Experiences

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November 1, 2009
Seton Northwest Hospital
11113 Research Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78759 view map

A few days ago, I shared how I came to find myself ready to experience the walking mediation of a labyrinth (see Labyrinth Meditation).  I will try to give you some sense of the experience.   I share this with some trepidation. Keep in mind, dear reader, this is my experience so it may seem strange in the light before you.  I hope you won’t consider me a loon!? Whoops – too late.   Ah, well, if I have to be a fool, I will be a fool for Christ.  Of course, it may be some of my brothers and sisters in Christ – the fundamental, the pious, the moral; a few good men, that might think I’ve gone AWOL and immediately dispatch the MPs (Ministerial Pharisees) to drag me back to the pew.  Fear not friends, I haven’t gone all nuclear or even new age – I’m merely experiencing a new expression of communion with Christ, the holy Son of God.

When researching labyrinths in preparation for the visit, one suggestion I uncovered was to traverse the trail meditating on a specific word – something like forgiveness, peace, worship.  You want to make sure you eat before you arrive so your word isn’t “hamburger”.  Of course if you eat and drink first, you should take care of all the associated post processing so your word doesn’t become a bodily function.  It’s exceptionally hard to walk a labyrinth with your legs crossed and it makes you want to hurry which defeats the point.

All kidding aside, I found myself at the mouth of the labyrinth considering which word I would digest during this contemplative feast.  I had barely opened the menu in my mind to survey my options when the smorgasbord that is the word RENEWAL was served up to me.  There has been so much going on in my life and renewal was needed in every department and compartment.  But the word was as accurate in the macro-economics of my life as it was in the day-to-day.  As I stand, precariously on the pivot point to the see-saw of my life looking at the plank that got me here leading back to the ground and the plank ahead of me stretching upward to the heavens, renewal is the one thing needful.  What got me here cannot take me there – further up and further in – Christ, renew me.  I implored the Lord to meet me in this place at this time. Then, like a child anxious to ride the big-kid rollercoaster despite fluttering trepidation of heart, I stepped into the labyrinth.

I felt a bit awkward at first, like a child wobbling along on its bike just after its father removed the training wheels.  But I expected this, so I embraced it (then strangled it and left it gasping for air on an early, outer circuit).  One of the brilliant things about the labyrinth is you have enough rings in your path that you can afford one or two just to get your head in the right place – to empty your cup of all the junk our busy world has served up so you can receive fresh, cool water.  In fact, that is the very point, to lay aside all the noise of the world for a few minutes so we you hear the voice of the heart and the eternal.

photo Because the labyrinth I chose featured beautiful trees amongst the path, I found myself running my hands across their trunks as I passed by.  It was an incongruent experience; attempting to gently caress the contours of their form as a man might caress the face of his beloved or or woman might touch the cheeks of her grandchild, only to be met with the rough, scratchy, unyielding texture of the bark.  Even so, it seemed correct so as I continued the course, the practice progressed from this timid touch to a daring dance, a do-si-do circling around and in between my various oaken tango partners.  It reminded me of Lucy’s midnight dance with and through the trees to rest with the lion, Aslan in Prince Caspian. I deeply love these stories in the Chronicles or Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  The Lord has spoken to me many times as I read and reread these stories to my children.   I thought, “Just like Lucy, these trees and this labyrinth are waltzing me to the center to meet my love and Lord, Jesus.  It was then that I slid out of the moment, the way you might encounter a temporary reprieve from the drama of a movie or play for a detached thought, and I became aware that I was indeed sliding into renewal. And with that revelation of heart, I ceased to think about it and yielded fully to this ballet of the labyrinth.

About half way through the labyrinth, I came across a fallen branch from from one of the trees and picked it up.  It looked a lot like a dowsing rod, the type used to divine the location of water.  A flood of ideas poured into my head about this.  First, I considered how the labyrinth with it’s unicursal path was a type of dowser experience – the path in and out, the participant’s part, like the two forks held by the dowser while the purpose of touching the spiritual, God’s part, was like the outstretched arm in its effort to find water, and water, of course, is a symbol for the spirit. But for me, the experience drilled deeper than the near-surface layers of these general observations.  

When my parents were divorced from each other and married to other people, my mother and step-father ran a business called Dowser Consulting so this idea of dowsing is intrinsically tied together with some of my deepest heart experiences.  It would be impossible to share with you here the myriad and depth of emotion and thought interwoven in the fabric of this part of my life.  Still, it is distant in the day-to-day of my life. My parents are no longer married to others. In fact, they have been married to each other again now for more years than they were apart.  Generally, I don’t often think about my parent’s 15-year long marital detour or how it impacts me.  There were extremely positive and extremely difficult aspects of that chapter of my life which I now fully embrace as an essential part of the fabric of who I am and for which I am thankful to God. However, holding this fallen dowsing gift from God in my hand, a flood of deep, resident joy and grief exploded from it into my hands and through-out my heart and soul. I wondered if that was akin to the dowser’s sensitive touch, but mostly I felt deep reserves of emotion that connected with much of my current experience in a way that was clearly significant if not outright electrifying and shocking. I thought of a poem I wrote once called Point of Rest, that included the verse, “

Yet pure the silver water flows
Where the patient surgeon waits for those
Ready to trust his steady hand
To cut out the stone beneath the brand

Here I was finding the pure silver water in this labyrinthine dowsing rod of renewal and the surgeon was quick to touch me and cut out this stone beneath this scar tissue on my soul.   It was most unexpected. I simply was unaware that there was any more work needed in this area of my soul, but I could not deny the raw, tenderness of this wound now that my Lord was probing it and healing it in new ways.  This was clearly renewal. 

