15 Sep 2014

Life is ...wild, and we enjoy the ride best when we get out of the engine room..and change track!

Some time around the third week of my marriage I admitted it: it is hard.

I have read the books. They all say it is hard. But I don't bow to fear. I don't cower. I don't back off.
At least that's what I thought.

These few days, I feel again that familiar weariness of laying brick-upon-brick.. and am jarred, angry, teary when it seems like sometimes the whole beautiful structure got kicked over; and I am left standing, wondering if I still want to pick up another brick and keep going. The parenting blues.

I still read the books. In fact, when my daughter was all of the mighty two-year-old, I had read this book, Parenting is a wild ride. It had a roller coaster on its cover. I am terrified of roller coasters but the picture did not deter me. I dug in. Like marriage, I jumped onto the parenting track and started chugging on, down and around.

Perhaps my mantra in life is to overcome wildness with more of the same!

But I am realising there are many kinds of wild, and that over-coming may not always be the thing that works.

I love wild mushroom soup; but all the mushroom we find in our soup cans are not grown or produced without human aid. Today, we veer perhaps towards over-intervention in our need to overcome, be on top, make things work. In fact, we are regulating, controlling, and manipulating so much these days, the wildness of God's wide world is being shrunk as species die... and are precious variants of human thriving dying out too as we tend to box ourselves and others up - today's perfect marriage and children certainly look a lot alike; all facebook happy-clappy.

Souls with skin on can come astir to surprise and shock. 
Souls with skin on can rise to heights and plunge deep and dark.
Souls with skin on are more than what appears to be.

We wish our growth is steady. That our marriages move only upward towards greater acceptance and mutuality. Our children step up towards greater responsibility and sensibility. But then we get the wildness that interrupts the dance steps and we trip into a mess.

Life is wild.  

The wildness of life seems to me to grow in direct proportion to our age. This past year I keep marveling at how after nearly half a century of 'do-ing life' I am not necessarily getting a better handle on things! Perhaps, we get tired, we have had enough... certainly, we never arrive at mastery! There is no sifu among us.

We come to a time when we must stop trying to wish for change but settle down to the giftedness of acceptance. There comes a time when a parent can only watch and pray as the children must make those life choices and watch their lives unfold.

And perhaps it is those who learn how to stop stringing moments into a showcase string of pearls enjoy it better. It is those who know little is already much, that each day is such a Grace-grant to facilitate soul-deepening that smile the broadest.

Of course, while life is breaking out all about us, making us feel a-tossed; it is easy to march to the eternal counter of accountability where we demand (yes, imagine this!) an accounting from God Himself no less! Why this, why now, why me?

Well, friends, this is because.... God is wild. 

Here is the Merriam-Webster dictionary's definition for 'wild':...not cultivated, not subject to restraint or regulation... . That's God, and that is maddening for us. 

My teen daughter this past week has been all excited about this personality profiling app she found. She made both her dad and I take the Myers-Briggs test. I almost don't recognise the excitement: of discovery, of taming, of naming. She is trying to figure life out; and she wants to figure us out too! She is behaving human par excellence!

But God doesn't fit the profile test. He has character and he is the ultimate Integer and hence Integrity; but He is wholly beyond our fully finding and knowing. So, we cannot list all His properties and 'make use' of Him. This is not to say we won't keep trying!


So we are as the old man Job said, 
'born for trouble (as surely as) sparks fly upward (Job 5v7).

This one-liner is not a statement of damnation or cold logic. It is as all truth is, an invitation to jam the brakes and consider.
Man's troubles are not an external imposition by an unhappy God. It is an internal logic that contradicts. We live in a wild world ruled by a wild God (please take care to understand this properly); but we are bent on fixing everything just-so in order to meet our needs and satisfy our wants. Can you hear the gears jamming?




What are we to do?


Get out! Yes, We need to get out of the engine room.
Stop pretending like we are in charge.
Start recognizing that "In the Beginning, God.." means God started it all, not us. We answer to Him, not the other way around.

Then we need to get on the right track. We are born with rail joiners that have fastened us to a hyper-speed track headed for oblivion. All long the way, there is an alternate track we can choose to connect with. It is the Recipient's track. On this track, we must remain in the passenger coach and take in the sights. It is the best way to travel the world because we get to see so much more. After all, didn't we begin life by receiving? The first breath, the first suckle, the first kiss..our first hopes, dreams, every-day Grace... and Love.


