Random Blog Clay Feet: 2009-11
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beyond Coincidences

Some answers to prayer and miracles are dramatic, jumping up to catch your attention in a spectacular way. Those are the ones that most people prefer and are exciting to talk about in testimonies and stories.

But then there are the more subdued versions that are a little harder to sell as being spectacular, at least initially. But I wonder if upon reflection a little farther along that they may be seen to be at least as significant if not more in the story line of our lives.

I think that I had some of the latter kinds over the last couple of days and am waiting to see how the “rest of the story” plays out in each of these situations.

Two of these cases involved a deeply estranged relationship between myself and someone else. Both of these have been sources of deep emotional pain to me over the past couple years and have been a subject of prayer. I have been insistent on putting these relationships into God's hands and leaving them there for Him to work behind the scenes as only He is able to do while at the same time keeping close tabs on my own heart to be sure I am not harboring resentment toward these individuals. Whenever I feel some of it inside I try to flush it out into the open and choose again to consciously forgive them.

In the last two days both of these situations have come into focus in my life and with both I have had surprising encounters that I was not expecting or even trying to orchestrate. Neither of these relationships are to the place where I could safely claim that they are fully reconciled, but at the same time I have been encouraged by the small things that have taken place to diffuse some of the tension that has existed for too long. In both instances I have been able to speak with someone on a friendly level and in one relationship we even spent several hours sharing openly almost like old times again – and this after several years of complete incommunicado.

A couple of other things have also transpired in just the last 24 hours that have also affected other sensitive areas of my life. One of them involved tapping into some intense leftover emotions and triggers from my relationship with my own Dad in previous years, and another involved a potential change in my form of livelihood. The later is much, much more tentative and I am certainly weighing a number of factors and options to look for more clear guidance from God's providence. But the issue involving my intense and surprising arousal of old emotions from my Dad was much more interesting.

As I sat in church this morning during class time I was almost blindsided by some comments from another person in the class whom I had never met or known before. But the subject matter, the spirit and amazingly even the tone of voice and vocal pronunciation of certain syllables were so very close to what my Dad would have done just a few years ago while he was still alive that I was almost stunned. Needless to say it was not a pleasant experience because the memories aroused involved some of my Dad's most controversial weaknesses that caused many people who knew him much pain. In his later years he had become so involved with some critical religious organizations that perverted his perceptions that his life became filled to overflowing with bitterness and faultfinding.

I can distinctly remember the last time I ever attended church together with my Dad – in the very same church that I now regularly attend. He acted so confrontational and abrasive during that time that I was humiliated and embarrassed beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life. I had some of my family with me that day and I was seriously wishing that I could just slink down and crawl to the back of the church underneath the pews and escape out the door hoping no one would notice. I also vowed emphatically that I would never, ever find myself sitting in a church with my Dad again for as long as I lived.

I think I may have actually attended church again with him later on, but it was never in that particular church and it was some time after very painful and traumatic events took place that literally banned him from ever entering that church again. Some time later my parents began attending another church some miles away and were much subdued in their interactions with the people there. But it was also not long after that that he started having strokes which landed him in a nursing home finally where he was never able to attend church again anyway.

Not long after entering the nursing home God arranged a series of events in my life so as to bring about a very dramatic reconciliation between us as well as a genuine conversion of my Dad's heart. It was a spectacular miracle to say the least because of the sheer impossibility of the whole event, but I had been daring God for some time to do just that and He did do it, but not without making sure that I was involved in the process as part of my own healing journey.

I suppose that is a lot of background information to create the context for what happened today. But for many years my Dad's virulent attitudes and actions involving strident views he had about certain religious topics were a constant source of friction and triggering between us nearly every time we talked together. Whenever I visited home for a few days I was certain to feel triggered by the worship periods that were required each morning with him. The internal triggers were linked not only with the things that he wanted to emphasize but very much by the tone of his voice, the word inflections and the hidden messages conveyed that only I knew about because I had known him for so long. Other people were sometimes baffled by how many triggers I could receive just listening to my Dad read something or talk about something because they did not have the inside repertoire of links to the many subtle things my Dad inferred whenever he spoke about certain subjects.

What amazed me and elicited these same emotions this morning was the fact that this complete stranger was so closely aligned with the same beliefs and attitudes and spirit that had so hijacked my Dad's attention the last few years of his life, and listening to this man was like being in the presence of my Dad all over again. It was so similar that I could almost predict what this man was going to talk about next – and I was right. His logic and arguments were the very same ones that my Dad had always used and when I heard the same tone of voice and word articulations I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Needless to say I had some rather strong emotions stirred up that I had to deal with right away.

