I had an opportunity this past week to witness one of the most amazing natural wonders I have ever seen. In essence, it was a swarm of piliated woodpeckers feasting around me in a beautiful sanctuary of woods. The following morning, I arose in hopes of catching the same flock of the dinosaur-like figures rattling out their cacophony of squawks and taps in the woods. To my dismay, there were only but a few.
As I ponder over what brought these marvelous birds together that morning, I realize just how blessed I was to be witness to this miracle. I begin to wonder how often we as people become caught up in the why or the reason behind things and miss the simple beauty and miracles that surround things. We in ourselves are a curious group. We like to understand things. But, at what expense. How often do we miss the awe in search of the analytical? That is not to say there is no beauty in the science but to rather ask, do we always need to search for the meaning.
I am reminded of the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The pivotal scene where they finally find the tomb with the holy grail and they must choose which cup is the cup of the covenant. They make the cup out to be simple and plain. As if the cup of a carpenter cannot be beautiful. Why I would argue that some of the most beautiful art we have is from the meek rather than the rich simply because they sink their heart and soul into what they have.
I recently had an opportunity to visit the Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As a true tourist, I must admit I did not have the opportunity to come to understand much about their culture, religion, or the people. However, what I did learn is that they, in their somewhat simpler approach to things, have a way of finding beauty in the most amazing places and ways.
I dwell on this beauty issue a bit because I have three daughters that are all just starting to explore topics such as pierced ears, makeup, clothing, and other items of fashion. As a parent, I struggle as I see them as such gifts and beautiful in their own right. I cringe at the idea of the gobbing their faces up with paint that they do not need. Or, flaunting their body’s in scant clothing that displays things that are suggestive to the wrong person. I understand the interest in adornments. At the same time, I understand the beauty in the work of God and the gifts that we already have.
There is beauty in all of us. Most of all there is beauty in loving ourselves. We must learn to appreciate the simple things in the world around us. We must learn to appreciate the beauty inside of us. If we always seek out the why or the justification, then we may miss the bigger picture or the beauty that is happening around us. Sometimes the biggest gift is to simply sit and appreciate the world we are in and the gifts we have been given.
I was thinking about barriers the other day. I asked myself what may hold different people back from seizing the opportunities presented to them. Surely everyone would want to grab ahold of the blessings laid out before them if only they could see those opportunities. Then I walked into my church and it was as if God had heard my question. In the middle of his sermon, our pastor began to speak of how different people may feel that “church” is not for them. Or how some may feel that they are not worthy of Christ’s blessing. We reviewed several passages from the Bible and discussed the epiphany of Peter where he entered the house of a gentile. I was also guided to Galatians 3:28 where Peter emphatically declares how we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord.
This equality is an interesting challenge for people. We struggle with it at so many levels. It has been a struggle for us throughout history. With royals and surfs, landowners and slaves, men and women, heterosexuals and the LBGTQ community, and perhaps most importantly, individuals and their innermost daemons. It is our internal struggles of inequality where we must first see equality and find love if we are ever to get past this issue. If we as individuals are to embrace Peter’s epiphany with the gentiles and see that we are all equal and grab the opportunities before us then we must all find love inside of ourselves and for ourselves.
My daughter’s school is celebrating LBGTQ awareness this week. She asked me why this community had a day of celebration when other people did not. As she put it, they are just people. I tried to explain to her that unlike other people, they have been discriminated against and as a person who was not a member of that community we should use this day as a reminder to strive for equality in our actions and to remember that we need to both love ourselves and to love those around us. These are difficult concepts for a child to understand. They are often difficult concepts for an adult to understand. But the more we hear, talk and think about these ideas, the more likely they are to become a part of our daily lives.
So, barriers, how does all of this fit in with my thoughts from the other day? I believe that we build these for ourselves. As we see these “inequalities” these discrepancies between ourselves and the world around us, we build barriers. These may be real or fake but often they are self-created. The challenge, or opportunity that we have is to level the playing field, whether for ourselves or for those around us and help to remove those barriers. I understand that this is an old argument. The discussion of equality that has been made for years. But I also believe that there is a point here that a portion of this I saw being etched again into, yet another generation and I see it building in the personal nature of the mindset of people around me. I see it going beyond the systemic cultural inequality that we have developed into personal self-loathing that people develop for themselves. It is this inner struggle that I believe we as individuals must address. This is the struggle that I believe feeds and fosters the larger more systemic issue.
Transitions are an amazing time of life. We all go through them; some small and some big. The trick is in how we manage them. I have a son that has a very hard time with transitions. I often struggle with his challenge in these times as I do not share his dilemma. However, I on the other hand, find extreme stress in routine; which is perhaps ironic. In this capacity I am able to empathize with him in a polar opposite fashion. In this respect we both have a perspective on transitions which allows us to share a unique bond through these periods of change and in this we can support each other.
Perhaps this is the part that makes transitions bearable, support. I reckon that support is the one thing that we all need to get through most challenges in life. This may be the key that we need to convert a challenge into an opportunity. It is with support that we are able to see past the difficulty and into the blessing. Here-in lies the miracle of grace.
I once was asked why I believed in God. The question went on to ask if I had ever spoken to him or had he ever spoken to me. I answered with a resounding yes. Grace and love I believe are the voice of God. These are not the things that we extol from ourselves naturally but rather with the blessing from God. When we extend a hand to help a friend or stop on the side of a road to help a stranger, I see the grace and voice of God speaking in all of us.
I once read a story of a runner who collapsed just feet from the finish line of a marathon. Set to win the race her body failed her and betrayed her of victory. Grace stepped in and brought her to her win as her competition stopped in their tracks and carried her across the finish line making for a three-way tie at the line. It is stories like these where I hear the voice of God loudest.
