Praying for a Closed Door

There’s nothing that excites me more than a good idea. And one of the things I’ve learned to guard against is my own propensity to get carried away with an idea that stirs the heart. Sometimes, I can go for months with no such inspiration. In other seasons, the “good ideas” will break and ebb perpetually as waves on the beach.

When an idea evolves to opportunity, it’s often exciting, but perilous ground.

In 50 years it’s become evident when something that feels like a good idea pours into my heart, it’s best to resist a natural urge to go with a gut instinct that almost always wants to bore full steam ahead. Some call it patience, or a process of discernment, or even the kind of wisdom that comes with age. I often call it excruciating agony.

But I’ve made enough of those kinds of mistakes that it comes easier than it once did. Thank God for his grace and freedom that permits our mistakes and wrong turns.

As Dana and I walked the Camino a few weeks ago, I meditated and prayed on two or

I love taking photos of doors across the Camino. It seems they take on a greater meaning to the Spaniards than in other places across the world.

I love taking photos of doors across the Camino. It seems they take on a greater meaning to the Spaniards than in other places across the world.

three ideas that have ebbed and flowed through my heart for a few years now. While each had the potential to fulfill a unique calling I feel toward my own purpose, my relatively new proclivity to patience, and the desire to get it exactly right the next time around have created a kind of extended “holding pattern” that’s been both uncomfortable and peaceful at the same time.  It’s an odd enigma that feels strangely normal now, and pours out of a heartfelt desire to follow what’s most real in my life.

One of those ideas has long involved the acquisition of neighborhood commercial property just two blocks from our home. It’s an ideal place for living out a calling Dana and I both sense in our lives – one of those rare things that comes almost naturally with no effort at all. In the times it’s come available in recent years and when my juices would flow, something always said, “Wait, wait, wait. It’s not your time just yet.” So I’ve waited. I meditated on this circumstance a lot as we walked.

One night on the Camino as we overnighted in Mañeru, a small village just outside Puenta la Reina, I enjoyed the best night’s sleep we’d had since the trek began. The bed was comfortable, the room was absent the stuffiness we’d experienced for the several preceding nights, and the proprietors were kind and gracious. There were even enough spare pillows around to create the nightly nest I’m accustomed to back home. The good sleep brought a transcendent peace.

Less than a handful of times I’ve experienced dreams (for lack of a better term) that were more real than reality. At times, they’ve been as vivid and clear as the most beautiful day in your life. Last year, I wrote about one such experience here. Others, like this one, brought a less resplendent confirming peace that satisfies a restless soul like few things I’ve ever known.

That night, I felt the voice of the Holy Spirit telling me the property back home would be available to me when we returned, and the “time” was now. And it didn’t feel remotely abrupt. It was dream-like, yet not a dream. It sounds weird, but it wasn’t. When I awoke, I said, “okay,” and we walked on. The experience was as real as the blisters I’d been nursing for days now, yet graciously didn’t overwhelm the pilgrimage experience as some profound revelation. It seemed, rather, just a natural, seamless part of the bigger experience. I’d best describe it as “gentle.”

And so we walked on. Ultreia, we say on the camino.

***

Yesterday, 19 days post-camino I went through the regular morning routine of gathering what I needed to complete the daily errands. Our neighborhood is configured in such a way that almost any errand takes me by that property. As I approached, there was an unusual activity that caught my eye as movers emptied the building into three large moving vans. There was another strange sensation as if a surprise that I knew was coming. I’m becoming more accustomed to these odd sensitivities.

My “dream” had come true. The business located on the property was moving to a new location. Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all.

On the spot, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to begin making calls and contacts about the property, like a natural extension of the peace I’d experienced in that cozy albergue bed.

If we pursue this calling, a dozen things will have to perfectly align to make it work. A personality like mine can get easily worked up about scenarios far less involved than this. It would be easy to push things in an excitedly urgent sort of way. I have to remind myself if it’s God’s plan for us, that peaceful sense will remain throughout.

I’m not an eloquent prayer. My prayers are simple conversations with God and I frequently find myself at a loss for exactly what to say in situations like this. In just that situation last night, I recalled a recent conversation with a respected long-distance friend now considering three extraordinary service opportunities all at the same time. Any one of them fits his gifting and unique capacity to make a real difference in the world. As we agreed to pray for one another about some different things, here’s a paraphrase of something he said that seemed the perfect answer to prayer about my own situation:

“So I need unmistakable guidance. When I have asked for such in the past, God has always been so kind to clearly open certain doors and clearly slam others shut.”

