Limited Vision

fogI got up this morning to see my wife off to work. She works in a bakery where she does amazing things with cakes, so the 4am alarm clock is our constant not-so-much-loved companion.

As I was waving goodbye, I noticed something strange happening down the street. It was as if someone had gotten thick grey curtains and was pulling them across the street one house at a time.

A thick fog was rolling in.

Thick, ‘pea soup’ fog that you can’t see through.

It was still there three-and-a-half hours later when I headed out the door, and it was raining as well.

Lights on, wipers going, traffic was slowing down drastically.

Limited vision.

Slowing, confusing, frustrating inability to see beyond a certain point.

Half-blind, stumbling (or, in my case, driving very slowly) through the fog, trying to make out what is ahead but not seeing it until it is nearly upon you.

We’ve all been there.

The truth is we all have limited vision aboiut what is ahead.

How can we see beyond what is right in front of us, today? Perhaps we think we can make out something a few weeks–or months–down the track. But is that because we actually see it, or is it because we hope to see it?

We don’t know what tomorrow brings. As St Paul wrote in the eloquent love chapter (1 Corinthians 13), ‘. . . now we see as in a miror, dimly.’

In the day this was written, mirrors were polished sheets of metal and the reflection they gave was often cloudy–a little like being in fog. What you saw staring back at you was often not much better than a shadow.

My vision is limited.

So how then can I navigate through my life in this fog?

Carefully. Even if I have a GPS, it won’t show me obstructions that are in my way on my travels today. I need to be careful to avoid these impediments if I want to arrive at my destination safely. Chances are that, if I put my foot down and drove at the posted speed limit all the way to work, I would have had an accident. I would most certainly hit another car that I couldn’t see in time to brake.

Confidently. We have a general sense of where we are going and work towards that goal. This is why education is important. This is why looking at the ‘maps’ of those who have travelled this way is essential. This is why I listen to the traffic reports on the radio as I navigate this well-worn route. I have as a great advantage that I know the road to work very well. I can navigate through the fog confidently. However, should I be less familiar with this route, it would do me well to look to those who have gone this way before.

Consciously. I need to focus on what is firectly in front of me now and move with a consciousness that this is the only moment that matters. There is great power in centering myself in the present. Relating this to my life, living in the past won’t help me  just as much as living with an idealised view of the future won’t get me where I need to go.

Today I arrived at work safely. The fog lifted as I drove. By the time I pulled into the car park, only a little drizzle was there to greet me. While it may be foggy again tomorrow, I’ll live now in the truth that I am safe, I am dry, I am wartm, and I am in the place I need to be right now.

 

 

 

Seeing

When Emily was born, I bought a video camera.

(We really couldn’t afford it at the time but I told myself that we couldn’t afford to miss a thing as Emily said her first words, took her first steps, played with her first friends . . . but I’m getting off track here.)

It was one of those Sony Camcorders that took the compact tapes which allowed us to record for about an hour before we had to copy it off to a normal VHS video cassette. It had a small black-and-white viewfinder which let you see what you recording and how well your subject was in focus.

janeI remember driving in the country one day while Vicki was filming the beautiful scenery. Looking over to the left, I saw a stunning display of what we call here ‘Salvation Jane”–a mass of purple covering field after field in the Adelaide Hills.

“Wow! That is amazing! Look at all that beautiful purple.” I said to the videographer to my left.

“It’s not purple,” she declared quite matter-of-factly. Then, realising what she said, she dropped the camera and we both realised that she had been looking only through the small, monochrome viewfinder. In closing her other eye, she totally couldn’t see the beauty that was purple-covered hills in the summer sun.

How often do we miss the beauty of the world around us, the details of life, the amazing things passing by because we fail to look beyond our small, low-res viewfinder that is created by our environment, our traditions, our worldview, our beliefs?

How often do we close our eyes because we’re straining to catch the perfect shot, or make sure we aren’t missing out on what’s happening in that small window in front of our eye?

Last night as I was driving down the hill towards home, I witnessed the most amazing sunset. The sun was a perfect, huge orange ball and it ever-so-slowly settled into the sea beyond the harbour, I was breathless and speechless at the same time. It was awe inspiring?

My first instinct was to pull out my phone to capture this moment on the little 5″ screen.

But then I remembered the purple fields and how easy it is not to see when you let capturing the moment get in the way of the experience.

So I sat, watching until the fiery ball dropped below the horizon and the bright orange sky turned pink, then purple, then hazy blue, grey, then black.

No, I can’t show you a photo of that sunset. To be honest, you’ve seen enough of these anyway.

If I were to tell you about it, however, you would see my eyes light up and I would get quite emotional as I did my best to share this moment with you.

And that’s something that technology cannot replicate.

And that’s why we need sometimes–often–to ditch the tech and soak in all the wonder we can. Because what life is all about cannot be contained in a memory card, or on a tape.

Songs of My Life: Arms of Love

Music is a language that can often  express what a heart feels better than any words.

Even better when well-crafted poetry is added in the form of lyrics to a moving, compelling melody and appropriate harmony.

There are songs that have not only meant so much to me, but clearly defined moments in my life or seasons. They have shaped my response to struggles and events. They have lifted me up, comforted me, motivated me, brought new meaning and clarity or grounded my life in uncertain times.

That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to share with you a few songs that have spoken into my life and made a profound impact along the way.

Arms of Love  (Amy Grant on Age to Age, 1982)

Lord I’m really glad You’re here
I hope you feel the same when You see all my fear
And how I fail
I fall sometimes
It’s hard to walk on shifting sand
I miss the rock, and find there’s nowhere left to stand;
I start to cry
Lord, please help me raise my hands so You can pick me up
Hold me close
Hold me tighter

I have found a place where I can hide
It’s safe inside
Your arms of love
Like a child who’s helped throughout a storm
You keep me warm
In Your arms of love

Storms will come and storms will go
Wonder just how many storms it takes until
I finally know
You’re here always
Even when my skies are far from gray
I can stay;
Teach me to stay there

Written by: GARY W CHAPMAN, AMY GRANT, MICHAEL W SMITH / Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP

How clearly I remember having this song on repeat on my CD player and lying on the living room floor bawling my eyes out and praying like never before. How clearly Amy’s words matched with my struggles at the time.

I was going through a rough time. I had just finished College and had a part-time job but I was struggling financially. I was having a difficult time meeting my rent obligations and was living from eviction notice to eviction notice. I lived on two-minute noodles and corn flakes. I didn’t know where my life was headed. I had problems dealing with simple, everyday things. Today I would most likely be diagnosed with depression but, being from a strict Christian home, depression (at that time) was not something to treat with drugs or therapy but with prayer and Scripture.

And this song became my prayer.

Through it, I admitted my failures, my fears, my uncertainty. In its simplicity I found peace knowing that, even though I couldn’t see what the next day would bring, I could still rest in the truth that I would not go it alone.

It didn’t fix everything. But, as music often does, it comforted me with the knowledge that somebody bigger than me cared about me.

I still get a melancholy feeling when I hear this song. It brings me back to a less fortunate, less-awakened time. In retrospect I would say this song marked, for me, a milestone in my journey to becoming a responsible adult. Yet, it also nurtured my faith and helped me to understand that there is always a safe place in the shelter of God’s love.

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.”