When I decided to make a comment in class to counteract the poisonous sentiments being spread by this person I knew that I might become the target of his anger if he was not willing to take what I said to heart. I was not mistaken in the least as he suddenly turned and fired off another predictable quotation at me meant to stop me in my tracks. But instead of withering away I decided to answer him with what I have come to about this passage after years of reflecting on that particular statement. This caught him by surprise and he was about to launch into an all-out assault on me when the teacher immediately shut down the conversation to bring the class to an end and stop the damage before it got any worse.

I was quite relieved at this because I really have no stomach for getting into a pointless, fruitless argument with a person who is not in touch with his own heart and is so infected by a root of bitterness. I am all too familiar with these roots and the fruits that they always produce and I know that trying to reason with such a person only adds fuel to their fire instead of bringing anything closer to resolution. The real problem is not a lack of correct information or proper interpretation of some passage as they suppose but lies in the condition of a person's spirit. What must take place is a change of heart and attitude, not corrected information or the argument of a better formula.

After the church service had finished I was a little surprised but encouraged when this same man came up and apologized for getting upset with me in class. I cannot judge his motives, though I still think I can read him almost like a book because he seems so similar to my Dad. But later on I took opportunity to have a long talk with the class teacher where I was blessed to have much more insight into the other side of the story and some of the dynamics taking place in that church. I was blessed to see how God was working more than could be seen on the surface and I also spent some time sharing with several people who gathered, my own experience and the story of my Dad and his conversion experience before he died.

Immediately after leaving there we went to meet our girls at another small church that was coming to a close and getting ready to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner together. As our girls related to us the incredible stories that were shared in the group before we arrived I was wishing that we had been there for the whole service so we could have heard these stories ourselves. A number of things also happened during our time in this place that I believe were significant but again I do not know how it all fits together until more developments mature. But it was unavoidable to see that God's hand was in a lot of things that were going on through all of this.

I cannot say why all of this happened today and over the last couple days, but it seems that they were for some specific purposes, many of which I may never know for some time. But the range of emotions that were experienced or resurrected today were certainly unexpected and had a variety of effects on me this weekend. I don't know what it all means, but I do have a sense that I might understand it more as time goes by.

Father, I simply accept all of this from You and trust that You are doing things to bring about more reconciliation on a number of fronts that need to be healed. I ask that You continue to change my heart and my attitudes that get in the way and to also work in every way possible on others who are still resisting Your love or Your convictions in their hearts. I praise You for what I have been able to perceive today along with all that I can't see that You are doing behind the scenes. I trust Your heart and Your plans and Your ways. Bind our hearts together as we all learn to trust You more completely. I give myself, my plans, my will, my life to be used as a testimony for Your goodness and faithfulness.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Today is our 32nd wedding anniversary. As I just wrote that it suddenly occurred to me that my Dad was married twice and both times he was married 32 years. Both marriages ended in the death of his wife, the second one on the day of their anniversary. But my wife just assured me that she has no plans of dying just because that happened to both of my mothers.

Because we were married on Thanksgiving weekend (to accommodate everyone else's travel plans coming to the wedding and because it was more likely to get them to come then instead of around Christmas), each year we are reminded to be thankful for our marriage in more ways than just our anniversary. And every so often, like this year, our anniversary and Thanksgiving day line up on the same day.

This year we are enjoying the privilege of spending this holiday with two of our daughters, one biologically and one by spiritual adoption. I just spent several hours this morning having the most open spiritual conversation with one of them that I have ever been able to have in our whole life. As you can imagine my heart hardly knows how to act after this blessing. I am thrilled to see her opening up to God, learning to listen to His voice to her personally and practicing how to relate properly to the messages she is now sensing from His Spirit.

We have had at times a very rocky relationship with each other over the years. Her biological parents had many of the same hangups that my parents had and that I also had in raising my own children. So the tension that has marked many of our interchanges is not unfamiliar to me but has been a source of great pain at times. I have longed to be able to share my heart with her and get her to understand that I really care for her heart. But most of the time we end up knocking heads instead of meshing gears.

My desire for my relationship with all of my children has been to be able to relate to them at a deeper level as an adult – like a best friend. I am very jealous of people who can honestly say that their parents are their best friends. I wish that was the case between my children and I, but in honesty I have to say that is not the case. I also have to accept most of the blame for this situation because I failed to love them and honor them and inspire them like a good parent should have done. I now realize that this happened because my own picture of God along with the modeling I received from my own upbringing was poor preparation for the job of parenting. I tended to resort to the methods and emotions that were used on me but that proved so damaging in my life. So it is no surprise that the relationship I have to a great degree is not much different than the tension I felt most of my life with my own Dad.

But God is much greater than all of our mistakes and faults. I have been seeking to know His heart for a number of years now as well as asking Him to repair the deep damage my modeling and treatment has had on my biological children. God has sent several other children into our life at various times with different effects and results along the way, but our family is still in process and learning how to relate to each other better as God leads us.