The realization brought a reinforced peace that feels so right. If I truly pursue His will, and if He’s in this situation as I want Him to be, and if it’s purposed for His glory and not mine, he’ll close the door shut if it’s not His will. It gave me such peace to know if this opportunity somehow vanishes, it will be Him who closed the door for my good.

“Lord if it’s not right, close the door. Slam it shut. Slam it hard.”

I’m good with that. Anyway, it’s exciting, and all good.

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Metanoia: The Ultimate Game Changer

“What comes to our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” ~ A.W. Tozer

Mom, me and Daddy, in the middle of a record cotton crop in 1990.

Mom, me and Daddy, in the middle of a record cotton crop in 1990.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when, or what caused it, but at some point, knowing what I believe, and why, surpassed everything else important. There was a new understanding that my belief affected everything.

The message I felt from so many pilgrims who’d gone before me on the Camino de Santiago was that pilgrimage would change my life. To the contrary, I think it made me much more of who I already was.

***

John Muir understood the pursuit of both the seen and the unseen. In 1867, working as a sawyer in a wagon wheel factory he was injured when a tool slipped and struck him in the eye. Muir was confined to a darkened room for six weeks, thought he might never see again, and the experience forever changed the course of his life.

As he gradually regained sight he saw the world, and his purpose, in a new light. “This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes to teach us lessons,” he later wrote.

As Muir healed, and early on the path that gave him the reputation as the father of our national park system, he took a long walk he recounted in his first writing “A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.” Along the “wildest, leafiest and least trodden way I could find” from Indiana to Florida, Muir marveled at God’s creation, and at the journey’s conclusion, decided his most important pursuit was one where he’d be true to himself.

***

Of all that amazes me in God’s sovereign glory, nothing overwhelms me more than the beautiful simplicity of repentance. At the heart of the gospel is the divine truth that what God sees most is your heart – not your good intentions, or your failures, or your resume, even what you say you believe – but what you truly believe inside.

“There’s no escaping His inward-seeing eye. ‘…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’” ~ 1st Samuel 16:7.

It parallels our worldly ideas about integrity – the ways we act when no one else is watching, and moreover, the ways we react to situations when we don’t even think about it. The purest of everything we do comes from the heart.

The English word “repentance,” is the common translation for the Greek “metanoia.” The Greek is a prefix, and a root. “Meta,” meaning overarching and behind, or after, and “noia,” meaning, how one thinks, or in a greater sense, one’s worldview or philosophy. The prefix and root when combined translate as: having a completely different overall view, afterwards. It leads anyone to wonder, after what? What is it that leads us to repentance? What creates real change?

***

To this day, my own father’s road to repentance best defines for me the goodness and graciousness of God’s love. Daddy lived a hell of a life.

On a hot summer night in 1999, I jumped upright in the bed, cold sweat pouring down my neck and back. From nowhere, it was as if God grabbed me by the shirt collar and shook me awake. “Go see your father now, and tell him who I am,” He said. “Now.”

It was 2 a.m., and my dad lived 40 miles away. As much as I tried to rationalize that I’d awakened abruptly from some dream, or that there was some other worldly explanation, I knew even as a very young Christian that God was speaking. The voice was too clear and its delivery too urgent.

It’s funny how we often wrestle with what we know is so plainly the right thing. I paced the floor an hour thinking it was all just crazy, went back to bed hoping it was all a dream, and felt God speak to my spirit again. “Get up and go.”

But I never went. And I knew I’d been as disobedient as the most rebellious child.

It haunted me for years. My dad and I were so very different, really didn’t understand one another that well, and often fought like dogs. But we loved one another, and I felt so helpless that he always considered himself unworthy of God’s forgiveness. He knew he needed forgiving, but as so many of us do, had a hard time comprehending God’s simple plan for how it works. That’s exactly as the enemy intends.

The burden on my heart to help daddy lingered like a wound that never healed. In ways, I’d become obnoxiously obsessed with it. In so many other ways, I was just plain weak.

Six years later on the day of my dad’s 65th birthday I was making breakfast, getting the

Daddy, in that same cotton crop. I shot photos of him all day on that Sunday afternoon.

Daddy, in that same cotton crop. I shot photos of him all day on that Sunday afternoon.

kids ready for school just like every other day, and began sobbing uncontrollably. I had no idea what to get daddy for his birthday, and it was such a busy day ahead. The thing that should have been most important was more of a distraction. How I felt in my heart disgusted me. My disgust was about much more than just a birthday gift.

Dropping the last child off at school I made a decision to cancel everything that day, and focus on dad. Today was the day we’d talk. Rather than try to convince him of anything religious or academic, I decided I’d sit down with daddy and tell him all the ways I’d personally seen God make a difference in my life. I’d just tell him my story.

