Category: Reflections

Born to Trouble

In May I stayed the night in Venice before a flight. I was walking the streets from San Marco to the bus station when I heard this terrible shriek of pain. I looked up and a seagull had caught a swallow and was killing it. I wanted to throw something at the seagull. I couldn’t get the shriek out of my mind. It over-shadowed my evening.

I came home and was watching a family of birds at my feeder. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the neighbor’s cat and before I could blink a baby bird was carried away in cat jaws.

I sat on a Spiritual Direction call as tears dripped through the telephone line. Trouble. Pain. Loss.

And these words from N.D. Wilson came to mind:

Heat rises. Man is born to trouble. When Job lifted his face to the Storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.

Lions are fed. Every day, animal stories end in those jaws. Leviathan snorts fire. Unicorns won’t plow. What good is a story without struggle? What good is a plot without danger? How is a character’s mettle tested? How is it made in the first place?

Nails are forged for pounding. Man is born to trouble. Man is born for trouble. Man is born to battle trouble. Man is born for the fight, to be forged and molded—under torch and hammer and chisel—into a sharper, finer, stronger image of God.

Eve had done nothing wrong. Our mother wandered the garden, doing no evil. She and her lover existed in Paradise. What had she done to deserve a dragon? A serpent? A forked tongue and lying eyes laboring to get her killed?

She had been born. Her life was a story. She was born—even when pure—for trouble.

Ponder this. Adam. Our unfallen father arrives on the scene to discover what exactly?

Adam was given the world and a garden and all manner of fruit to eat. He was given every beast to tend and name. He was given a wife and lover traced by God’s own fingers—a muse to make Helen of Troy put on sunglasses and a hoodie in shame. Fairy tale. And then, having done no wrong at all, he was given a dragon, a wife who had been deceived, who had believed that God was a petty liar and therefore chosen to defy Him. Eve had stepped directly under the curse of the Almighty, smack into thou shalt surely die. Adam, still having done no wrong, had been given loss. He had been given trouble with a capital T. And like every person who has been given a beating heart and breathing lungs and seeing eyes and hearing ears and fingers and thumbs and thoughts and an entirely unasked-for existence in the flowing stream of history on this space-time stage, he had been given a choice.

As the sparks fly upward, Eve was born to a moment in the garden when she faced a dragon spewing lies.

As the sparks fly upward, Adam was born to a moment when his garden was invaded by a deceiving dragon and he learned that his love was under a death curse.

The plot hinged. The past was ready to be written in forever stone. The future waited to swirl up or down, left or right.

Death By Living – N. D. Wilson

The future waits for us to choose. How will we live in the midst of turmoil and trouble. Some days lions are fed. Other days God sends an angel to close their jaws. Sometimes, having done nothing in particular to earn it, we are given trouble. We are given choice.

The plot hinges. What will you choose? What will I choose?

Can I worship in the echo of the screaming swallow?

Will I trust the Word of the Lord when a serpent out to get me killed comes crawling into the garden?

The plot hinges…

I suspect I’ve quoted this book more than any other book.
It’s impact on me can’t be measured. Check it out:
Amazon US:

Year of Joy: Beginning Lent

Since I first began practicing Lent I have made a habit of asking God what He would have for me in this season.

What indulgence might I set aside in order to tune my heart to greater awareness and prayer, toward greater humility and imitation of Jesus’ delight in doing the will of the Father at any cost to himself?

For me it usually involves food and it almost always means giving up soda (one of my most treasured indulgences).

So  I was a bit surprised when God told me that what He wants from me this year is a sacrifice of praise.

An offering of thanksgiving.IMG_4423Then I read this morning’s Lent devotional…

A life of faith is a life of gratitude – it means a life in which I am willing to experience my complete dependence upon God and to praise and thank him unceasingly for the gift of being.

A truly eucharistic life means always saying thanks to God, always praising God, and always being more surprised by the abundance of God’s goodness and love.

How can such a life not also be a joyful life? It is the truly converted life in which God has become the centre of all.

There gratitude is joy and joy is gratitude and everything becomes a surprising sign of God’s presence.

Show Me The Way – Readings For Each Day Of Lent

It never ceases to amaze me how God speaks right to my heart at just the right time.

I’ve been asking Him for joy.

I’m desiring to grow in awareness of Him and to be formed into the image of Christ.