I continued to the center amazed with this encounter as God guided me into renewal, but I will share the rest of this experience in the next post.

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November 1, 2009
Seton Northwest Hospital
11113 Research Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78759 view map

A few days ago, I shared how I came to find myself ready to experience the walking mediation of a labyrinth (see Labyrinth Meditation).  I will try to give you some sense of the experience.   I share this with some trepidation. Keep in mind, dear reader, this is my experience so it may seem strange in the light before you.  I hope you won’t consider me a loon!? Whoops – too late.   Ah, well, if I have to be a fool, I will be a fool for Christ.  Of course, it may be some of my brothers and sisters in Christ – the fundamental, the pious, the moral; a few good men, that might think I’ve gone AWOL and immediately dispatch the MPs (Ministerial Pharisees) to drag me back to the pew.  Fear not friends, I haven’t gone all nuclear or even new age – I’m merely experiencing a new expression of communion with Christ, the holy Son of God.

When researching labyrinths in preparation for the visit, one suggestion I uncovered was to traverse the trail meditating on a specific word – something like forgiveness, peace, worship.  You want to make sure you eat before you arrive so your word isn’t “hamburger”.  Of course if you eat and drink first, you should take care of all the associated post processing so your word doesn’t become a bodily function.  It’s exceptionally hard to walk a labyrinth with your legs crossed and it makes you want to hurry which defeats the point.

All kidding aside, I found myself at the mouth of the labyrinth considering which word I would digest during this contemplative feast.  I had barely opened the menu in my mind to survey my options when the smorgasbord that is the word RENEWAL was served up to me.  There has been so much going on in my life and renewal was needed in every department and compartment.  But the word was as accurate in the macro-economics of my life as it was in the day-to-day.  As I stand, precariously on the pivot point to the see-saw of my life looking at the plank that got me here leading back to the ground and the plank ahead of me stretching upward to the heavens, renewal is the one thing needful.  What got me here cannot take me there – further up and further in – Christ, renew me.  I implored the Lord to meet me in this place at this time. Then, like a child anxious to ride the big-kid rollercoaster despite fluttering trepidation of heart, I stepped into the labyrinth.

I felt a bit awkward at first, like a child wobbling along on its bike just after its father removed the training wheels.  But I expected this, so I embraced it (then strangled it and left it gasping for air on an early, outer circuit).  One of the brilliant things about the labyrinth is you have enough rings in your path that you can afford one or two just to get your head in the right place – to empty your cup of all the junk our busy world has served up so you can receive fresh, cool water.  In fact, that is the very point, to lay aside all the noise of the world for a few minutes so we you hear the voice of the heart and the eternal.

photo Because the labyrinth I chose featured beautiful trees amongst the path, I found myself running my hands across their trunks as I passed by.  It was an incongruent experience; attempting to gently caress the contours of their form as a man might caress the face of his beloved or or woman might touch the cheeks of her grandchild, only to be met with the rough, scratchy, unyielding texture of the bark.  Even so, it seemed correct so as I continued the course, the practice progressed from this timid touch to a daring dance, a do-si-do circling around and in between my various oaken tango partners.  It reminded me of Lucy’s midnight dance with and through the trees to rest with the lion, Aslan in Prince Caspian. I deeply love these stories in the Chronicles or Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  The Lord has spoken to me many times as I read and reread these stories to my children.   I thought, “Just like Lucy, these trees and this labyrinth are waltzing me to the center to meet my love and Lord, Jesus.  It was then that I slid out of the moment, the way you might encounter a temporary reprieve from the drama of a movie or play for a detached thought, and I became aware that I was indeed sliding into renewal. And with that revelation of heart, I ceased to think about it and yielded fully to this ballet of the labyrinth.

About half way through the labyrinth, I came across a fallen branch from from one of the trees and picked it up.  It looked a lot like a dowsing rod, the type used to divine the location of water.  A flood of ideas poured into my head about this.  First, I considered how the labyrinth with it’s unicursal path was a type of dowser experience – the path in and out, the participant’s part, like the two forks held by the dowser while the purpose of touching the spiritual, God’s part, was like the outstretched arm in its effort to find water, and water, of course, is a symbol for the spirit. But for me, the experience drilled deeper than the near-surface layers of these general observations.  

When my parents were divorced from each other and married to other people, my mother and step-father ran a business called Dowser Consulting so this idea of dowsing is intrinsically tied together with some of my deepest heart experiences.  It would be impossible to share with you here the myriad and depth of emotion and thought interwoven in the fabric of this part of my life.  Still, it is distant in the day-to-day of my life. My parents are no longer married to others. In fact, they have been married to each other again now for more years than they were apart.  Generally, I don’t often think about my parent’s 15-year long marital detour or how it impacts me.  There were extremely positive and extremely difficult aspects of that chapter of my life which I now fully embrace as an essential part of the fabric of who I am and for which I am thankful to God. However, holding this fallen dowsing gift from God in my hand, a flood of deep, resident joy and grief exploded from it into my hands and through-out my heart and soul. I wondered if that was akin to the dowser’s sensitive touch, but mostly I felt deep reserves of emotion that connected with much of my current experience in a way that was clearly significant if not outright electrifying and shocking. I thought of a poem I wrote once called Point of Rest, that included the verse, “

Yet pure the silver water flows
Where the patient surgeon waits for those
Ready to trust his steady hand
To cut out the stone beneath the brand

Here I was finding the pure silver water in this labyrinthine dowsing rod of renewal and the surgeon was quick to touch me and cut out this stone beneath this scar tissue on my soul.   It was most unexpected. I simply was unaware that there was any more work needed in this area of my soul, but I could not deny the raw, tenderness of this wound now that my Lord was probing it and healing it in new ways.  This was clearly renewal. 

