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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Redemption?

Lately I’ve thought a lot about the theme of redemption.

Especially how God can redeem ridiculously bad situation.

It’s easy to say, and I hear myself saying it a lot. And usually believing it! But.. Just how?

How can He redeem the life of an alcoholic who is 6 bottles deep of some horrible, throat burning alcohol and reaching for a 7th?

How can He redeem the woman who sells herself every night to make enough money to survive? Or the one who is there against her will?

How can He redeem the kid who looks at porn night after night, thinking somehow that this is how life is supposed to look? Fed this lie by a broken culture.

How can He redeem the family who’s abusive husband/father comes home ready to fight every night?

How can He redeem all of this? How can He take this and make it new? Make into something beautiful? Something whole?

I don’t get it.

I don’t get how He can be in every situation. In every moment. Moments where the alcoholic goes for the next amber liquid, the kid for the next website. Any of them! And hundreds more situations just as horrible as the one before it.

As I type this I’m sitting on the roof of a cabin as rain starts slowly around me. The sound of a creek rushing somewhere nearby. It gives me the perfect ambient noise to think. He always gets me thinking near water.

I guess I don’t have to get it. 

I don’t have to understand it. I don’t need to know how He does it.

Because He just DOES.

So many things have been redeemed through Christ. So many people made whole. So many times He has brought people back from the brink. And He’s just gonna keep doing it.

It doesn’t matter if I can have a grasp on what He’s doing, because I know He will.

He’ll redeem that situation. He’ll redeem that behavior. He’ll redeem that person.

He’ll redeem you.

We don’t have to sit and stew in our sin. We don’t have to weep thinking about how terrible we are or how we deserve what’s coming to us. We don’t have to be hopeless.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8 (NIV)

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the Earth.” Job 19:25 (NIV)

According to my Bible, in ancient Israel a redeemer was family member who bought a slave’s freedom or who took care of a widow. Job was saying that his redeemer, the one that would set him free, was coming. He would redeem all of the horrible things that had happened in Job's life.

And therefore, He's gonna redeem yours. None of us, not a single one, are too far gone for God's free redemption. None of us are beyond His loving arms. "But I did (insert some personal sin that in your mind is the most horrible thing you could have ever done)..." 

Who cares? 

God's love is mysterious. In fact, it makes no sense whatsoever. But I guess that's why He's God. He has it covered. He knows what He's doing. That outta comfort you a bit. Comfort that you're Redeemer is right beside you.

I often pray peace and comfort over people. For God to come down and wrap them in His love and warmth. To me, you can never have enough of that. Whatever storms or trials or fiery things you’re facing, you can never have enough time sitting in the Father’s embrace. It’s always applicable. It’s always needed.

And what is more comforting than being set free? Being given our freedom at a price, a price that we don't have to pay? Being able to live the lives our Father wants for us?

What is more comforting than being redeemed?

Not much, I'd say. 


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Eventually Unstuck

Crunching around on the road I realized that this was a problem. I could not get out. My wheels were only digging an ever larger pit in the mud, and I was going nowhere. What’s more, I’m pretty sure this was the only ditch I had seen on that entire stretch of road. Of course.

My optimism couldn’t be killed though, not yet. Initially several people passed by in their vehicles outfitted for such terrain, unlike me. The conversations would go like this:

Them: You stuck?  
Me: Sure am! 
Them: Is someone coming to pick you up?
Me: Not that I know of, one guy offered when he comes back down the road 
Them: Well you got a chain or a rope or something?
Me: Nope!
Them: Well…. We don’t either……….
Me: No problem! I’m kinda enjoying myself 
Them: Well.. Sorry. Hope you get out!

Yeah, that's mighty stuck. 
Then they’d take off. Feeling bad, but not too bad I imagine. I was fine with it. It was too pretty outside. And I had an un-killable mood. 

Did I mention I had skipped lunch? I had skipped lunch. For some reason I was really ready to get on the road. That kinda compounded the whole experience. I think going into it I thought it was going to be some sort of noble fast, but it totally wasn't. Wouldn't wanna get too holy. 

Anyway. 

It was the middle of the day and the sun was high, but it was still cold. Eventually vehicles stopped coming by. It had been about half an hour since I found myself in this mess.

Being a verbal processor I walked around my truck, stood at a distance and said out loud “Well, I’m stuck and I can’t get out by myself.”

Then a thought so simple smacked me in the head that I started laughing hard. Like, a deep belly laugh.

