Sorting through conflict is my least favorite activity. Yet as a corrosively analytical-type I spend significant quantities of time revisiting conversations and interactions that didn’t go the way I thought they should. I don’t believe its a waste of time to analyze. I think it can be a source of wisdom if we are willing to take a dispassionate view of ourselves and the person with whom we were conversing. The problem lies in the fact that I’m usually powerless to turn a situation around to the point where I feel jubilant about things. Spoken words have that effect. And some conversations are so botched – yes, I’m capable in that way – that its pointless to revisit with the person at all.
How does this relate to art, beauty, hope and the pursuit of God?
Relationships can be beautiful, sometimes. Most of the time they are just a tangly mess of funky, dissatisfying conversations. They mirror our imperfections and unless I believe that there is beauty in the process, moreso than in the end result, I am without hope.
One of the most beautiful things that can happen in a relationship is that business of humility and deciding mid-conversation that I don’t have a horse in this race. The conversation won’t be about changing this person’s perspective so that it matches mine. At the risk of sounding rather competitive, it’s a conscious effort on my part to state my perspective and then ever so gently back off so that the other person is free to think or conclude whatever they wish…even to the extent that they might become arrogant and want to teach me a thing or two. No matter. Humility in relationships means engaging in the dance of dialogue without running away or demanding that I’m right. Close enough to get hurt but offering enough space so that they are free to adopt my perspective or maintain their own … that’s art. I wish I engaged in it more often.
I remember when I was growing up, my Dad would show us stuff. He was intent on teaching us to identify trees and plants, like Morrel mushrooms, Bittersweet and Sumac. Of course he taught us useful stuff too, how to back up a truck with a trailer; how to drive a boat; how to collect sap and make Maple Syrup and, best of all, how to fish. Although my growing up years are mostly wrapped in nostalgia and I have few opportunities to exercise those skills, what I actually learned was this: I am limitless in my ability to learn a skill and do it. Dad taught us to be learners, and to not be afraid to try new things.
One year Dad decided to build a cabin on the back edge of our property. Dad was neither a builder nor an architect but he and my lovely, artist-in-residence Mom put their skills together. With the help of generous builder-type friends, the tiny, humble building came together. At the time the cabin served as the best fort and doll house a girl could ask for! We loved it! With it’s steeply-sloped corrugated roof, woodstove and dry sink, the cabin stood on stilts and overlooked the trout stream that ran through our property. My friends and I would traipse around in the woods and slosh in the creek for hours at a time.
It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I learned the strain that building the cabin placed on our family. Apparently it wasn’t the most fiscally responsible undertaking, nor was the building designed to withstand 25 years of rugged weather. My Dad has been gone for some time now, and yet the cabin stands perhaps as a tribute to his tremendous influence on our lives.
Talk is cheap and we spout ideas of who we are and what we’ll one day become. The fact is, we are not who we say we are. We are what we do.
Dad didn’t leave behind a cabin. He left behind a legacy of attempts to show us how important we were to him, how deeply he cared and how much he wanted us to love the things he loved.
Plain and simple, Dad wasn’t great at communicating. I still wonder about who he really was, and why he called me Scout.
But I know he loved me.
And I’m not afraid to try stuff.
Not long ago you trusted me with some rather heartfelt questions. I’ll be honest. The questions caught me a bit blind-sided and my answers were small, I thought. I just wanted to say thank you for trusting me enough to express them. With your permission, I’d like to try to answer them again, having given them more consideration.
Understanding the purposes of God can be a bit tricky. As I navigate this turf I want to point out my frame of reference – or starting point – for this response to you. I truly believe that there is a God. If we wanted to talk about the proofs of the existence of God, we could. But I think that you know – deep down – as well as I do, that He most certainly exists. I also believe that our God has feelings, just like you and me. The Bible says we are created in God’s image. There’s a whole lot of meaning to that statement. Just as you or I wrinkle our brow or feel a tear drop on our cheek, why shouldn’t God do the same? Every single thing that we know about ourselves, we can know that our God is wired similarly. Simply because you cannot see Him wrinkle His brow, or shift His gaze doesn’t mean that He hasn’t the ability. And so, this God who has feelings has deep feelings for you, and for me, wants to be in relationship with you.
