Soft Stones

Joe Chambers:

Grace and Truth are the foundations of the Christian faith.

Originally posted on Field Notes On The Jesus Way:

Everyone has a person in their family that is hard to love. If you don’t know who the person in your family that is particularly challenging to love, chances are it is you. It is quite a sobering thought to imagine that I am someone’s hard to love person. In our family the hard to love person was my maternal grandfather: Oscar Lee Johnston.

Oscar Lee Johnston

Oscar Lee Johnston

He was a grumpy old cowboy from west Texas. He only had an 8th grade education and for a few years when my mother was a little girl he was a Baptist preacher, but then he decided that making money was more important than winning souls so he went back to combining wheat up and down the Midwest from Texas to Canada.

He was an old man when I was born and much older than his years. He smoked a pipe so…

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Soul Sustainabilty

Originally posted on Field Notes On The Jesus Way:

The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts… Ecclesiastes 3:11

Last August I hiked the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was 440 miles through the Cascade Mountains of central Oregon. I met a lot of very interesting people. People from many foreign countries like Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Ireland, and Texas.

One young lady was hiking with her dog, Zoe. She had long brown hair with strands of gray streaking through her braids. I came upon her sitting in the shade one afternoon trying to cool down in 93 degree heat reading a Steinbeck novel. We chatted about Mr. Steinbeck for a while and then I moved on.

PCT sign

Two hours later I was taking a break in the shade of a tree…

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The Heart of Oso

Originally posted on Rush of my Heart:

Why would I chase sleep tonight when I know I’ll never catch it?

I’d rather linger here, here by the fire, long after this day falls away like the rain and a new one begins.

How do I tell you about that day? How do I begin to express the feelings rooting me together?

ImageWe were driving on March 22nd when I got a text from my brother.

“Making sure you’re safe – landslide on 530.”

We talked for a minute more, enough to know that neither one of us really knew anything – except that my dad was heading into it to act as a chaplain.

I had no idea.

I had no idea. 

We continued on through the snowy mountains, the road carrying us towards the beautiful Bavarian village of Leavenworth for my pre-birthday trip. The long drive through the logging towns and quiet, frost covered woods was just…

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And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name. ~~Jesus

There is a flower that lives above tree line in the Rocky Mountains that has captured my heart for almost forty years.  It is a flower that can be difficult to find.  I shudder at the thought of how many times I might have trampled this rain-drop sized flower under the lugged sole of my boot and have been none-the-wiser.

I’ve sat at 13,000’, chest heaving, trying to gasp every ounce of oxygen out of the thin air and, while on that tawny carpet of alpine tundra, head between my knees choking back mountain sickness, spied the Lilliputian pinwheel of blue petals and yellow pistils smiling at me in the shadow of my size fourteen Aslo hiking boots. They come from the genus Myosotis, which in Greek means, “mouse ear.” In a German legend, God named all the plants when a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied, “That shall be your name.”  Because the Alpine forget-me-not flourishes on the tundra where the winter wind and snow blow with a fierce intensity, they never grow larger than the top button on your shirt.

Alpine Forget Me Nots

In all my years of trekking at altitude I am filled with wonder when I find this shy flower.  And each time I fold my 6’4” frame and kneel down to get a closer look, I whisper something that only God would hear.

What has struck me over the years has been how such delicate beauty could survive in such harsh conditions and I marvel at a Creator-God who would plant it in such inaccessible places.  I have no idea how many times I have found the flower and thought God is delighting in his creation. Or to paraphrase Anne Lamott, “God is showing off.”

Showing off to whom?  I would be the only person to see it.  How many millions of little blue, mouse-eared flowers are never seen by any sentient earth-bound being?  He must have made those for His own delight.  This is so unlike me.  I do virtually nothing for the sake of beauty alone.  I never prepare a sermon and want to preach it to an empty church.  I never write an essay or a story hoping no one will ever read it.  Any beauty I might try to create, I want to share with others.  I want someone to say something laudatory about my so called art.

But my ego is fragile and I am trying to be larger than I am.

Each flower is the same.  Doesn’t God get weary of the sameness of His creation, no matter how heart-poundingly beautiful it might be?  I guess the short answer is, “No.”  He keeps on doing it season after season, mountain after mountain, flower after flower.

Monotony is my enemy.  Because I have sinned, monotony places me vulnerable to sin.  It was monotony that caused King David to look at a bathing beauty.  It was monotony that made the Pharisees fail to see the Creator-God walking and recreating in their very midst.   I fear monotony.  I fill my life with ear pollution, eye noise, and trivial pursuits.