One of these children ended up dying a few years ago at a young age. This was very painful for us especially because it happened while we were estranged from her. Another adopted daughter is still estranged from us and I continue to pray for reconciliation and healing in this relationship. Nothing is impossible with God and only He can bring about the healing and restore the trust and confidence needed to have a positive relationship again. But the daughter with which we are staying right now is really listening and seeking God's heart in spite of all the baggage she received from her parents that was similar to what I experienced. In spite of her background and misconceptions about what God is like she is responding to His drawing love and is allowing Him to love her more and more. This is a source of great joy for me as I sense that she is moving into a stage of her experience where we can communicate about things that before she could not relate to me about without much discomfort.

I know that all of these relationships are very much in process. I know that there will be misunderstandings, hurt feelings, assumptions and all sorts of other bumps in the road ahead with all of my children. But my heart's desire above all is for each of them to somehow begin to see the real truth about God, about His inescapable love for them, His untainted feelings of affection for them that they failed to experience from me. I not only wish that for my children but for my wife and for me as well, to sense the unconditional love of our Father.

This is a day to remember a life of shared love, shared hardships, shared pain, shared experiences, shared memories that have united our hearts and minds for over 32 years together. It is a shared journey of seeking to discover how to relate to the God of our parents who often misrepresented Him to us while raising us as their children. It has been a life of many emotions as we at times felt that God was not listening or caring about us based on our desperate circumstances. But through it all we still have to say that God was and is faithful and that if there has been a problem believing that that it has always been in our perceptions and not because of His lack of abilities.

Our marriage has not been the high profile romance as portrayed by Hollywood and that is idealized in the movies. Our relationship has been a mixed bag of emotions and experiences. But one thing that has stabilized us through all of these years is the ironclad decision that we have always maintained and that I can remember my parents instilling deep into my thinking, the decision that divorce was never going to be an option for us no matter what happened. I cannot say that I have had too many reasons for even wanting to think in that direction, but the very fact that it simply was never an option that we would even allow into our thinking has led us to be serious about facing our differences and problems instead of running away from them.

I know that I am not the ideal husband. Many times when I see other people who are enjoying obvious marital bliss or when a husband is openly selfless and sweet to his wife that I at times feel very guilty and delinquent. I have way too many faults and have far too much selfishness to be the blessing to my wife that she deserves. This may not sound like the ideal anniversary tribute, but I feel that honesty is something that is remedial and important for my heart. I know I am learning and growing but that I have a great long way to go to be the loving, caring husband that God wants my wife to have.

But in 32 years of give and take and standoffs and reconciliations, through it all we have grown closer to each other at levels beneath what we can consciously perceive. I am so thankful that my wife has a heart to know God as I too want to experience. And though her journey to find God at a deeper level is usually very different than the way I do it, I am learning to respect her private journey and to encourage her uniqueness and expressions and struggles as she learns to respect mine.

I am not one easily given to flowery language and romantic expressions. Everyone who knows me much at all can tell you that. I am more of a pragmatist and what I think is a realist. But for me, to be real and face things like they really are is the first step toward being better able to then move toward a deeper relationship that is genuinely connected and has affections that are based on more than surface beauty or performance. We are learning, albeit very slowly at times, to know each others heart while also seeking to know the heart of our Creator and Father. I wish that romance was something I was better at, but I am the product of my past. And while the future does not have to equal the past, what I am in the present has always been all that I have to work with at the moment.

God led our lives together in very complex situations in both of our lives. We still wonder what some of the reasons were behind how God has led us over the years, but of course we will never know until He can explain it all better in heaven. But for now we are learning that God's heart can be trusted even when we may fail each other. God is love, and if God is not in the marriage it is impossible to know true love between a man and a woman. There may be emotions and excitement, but real love can only be found from the heart of the only One who is love.

Today we mark the milestone of 32 years of experimenting together, of learning how to love in the context of marriage. Have we learned anything yet? I believe we have. But I will be the first to say that there is far more to learn than what we have already grasped. And I pray for God to keep opening and softening my own heart so that I can be a better father and husband to the hearts of both my wife and all of my children so they can more clearly see what love should really look and act like in real life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Triple Dipper Day

Yesterday I had what I called a triple-dipper – a day spent with some of my favorite people.

The night before I decided at the last minute to take a family that is becoming close to us up to Chicago all day yesterday to attend some meetings by one of their, and my, favorite speakers, Herb Montgomery. This young man is one of the most exciting preachers that I know of when it comes to presenting a clarified picture of what God is really like. His teachings have greatly helped me to sort out many confusing issues revolving around why Jesus died on the cross and why bad things happen to good people. He is not afraid to tackle the most challenging and emotionally charged issues in religion and I admire him for this.

