Posted in Living this Life

The bell still rings for me…

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I rode the Polar Express the other night.

Not by myself, of course – that would have been weird.

My family all jumped aboard with me – we dug out the Christmas PJs and Santa hats and braved the cold to ride the train. We sang the Christmas songs, drank the hot chocolate and ate the cookies – we met Santa, saw the elves, and let ourselves feel the magic of the story.

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But as I sat in the middle of all the merriment – I looked around at all the other families sharing this moment with us and thought – this is all so bizarre. There is the man up there, with his arms covered in tattoos participating in the same experience as me. And in another car, there is the big family wearing matching giraffe costumes – I still don’t know what that has to do with the Polar Express or Christmas, but they looked cozy and happy. Surrounding me are people of all ages – wearing all manner of PJs and random Christmas attire – every walk of life, sharing this moment, this story, this child-hearted experience.

And I can’t stop thinking about it.

Whey do we do these things? We drink lukewarm hot chocolate, eat cheap sugar cookies, and listen to a story we’ve heard over and over … and we LOVE it! The incongruity of it all makes me think that something much more important is happening in our spirits and maybe we just don’t have the words.

If you’re anything like me, this grown-up world can spin you upside down. And if we’re not careful, the harsh winds can form a crust around our souls until we stop feeling. Maybe what we all need this Christmas season is a taste of childlike wonder to wake our souls up and help us see beyond ourselves.

Chesterton says it like this: “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.”

Is it possible? Do you think that this is what we’re all really craving but don’t know how to say it? A taste of the kind of wonder that we’ve all somehow forgotten? So we slip on our jammies and ride Christmas trains and whisper “do it again” because we all need to wake up our slumbering souls and savor the wonder again?

What about when it ends, and we wake up the next morning, put on more appropriate attire, throw in the next load of laundry, take the kids to school, and go about our workday, shuffling along in the apparent monotony of life. What about those days that unfold into weeks until we start to feel like robots in a factory?

I saw a man yesterday who had been through mind-numbing physical pain. He was a strong, active man – but sickness recently claimed his foot and part of his leg. As I saw him being helped on stage, with what remained of his leg wrapped and hanging out the bottom of his pants, my heart broke a little. Then he spoke, and my heart swelled. This is what he said about his pain – “it’s been a great adventure. All this pain – it’s worth it to simply feel.”

Maybe we spend too much time trying not to feel. We avoid the pain, numb our spirits with technology and diversions. We escape the monotony by running somewhere else in our minds, wishing we could be anywhere but washing these dishes again. We see other lives on social media that seem so much more interesting than ours and we forget that they start and end the day the same way we do – maybe we all need to ride the Polar Express and remember how to feel the wonder again.

To do it again with hearts awake! To let the magic pour out of the air around us and soften the crust around our souls. “All around us, magic is overflowing and running down the streets. Do you really live on a ball spinning in circles through the stars? Does the heat from the closest star really make trees and grass and moss out of the carbon dioxide in the air? Have [they] really pulled black ooze up from beneath the earth’s skin, mixed it in their lairs into something that explodes, and made us magical metal boxes than can race around on roads, riding on those explosions? Are you bored with that, yawning in your seat belt? Is lightning real? Tornados? Does the big spinning ball beneath us always suck us down, and are we really talented enough to constantly balance on our feet? What kind of creatures are we?

Sit Moses and Beowulf down, and listen to their stories. Sit Bilbo down and listen to his. Do you disbelieve their tales? Are they made up? Are they fantasy? Now tell them your stories. Have you flown through the sky in a giant metal tube? Do we have boats that can sail to the very bottom of the sea? Have we thrown men all the way to the moon?

A hobbit would laugh at you. To him, your world could not be real. Your stories would be fun to read, beneath a blanket on a rainy day. He might look out of his window and sigh, wishing for a more magical world of his own.” (N. D. Wilson)

Whatever you have ahead of you today, this is the only day we’ve got! Let’s be brave enough to stop the hurry in our souls and let the hardness fall off. I know it’s not all starry eyed happy – I know pain often hovers or threatens to consume. But when Jesus said “let the little children come to me”, He was talking about you and me. In the middle of all we have before us today. He said the kingdom of heaven belonged to them – to us! This is not just future tense, this is our foretaste of the kingdom of heaven now.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

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Posted in Living this Life

Normal

It’s been about 6 months since my life has seen much “normal”. In the midst of unexpected life situations at home, we have found ourselves travelling with our family more than we usually do. We have crossed through 28 states and through 12,000 miles since the end of June, and suddenly I find myself at home again, trying to return to some sort of routine.

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I have to admit – for all the joy and discovery I find as we travel, it leaves me feeling a bit untethered.

It’s been just long enough for me to kind of forget what “normal” is. Long enough for the edges of my days to feel a bit frayed.

I begin my days unsure of what to expect. And I end my days not knowing if I’ve accomplished what I was “supposed” to do.

I’m sure you can relate? It happens to all of us – these days of unpredictability and inconsistency.

It’s an unsettling kind of feeling, isn’t it? Because most of us like our parameters. We like to believe we have some sort of control over our days. It gives us direction, helps with discipline, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Life is so much simpler when lived by rules – it is manageable. But what do we do when it is suddenly taken away?

I didn’t know I was doing it, but lately I found that I have been sub-consciously waiting for this season to end. I told myself I would start to work out again when life was “normal”. I would find time for more “planned” romance in my marriage when our schedule got organized again. I could excuse being impatient with my family because the uncertainty of my days caused an undercurrent of stress in my spirit. I would start memorizing Scripture when I could do it in a more consistent way.

I was putting life on hold, waiting for the right time to start living it.

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We often fall into this storybook mindset of what “normal” should be, and though we all seem to define it somewhat differently, it makes us feel safe. So when the unexpected happens, we are often left undone.

So I wonder? What happens when we flip this notion that life needs to follow our pre-ordained pattern? What does the Bible say about how we pattern our lives? “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:2)

“Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Prov 27:1

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.” (James 4:13-16)

I find myself wincing a little at James here. Please don’t tell me my beloved schedule is an arrogant scheme! I have never thought of my plans as boasting, but when we make our schedule into our god, this is our downfall. And I think this is James’ point – our calendar and our plans, are not organically bad or arrogant, but they must always be held with open fingers, fully submitted to the will and direction of God.

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So here I go, stating the obvious. We live our lives in a frenzied rush, waiting for a return to “normal”, when the reality is, we have no guarantee of anything beyond today. This moment is what we have been given by God, so how am I going to live it well in the situation I currently find myself in?

What if, in the midst of our routines, we insert those key few words that James suggests – “If it is the Lord’s will”. For all our plans, all our lofty dreams, are simply a part of a greater plan being worked out by our God. I wonder how many moments God has planned for us that we miss because we are following our own simple idea of how this day should go? I am not against schedules and routines – but I don’t want to be bound by them. Let’s shake off the shackles of our own expectations and awaken to the wonder of God’s greater plan.

So as we go about our “normal” days – sitting in traffic, working at the office, conducting a meeting, flying across the country, or washing that 10th load of laundry, let’s remember that “When our [plans] are interrupted, His are not. His plans are proceeding exactly as scheduled, moving us always (including those minutes or hours or years which seem most useless or wasted or unendurable) “toward the goal of true maturity” (Rom 12:2 JBP).” – Elisabeth Eliott.