Snow and Suffering Can Melt Fast

evergreen-1802157_1280The last two winters have been brutal.

More specifically, this last one was mild and forgetful of its job right up until February and then got brutal to catch up (reminds me of the Seahawks offense). Constant negative temperatures, almost daily blizzards. Considering my fifteen-mile daily commute, this was immensely tiresome. I’d say something melodramatic like “I nearly died three times a week in this weather”, except frankly we Montanans are so used to roadside near-death experiences that they’re routine now.

But I was amazed by this: weather can change awful fast.

Theoretically, fall and spring are transitional seasons. That’s not really how it works here. It’s summer, summer, summer, then BOOM maybe a week or two of something in between before the snow comes. It’s winter, winter, winter, then BOOM it’s pretty warm and the flowers start blooming.

All of a sudden, this week, the brutal cold just evaporated. The sun was suddenly shining, the average temperature jumped by twenty degrees, and not even the highest heaps of snow in parking lots are withstanding the healing radiation. It is melting swiftly, and soon the world will look as if winter never happened.

God can do this, too – with suffering.

Jesus heals people whose winter of discontent has lasted over a decade. It just comes out of nowhere. Long after they’ve exhausted every avenue and come to the end of themselves, these people find Jesus on their doorstep and dive for the hem of his robe. BOOM. No gradual change, just…sudden wholeness.

In Acts 3, Peter heals a man crippled from birth. The man had never even known how to walk, yet there he is after his encounter with Peter, leaping and praising God like he’d never missed a day of ambulation.

How surreal, how stunning such sudden transformation must have been!

God does not always bring such whiplash-inducing changes into our lives, but these stories serve to teach us that sometimes he does. And it needn’t be instantaneous to bring whiplash. Change that comes in weeks or months can be just as dizzying, just as joyful. As some say, “once God does move, he hits the throttle.”

God makes up for suffering. These people had remarkable faith to remember it, to dive for Jesus’ robe even after years of disappointment. May their example teach us.

The Problem With Both “He Will” And He “Won’t”

800px-Cloudy_sky_1_(Unsplash)I’ve had my share of unanswered prayers.

Let me rephrase. No prayer goes unanswered; there are answers we like, answers we don’t, and answers we’re still awaiting. It’s better to say, I’ve had my share of answers I’ve disliked.

Some I still dislike. We must carry some bitter answers for years before we glimpse the Romans 8:28 in them.

Fortunately, this didn’t drive me away from God, just turned me into a bookworm. I read much fine academia on why God doesn’t grant every prayer. I also absorbed my share of theological self-righteousness, because some of those writings are so steeped in nastiness towards spiritual error that their authors probably aren’t much closer to God than those they criticize. (As the man said in Ratatouille, negative criticism is fun to write.)

I emerged from that leg of my race with a solid theology of suffering and an expectation of nothing from God.

Especially when it comes to faith.

I know why God doesn’t grant every prayer, even if prayed in faith. It comes down to what he wants to do in a situation. He’s more qualified and better positioned to pick the best path for us. He is also running 7,399,999,999 other plans that have nothing to do with us (!).

But I can get too far into this.

If we’re bad at knowing what’s good, and if (to be honest) denial and disappointment have such spiritual value, why would he ever grant a prayer? Why bother asking for anything at all?

Veteran followers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve won prestigious awards from the International Overthinking Society, but this really is where my thoughts ended up. I’d approach every prayer with skepticism – without exception. I wasn’t making myself expect a “no”; it was just my gravitational pull.

To explicitly say “God never grants prayers” would have been ridiculous to my own ears. But, well, sometimes the lies we’re believing aren’t evident, showing up only at crunch time.

I knew something was off. But in my overly literal mind, surrender was the only honesty I knew.

So I felt stuck between two paradigms.

Between “he will, just have faith!” and “he won’t, grow up”.

Then I arrived at a revelation for which I can only credit the Holy Spirit.

Neither paradigm requires relationship with God.

You can go through your entire life “believing in faith” for any impermanent, worthless thing you desire, and never hear a word from God. Some do.

You can go through your life praying for very little, beating your desires down harshly, justifying it all with theology – and never hear a word from God. Some do.

But engaging him – seeking his will, listening for answers, accepting both possibilities, trusting that sometimes it glorifies God to fulfill a desire, sometimes to supply something better – is what requires relationship. 

So God makes that kind of prayer the most effective. It’s a brilliant setup. Otherwise we’d content ourselves with one of the two paradigms and walk away without relationship.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

Not doubt…what?

Generously.”

Not doubt his character.

That’s the application of faith that can be trusted. No matter the answer, we can trust his character and must not doubt it.

 

 

The Student Who Disappeared

6840_NRCS_projects.jpgShe was the first student to ask me a math question.

I was being introduced briefly to my first classroom, in a remote reservation school. The semester was already underway, but I wouldn’t begin teaching until the following Monday (for reasons). But she asked if she could raise a quick math question while I was there.

I jokingly said “no”. She grinned and asked anyway.

Her name was Ashley, and we spent most of her sophomore and junior years tugging against each other’s wills like a pair of mules. She wore her heart on her sleeve. Neither her past nor her present were easy, and it’s tough as a teenager to hide the storms inside, so she was often decidedly outside a math mood when she walked into my class. Kneeling down by her desk and willing her through assignments was a common thing (though she was fully capable).

I’d do it all over again. Because with a few students, no matter how stubborn the will, you still have a grin for each other at the end of the day. She was one of them for me.

During my final year at that school, Ashley transferred away. I saw her only a couple of times that year when she’d come back for a visit. Unexpectedly, I saw her again years later, two hours’ distance away, when I delivered pizza to the hotel at which she and some family were staying. She recognized my voice and came running – a delightful little reunion.