Last year I was struggling with heart issues, I have for some time now. At that time, I had a cord and a half of wood to relocate from one part of my yard to another. My daughter is eleven and full of vigor. She came to my rescue. With her help that wood became light as a feather. She was more than a cheerleader in this effort. She was a workhorse, moving mounds of wood and keeping a positive attitude throughout. On the last day we worked, we finished as the sun set. The sky erupted in a beautiful bouquet of pinks and oranges. If that was not the voice of God speaking in my life, what possibly could be?
So, to bring this full circle, I do believe that God is with all of us. I believe that he is our ultimate support in times of transition. It is with his support that we can find opportunities in challenges. It is up to us to look, listen, and to be open to hearing his voice in the people, the actions and the world around us. Only then will we be able to receive that support. God is in and with us. Welcome him when life is amazing and when life is hard.
Life should be hard. I don’t mean to imply that we should suffer, but rather that we should not be floating through life sitting on our laurels. We should challenge ourselves We should always be looking for opportunities to grow, to seek new lessons that can open doors and help the world in which we live.
I was talking with my daughter about a show she was watching. She said she liked it because it was so ridiculous. She said that she felt like the person who made the show looked like they did not even try and that was why she liked it. I suggested that she should watch something that challenged her mind and engaged her intelligence. She is a very bright individual.
I carry that conversation into a larger forum and think about many of the YouTube shows that I see kids today watching and realize that children today are captivated by laziness. I also see examples of this in their dancing and so much more. I reflect on the difference between the Floss and the Lindy. Not saying that I can do either, but the difference in complexity is amazing. Again, I say life should be hard. We should not be looking for the easy way out but rather the complexity, the intricacy that engages our hearts to grow and live full lives.
I do not wish to be miss understood. I am not for a second calling today's youth lazy. I have plenty of examples of hard work from my children. But rather, I see them as the canary of society today. The warning that we as individuals must resist laziness. I was offered an opportunity to park my family’s camper at a campground for a season, it occurred to me that this might offer two advantages. First, we would be able to camp more often because it would be easier to go camping. Second, it would be more convenient and could become a more routine activity. With further reflection, I also realized that we would lose a huge portion of what I love about camping, the exploration; the adventure. In one fell swoop, we would lose the opportunity to explore new places. We would also lose the chance to meet people from different places and the adventure of towing the camper; just for the convenience of routine.
As my family looks for campgrounds to visit, we see more of them converting large numbers of sites to seasonal sites. Another canary? These indicators of sedentary living surprise me when I reflect on the pioneering history of our ancestors. What must we do to rekindle the drive for our next westward exploration, for our next search for Mecca, for our next great quest for humanity? I am not talking about the next great google search on the Internet but rather the quest in our souls to find life and invigoration. To find purpose. To seek out opportunities.
I challenge each of us to have a hard life. In the work of life, we should find the challenges that help us to thrive, prosper and grow so that we do not suffer but flourish in the hardship that helps us explore the opportunities that fill our lives with joy and color.
This weekend I was surprised with an amazing opportunity. A little over a year ago my family moved from Vermont to our new home. We have tried several different churches in our search for the current congregation we have currently settled into. I am thrilled with the community we have found. My daughter has never been more connected with her spiritual life. As I walked into church this Sunday, a bit distracted with my own toils, a bit disheveled and unkempt and certainly not prepared for a public appearance. My pastor approached me and asked if I would be interested in reading the scripture during the service.
As a five-year member of my past church in Vermont, I had been a part of committees but never been asked to openly contribute to the congregation or help participate in the worship. I had never been asked to help celebrate in the joy we as a congregation felt for our Lord Jesus. This is not to say that there was an issue with my past church but rather with me. I realized that I was closed off to the celebration. Here I was, disheveled and in my own personal space and I realized that somewhere along the path I had become open to these small gestures of invitation; these small surprises.
As I received this gift, I found myself open to the miracle being passed to me as an invitation to my relationship with God. I saw a door opening and an opportunity to walk forward with my congregation. This small gesture was more to me than just a chance to read. It was a chance to grow.
It is important that we as individuals look for these surprises in our life when we can grow as people and in our life with God. It is through this growth in our relationship with Him that we will find more joy, love, and glory in his grace. For me, it was in the simple reading of a Sunday scripture that I found an opportunity to face a challenge and reap the benefit of God’s grace. What is your next surprise of glory?
I found this opportunity to be unique in my life. It was not an instant “aha”, but rather a slow realization of what was to wash over my spirit. As I repeatedly read the passage I was asked to share, and nervously pondered how I might stumble and stutter in front of these faithful people. I became increasingly aware of the state of my hair, my dirty jeans and my overweight body. I found little comfort in the pants covering my prosthetic leg. Iwondered how I might be able to stand stably in front of this audience. Then two more gifts from the Lord soothed my confidence. Our church has a tradition on the fifth Sunday of the month. They do an acoustic Sunday where they quiet the music a bit. This week they sang a song that spoke to me in a way that calmed my heart and helped me to realize that it was not about my performance in front of the congregation but rather about my worship with the congregation for the Lord Jesus. Then, as our last song ended, our pastor began to speak, and the music continued. Here I realized that we are all human and not infallible. With humility, I walked to the front of the church, took a deep breath and gave praise to God.
When I sat down to start writing this blog my first thought was to focus on the scripture passage. For it also moved me. As I gave it more thought I realized that it was not Mathew 4 that was as important as the surprise that came from the experience around Mathew 4 that mattered. Be open to the surprise. Be open to the gifts and opportunities that are given to you. What is the saying, “the Lord works in mysterious ways.”? Perhaps. Or maybe we just don’t open our eyes when we need to.