At a local bookstore, I picked up a hardback copy of Randy Alcorn’s classic work, Heaven, as a gift, then drove around aimlessly waiting for some magical moment that seemed right to pull in the driveway. Daddy was out in his shop, watching television and passing time on the computer as he did every day since his retirement. I hated that he spent so much time in that shop.

It’s odd how difficult it often is to have the most important conversations with those we love the most. Three hours passed before I mustered enough courage to walk in his door, but after years of resisting a clear calling to share the gospel with my dad, I’d handed it all over to the One who called.

I wished him a happy birthday and proceeded as honestly as I knew how. During the last few years God had used different ways to help me understand more and more about Him, and just how much he loved me, I explained. And more so than a good job, or financial success or anything else, those revelations gave me the greatest security.

As I talked and Daddy listened, and I could see the walls coming down. “I want you to feel everything I feel, because it just feels so good,” I told him. “And I want to know you’re going to be waiting for me in Heaven when I get there.” It probably wasn’t the right thing to say, but I said it anyway. It was the son more than the witness coming out in me.

He told me exactly what I already knew he felt – that he’d committed so many wrongs, he was beyond forgiveness, that he just wasn’t a good person, and he knew he didn’t act right. As we have the tendency to do, Daddy was making it all about him, and as best I could I tried to explain that just isn’t how it works. God is perfect so we don’t have to be, I said. “If perfection were the standard, I wouldn’t be here talking with you.”

I asked him if he wanted to pray, and he said yes, but that he didn’t really know what to say. So I prayed, and he repeated my words, and we cried and hugged afterward. Right then and there, I thought we’d both done something really special. Maybe that was true, or maybe it wasn’t.

Time passed, but so much seemed as it always had been. In fact, within days, it was as if we’d put that moment on a shelf and moved on with life unchanged. Part of it was my immaturity and insecurity, the other part perhaps daddy’s incomplete surrender of his own junk. The timing we think is right, isn’t always the right time. It doesn’t mean we don’t try.

Not so different from most of us, at the core of what most affected my dad’s life was simple fear. He was just scared.

In January 2012, Daddy’s chronic COPD put him in a hospital bed, a place he’d never leave. As the weeks passed, and as it became clear he’d never go home, something happened that’s still difficult to explain. An unsurpassed peace overcame him. Daddy knew he was going to die, and he was okay. The Holy Spirit did what none of the rest of us is capable of doing. The Spirit spoke to Daddy’s heart. I’ve never seen a more distinctive, undeniable transformation.

Mom called me early on a Sunday morning and said daddy woke up asking for baptism. As the family gathered, we celebrated the ceremony right there next to a hospital bed, and in the two and a half weeks that followed up to daddy’s passing he was completely different. My dad had courage, and he was brave, and at peace. It’s an odd thing to say, but I reflect fondly on, even admire, the way my dad left us.

As much as I know anything, my father experienced a profound change in the way he saw things. He’d crossed the fulcrum of afterward and was led to repentance by the One who leads. That’s how real change happens. You’re just never the same, afterward.

***

In my own journey of mountaintop highs, and lows so deep they felt as if in some foreign realm, I’m thankful, above all, for the Holy Spirit’s revelation that my destiny isn’t tied to either my failures, or my good deeds. I’m at peace, even thankful, with the knowledge that what God see most, is my heart.

“It will change your life. You will never be the same.”

That’s what so many people told me would happen on a 500-mile pilgrimage across the Camino de Santiago. To the contrary.

Somewhere in the Basque country God told me to relax, he wasn’t changing me, just reshaping me. He told me he’d use my storytelling for His purpose, one much higher than I’d previously committed it to.

It was then when I breathed in freedom. He’d sent me on pilgrimage to become more of who I already was.

***

SIDETRAIL

Daddy’s hospital baptism was a glorious moment, but it wasn’t all so smooth.

During his stay, he’d befriended a regularly visiting local pastor, and that’s who we called to conduct the “ceremony.”

When he arrived and got an understanding of daddy’s request, he explained to mom and me that he couldn’t baptize him because dad was bedfast and couldn’t be fully immersed in water. His rigid doctrinal understanding would permit it no other way.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do it,” he said. And that was that. Suddenly, we were in a delicate situation and shell shocked.

Fortunately, my mom’s call to a church pastor in our hometown 40 miles away met with a positive response. He gladly came, overjoyed with my dad’s decision, and poured water over his head as a public pronouncement of his faith. We laughed and cried. We had joy.