He wants to know what *you* think, Friend … even your ugliest thoughts. He can take it. In fact, He’s better at fielding the questions that I am. I find that He doesn’t even care if I use rotten, un-ladylike language. (Yes, I did balk at your language. But it’s because I love you, and want you to become a fierce and lovely lady; one the world must reckon with.)
But, I digress…
I think it will help you in your discoveries to know that absolutely everything about God will be upside-down from the way you think it should be. That means that the reasons why He does things will often confuse you at first glance. But when you look a little deeper, and you ask Him about it, He will show you the deeper meanings and reasons of His ways. But you have to ask Him. He’s the kindest Person you’ll ever meet. He waits for you to look at Him, for your questions. And, once you ask, He will answer.
It will also help you to know that when we become followers of Jesus Christ we actually transfer our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven. In doing so, we suddenly realize that our priorities and focus has shifted as well. Remember that God created all things – all things – and through Him all things hold together. So, that means that He created time. And space. And stuff. And people. He created the enemy – satan and his household- that antagonizes us and, for a time, they rule this world. Knowing that there are two kingdoms at work sometimes helps me understand the conflicts
Whenever I get bogged down with the questions, “Why did You leave me here?” “Why was I born into this family?” and “Who are You, anyway, and why don’t You speak to me?” I really only do one thing… I sit quietly and ponder God’s big-ness. Smile. I become like a first grader, and expect that, as my real Papa, He’ll explain everything to me. So where do I look to understand God’s big-ness? I might look at Scripture. I could just look at the horizon, or the night sky, and see the stars and all the things around me that He’s created. But I happen to like Scripture and usually after I read the book of Job, or even just the chapters 38-42, I almost always get a sense of the magnificence of the one true God.
Ciao! Until next time…
Recently I drove through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest – at night. It was pitch-black, mountainous driving and Motel 6 was nowhere to be found, let alone having left a light on for me. I knew that my drive was going to take me into the late evening hours yet I was completely unprepared for the narrow roads flanked by rock sheers, and the hair-pin switchbacks every 50 feet….so 360 degree turns first left then right. Left, right, right, left. Each one dropping or inclining at 6%-10% grade…that feels almost vertical. I kept my white-knuckled hands on the wheel and my eyes glued to the road. At anytime there could be deer, bear, rabbits or a tree. Mostly trees. Big trees. Do.not.miss.the.turn. The drive to Redding took 6.5 hours. By the last 75 miles I was almost bleary-eyed with exhaustion.
This past year, I have had the privilege of walking with friends and loved ones through some very dark places in their lives. The deep valleys they are walking through are not the same as those I drove through in the forest. But dark is still dark .. and lonely is, well, as lonely as it always has been. The correlation is unmistakable. If I had been traveling with a companion, we might have stopped to look up and see the stars that were certainly there. Yet, unlike the capable and content person that I typically am, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more small and alone in my entire life. We might have paused to contemplate the incredible beauty I’m sure I drove though and yet missed for my concern of reaching my destination. Nevertheless. Deep was my certainty that I was on the right track, and to turn around would have been impossible and unthinkable.
‘Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out’ … ‘At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’S charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.’ Numbers 9:22-23
I enjoy reading this rendition of the Israelites experience more so than where it is first recorded in Exodus 13. If you take a look at the chapter you’ll find a cadence, an unmistakable lilt in the repetition of the phrases, “at the command of the LORD they camped” and “at the command of the LORD they set out”.
What does the command of the Lord have to do with a journey through the forest or the dark, uncertain trials experienced by friends?
The intentionality in my decision to complete the trip that night might be considered by some to be bull-headed, I suppose. Yet that same strong determination and confidence are a way of life for me, founded on a deep certainty that I’m following the command of the Lord. I know, deep within myself, that I hear Him speaking to me: about the path to follow, the way to sort through my experiences, the way to show His love to those around me, a moment-by-moment dialogue between myself and the God of the Universe. His words, spoken into the deep places of my heart, are never at odds with His written Word or with His character. Yet, no matter how sure that foundation, there will always be the deepest of valleys, the darkest of nights. Walking alone on a path lit only by His Word need not be our concern but being on the wrong path must.
I was fortunate to arrive at my destination that night. I later learned that locals drive a completely different route. They spoke somberly of the numerous people that have been killed along the route I took. It’s not unlike life at all, which can be so very short. Choose wisely.