Rest for a Weary Soul

I’d like to introduce you to my friend John.

I went to university with John. We had the same major and I shared a class or two with him. He was also a fellow music-minded person and was in my choir for several years. He was a “small chat” kind of friend and our conversations never much got past the weather, classes and events around us.

He was quiet, studious, easy-going.

We graduated the same year and went our separate ways.

He moved to Ohio. I returned to Australia.

I found him on Twitter about 10 years ago and followed him. I started having conversations with him about the usual–weather, old school days, current events.

He would recommend me websites, sermons, books–I think he thought I was a lost soul his mission was to convert. Sometimes he did so gently; other times he was not dissimilar to a street preacher with fire and fury.

Come to find out he had married but was now divorced. He had been working for a Christian publishing company but lost his job. I joked with him when his suburb, Euclid, hit the news in Australia as the global financial downturn hit the area hard. His house wasn’t worth a fraction of what he still owed on it.

He had applied for several jobs–I remember one at Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter which he was particularly hoping he would be offered, but wasn’t. I’m not sure if he ever was successful in regaining solid employment.

His politics were far right. He stood for everything I didn’t. His remarks to those who believed contrary to him were caustic. He was highly intelligent, but quite narrowly-focused in his thinking.

We parted ways around 6 years ago when he unfriended me on Facebook and lost interest in Twitter. This happened after a particularly bitter tirade about politics and how, in his opinion, nobody who called themselves a Christian could vote for a Muslim, foreign-born president, especially for one who killed babies.

That was the kind of person he was.

Today I was looking through my Facebook account and saw that we had both liked Bryan Duncan (former lead of the Sweet Comfort Band and a chart-topping CCM artist of the 80s). Just for old times’ sake, I clicked on his profile pic and scrolled down his newsfeed.

And then I stopped in disbelief at a comment made on his latest Cruz2016/NeverTrump-branded profile pic:

“RIP my friend.”

Obviously, others had the same bewilderment as I.

“What are you talking about?” was one response.

“John committed suicide.”

Oh man! Really?

Evidently, life became too much for my friend. I don’t know the circumstances he faced nor the pressures that he felt every day. I have no idea how he dealt with his past and how he reconciled is ultra-Calvinism with the apparent out-of-control world around him.

I really didn’t know him that well.

I don’t know if, given a reboot, I would have taken the chance to understand him more. We were poles apart.

hAYNESBut he was a good man and a beloved child of God. It is obviously that he touched many lives and will be missed by the same. His family grieve as all those in loss grieve.

Regardless of what drove my friend to take his own life in what should have been his prime years is beyond me. God knows.

He is at rest now. This tortured soul as found peace. Whatever his politics, religion or societal status, he has been embraced by everlasting Love.

Rest in peace.

*  *  *  *  *

For those who struggle with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, there is help.

Lifeline (Australia) 13 11 14

Beyond Blue (Australia) 1300 659 467

Suicide Prevention Line (USA) 1-800-784-2433

 

All things work together

lightbulbI had an epiphany this week.

Oddly enough, it was while listening to a podcast recorded on Epiphany, the day on which the liturgical church celebrates the appearance (unveiling, revealing) of Christ to humankind.

My light-bulb moment, however, wasn’t in any way related to the magi visiting baby Jesus nor was it inspired by the words found in the gospel text about the precious gifts they presented to him.

But it was about a gift: life. And it’s a precious gift that we often take for granted. Or we get side-tracked from living it because we’re caught up in trying to work out all the bad things that happen.

A loved one receives a terminal diagnosis.

A marriage breaks down.

A “sure thing” bet on the stock market collapses.

A house burns down.

A business fails.

In all these circumstances, we, as Christians, have had a terrible track record of glibly offering platitudes and cliché-ridden comfort to one another.

“God has a plan.”

“God is trying to teach you something.”

“All things work together for good.”

That last one really hits me because I’ve used it and heard it used so many times, thinking it was a simple affirmation that meant all would be well, or that this too will work out for the best in my life.

Then the light switch was turned on.

All things work together.

Good things. Bad things. Health. Sickness. Happy times. Sad times. Life. Death.

All things work together.

Those life events that stress us, debilitate us, humiliate us, frustrate us, weaken us, work together with those circumstances that encourage us, heal us, empower us, bring us joy and strength.

All things work together.

And this statement that we can find in Romans 8, verse 28, does not mean that all will work out well in the end. Nor does it mean that everything we experience results in what is best for us. It simply means that all things we experience work together and, for us, this is good.

That loved one with the cancer dies.

That divorce still happens.

Our credit record may never recover.

We may find ourselves living in poverty.

This verse is not a cure-all, grief-healing, success-guaranteeing platitude. It is s statement of fact.

Life is a gift. We may choose to focus on the bad or, like Pollyanna, be happily optimistic about everything we face. This does not alter the truth that life is still a gift.

And whether it be good or bad, happy or sad, it is still a precious gift.

And like the gift of all of God’s creation, it is good.