I continued to the cent
er amazed with this encounter as God guided me into renewal, but I will share the rest of this experience in the next post.

Tags: , , , ,

Labyrinth-entry I can be somewhat type-a in areas of my passion. This includes the practice of my faith.  I tend to play the role or Martha rather than Mary – sometimes even having a bit of disdain, just as Martha did, at Mary’s seemingly lackadaisical attitude toward service.

The deep surgery Christ performs on Martha during her ailment is not lost on me.  For quite some time, our Lord has been prying my hand from my prideful plow and and healing me to the place where, as Mullins puts it, “I’m lost enough to let myself be lead”  For a variety of reasons, the Lord lead me to take somewhat of a sabbatical from church activity.  As I did this, I realized how easy it is for me to be over zealous about Christian activity.

Putting me in the middle of a ministry driven church is like putting a cat in the middle of a floor surrounded by tuna fish and telling it to stay. There is an element of my zeal that is pure, but to be perfectly honest, my insatiable drive toward ministry is often more fueled by my need to feel good about myself.  I am capable of saying no and sitting down but I don’t want to very often.  So, consequently, I anxiously fill up my time with many good Christian duties but neglect the one thing needed that is so much better. Luke 10:41-42

But our Lord is teaching me.  A variety of experiences over the last few months have taught me more about prayer, meditation, solitude, silence, journaling and other disciplines. I’m a horrible student but He is a great and patient teacher.  Recently, he persuaded me to take up listening to many books, podcasts and other audio material.  It was a way to push me out of the nest of what I know and into the wild blue expanse that I do not know, to add new wonder to my life, and to prove to me how very limited all my knowledge really is anyway.  It’s kind of ridiculous that he has to go to such extremes to show me what is so obvious. 

In listening to the audiobook, “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel H. Pink – see my blog about it – I learned about labyrinths. Contrary to the 1986 film by this name or even the Greek mythology that made them famous, it is a general misconception that labyrinths are the same constructs as mazes.  A maze is a puzzle to be solved with many paths that are dead ends, keeping you lost.  A labyrinth, on the other hand, has a singular, connected journey to the center and back.  They are not puzzles to be solved but an intentionally elongated journey designed to slow your pace into a state of meditation. Mazes are analytical and left-brained where labyrinths are contextual, spiritual and right-brained.  A labyrinth is a walking meditation, a devotional act of worship, and a sacred celebration of life. It’s power is in its simplicity – it presents an orderly path to quiet the mind enabling deeper communion with God as the body moves in a peaceful walking rhythm. With each step, we are able to diminish the cares of the world and tune into the illumined voice of God. Walking the labyrinth is not something to learn or memorize, but something to experience.

LabyrinthLearning all of this, God immediately and strongly impressed upon my heart to visit a labyrinth, so I set my heart upon doing it the very next day.

First I visited the World-wide Labyrinth Locator at http://labyrinthlocator.com/.  There are different layouts, sizes, construction types of labyrinths. After learning about them and reviewing the one in Georgetown and 13 in Austin, I decided I wanted to visit one based on the medieval design then settled on a beautiful labyrinth at Seton Northwest excited by the feature of trees actually growing in the path of the labyrinth. I wasn’t sure what to expect – should I go for silence or bring some meditative music.  I decided to bring it just in case and to decide there whether or not to use it.  I loaded the best candidates in a special playlist onto my iPhone and then headed for the labyrinth with the feeling in my heart of embarking on an epic saga.

As I walked the labyrinth, I found myself in a deeply stirring encounter with God. I will share the experience in my next blog entry.  In the mean time, I thoroughly recommend walking a labyrinth as a form of prayer and mediation.  I hope you will experience it soon.

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If you attend a church, certainly a Bible Church or other conservative church, you are likely to hear the idea that “Christians are Sinners saved by grace”.  What is interesting is that this cannot  be found anywhere in the Bible. 

That man rebelled against God and became separated from him is obvious.   It is this rebellion and separation, caused by sin that makes man a sinner and before coming to Christ, we were all sinners.  However, the identity and title used throughout the New Testament for believers is Saint.

This, of course, does not mean what Catholicism has sadly caused the word to come to mean – a person who has worked to grow holy and close to God and become so pure and good that we call them saints.  But it is very clear in the New Testament that we could add that prefix to a modern new convert as well as to St. Paul or St. Augustine. 

We were once sinners, but we were saved by grace and now, we are saints.  Sainthood, like salvation, cannot be achieved by our works – it is the title of the children of God who have become God’s children through union with Christ. Christ is now their very life, their only life and Christ was never a sinner – so neither are they.  Once you are a child of God, through your faith in God’s gracious provision, you are no longer a mere mortal, separated from God – a sinner.

That we were once sinners is true, but it is not the interesting thing – the amazing thing is that we are now Saints in Christ and we can boldly go before the thrown of God.  What’s the value of dwelling on the fact that we were sinners. And certainly, identifying ourselves as sinners can only serve to make our heavenly Father sad.  If we adopted a child from the gutter and loved them as our own but they constantly reminded us that they were not our child and kept dressing in the rags of their previous life, we would be greatly grieved.  How much more grief must God bear because of our misunderstanding of his gift.

Answer these questions for yourself:

1. If I died tonight, am I 100% certain I will go to heaven?

2. If I died and stood before God, and he asked my why he should let me into his heaven, what would my answer be?

If you answered no to question #1, would you like to be certain?