Not God.

G.K.  Chesterton wrote:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Beauty is a reminder of the “appetite of infancy” that is at the heart of our Creator-God.  I find myself valuing it, wanting to possess it, and desiring to create it.  There is something about beauty that takes us to the place of innocent delight of being a child.  And perhaps it is in that wonder of delight we step into, if for but a moment, another garden coming down from heaven at the end of days.

So, you don’t know my art?  Perhaps you don’t know my name.  No matter. Each time I marvel at the beauty of a bashful flower, I remember that it is but a taste of another garden where I will receive my new name.

Beauty reminds me that I am not forgotten.

And neither are you.

Watching for the King

Teaching some management courses on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation for the Little Wound School District a few years ago, I was impressed by their spirituality.  Before one of the courses was about to begin, the leader asked one of the elders of the tribe, who happened to be the Athletic Director of the school, to lead in prayer.

They pushed back from the tables and we all stood, the elder Arlo Provost began to pray— in Lakota.  It took my breath away; I had no idea what he was saying but I had never heard anything like it.  He said, “Amen” then sat down and we all sat down too.  I was stunned.  Then they all turned their heads to me.  I opened my notes and began to teach them about managing multiple priorities.  I felt like the foreigner that I was.

It reminded me of a story I read somewhere that I hope is true about one of the “rites of passage” of Lakota boys.  A father would take his son out into the wilderness at age 14 and leave him there by himself over night with scant provision to survive the day and night.  It is said that the boys would spend most of the night sitting up listening to all the wild sounds of the night, the owls hooting, the rustling in the brush, the snorts in the dark, and the wolves howling.  A very restless and frightful night for the young brave.

But in the morning when the dawn broke over the eastern horizon—off about a hundred yards—the boy could see a lone man standing beside a tree.  Then the man started walking towards him and the boy would recognize the walk of this warrior-father.  He had been there all night watching his son.

God’s kind of like that with us.

Sometimes I cry out to God, “God, where are you?  I just don’t see you!”

And in that still small voice God says: “Remember the Sunday School class when the teacher, Mrs. Peggram, made you leave the class because she couldn’t get you to shut up?  That was Me. How about that time when your head hurt so badly that you cried yourself to sleep and your mom came to your room to rub your neck?  That was me.  I was there.  Remember when your dad came to give you a ride home when the meanest kid in school wanted to beat you up? I was there.  I was caring.

“Remember when you were in high school, and you were gangly and awkward, and nobody wanted to be around you, and you felt all alone?  You weren’t.  I was there. Remember when you were in college, and you were so empty because you thought I had gone away?  And you even doubted that I existed?  And you walked around that campus crying out, “If you are here . . . show me”?  I was there.  I was right beside you. Remember when you were working construction and couldn’t pay your bills, and they came and repossessed your truck?  And you cried yourself to sleep that night?  I was there.

“Remember in your forties, when you lost your job, your friends, your sense of purpose and you thought you were going to never see light again?  I was right there.

“Remember when you stopped and ate lunch at that Burger King in Vernal, Utah and told your oldest son why you lost your job and were leaving Colorado?  I was there at the table with you and the next two hundred miles of silence that hung between you and your fourteen year old son. Don’t ask me where I’ve been.  I’ve been close the whole time.”

I want to paraphrase and personalize a famous passage of scripture in the Old Testament for my own edification, if not yours.

When Joe was a child, I loved him,

And out of sin I called My son.

But the more I called him,

The more he ran from Me.

He sacrificed to the gods of this world,

And burned incense to carved images.

“I taught little Joe to walk,

Taking him by his spindly arms;

But he did not know that I healed his wounds.

I drew him with gentle cords,

With bands of love,

I stooped and held him.

God is always near, redeeming, guiding, forming, mending, and protecting us.

Today, my oldest son celebrates the seventh anniversary of his marriage to my daughter-in-love, Ashley. And none of that, including the four subsequent grandchildren, could have happened had God not taken an active and sovereign role in the life I was trying to live.  I don’t understand how God uses past mistakes to make beautiful art, like a wonderful marriage of seven years for my son and four red-headed angels, but He does.

As we live our lives, fretting about what goes bump in the night, keep your eyes on the eastern sky.  One day, maybe not too distant from now, we will see our Warrior-King returning to wipe away every tear from our eyes, heal our wounds, and set things to rights in this sorry dark world.  We are not nearly as alone as we think we are.

In a word, it’s called hope.

Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” I say.