Life by Default

I came across a study recently, conducted by Cornerstone OnDemand (a software company that sells recruitment and training packages) that discovered a direct correlation between employees who stayed with a company longer and which web browser they used to apply for the job.

The research also proved beyond a doubt that employees who applied for the job using Firefox or Chrome browser excelled in numerous other areas–such as creativity, initiative, and meeting sales targets–above those who used Internet Explorer (the browser that comes preinstalled on all Windows computers) or Safari (the browser that comes on all Mac computers).

Why?

Chief Analytics Officer, Michael Housman explains:

“I think that the fact that you took the time to install Firefox on your computer shows us something about you. It shows that you’re someone who is an informed consumer. . . . You’ve made an active choice to do something that wasn’t default.” (quoted here)

‘Default’ is easy. It doesn’t take any initiative. It doesn’t demand furthering your knowledge or improving your skillset. Those who opt for the ‘default’ option tend to be more likely to settle for whatever life throws at them rather than stepping out and making the decision to take ‘the road less travelled.’

How many times are we tempted to settle for the default option in our lives?

It’s easier, to be sure.

But how much of lasting value has ever been accomplished by those who navigate their lives by choosing only what’s easy?Icecream

It’s kind of like choosing Vanilla ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. Yes, it’s available. But seriously? Give me a classic Peanut Butter & Chocolate, Pistachio Almond or, better still, how about that intriguingly-named Love Potion #31?

Vanilla is not an option. At least not for me, when I’m at Baskin-Robbins.

So what about life? Am I settling for the ‘default’ or am I saying, “I can do things differently”? Am I rationalising the status quo, or am I asking how I can make a difference? Do I mindlessly cooperate with whatever is offered me or do I dare to question what is often sold as ‘part of the package’?

If you haven’t caught on yet, this post isn’t about web browsers. It’s about living. And life’s too short–and too previous–to placidly accept whatever comes your way.

In the words of Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Now who’s up for some ice cream?

Are We There Yet?

roadWhen I was 6, my parents, my sister and I boarded what seemed at the time to be an awesomely amazing Pan Am 747 and returned to the U.S.A. for around 18 months. In our blue Chrysler station wagon (with homemade desks in the back end for doing our school work) we traversed the country, staying in the homes of family and friends or in our Shasta trailer (translation: Australian ‘caravan’).

Those of you who have travelled with young children will know exactly how this went.

Driving through high mountain passes, in between majestic snow-capped mountain peaks, whose sides were splattered with aspen trees decked out in the brightest autumn colours . . .

“Are we there yet?”

Crossing a mountain stream whose babbling waters cascaded through the valley like a string of diamonds in the autumn sunlight . . .

“Are we there yet?”

Winding our way through a canyon with sheer, red cliffs rising on both sides, the clear blue sky creating a picture worthy of the world’s highest-esteemed gallery . . .

“Are we there yet?”

As a few elk meandered across a snowy meadow in the moonlight . . .

“Are we there yet?

As yachts moved gracefully through the dancing waves of Lake Michigan . . .

“Are we there yet?”

In the stillness of a forest, with the verdant greenery encapsulating our car in the dappled, dewy morning light . . .

“Are we there yet?”

I was destination-driven. I had a single-track focus. Riding in the back of our family car was an inconvenience that I had to endure on the way to the ultimate goal: grandma’s house, Disneyland, camping with my aunts and uncles, or wherever the journey ended.

But what if . . .? What if I noticed the patterns of sunlight through the trees? What if I actually enjoyed watching the glorious mountain scenery as drove all too swiftly through it? What if I stopped to feel the fresh breeze as it bounced off the blue water? What if the journey was the goal, not the destination?

There are so many clichéd lines written about ‘journey.’ This metaphor has become somewhat part of an Oprahfied motivational vocabulary that we pass back and forth on Facebook in an attempt to appear to our friends to be wiser and deeper than we actually are.

“Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip.” — Robert J. Hastings

“Life is a journey that have a lot different paths, but any path you choose use it as your destiny.” ― Ryan Leonard

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” — Arthur C. Custance

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ― Henry Miller

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ― Lao Tse

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”— Sir Winston Churchill

“I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

The reality is that we are all travelling. We all have our own version of the travel journal.

High School Graduation.

“Are we there yet?”

Meeting our one true Love.

“Are we there yet?”

Marriage.

“Are we there yet?”

Birth of our first child.

“Are we there yet?”

Finally getting that promotion at work.

“Are we there yet?”

Buying our first home.

“Are we there yet?”

Taking our child to school for the first day.

“Are we there yet?”

Landing that new job and moving house.

“Are we there yet?”

Taking that first big overseas holiday.

“Are we there yet?”

And so it goes, day after day, year after year.

I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. “Just one more mountain.” “It’s just beyond the next bend.”

What if we find that we have been ‘there’ all along, and that what we have experienced is of far greater importance than the point where our travels end.

What if our biggest challenge for the part of our journey called ‘today’ is to be fully present, to explore, appreciate, and enjoy what we encounter instead of being the one in the back seat who, every five minutes, pipes up with the refrain, “Are we there yet?”