If for question #2, you answered with something like “I’ve tried to lead a good life” – can you not see that you are still working for your salvation.

The gospel – the good news – that God is proclaiming to man is that all man’s works are in vain and unnecessary for he has provided the lamb and the man who believes can be certain that he will be saved.  God, unlike men, keeps his word and is completely capable – can’t you see that you can be sure of God’s power and desire to do this – so trusting in him means you never have to worry about your ability to put it together.

When Egypt was plagued with frogs such that they were in the food and drinking water and beds and homes, Pharaoh summoned Moses agreeing to his demands and Moses asked Pharaoh when he would like God to remove the plague.  Pharaoh’s incredulous response was tomorrow.  Why in the world would he wait another day living with the frogs.   And why would we live another day being indecisive about accepting God’s infinitely better gift in Christ so we could sleep tonight certain that we will go to heaven because we can answer God’s question confidently that our basis for entry is on God’s Word, his son’s life indwelling us.

And what does that take?  Asking him for his life to count as our own. It is not merely believing – the Bible says even the demons believe.  Faith is asking his life to be your own.  If I showed you are sturdy chair and you told me you believe it could support you – but refused to sit in it – how much are you really believing in the chair?  Settle it once for all to fully engage with Christ.

Congratulations.

After you’ve given your life to Christ or if you already done that, then resolve to never again identify yourself as anything less than a child of God because no child of God is a sinner, separated from God.

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Celebrating a Friend’s Life

It wasn’t really an Italian restaurant. It was only a common Chili’s in north Houston. Still, it served splendidly for the seven of us during our rough and ready reunion following the grave-side funeral of our friend, Darren. Though most of us had occasionally bumped into one of the others, it had been twenty-five years since a group get-together of this size. Sadly, it was the loss of a dear friend and very talented musician that had brought us together this day.

DJ at Darren's Funeral Most of the group lived in Houston but I had driven down that morning from Austin. I had contacted Mike the day before to see if he wanted to drive down with me. He, in turn, contacted Steve who I had not seen since high school. Mike had to make a trip to Brenham that night and we were to pick him up on our way to Houston the next morning. So it was that Steve and I were casually cruising east on 290 as surprised by the spectacular sunrise as we were about the stories we were sharing with each other.

By the time we made Brenham to meet Mike, Steve had discovered that my van was not optimal for music and a decision was reached to carry on our voyage in Mike’s vehicle. Despite this, we did not really listen to much music on the way there. Between adding Mike to our reminiscing and Mike’s recurring incoming cell phone calls, there wasn’t much space left for the music.

In catching up with these old friends from my days as a Drama Jock at Dulles High School, it was apropos to acknowledge the masks of comedy and tragedy in our lives but I was saddened a bit by the quantity and injury of tragedy in lives once marked much more by comedy. One song that did make it through the barrage of our briefing each other about our past was Edwin McCain’s – Go be young, go be free. Follow your heart where it leads you…” and at this point, Mike turned it up and said, “this is the line I tell my kids” – “…Don’t end up like me.”

We made a pit stop just before the cemetery to prep ourselves. While there, I was lost in this thought that had been tumbling Darren Rossthrough my head since I’d heard about Darren’s death. He was an amazing piano player that seemed to me to always play two or three times more keys than anyone else would have played on a given piece of music. His playing was rich and full and looked as effortless as breathing or blinking your eye – and in that much time, he would have perfectly played dozens of keys. It seemed magical and Darren seemed to me to experience a joy that was foreign and elusive to me in that time of my life.

I was thinking how every life we meet and every interaction was like a note in a personalized piece of music that made up the song of our life. We have a moment, maybe a millisecond for that tone before the melody moves onto the next character perhaps to never touch that note again or not until much later – in the next verse or pass through the refrain. These collections of sounds formed parts – verse, refrain, transition – to the ensemble of our lives.

So here I am today, hearing the songs of my friends, interacting with them in a common harmony that has not come up on the scales since the early part of the song. For Darren, this song really had ended and he was being called to an eternal encore. When I returned to meet the guys, I told Mike not to settle for crooning , “Don’t end up like me”. While Darren’s masterpiece here has indeed ended, we are just in the middle of the transition. Play on, dear friends, play on. And if you don’t like the sound of it, change it.

We were the first of our group to arrive at the cemetery. We signed in, met Darren’s sons, ex-wife, and sister. As more of our friends arrived, we cycled through moments of reunion, grief and celebration of life together waiting for the group exodus to the grave-side ceremony.

We stood side by side listening to the minister as sunlight and shade sauntered around us in a peaceful dance. The minister announced that Darren’s son, Ryan, would be playing a song. Ryan explained it was a song his Dad loved and thought was powerful. Then he proceeded to play an acoustic version of Peace of Mind by Boston. It was beautiful and perfect. It was very much Darren and the woman next to me, Michelle, a high school choir friend of Darren’s begin to provide soft background vocals. I could not help but join her.

And all along, I was thinking about all the catching up with everyone and how this midlife transition time was impacting everyone. And Ryan was singing, with Michelle’s soft harmony in my left ear and the gentle breeze in my right – “Lots of people out to make-believe they’re livin’ Can’t decide who they should be”

The minister was sharing some of Darren’s path to faith and I was still thinking about how things got here. I didn’t know all the details surrounding Darren’s death but I knew it was somehow tragic and not congruent with my memory of him. Ryan was singing the next song, Word of God Speak by MercyMe. I kept thinking about how to encourage the broken hearted. Michelle’s singing was bolder this time but still soft and sweet like the breeze of the air reminding me of the scripture God had led me to that morning before leaving Austin: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power”. As Michelle and Ryan were singing “I’m finding myself in the midst of You, Beyond the music, beyond the noise”, I closed my eyes, surrendered to the cool wind as it weaved through the dancing shadow and light, and hummed along praying, “Yes, Lord, by your Spirit and your power”.