Because we have never met him in person even though we have listened to many hours of his sermons, I was quite interested in taking this opportunity to see him live and maybe get a chance to interact with him a little myself if possible. I had actually contacted him several months ago about assisting him with some of my audio editing skills and helping get some of his series recordings ready for public use. But over the past few months I have become very discouraged over even communicating with him as he has been so busy. I had about come to the point where I decided that possibly he was trying to avoid me and did not want to come right out and tell me that. So I decided that if I couldn't make meaningful connection with him this time in person that I would just drop my efforts to hook up with him and let the whole idea die.

Our friends, a family of five, have become very interested in the things that Herb teaches after I began sharing his talks with them some time ago. They somehow felt that the things he talked about and the way he presented them were so sensible and compelling that they wanted to learn more. They even went to his website and downloaded more of his series to listen to. So when they learned that he was going to be this close to us they were very excited to take the opportunity to meet him in person. However, since they were having car problems they had decided to give up on the idea until I called them Friday evening and offered to take them in our car.

As a result we all had to get up around 4 AM which for them in particular was not an easy thing to pull off. But we got all loaded not long after 6 AM and got on the road with eager anticipation. When I had called for directions the night before I learned that in the afternoon there was going to be a Michael Card concert. This popular Christian musician is one of our favorite singers and my wife was very upset that she was not able to go along. Since she has been sick the past few days she decided that it would not be wise to try to make this trip and risk getting other people sick. However, she was very jealous and upset that she would be missing out on one of her favorite Christian artists and reminded me of that each time we talked on the phone.

But since the concert required tickets I assumed at this late date that it might be impossible to get any tickets for us. We choose not to generally buy or sell things on God's Sabbath according to His instructions so I assumed that short of a miracle we would either have to miss out on the concert and wait around outside for the last evening meeting with Herb or just come home early after the morning meeting.

It took us around 2 ½ hours to arrive at the church where the meetings were to take place and we got there about 9 AM. I decided to hang out upstairs where the sound and video techies hang out because that is where I feel most comfortable. They were kind to show me their software and the equipment they have which I found very interesting and informative. The balcony area where all this is located was also a very good vantage point to view everything going on in the church, much better than anywhere on the main floor.

After participating in Sabbath School for both the adults and the children, we very much enjoyed the compelling message by Herb for the church service. He was close to wrapping up a 10-day series called Life Unlimited which is all about how to find real fulfillment and satisfaction in every area of life – mental, financial, emotional, spiritual, physical and social. It is an excellent series that he has developed and is presenting it repeatedly all over the world at this point. It is also keeping him so busy that he is coming close to burnout it seems. Fortunately he is done for this year after this one closes and can spend some much needed time with his children and wife for a period of time before flying off to do more seminars.

We had a delicious fellowship dinner together with a large number of people after church. I felt I was so hungry after not having hardly anything for breakfast that I almost overestimated how much I could eat and uncharacteristically got two platefuls of food. That was enough to keep me for the rest of the day but in the evening the church secretary brought in more food for us to eat which was very kind of her.

I decided to go and talk with the man in charge of the tickets for the afternoon concert to see if I had any options. He told me that we could still get tickets and that I could just pay him later. I told him that I had not come prepared with that much money and he allowed me to just send him a check after I got home to take care of the cost. This was really exciting for us as we could then enjoy the full day listening to both Herb and Michael Card all on the same day. Michael had played a couple songs before Herb spoke in the morning and we knew that the concert was going to be very inspiring because of his personal style and laid-back personality along with his excellent musical abilities.

I chose to view the afternoon concert from up in the balcony sitting with the sound man and his wife. I tried to get a couple pictures from there but it was a challenge to get a good shot without a flash that could reach that far or a stronger lens. But the music was superb and it really blessed our hearts.

That evening we stayed for the evening presentations by Herb and were even more blessed and inspired. My friends really soaked up the amazing insights that Herb shared directly from the Bible which are so different than anything other speakers ever talk about. During the intermission and a bit after the last meeting I was finally able to spend a few minutes speaking with Herb about various things and we agreed that we wanted to stay in touch much more. I feel a real resonance with the spirit that Herb has and would like to get to know him much better if possible. I hope that this can work out for both of us.

We had a long drive home and got in around midnight with a car full of very tired children and adults. But all of us were so blessed and my tiredness seemed different than usual. I was surprised that I did not get very sleepy even after being up for so long and driving so far. It just seemed that my body and mind had been so energized by the wonderful mix of friends and favorite people and the presence of God that I may have been feeling a little of what Jesus was talking about when His disciples couldn't figure out why He lost interest in eating after sharing the wonderful good news about God with the woman at the well.