We may just stumble across–

the beautiful,

the glorious,

the majestic,

the refreshing,

the abundant,

the breathtaking

and far, far more than we ever dared to expect.

We may just find that, “The journey is the reward.”

All of Life is a Prayer

magpie

The magpies chortle in the gigantic gumtree behind the fence,
calling in sheer joy and enthusiasm to each other,
greeting the new day.
Dogs in the distance greet one another,
and the neighbour’s dull Labrador-cross-who-knows-what
with the crooked tail howls. Each one making
the sounds of play and boredom respectively.

And we, in our early morning mindless banter,
speak blessings to one another,
affirmations, petitions, thanksgiving and praise and,
at the same time, whilst hiding our own irritability over lukewarm coffee, utter curses:
decrying the banality of someone’s existence in a dead-end relationship, or
the apparent lack of resilience in another, or
the poor taste of yet another in their choice of job, car, house, attire, food.

Are not all these prayers to some
ever-present yet invisible deity
(one who is beyond ourselves, perhaps
even as expansive as the universe)
who listens intently to the groanings of creation,
each one singing, speaking, sobbing, blaspheming
their own private prayers that, although perchance unintended,
always find an answer?

Certainty

“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” -Francois Gautier

Certainty can sometimes silence our strongest instincts–when, ironically, certainty is always an illusion.

The secure job could become obsolete. The dependable friend could move away. The stable relationship could run its course.

None of the things that seem secure and safe are guaranteed to endure–not forever, or for any length of time, for that matter. The nature of life is that everything moves and changes, ebbs and flows, with beginnings, middles, and ends.

We don’t get to know what will end when. We don’t get to know how long things will last. We can play the odds, try to align ourselves with probability for maximum longevity, comfort, and ease. Or we can instead focus on the possibilities that excite us and enjoy the journey to and through them, one moment at a time.

We can either make what seems to be the best choice for minimal loss and change; or we can get clear about what we want to do with the short amount of time we have, and then embrace the unknown, with our passion as a compass, finding our way as we go.

The irony about choosing the path that seems the most certain is that it generally guarantees only one thing: that we go through life wondering how things could have been if only we weren’t so scared.

Today if you find yourself clinging to something that feels predictable and safe, ask yourself: Are these the moments I want to remember when I look back on my life some day?

by Lori Deschene, from Tiny Buddha

Dreams

I am swimming in warm, crystal clear, shallow water near a sandy beach dotted with palm trees. Suddenly, the beach is nowhere to be seen and I am swimming–rather, trying to stay afloat–in wild, dark, cold, deep water with no land in sight. I wake up in a cold sweat.

I am driving down a winding road next to the ocean. As I move along the road, I notice the water level of the ocean rising until the road is totally covered in front of me and behind me. I can no longer see where the road ends and the water begins. I am driving blind as the water rises further up the sides of the car. I awake, terrified.

I am walking along a path in the country next to a dam. Suddenly the water in the dam rises and spills over the top. Next thing I know, I am in the middle of a lake with no shore line in sight and the brown, murky water is well over my head.

These dreams and many others, with a watery theme, occurred frequently in my life a few years ago. I frequently dreamed of rivers, lakes, oceans, and floods with myself as the main character, struggling against the rising tide or pounding waves.

I believe that God can speak to us in dreams, but also that this is a not a usual form of divine communication today. Often, through dreams, our hidden fears, needs or memories can be brought out into the open and, hopefully, be resolved.

I remember once preaching a sermon on the dreams of Joseph and how God gave him big dreams to guide him in his life journey. My parishioners at the time called it ‘The Amway Sermon’ and gave me a good razzing about it for months to come.

While I wouldn’t go as far in my affirmation of everyone’s ‘God-given dream’ today, I still hold that the dreams we dream have a way of calling our attention to areas in our life that need resolution, reparation, or release. As much as they fulfill this purpose, one could say that God uses dreams to guide us.

I found out there has been not a little amount of research undertaken into dreams, their causes and meanings. While I won’t go into details now, I discovered a common interpretation from both professional counsellors and psychologists and more mystical sources to say that water symbolised life and all that life brings. Drowning or struggling in water relates to ‘drowning’ under pressure or stressors and an inability to keep control of one’s life.

I would say that summed my life up perfectly.

During that period in my life, after several wake-up calls (a good name for dreams?), I made some changes. Things settled down. The water dreams stopped.

That was two years ago.

The other night I had a dream. Yes, it was a water dream.

I am in a suburban area of a city on a cold, rainy day. I am walking alongside a reservoir and the water level is rising. The levee was doing its best to hold in the immense volume of water that could, at any moment, flood not only the city, but my life. The water rose until it was lapping over the top of the levee. I kept on walking. The rain continued to fall. The clouds seemed to become darker.

The levee held.

The water didn’t overflow.

I didn’t need to swim for my life.

There was no flood, no waves, no storm.

The sun came out.

All was well.

All is well.

I know because I saw it in a dream.

I believe God gave me that dream.

Any questions?