It was good to hear the minister share how Darren was finding faith and restoring relation with Ryan by joining in some of the fellowship of faith that was so important in Ryan’s life. It was sweeter still to know this later as we friends compared notes and came to understand more of the demons that Darren battled in his life. But I couldn’t contemplate that chasm during the ceremony – I was only thrilled to receive confirmation that he had come to the reality of the parting song Ryan performed – Amazing Grace. Though Ryan didn’t perform verse three, it was the one that came to mind later as I became aware of Darren’s battles – “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.”

Following the service, most of us found our way to Chili’s. We compared notes from the funeral and had our own private moments of shared reflection and celebration of our fallen friend. Anne shared an insight that resonated with me. Darren was so talented that people could not easily see beyond his ability and potential to the man underneath this weight of expect
ation. That is certainly, sadly to say, my experience with this friend and I was sorry about that. It reminded me of an amazing verse of lyrics of another great Christian musician who has gone on to be with the Lord – Rich Mullins. “We are frail. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage. And with these, our hells and our heavens so few inches apart, we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.” Thank you for grace, Father, for we are so in need of grace.

Having enough of tragedy, we labored to lay down that mask and return to the mask of comedy for the rest of the lunch. We discussed great memories and fun and how excited we were to see each other. We shared about others that some of us had visited occasionally and even more details and ideas around having a reunion in 2010.

Several of the Houston contingent were being pressed to return to work and we still had a trip to Austin but Paul persuaded us to drop by for a quick visit at his home. This gave us an opportunity to change into more comfortable clothes for the return trip and to observe the sizable collection of memorabilia that Paul had been putting up on our Drama Jock Facebook page which led us into another path down memory lane. But lunch and the long day were simultaneously leading us to a desire to lounge the afternoon away on Paul’s exceedingly cozy leather chairs – so we forced ourselves out of this slumber and into the car for the trip home.

We were tired as we made our way back to Brenham. We were lost in all the rolling emotions of the day and exhausted with trying to express them with our own word so now the music was a solace and a celebration. Mike gave me the controls of his IPhone and after a return to Boston’s Peace of Mind – it became clear that all three of us knew every word and note perfectly and were sharing in an amazing music healing session.

As Peace of Mind played, I thought about these old friends – who they were then and who they were now – friends but strangers – and how much of the shared tragedy discussed that day was an experience of finding the familiar turn strange in the transition of mid-life so we turned next to Billy Joel and explored, “Why were you so surprised that you never saw the stranger? Did you ever let your lover see The stranger in yourself?”

Mike asked us what we thought the best Billy Joel song was and we all simultaneously arrived at Scenes from an Italian Restaurant so that played next. As we all sang the song in unison and at the top of lungs, Mike hollered out, “We lived this!” It occurred to me that while it was amazing to get reacquainted, it was really more like developing new friends than seeing old ones – or, at least, it would be moving forward. The past was gone and closed off to us except for reminiscing. We’d have to build new relationships now if we wanted them. And all these pieces of broken life – there is no unbending the bent, pretending the wreck didn’t happen. Healing is recovery into the future. There is no going back to how it was. And we were singing “They couldn’t go back to the greasers, the best they could do was pick up their pieces”

As we closed in on Brenham, we knew we could not complete this healing celebration without honoring the Piano Man, Darren, with Billy Joel’s song by that title. Regret is not necessarily the word that expresses the characters in the song or even the tragic moments in my life or the lives of these dear friends but I think everyone had things they wished could be different. So, while some of us appeared to be pounding out strong notes at the moment and others were striking more somber chords or even hitting a long rest, we could all share an experience together sitting around Darren then and now, awestruck by his talent, astonished yet aspiring for his life and ours as well – “They sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say, “Man, what are you doing here?”

“Sing us a song, you’re the Piano Man. Sing us a song tonight. Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody and you’ve got us feeling alright.”

Well, it’s complete!  Jeremy is in Bryan.  He started work this week-end and commences class tomorrow.  Today, I took the girls and Cammi for our first family outing without him.  And now, as I write this, I am sitting in what was his room now completely transformed into my office and spiritual retreat room.

I was sitting here, trying to get a feel of this new space and thinking about how much work was involved in making this transformation. In reality, it is not complete – it is merely complete enough to begin.  As I thought about all the next steps, it occurred to me that transformation is usually like this.

St Paul tells us in Romans 12:2

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We’re tempted to read this transformation as an event or experience.  Complete it, get the degree, the gold star, the certificate – then you will know God’s will – but it’s really a process to undertake daily and coming to know God’s will is a moment-to-moment enterprise.  He does not show us the plan – but says only, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:13  He does not make all the lights green for us before we leave the house but he promises he will guide us on the right path as we follow him.

Jeremy is just starting college and adult life, and I am only ready to begin using this space as God has put in my mind.  If he and I don’t stay the course, continue daily in this transformation, then the full value of the transformation is loss.  If the butterfly only stepped out of the cocoon but then continued as a caterpillar, well, that would just not be the same.

So Lord, help Jeremy and I and our family continue in the transformation that you’ve started in our life – renewing our minds daily and so living in the confidence of your good, pleasing and perfect will. Thank you, Farther, for getting us to this starting line – now help us to run the race set before us to your glory.