Guys, God has a sense of humor. He isn’t sitting up there like some stoic judge with no expressions or emotions. I think He likes messing with us the way we mess with each other. And He was definitely messing with me.

The face of a man who has no idea what to do. 
I had come out to the woods to have this incredible spiritual experience. Or so I thought. I had planned to meet God by the waterfall and maybe have Him come down and speak with me. Or something.

But God knew better and decided I needed something else. He decided I needed a very visual analogy of my situation. Something so simple I couldn’t over analyze or rationalize it. I just had to accept it.

I was feeling stuck spiritually and I didn’t know what to do. So God had me (maybe “helped” me) get stuck physically, and have me realize that there’s no way for me to get out on my own. I could spin my wheels and shove and push, but I wasn’t going anywhere on my own.

Basically, I was feeling spiritually stuck and God is the only one that can come tow me out. Whatever was making me feel stuck, I couldn’t get out alone. No matter how much I felt I deserved to be there, or how much I tried I was not gonna budge on my own.

He’s the only one that can help me. And for some reason, I hadn’t asked. I was trying to do it on my own. To fix it by myself. To figure it all out.

Ridiculous.

I came to all these realizations while sitting in my truck bed (still at a 45º angle). I was journaling and waiting for a good Samaritan outfitted with some kind of cable or rope to come by.

Awesome. 
After several more people drove past, some were definitely characters, 3 guys showed up at once. A genuine Georgia mountain man, an older fly fisherman, and a younger guy out of college.

The mountain man and the young guy couldn’t really help, but the older man had a jeep and a tow rope. The other two watched to make sure everything worked out while the older man towed from my spiritual ditch. It was serious, too. He had to of towed me 10-15 feet before I was able to get out of the rut.

After that I thanked the men and was on my way….

Just kidding, I got stuck again. God really wanted to drive the point home.

I was trying to turn around and go back the way I came, so I was backing up down this tiny slope onto a campground covered in snow. A young family was down there in their truck, and as I was backing up I almost slid into their vehicle. The man came running up to tell me and I tried to pull forward….

No dice.

So after getting him to push, and then both of us pushing and having his wife drive we were able to force Ivan to fishtail back onto the road to get traction. Then they guided me as I did a 400 point turn on the narrow road to turn Ivan around.

They were very nice people. Something else I learned is that not all people are terrible. Or even mean. Or even bad. Some people just want to help. Forgetting this fact is what makes people so distrusting and cynical, I think. Takes away from life.

Regardless, I was over the Long Creek Falls trail road and high tailed it back out of the woods. Seriously, I sorta hydro-(ice?)-planed like 10 times. But I was NOT going to get stuck again.

Ivan and I eventually made it out of the woods and headed to our palace for the evening. Our pride was wounded, of course. We proved to be inadequate compared to the snowy wilds of North Georgia. But on the whole, I was happy. Because God had spoken to me, and He had done it in a really funny way.

 Wasn't going anywhere.
It was a restful weekend, and well needed time away. It was short, but it was necessary. And full of good stories.

My take aways? Don’t miss the simple, yet glaring, truths that God is throwing at you.

Don’t ask Him to show you what to do unless you’re ready for Him to show you what to do.

And whatever you do, don’t try and do it alone. God not only can help, He absolutely wants to. The way a father wants to be with his kids, God wants to go on your adventures with you. Be with you when you’re fired up, and when you’re telling jokes. When you’re down in the dumps, or on the mountain top.

He just wants to hang out. Maybe teach you a few things along the way.

Man… He sure is cool, isn’t He?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Incredibly Stuck

As my Salmon XA 3D Ultra 2 shoes crunch around on the several inches of well packed snow and ice on the road that ultimately leads to Long Creek Falls and I survey the area around me I realize something… I’m in a bit of a pickle. A very cold pickle.

Let me back up a bit. 

Impulsiveness is not in my blood. It’s unfortunate because I feel like people really enjoy being spontaneous. Being impulsive. I mean a lot of the teenage culture that is in the States is about people breaking the status quo, doing something crazy and going and living life in some funky new way.

But it’s just not me. I try to plan everything. Meticulous research and detail. Surprises aren’t really my thing either, so I try to be prepared for any eventualities. Even when I say I’m being spontaneous, there’s been some planning and thought that’s gone into it.


Knowing all of this about me puts into perspective just how interesting my weekend was.

A little more background, first. Lately I’ve felt stuck. Stuck spiritually, stuck relationally, stuck emotionally. As if all my days consist of is going to work, working, coming home, watching something on TV, going to bed. Normal days full of usual sins and nothing extravagant. It’s horrible. And it’s been grating on me.