But he pastor’s refusal to baptize my dad, affected my view toward organized religion for years. It was one of the most formative moments in my Christian life.

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He Called Me a WHAT?

 

“In the end, everyone can understand themselves only. You are the only one to which you never have to explain what you mean. Everything else is misunderstanding.” ~ Renate Dorrestein

 

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An unfortunate New World reality is one that forces modern-day pilgrims to consider a disquieting proposition early on.

You must consider whether you will “plug” or “unplug,” that is whether you will remove yourself from the world of technology during the sacred time of pilgrimage, or whether you will bring it along for the ride. As previously described, it was an evolutionary process for me as I ultimately decided I’d chronicle my journey electronically across Spain for family and friends, and to go so far as to convey what I “felt” as it all transpired.

By and large, it was a good decision. In fact, it was the absolute right decision for me. At certain moments, however, it made things much more difficult than they had to be.

When you make the decision I made to remain connected to people across the world, and to share thoughts, feelings, even philosophies and beliefs in a transparent way, you must also accept that you’ve invited people to disagree with you, call your convictions into question, and even, at times, act a fool. That’s the deal you make, and it’s precisely why I advise just about everyone who goes on pilgrimage to take a serious electronic break. Unplug, for God’s sake. Seriously, and literally.

But if you don’t, it’s even more important to realize how your environment and circumstances can affect your state of mind to make you more vulnerable than normal. It happened to me more than once, and it’s the price you pay.

***

“My byline’s been pooped on more than once. I’m sure of it.”

My mission as a journalist has broadened across 25 years, in part, because of the way the media, itself, has evolved, and, in part, because how I’ve evolved as a person. As a cub newspaper reporter in 1988, I’d write a story one day, and the medium was delivered to the reader’s doorstep the next. Subscribers might read what I’d written over their morning coffee, or they might use it as a fresh liner for the kitty litter box. My byline’s been pooped on more than once. I’m sure of it.

Today, it’s radically different. I can communicate in an instant with thousands of people across the world. It’s a mass communication guy’s dream, but the speed and volume of electronic media make getting noticed and building an audience more difficult than ever.

I still produce the occasional “hard” or “critical” news piece, and really enjoy an interesting personality profile. During the last several years, however, the most significant evolution in my approach to journalism has been in its tone. Today, I write less for money, and more for the pursuit of what I believe is my life’s mission. It’s not an in-your-face message, but those familiar with my style know there’s generally a message about how the good news of the Gospel has changed my life. With that change comes a natural desire to share it, and anything short of that probably wasn’t real change. I like that I can intermingle journalism with ministry for a higher purpose, and not be preachy about it. I can just be myself. Alas, that’s enough.

It’s also a New World reality that my journalistic message, the very thing that’s at the heart of what’s most important to me, creates a greater divide than it once did no matter how subtle it may be. Our “progressivism” takes us in a direction opposite the narrow Way.

On Day 14 en route to San Juan de Ortega, I experienced two things that made me more vulnerable than normal to what otherwise wouldn’t bother me much. The last six miles of that long day were cold, wet and windy, I was really tired, and hadn’t had English-speaking company in a while. And while it normally wouldn’t bother me in the least, all my albergue companions for the night were German and South Korean. As we all enjoyed down time in the common area, they segregated into groups early on, and I felt a little left out.

(Above: A lesson I learned about minority status.)

I’ve experienced minority status abroad more than most U.S., middle-class, middle-aged, white guys, and normally it doesn’t bother me a bit. In fact, I know without a doubt that pushing that comfort zone is good. That night, though, it made me feel pretty lonely, and subsequently, downright irritable. The other pilgrims weren’t being intentionally rude. They were just surrounding themselves with others who were like them – it’s what comes most natural to us all.

So I made social media my company for the night, and it made a bad situation even worse. When you’ve been cold and tired for a long time, and even feeling a bit sorry for yourself, it’s best to keep your emotions in check. I guess I failed that night.

Scrolling though my “news feed” I came across a post by an older gentleman from my hometown who’d shared a video I posted several days earlier after an evening’s stay at a nice hotel in Santo Domingo. The man, who was well familiar with my journalistic style, apparently found some hypocrisy in the idea I’d used a credit card to rejuvenate with nice accommodations while on an ancient Christian pilgrimage. He shared the video and decided he’d describe me to the world as a “pseudo-Christian asshole.” I read it three times thinking I was surely seeing it wrong. Nope. That’s what it said. Pseudo-Christian asshole. Nice. It hurt my feelings more than anything.