Occasionally, I travel as part of my work experience.  Sometimes, this only involves cubes and conference rooms – replicas of the same florescent lights on ceilings and projected lights on screens that can be found at my office in Round Rock with only hurried and dehumanized flights connecting these two worlds.

IMG_8738When possible, I attempt to decelerate these express expeditions and mix in some soul-renewing exploration of my interim environment.  I was blessed in this way on a recent business trip to San Francisco when afforded an afternoon and evening tour of the town.

The first segment of the journey was a walking tour of the Fisherman’s Wharf. As we made our way to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and back, our scavenger hunt rewarded _MG_0048us with shops, street performers, and the beautiful bay as a stage with backdrop views of the distant Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge upstaged by dozens of dancing sailboats and flying fowl – actors performing for the audience on the shore.

Our tour was interrupted by an exhilarating race back to the airport to deliver one of our business associates but we were soon retracing our steps back into town arriving in Haight-Sudbury just as twilight was kissing the lawn at Golden Gate Park. As we descended into the gated tunnel that dove under a major thoroughfare to the expanded park on the other side, we were greeted by two distinct groups.

The first appeared to be large numbers of beer/fun-loving college students on the lawns playing kick/baseball with immense (and boisterous) zeal. The other community was street people, huddling in small, scattered groups at the base IMG_8830of the park’s trees and on the sloping berm. I inadvertantly offended a group of them by creating a photo of their tree-home as they reclined in their pseudo-family room. I politely apologized and demonstrated to them the deletion of the image which was rewarded with a tenuous forgiveness of my uneducated, tourist behavior.

Despite the much larger, more mainstream crowd in the park, as the remnant of pale, orange dusk surrendered to the blue-black of night, I couldn’t help but imagine these less idealist, more junkie predecessors of San Francisco’s past hippie lineage as the Morlocks in H. G. Wells’ time traveler’s voyage into the future. The tunnel gate was locked as we returned providing ample evidence that some concern was not unreasonable and we were glad to re-emerge onto a reasonably lit up Haight Street just as Apollo parked his chariot and went to sleep beyond the horizon.

Our brief walking tour of Haight from the park to Ashbury and back was met with more people of street and groups of young teens and twenty-somethings looking for places to party. We ventured into some of the few shops that remained open and continued to collect photo treasures commemorating our atypical adventure through this slightly bizarre world.

Leaving the Haight, we drove up Stanyan to Geary, cut over to Park Presidio Boulevard, taking CA-1 through the tunnel and connecting to 101 catapulting us through the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito. We stumbled upon an amazing Italian restaurant called Caccivcco Cucina Toscana where we engaged in a wonderful dinner complete with old-world wine and multi-cultural conversation until closing called us again to carry on our quest of the San Francisco night.

IMG_8924bReturning the way we came and crossing 101 onto Conzelman Road, we found a lookout area and took a few photos of the bridge. We tried to explore some other angles further up but the road was closed. Returning, however, we discovered a ridge with a path to the best lookout area of all. It was quite cold and very dark but we made our way out to the point and took the best photos of the bridge using some of the wood railing as a make-shift tripod.

It was two in the morning as we glided back across the bridge, filled our gas tank and purchased some snacks. Before heading home, we  made one final stop at the IMG_8929bPalace of Fine Arts which is incredibly beautiful at night. We took Beach to Divisadero and returned south to Haight coasting through its much calmer and near empty neighborhood to Octavia and the 101 South toward San Jose. We were tired but soul-satisfied with our adventure as we pulled into the Hotel around three.

I worried during this safari that I was perhaps imposing on my traveling companion, especially with the wonderful weirdness of the Haight-Ashbury scene. IMG_8868On our flight back, however, as we reviewed the images, he was thanking me – and clarifying that his appreciation was especially for the visit to the hippie center of the universe – precisely because it was a world he would likely not have explored otherwise. It is certainly not the culture of our corporate cubes and we could feel a bit of trepidation about it while still admiring the free-spirited diversity – yet there is more than that. Perhaps the angst is not caused by a concern that we might be hurt by the occupants – but more that there is a part of our soul that connects with this chaos. If we are stepping cautiously on these sidewalks, taking care not to slip off the curb, its perhaps a minor phobia that we might slide uncontrollably into the strange society unable to climb back into our comfortable illusion of a managed and successful life. The values of this world and the values of our own are designed for those who occupy them and are understandably uncomfortable to tourist.  Still, to explore this quickened heartbeat – that is good for the soul.

View the photo album on Facebook or since higher resolution on the version on Flickr.

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Galatians 1:11-12

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Like Paul, I did not come to faith by the preaching of men. I’m not saying that some did not attempt to share Christ with me, but unlike most people, God had to reach out to me directly – pretty much by the scruff of my neck.

Commanding a Non-conformist Not to Conform

Paul had a blinding light from above.  God chose to reach me through my own blind pride from a billboard above.  Specifically, it was a billboard that had Romans 12:2a on it.  That verse reads, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

In my foolishness, I thought of myself as the ultimate non-conformist.  I hung with a group of outcasts but I pridefully observed that I did not conform to them either: I was a self-proclaimed non-conformist to the non-conformist.  All this really meant was that I was lonely and alone; foolish & prideful; lacking everything while I thought I was wise.

In his great mercy, God somehow held this weekly rotating church sign from changing for six weeks so that I could see it long enough to first make fun of the church for their failure to update it, then move to taunting the scripture (what could hypocritical church people know about non-conformity), to disbelief that such a statement could even be in the Bible which drove me to the decision to look it up. 