Then, some time later, I heard she had disappeared.

She’d been at a party in her hometown and then – didn’t come home. Scarce leads, no immediately apparent motive.

It was then that I learned how much less attention missing persons cases tend to receive on reservations than off, especially with younger women. In an environment where local law enforcement is stretched to the limit and evidence was mishandled, Ashley slipped through the cracks. Her family even ended up testifying before Congress on how difficult it can be to marshal up effective resources to help these cases.

A year and a half later, Ashley is still missing.

This sort of thing wrenches my heart out. There isn’t a single former student whose future I don’t wonder over and worry about, so when it’s something like a disappearance…well. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since, hoping against hope even after all this time.

I wonder if you might say a prayer for Ashley today, and for her family. Though I lack the pay grade to explain why God allows these things to happen, I know he is powerful and loaded with resources. These is nothing he cannot do, and nobody he cannot find.

5 Encouragements for the Long Road to Finding “Your People”

Silhouette Friends Happy People SunsetIt took me a while to find “my people”.

Returning home after the Air Force, I found friendmaking difficult. I’m far from a natural.

First I tried the church’s college group. Never really fit in. Then I latched onto a Bible study of older singles. They were good people but had grown up with more money, and therefore with hobbies and pastimes I struggled to get into. Regardless of where I turned, I found myself on many D-lists.

And just when I was finally starting to feel at home, God called me away on a four-year mission. I still traveled back and forth, but building friendships in that situation is constrained.

Honestly, those were lonely and confusing years.

It’s part of life. I don’t hold grudges; not everyone will like you, or needs to. And honestly, there are people I’ve regrettably put on my D-list.

Eventually, God turned things around. At this point I’d say I have found “my people”.

I tell this story because I know other believers in the same boat, and I want them encouraged. It can be a long trail to finding “your people”, the ones God gives us to share the steep or muddy stretches with, beyond the randomness of a small group. Our band of brothers, our caravan, the human-shaped blessings who “get” us and are healthy for us.

You think you’ve found them (high school); you lose them (college); you have to find new ones (adulting). I didn’t start gaining altitude again until about age twenty-five, and even then, the climb was barely perceptible.

But God was in it. He never leaves our side.

A few thoughts if you’re in the valley now.

 

1. Forgive.

It does no good to hold grudges towards those who didn’t connect with you. It only cuts you off from both God and others. Most of the people who politely turn down your friendship mean no harm, intend no ill messages, and wish you the best. Wish them back.

 

2. Ignore the messages.

Isolation will lie to you. Satan is quite happy to exploit such seasons with messages that blind you to your identity in Christ, messages of worthlessness and self-doubt. Fight that poison tooth and nail. Get into Scripture and find the antidotes. You are God’s.

 

3. Don’t settle.

I am 1) an introvert and 2) picky when it comes to people. It’s hard to regret these qualities, because they drastically cut down on the drama quotient in your life. But they can make friend-finding a longer process.

But 2) is Scripturally mandated. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Cor. 15:33). “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Like dating, the temptation to just go along with those who “get” you, even if they’re not wise companions, is real.

Don’t settle. The wait is worth it.

 

4. Enjoy those you do find.

Sometimes our squad sneaks up on us. I was sometimes so focused on one person or group that I didn’t immediately notice the one or two loyal, interesting, high-character types that God was picking off each cluster for me. This is great. Trust me. They’re now my best mates, even from states or countries away. Relish them to the fullest.

 

5. Don’t give up.

God sometimes sends us on roundabout journeys to even his purposes (and we know life certainly isn’t accommodating). Don’t give up. You have not been abandoned. You’re not hopeless. You’re not globally incompatible.

Keep hitting your knees in prayer. Good things are coming!

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Yes, We Can Still Carol Amidst the Darkness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I learned that I shouldn’t be singing carols as long as suffering persists in the world.

At least that’s the charge of John Pavlovitz, a Christian progressivist blogger whose post I stumbled across today, quite unintentionally, in the course of my internet wanderings (I will not link it). He says our holiday joy should take a sober and subdued form as long as poverty, disease, injustice, and war persist.

I’m still trying to decide how literal he’s being. At first, this seems like a rigid and unfair stance. Suffering will always be around. The poor will always be with us. If you’re holding out for utopia on earth, you’re in for a long wait.

Should we never again sing at Christmas, then?

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Unexpected

storm2A friend of mine lost his father very suddenly this last week.

Another friend is struggling to stay afloat after a car accident last summer brought towering bills and dependence on a chiropractor.

Even sitting down in a chair that can’t support your weight can bring on sudden suffering like nothing you’ve ever known…debilitating pain to wake up to every morning, endless second opinion, flummoxed doctors.

Someone once said something to the effect of, “It’s not the old familiar fears that end up coming true…it’s the ones that come with a phone call at 2:00 on a Thursday morning, the ones you never saw coming.”

How do we live like this?

I certainly don’t want to live paranoid. I don’t want to live life looking over my shoulder.

Yet these stories remind me of the uncertainty of life, and the certainty of death. They remind me tomorrow is not guaranteed. They remind me that God’s ways – whether you believe he directly causes all things or whether he causes some and allows others – are rockier and more elusive than we’d care to admit.

So how do we live knowing that each and every day could bring about the end of our lives as we know them?

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Was Your Mind Made Up?

stormWe were expecting life to be pretty smooth.

High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, all falling into place in our twenties without that many bumps.

And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away. “If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”

Maybe it wasn’t quite that total or explicit. We still love him…kinda. We believe…that he exists. We certainly get riled up on his behalf when some atheist starts talking.

But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise. Continue reading