I deleted the video from his post, blocked him forevermore from my “friends” list, as well as a few others who found innocent humor in what he’d said. It kept me awake all night, and my reaction to it all was unusually excessive. I realized the following day just how much the peripheral circumstances of the day had affected my good judgment. In retrospect, it was a great Camino lesson.

Pseudo Christian Asshole. I’ve been called worse. I just can’t remember when. Thank goodness that didn’t become my trail name.

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It’s Go Time

A PILGRIM’S PRAYER

Dear Lord,

Give us the courage to set off on pilgrimage.

May we travel unhindered by wordly possessions, simply trusting in You for all we need.

Sometimes, our hearts will be heavy as we plod along. And our feet will ache, and feel dirty.

Other times, we will rejoice as the sun shines on the footpath stretching before us.

May we ponder Truth … that the pilgrim’s journey is never finished until they reach home.

Amen.

The Way of St. James

The Truth About Glory

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When you’ve written as many words as I have over the years, it’s kind of a big deal to set one aside as the favorite.

As the author of creation I’ve always believed God has a special love for, and kindred spirit with journalists, because of all the things he could have used to communicate with us, He chose the written word. Ink on paper.

Transcend is my second favorite word of all time. I love that word. The way it looks in print, the way it flows from the tongue, the profound meaning it conveys to move beyond that which is commonly known and understood. Transcendence is such an honorable pursuit in anything worth pursuing.

Discern is a word that ranks high on my list.  I love this word especially because it engages so much more than a simple understanding. Discernment comes with time, experience, lessons learned, relational context, and it’s a wonderful characteristic of wisdom.  During the later seasons of life, we can discern things in a transcendent manner, I believe.

Infinitesimal – a word I simply adore for its meaning (an indefinitely small quantity with a value approaching zero) and for the wonderful memories I associate with it, as it was a favorite of my old boss U.S. Rep. Marion Berry. He loved using it as a description for the intellectual abilities of so many colleagues who disagreed with him, and the descriptor was often exact. I catch myself using it in the same manner far more frequently than I should.

Here’s a clip of my old boss in rare form on the House floor. This is one of my top three favorite memories of moments of service to this great Southern legislator. He didn’t use his favorite word here, but I know he wanted to. This is worth watching if you want to get your day started with a laugh. It’s classicly known as the “Howdy Doody-Looking Nimrod” clip in reference to a Republican colleague. Debatable judgment here, but nevertheless … MB wasn’t a happy camper this day. Occasionally, if but rarely, I miss the good ole’ days like this.

But glory, oh what a wonderful word to exalt. Glory. It’s my favorite beyond all others.

In the Greek, glory is best translated as weight. So when we ascribe glory to something in balance to other things, we give it significance and importance. It’s especially relevant in the context of God’s own desire for His glorification. It takes a transcendent discernment to know this isn’t a selfish Godly characteristic, but one that’s for our own good, especially in our pursuit of truth.

And it it helps if we understand several other of God’s characteristics and engage some linear thinking.

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” It doesn’t say He admires the truth or respects the truth, but rather that He IS the truth.

Romans 11:32 offers enlightenment of God the Father as transcendent of our earthy understanding. Here’s an easy-to-read version of that verse:

“Yes, God’s riches are very great! His wisdom and knowledge have no end! No one can explain what God decides. No one can understand his ways.”

Read A.W.  Tozer’s thoughts on the pursuit and understanding of God the Father …  Tozer’s pretty deep:

“When we try to imagine what God is like, we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-of-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence, whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed that image out of that which He has made, and what He has made is not of God. If we insist on trying to imagine him, we end with an idol, not made with hands, but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”

That’s worth a lifetime of meditation.

Yet, God clearly instructs us to pursue a holy knowledge of him, and the answer is right here.

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” 2 Peter 3:18

It’s all about Jesus, and it’s a pursuit so beautiful in that it’s a never-ending quest. We can look forward to an eternity of developing a relationship with the Father, through Jesus the Son. Now, and forever. To Him be the glory, the weight, the relevance. The never-ending pursuit of truth is the glorious pursuit of Jesus.

It’s such a transcendent notion, my infinitesimal mind can barely discern it, but I’m trying.

How glorious.

Thank you, Jesus.

Vaya con Dios, for now.

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Video Journal #1 T-21 Days

This is my first video journal recorded last week, and published via Facebook that day. Just wanted to get it on the blog for the archives. I’ll produce a second video this afternoon and will publish it when it’s complete. From now on, each video will go directly to the blogsite. These clips help chronicle my preparation for, and the actual pilgrimage of, the Camino de Santiago beginning on October 19.