Our heavenly Father has such a great sense of humor and irony in his patient and faithful love pursuit of his children.  In my life, God used my own juvenile and pathetic crown of non-conformity to get me to surrender to his Lordship so He could make me a son and crown me himself with the eternal crown of life as a co-heir to his son, Jesus.

I’ve always been able to relate to C.S. Lewis in his account of his conversion in Surprised by Joy“I came into Christianity kicking and screaming. You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

About Hypocrites – Takes One to Know One

My personal claim was that Christians were clearly hypocrites in their pursuit and push for moral perfection.  My Catholic upbringing left me filled more with guilt than the grace of the Lord.  I decided I could do without them if they could not accept me.  Yet here I was opening one of our dust-collecting, Bible decorations to look up Romans 12:2.

Being Catholic, we never used the Bible, just church missalettes so navigating scripture references was a novel experience.  Growing up in church, I occasionally marveled at the exploits of missionaries who sent letters that would be read during the service.  The Priest would read a letter from the missionary to different people or churches. 

I noticed the majority of our letters were from a missionary named Paul and I used to think, “Wow, he really gets around and he really writes a lot”. Imagine my surprise to find the proliferate missionary in my Bible as I opened to “The Letter of Paul to the Romans”.  I think I might actually have exclaimed out loud, “It’s that guy!”

I continued to decode this book figuring out what scripture references meant and trying to determine what “R” and “T” meant in margins, I found myself cross”R”eferenced to the Gospel of Matthew where I discovered some of the letters were black and some were red. Examining these, I soon determined that the red letters were the words of Jesus and before I knew it, I had read through the Gospel of Matthew and had completely and totally fallen in love with Jesus.

The Only True Non-Conformist – Jesus

What I was amazed to find was that Jesus loved the “wicked” (like me) even though he did not condone their sins but instead forgave them their sins.  Also, he loved the righteous (like the Pharisees) even when they were hypocrites though he did not condone their sinful pride but instead forgave them theirs sins.  It wasn’t that Jesus took sides or that he was about us being morally good.  He taught that none of us could be good but that God alone was good and that his love alone could nullify our sins and transform us from sinners into children of God. 

It was hard to imagine but I discovered that Jesus loved me just as much as all the good Christians who I thought were condemning me. I thought non-conforming through rebelling against the establishment was who I was but I discovered that my non-conformity was not non-conformity at all but merely living in the same sins as everyone else: lust, greed, and pride.

Our Father was so gracious in the way he revealed his son to me.  Jesus Chris is the one and only true non-conformist because he is the only conformist to God, the Father. I discovered that night that Jesus was the greatest non-conformist who ever lived and I decided to give my life to him fully.  That radically changed my life and I will be eternally grateful.  Romans 12:1 says, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

27 Years of Real Non-conformity

All of this happened when I was 18 and my life has been a river of blessing flowing to the sea rushing bigger and more powerful in Christ each year.  Besides having a wonderful wife and four amazing children that each have come to know Christ through the Savior’s leading, I have a had a life of increasing purpose and joy.  It is not that I have not had hard times because I have – but when I have them, I know the one who can give the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, and will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:7.

I have also been blessed to love so many people and watch them grow in Christ by the work of Jesus in my life.  This is not from me – anymore than what I received was from other men.  God uses people to reach others but it is always his work. 

I can promise you this – if you are reading this, the God of the universe is pursuing you mightily.  How can I say that?  First, that’s what the Bible says 2 Peter 3:9, .  Secondly, we are having this conversation through my blog or some other means.   Since the Father loves you and is pursuing you, I pray that our Father will reveal his son in you as he did for Paul and as he did for me.

Galatians 1:15-16

But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me

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March 3, 2009

P1020046 A few weeks ago, my wife and I were blessed to take a hiking trip at Enchanted Rock with our daughter-in-law, Lauren, and our youngest daughter, Gabrielle. We had a great time. God blessed us with great weather and wonderful company. 

During the hike, Cammi and Lauren decides to sit and rest a bit while Gabrielle and I explored the caves created by the massive leaning pieces of granite near the top of Enchanted Rock.  One of the coolest areas is crawling out this opening in the image of Gabrielle below.  I love this image and the time I got to enjoy with these beautiful ladies in my life – and especially the time exploring with Gabrielle.

P1020042

She, like all my children, are growing up so fast but this image causes me to appreciate her wonderful spirit and the gift of her. It reminded me of the dedication we wrote for her when she was a little girl and I had to find it and re-read it.  In it, we captured the mercies of God toward us in Gabrielle and as she and I burrowed through dark caves to find the light, I was taking in the light in her too. Here is the dedication from 2001.

The Dedication of Gabrielle
by Todd and Cammi Boyum, Mother’s Day – May 13, 2001
Hill Country Bible Church Pflugerville,

clip_image002It was God, our Father, who put desire in the heart of your father and mother after giving them all the children they’d prayed for to conceive of a radiant fourth gem named Gabrielle.And how impoverished we would be without you: We would never know your cherub-featured face as you greet us when we return home running into our arms with unbridled love and joy.

clip_image004We would never have heard that little stars up above the world so high twinkle like dinosaurs in the sky. We would never have the pleasure of the chore of singing you three songs every night at bedtime and gently returning you to your bed when you wake up scared. We would have never heard your unrestrained singing or witnessed the affection of your brothers and sister to you. We would have never heard the bestest Gabrielle christen us, with a hug and a kiss, the bestest mom and dad.

