.
March 22, 2012 No Comments
This past weekend I saw a girl take a tumble at the top of Rattlesnake Ridge. She was trying to hop from one rock slab to another, but hit her foot and fell backwards through the crack — straight down 10-15 feet.
“Oh dear God, she’s dead,” was the first thought that flashed through my mind. But a few seconds later her desperate scream for help rang through the air; and in that moment I was reminded that one can feel relieved and terrified at the same time.
One of my friends, along with a few other guys from other hiking groups, climbed down to help. Another friend, who had just been wondering why he’d bothered to bring his phone along, called the accident in and kept in contact with emergency services throughout the rescue. Many of the witnesses, including myself, were in constant prayer (the girl was with a group from a local Christian college). Within the hour, she was hoisted to safety — bruised and shaken up, but no visible major physical injuries.
I know God is merciful all the time . . . but there are days when you get to see it in high definition, you know?
Reflecting on the incident, I was reminded of a Psalm in which David compares his own trials to being “in the pit” and recounts God’s mercy in rescuing him from destruction:
I waited patiently for the LORD;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the LORD.
Psalm 40:1-3 (ESV)
Since the beginning of the year I’ve attempted to be more vocal about praising God for His everyday mercies. I know that as a Christian, my heart should constantly be filled with gratitude. And making a habit of verbally recognizing God’s hand at work goes a long way towards cultivating this attitude.
But this Psalm reminded me that what I also need is more desperation in my life. No, I’m not planning an extreme-sports binge or general reckless living. But I do need to spend more time reflecting on how much I deeply and desperately need a Savior.
The amount of gratitude we feel is directly proportional to how much we think we need grace. If someone does something for me but in my mind I think, “I really didn’t need their help,” I can smile and say “thanks” without feeling an ounce of gratitude.
But if I recognize that I’m that girl in the pit, helpless and completely terrified, and that someone has come to pull me out — not only will I feel immensely grateful, but I will not be able to keep from singing the praises of my rescuer.
And isn’t it interesting how God uses our desperation to ultimately draw others to Himself? Honesty to ourselves and others about both the depth of our needs failings and the ongoing faithfulness of our Savior works as a powerful means of personal evangelism.
The songs of the redeemed are indeed beautiful.
March 12, 2012 No Comments
Seth Godin hits the nail on the head again:
When I played clarinet in high school, I never practiced. I blamed it on my dog, who howled, but basically I was a lousy music student.
At my weekly lesson, though, the teacher would scold me, guessing that I’d only practiced three or four hours the week before. I was so good at sight reading that while I was truly mediocre at the clarinet, I was way better than anyone who had never practiced had any right to be.
We often test sight reading skills, particularly in job interviews. In that highly-charged encounter, we test the applicant’s ability to think on her feet. That’s a great idea if the job involves a lot of feet thinking, but otherwise, you’re inspecting for the wrong thing, aren’t you? Same with a first date. Marketing yourself to a new person often involves being charismatic, clever and quick–but most jobs and most relationships are about being consistent, persistent and brave, no?
Neither sight-reading nor thinking on my feet comes very naturally to me, but I would add one thing. Both are important skills and can be improved by practice — which goes back to being consistent, persistent, and brave.
March 2, 2012 No Comments
A great scholar has given a beautiful definition of waiting upon God: “To wait is not merely to remain impassive. It is to expect — to look for with patience, and also with submission. It is to long for, but not impatiently; to look for, but not to fret at the delay; to watch for, but not restlessly; to feel that if He does not come we will acquiesce, and yet to refuse to let the mind acquiesce in the feeling that He will not come.” . . .
Once more, one who lives in the spirit of prayer will spend much time in retired and intimate communion with God. It is by such a deliberate engagement of prayer that the fresh springs of devotion which flow through the day are fed. For, although communion with God is the life-energy of the renewed nature, our souls “cleave to the dust,” and devotion tends to grow formal — it becomes emptied of its spiritual content, and exhausts itself in outward acts. The Master reminds us of this grave peril, and informs us that the true defense against insincerity in our approach to God lies in the diligent exercise of private prayer . . .
In the days of the Commonwealth, one of the early Friends, “a servant of the Lord, but a stranger outwardly,” came into an assembly of serious people, who had met for worship. “And after some time he had waited on the Lord in spirit he had an opportunity to speak, all being silent; he said by way of exhortation, ‘Keep to the Lord’s watch.’ These words, being spake in the power of God, had its operation upon all or most of the meeting, so that they felt some great dread and fear upon their spirits. After a little time he spake again, saying, ‘What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.’ Then he was silent again a little time, but the whole meeting, being sensible that this man was in some extraordinary spirit and power, were all musing what manner of teaching this should be, being such a voice that most of the hearers never heard before, that carried such great authority with it that they were all necessitated to be subject to the power.”
Soldier of Christ, you are in an enemy’s country; “Keep to the Lord’s watch.”
- David MacIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer
January 25, 2012 No Comments
A week or so ago, several friends pointed me to this amusing clip of Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry:
For those of us who’d like a similar piano desk to punctuate our arguments, well — perhaps it’s not such a far-fetched idea! Check out this microphone that transforms any surface into a touch screen:
January 3, 2012 No Comments
The red Starbucks holiday cups resurfaced in Seattle today.
My mind hasn’t quite registered that Christmas isn’t far off; but the Return of the Cup does make me start rifling through my holiday tunes. The season’s change is upon us.
Speaking of change, for the past couple of months my work life has been undergoing some. I’ve been working on a project that I’m excited to share with you. Tomorrow. ‘Til then…
November 1, 2011 No Comments