Pictured here: my "very cold pickle" finding shoes
The spiritual part particularly though. Because I’ve felt exactly like those dry bones we always sing about how we don’t want to be like. Distant, empty, hollow… Stuck.

I’ve realized more and more how hard I am on myself when it comes to my walk with Christ. How I punish myself for failing and look to try and fine the right things I can do to become this idealized Godly man. Expectations I set for myself. The works. And no matter how much I know that, that isn’t the way to go about it I can’t seem to believe it.

So in the midst of this dry, stuck, hollow mess of whatever I decided I needed to call an audible. Shake things up a bit. I started looking into places in Northeast Georgia where I could get away for the weekend. Where I could go and find some solitude and see if God would hang out with me. But of course even in my spontaneity I tried to plan out everything and make sure there were things to do and places to see. Make sure everything fell in line with my finances. Make sure this, make sure that. It was very responsible.

After hours of researching and trying to find the perfect thing for the perfect price I remembered the tiny mountain town of Blue Ridge, Georgia. A place my family has been before. Against all of my better judgment I went online, found a good place to stay and booked it for the following day. Saturday.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but on Saturday morning I packed Black Ivan (what I named my black 2009 Toyota Tacoma), and set off on the 2 hour journey North to Blue Ridge. I prayed right as I left that God would meet me up there and that we would hang out and He’d tell me what to do.

The drive was beautiful. Much of the snow from the previous winter storm was still on the ground and it blanketed the rolling hills and mountains. White sheets for miles punctuated by trees of all types. The further I drove the less care I had. I was going to do something. I was going to do it outside. And I was going to enjoy it. That was pretty much it.

Finally I arrived at Blue Ridge and bee lined for the welcome center to see where I could go. A short chat with the woman that ran the welcome desk that day yielded a small mountain of brochures and put me on the trail to Long Creek Falls. A beautiful waterfall about 20 miles South of Blue Ridge. She assured me the waterfall was wonderful and the drive was gorgeous and all of the other things she’s supposed to say.

A most fateful mountain of brochures
Good enough for me.

She was right. The drive was gorgeous. The aforementioned snow hugged the hills even better here because it was a less-traveled area. And the body of water somewhere between a creek and a river running along the road made it a perfect scene. Something out of painting. I navigated using one of the brochures and before long I arrived at the road I was looking for. It was an unpaved road just past a bridge that I was supposed to follow for .3 miles and then hang a right.

So I did as I was told, still in awe of the nature around me. Feeling more excited to get out and run around by the minute. Which was when I turned onto the forest road and saw that it was covered in snow.

Admittedly the next bit may be a tad exaggerated simply because I come from the hot, humid, not snowy land of Southern Mississippi. And I really don’t see much snow.

But it was so much snow. Inches and inches. And the road was completely white. I turned into a child. I couldn’t even help it. The chance to get to drive through something straight out of Narnia and the added bit of danger of driving on ice? It was awesome.

Maybe a more modern Narnia
So I began to drive. Slowly. And with whatever knowledge I knew of driving on snow (which came from what I know about hydroplaning). Friends, I did well. I would slide a bit every now and then, but Ivan and I were navigating with gusto. Like Antarctic explorers, or hardened Siberian hunters. Or something.

I was enamored with the scenery. Pine trees laden with snow, their boughs bending low under the weight. Snow banks on either side of the narrow road, built up as people had driven through. The Noontootla creek running lazily by on the right side of the road, ice making it’s borders. The odd bird playing around in the trees. It was heaven.

Until I came to The Slope.

One thing you should know about Ivan is that he… Isn’t an all wheel drive vehicle. He tries his best but, like his owner, there’s always room for improvement. The slope was a bit of road about 3 miles in and I could not drive up it. I tried 5 or 6 times, but Ivan frankly wasn’t up for the task. His wheels would spin out and we’d stall and roll slowly back down. I was trying for one more go when a truck came up behind me, wanting to get around. I tried to move out of the way, but it wasn’t quite enough. His truck was wide.

So, I reversed and tried to hug the left side of the road where the hill was coming down. As I was backing up I felt an all too familiar lurch. And suddenly Ivan was at more of a 45º angle than usual. And for some reason, I wasn’t going anywhere anymore. As if my movement was hindered by some unforeseen force. Upon closer inspection I realized I had found something that would alter my day completely…


I had found a ditch.
My poor, useless tires