What should be our prayer for you, Gabrielle, whom the Father seems to bathe in the golden air of heaven’s joy?We pray that Christ reveal himself to you clip_image006so your passion and joy may be complete in Him. We pray that He ever continue His song in your life: the psalm of a Godly girl, woman, mother, and wife. We pray that your days will be inspired by the magic the Father has placed in your heart as a child for such is the kingdom of heaven.

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train2Living in Hutto, one can’t help but experience the joy of trains – to the point that joy ceases to be the experience.  Since the town is divided by railroad tracks, encountering trains is pretty much a daily occurrence.  The audio tracks, pun intended, play their rap every quarter hour for those who live close enough.  Paul Simon recorded a song with the refrain, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it’s true”.  I’m not quite sure what he meant by everybody thinks it’s true but I can assure you that whatever he meant, it is not true that everybody loves the sound of a train, even in the distance.

It was this very thought that tunneled into my mind along with the train that accompanied it at about two this morning as I was having trouble sleeping.  We are fortunate to be far enough away as to not notice the sound most of the time but lying awake in the quiet sleeping house is not one of those times. 

train1I begin to think about what nuisance these trains were as the sound of the train invaded my consciousness. There is no station here in Hutto.  They are not delivering or picking up cargo or passengers.  There is no partnership with the city.  Trains push through town bringing traffic to a halt and interrupting life with noise, yet they give nothing to the town. If you know anything about the railroad, you will know that they have huge power to do whatever they want – they are not under city, county or state jurisdiction.   There are many crossing improvements that the railroad could make for this town of 20,000 that has the same number of crossings that it did when it only had 600.  While the tide of trains through town is regular and frequent, improvements are slow to roll into town if they come at all.

Then I got to thinking that people are like this in many ways.  Unless the people we encounter become passengers on our train, provide cargo we care about or are meeting us at one of our scheduled stops, we are usually just rolling through.  In our busyness, we are moving too fast to stop, we have our schedule to keep, and I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.  I think we all understand this reality and we don’t think about it much.  

Perhaps this phenomenon is a necessity of life, which by nature has a point of origin and a point of destination and the rails in between cannot help but be travelled each and every day.  Occasionally we lament just like Steve Goodman did – “Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.… And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.…this train’s got the disappearing railroad blues”.  We come to these places in the night and wonder about the switches in the tracks we didn’t take, knowing we are half way home and watching the rail fade away seemingly faster with each hour heading down to the sea and the morning light.  Perhaps, we don’t think about it much because we just can’t bear it and we’re maybe a little scared of that final termination point. So we clear our minds and drop into the tunnel of sleep that emerges into bright daylight, the stoking up of engines, and a new day’s journey where the noise and heat of the rails overcome those quiet evening thoughts.

We certainly cannot be God and know each and every passenger, visit every town, haul all cargo. We must choose.  In some sense, we don’t even really do that.  We are more like passengers riding this rail for the first time knowing very little about where the rail will take us or what the odyssey will bring.  Yet most of us act as if we are in complete control and like we own the railroad. We’d be wise to talk to those who had gone before us and even more so to the conductor who is always singing his song for us again hoping we will refrain from our assumed control of his job and would instead enjoy the ride and the interactions that come to us.

Perhaps our difficulty stems from our preoccupation with trying to run the railroad of our life when we are really only passengers.  Jesus clearly had a purpose and was focused on it yet every interaction along the path was savored and given attention.  He said things like – I only do what my Father tells me to do. So, if he found that God had put him alone at a well with a Samaritan woman – he demonstrated God’s love to her. If the Pharisees setup a trap for him by exploiting an adulterous woman, he loved them both enough to rescue them from the error of their ways without condemning either of them for their treachery. If a Centurion’s daughter needed healing, he would heal her while encouraging this “heathen” that he was actually a man of faith and simultaneously helping the assumed faithful realize their need for His faith.

If anyone’s track of life was well predicted, it was our Lord’s.  There are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus that he fulfilled.  He was clearly aware of these too for he told men such as John the Baptist to perform actions they thought unnecessary for Jesus – because “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.  Jesus knew God’s vision for His life and was totally focused on it yet able to say in the same prayer both, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”, and, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”  Purpose and people always went hand-in-hand with him.

Perhaps, if we will rest from “working on the railroad…all the live-long day”, we could realize that these interactions with other passengers is our primary work.  We aren’t meant to “work on the railroad…just to pass the time away.  We are passengers with a purpose on a specific track, on a specific run, on a specific train.  We can rest in our work when we let God do his, when we avoid lamenting about those tracks and trains we can’t ride and when we instead embrace in love those he has given us as we ride the rail of our life.  Jesus was known for the way his love impacted other people and the life he lost, trusting God to raise him up.  If we will be his disciples, we will have to give up our life to make time for Jesus to impact the lives of other people through us. Faith is trusting God that is we lose our life, he will resurrect us.  This is what it is to deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

As I wrote this, the rumble and ruckus of another train builds as it comes from the distance soon to diminish in the dark of the night on the other side of our town.  The whistle blows to warn passengers it is crossing our path and for us, these are the only interactions.  But for those riding the train, I hope there is much more as the expedition continues. 

Lord, help me to rest in the joy of being a passenger on the train you have put me on.  Keep me from wasting too much time staring out the window into the darkness or the whizzing-by world of wishful thinking. Help me trust you who knows the tracks and the course and the power of the engines of my life – that you have all that worked out and I can add nothing to it.  Help me to enjoy the freedom you’ve given me in your rest in Jesus – to enjoy the companionship of the fellow passengers you’ve given me on this unique voyage of my life.  Help me bring you glory in the awesome work of my life, living in Christ and loving and encouraging those you’ve given to me.  Dear friends, get ready, there’s a train a coming, You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

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