Then see what happens.


The engine room is a place of grave responsibility and dire control. Ultimately, there can be one final Engineer. But often, the engine room is crowded. In a marriage, a couple fights to rule and run life essentially. Strip away everything and that's the nub. Parents fight children because we are afraid our kids lose their way and get side-tracked. Our genes, sacrifices, wisdom, money says we should hang on and stand our ground in the hot stuffy engine room.

But it's all too much.

It's all too much because life is wild and we just don't have enough within us to answer every situation. If we saw our spouse and children as fellow passengers with whom we share bread and gasp at the view together with; wouldn't the ride be more wondrous? We don't have to fix, answer for, explain, cover every ground. We cannot anyway.

I still read marriage and parenting books. There are days the wildness of life still stumps me and it's all the more Grace that I can laugh, write, pray and then reach for another brick to keep building and to stay on the right track.

photo credits: http://photographyblogger.net

11 Sep 2014

Form 'other' to 'another' and the wide mercies of God our cradling Grace

My life has some pretty basic routines. One of them is going to the neighbourhood mall Junction 8. By now I know the street, the spots to park free, the stores and the short-cuts pretty well. But still, I never quite get used to all the life I will meet each time I venture out.

Even a familiar place can yield the unfamiliar. The expected can throw up a surprise.

We can walk like the dead, going about our routines, operating like the rest of kingdom animaliae; just trying to survive another day. But we get restless, we question, we mourn, we get served a notice that jolts us awake.



Today for example, in the hustle I saw this skinny man whose eyes did not seem to focus really well.

He's not really old, not more than thirty. He was in his green and yellow uniform, standing right there in the sea of humanity streaming around him scrounging for bargains and queuing to make payment. There he stood, quite oblivious, waving his arms with palms up as if to catch falling water. I looked for a leak but did not see any. He seemed consoled too that he did not catch anything, and then proceeded to pick up his broom and pan. 
At the car park, I shifted my cumbersome trolley and gave a wide swath to another cleaner who smiled appreciatively as he maneuvered his mop-bin-on-wheels across. 

"It's easy to feel good for kindness, but you aren't different from him".
 I know. 
 Like him and the other, we are all but souls with skins on. All trying to make it through.

Later, as my car perched nervously at the slope turning onto the road, I glimpsed ahead of me a van that had the words "Inspiring Hope, Enriching Lives". It was the van that brought the small party who live with muscular dystrophy for their weekly outing. 

I am rushing through my gorcery routine and I am as usual feeling thirsty; and all this Life is asking me to pay attention.

There was a time when our thoughts were 'other' - we see someone different and we thank God we are not born/bred/turned out so. We feel a twinge of sympathy and when the charity drives come along, we are moved to help with our monies. But there remains a I/they divide. What's more, we often compare and augment 'I' by classifying and categorising 'them' so that the 'I' feels stronger/better/more.


But there comes a time when we see just 'another'. It is just another life really; and very much like ours. Another life wanting to mean something, be useful, to laugh, be loved and love. The garb and language and colour and words may all be different, but it comes to the same stuff of dust seeking glory. This is why I am upset these days --

when I think how we interpret Jesus' words that he came to give us life abundant as a narrow, materialistic, self-indulgent offer that we deserve. 

when i find myself forgetting so quickly that the awkward, badly dressed teen is imago Dei as I am. 

when I push my closest ones away too quickly because my soul is out of shape and I don't know what to do with my jutting angles; and it is their fault for coming too close.

In Brennan Manning's final book, All Is Grace, he writes simply of his life without fanfare or any need to embellish. His was a life-time of struggle with alcoholism. His was a life others can only dream about: book successes and a life message about Abba Love...Yet here was a man, another, like you and me. He had his triumphs and his demons. He lived honestly as he could. His is not written to garner a book prize. It almost read like a child's re-telling of a long adventure.

The simple truth that grips your heart and changes you is this: Ordinary life shines because it is all Grace.

What would your life and mine look like if we lived like we truly believed this Grace is wrapping us safe and cradling us through the storms?
 What would our world look like if we saw each other as just another, and helped each other sip often of the sweet nectar of Grace rather than rush around thirsty?

A great song as we ponder The Love of God by Rich Mullins


There's a wideness in God's mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God

Now I've seen no band of angels
But I've heard the soldiers' songs
Love hangs over them like a banner
Love within them leads them on
To the battle on the journey
And it's never gonna stop
Ever widening their mercies
And the fury of His love

Oh the love of God
And oh, the love of God
The love of God

Joy and sorrow are this ocean
And in their every ebb and flow
Now the Lord a door has opened
That all Hell could never close
Here I'm tested and made worthy
Tossed about but lifted up
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God



1 Sep 2014

Getting pain for loving and living the Fight

The cat has a strange habit.

None of my other cats had it. Chats throws up. Yes, every now and then, the kitty will deposit a mess of still-being-digested contents at whatever spot she happens to be at. Our first instinct on seeing this? A chiding of course, "Chats! ....". Today however, I decide to go after her and give her a little tummy rub to soothe her. And this is what I got:


It is stinging me even now.

Talk about love being messy. Which part of "poor kitty' didn't she get? I feel utterly unappreciated, and I cannot argue with or reason with this feline. It is really painful.

All of us live with some form of pain; maybe the pain of regret or loss. Most of us learn to cope, or numb, or pretend. But there are many today who live where pain is a constant -
They are losing loved ones suddenly from blasts that shatter any solidity they may yearn for. Like in the Middle East.
They are being judged - first - simply because of their skin colour. Like in many parts of that free land called the US of A.
They are worried about being found out, exposed and rejected. Like the guys.gals who wrestle with being emotionally and physically attracted to the same gender.
There is simply no salve or solution, but there is this: Jesus enters the pain. 

I first heard this idea twenty years ago in seminary. In my youthful enthusiasm, the mere knowledge of it made it all so grand. I reached for this truth like it was a trophy and prize and may have uttered, "pain, do your worse for I am not alone!".

This cat scratch that still hurts is nothing. Over the years, Pain has thrown tornadoes and whirlwind against my soul and upset it in no small way.

Many days I wonder that I still stand.

Jesus has entered the pain ---
Is he here supporting me so I don't fall?
Is he giving me moral support, rooting for me with the "you can do it, coz I did" kind of thing?
Is he quietly working out this marvelous outcome, rigging the results while I am having this slugfest in the ring called broken humanity?

Jesus entered the pain by becoming one of us creatures-in-pain. He allowed his infinite being to be limited by time and space, subject to broken humanity and suffered all of the pains we do -

physically  from hunger to near-death physical afflictions,

emotionally from suspicion to outright betrayal,

and endured a pain none of us would ever have to: separation from God as a result of bearing the totality of sin.


In every season of pain, I have gone to this Jesus and asked him again, what does it mean that you enter our pain?
And I begin to realise that my pain is real. It is being taken seriously. I can talk to him about it. He is deflecting and absorbing some of it I am sure or I would totter and crash.
And like a dedicated medic who has rushed to the wounded solider in the trenches, he reaches over and bandages my wounds. He tells me it will heal. I look into His eyes and I believe Him even as the battle rages on.



As the bandage goes around the wound, he tells me too that I am to stay in the fight; not let the injury incapacitate me. I lean back and dreamily wish for Lucy from Narnia, coming up and applying her magic potion that would immediately restore me.

Sometimes it feels that way. It happens quick the healing. Other times, it seems the wound is going to just gape and mock me. But I arc and lift myself up; everywhere are the fallen and I must not get lost in my own pain....Even though sometimes there's the added burden of someone cussing nearby, another calls you a madman or a clown, others cry and melt down; and still a few yell back, "save yourself", the same words they said to Jesus that he may prove himself smarter and stronger; and if he did he would miss the point of love that dies for the beloved.


Lesser mortals would kick the cat that scratched. But I am no mere mortal now who contain glory am I?

"And you...he has made alive together with Him..." ~ Colossians 2v13

So I too enter into pain and deflect sometimes and absorb at other times. I too learn to bandage wounds and speak valour back into the wounded soul.

We are more than the wounded; we are the wounded healers.

And dear soul, how about just pausing for this: healer of my soul {michael talbot}