And the “sacrifice” that He asks of me is the very one that answers both of those requests.

“How can such a life not also be a joyful life?”

“There gratitude is joy and joy is gratitude and everything becomes a surprising sign of God’s presence.”

He’s so beautiful, this Beloved of mine.  He gives and gives and gives.

And when He asks me to die to self, even in this, He gives me more than I could ask or imagine.

Year of Joy and 40 Days


I sat in the Ash Wednesday service this morning and every single word was a gift from God to my heart.

I thought of Peter weeping bitterly over his betrayal.  I thought of how Jesus knew all about the mess that was Peter.  How He prayed for him.  How He welcomed him on the beach and said, “Come and have breakfast.

I kept thinking about how Jesus knows me.

How He knows the mess that is me.

How He welcomes me.

And how He calls me to die. 

To die to my false self. My self-centered self.

(So that I can live to my true-self-in-Christ.)

How He calls me to feed His sheep. To live love.

When I die to self then I live to Love.

When I die to self then I live to Joy.

Then I live to JOY!

I wrote the post below several years ago. It speaks a sweet reminder to me today.

40 days to wander, 40 days to die to self
40 days to grow stronger as faith breaks open the gates of hell.
The Jubilee is over, but grace is far from gone
In the hearts of the faithful, broken on the wheels of love.


In the desert of temptation, lies the storm of true conversion,
where springs of living water drown and refresh you
And as the Jordan pours out change,
your true self is all that remains,
where springs of living water bind and break you.

40 days to remember the Paschal sacrifice
40 days to discover as passion calls us to new life
The Jubilee is over but mercy is far from gone
In the arms of the Father as the wayward child comes home.

– Matt Maher –

Several images in this video caught my attention and surprised me. I was captured by the illustrations of Jesus at play, chasing birds, finding joy.

Odd as it may be, I never once thought of Jesus experiencing joy during his 40 days in the wilderness. And yet, something about these simple images stirred my soul.

Why would I think joy was absent when God was present? And I thought of all of the times, when in the midst of hardship and struggle, I have found such joy in surrendered intimacy with my Lord.

In the midst of 40 days of dying to self, in the midst of this season of Lent, there is great joy to be found as death brings forth resurrection. Not just Easter morning resurrection, but present resurrection, living wide awake to God in the midst of the wilderness.



“Where springs of living water bind and break you.”

Swearing Fealty to a King (Revisited)

This is a re-post from 2007, but it expresses some of the things that I have been thinking lately.  I’ve been pondering Matthew 20, where James and John tell Jesus that, yes, they can drink the cup that Jesus is going to drink.  It seems such a glib statement.  Do they have any idea of what He is saying?

I think that swearing fealty to a king (committing our lives to Christ) is much like their statement, “We can.”  Jesus makes it possible.  He tells the sons of Zebedee that “You will indeed drink from my cup.”  But like them, I wonder if we have any idea about the commitment we are making or the ongoing grace that will be needed for it to become a reality and our deepest desire for our lives.


I love to read. The words on the page couple with my imagination making the story 1,000 times more real than any movie portrayal. Yet, I rarely read anything not written for the Christian market anymore. I simply grew tired of being entertained by stories containing images that I should not put into my mind. But recently I picked up a fantasy series from the secular market based on the recommendation of one of my favorite authors. And I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it is one of the most compellingly written series that I have read in years.

My favorite type of book comes from the fantasy genre. In fantasy, the battle of good against evil looms larger than life and everyday events become part of an epic tale where common people are transformed into heroes. In a sense it compares strongly to the Christian life. We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood, that a war in the heavenlies exists around us and that our prayers and simple obedience (or disobedience) influence the outcome.

One theme from these books that caught my attention focused on the life and responsibilities of a man sworn to a king. Once the main character gave his word, he stood bound by it. The king possessed the power to tell him what to do, where to go, who to marry or not marry. All of the choices that an individual takes for granted were subject to that oath. Much like a solider today is deployed without being asked. He gave his every consent to go anywhere at any time when he enlisted. In the Scripture Paul uses the analogy of a solider to express this point. He also uses the analogy of the slave and the bond servant. When we chose Christ, we gave Him our very lives. Our lives no longer belong to us to direct, but we stand entirely in His service to do whatever He calls us to do.

Now for us it remains a good choice, for we have a Holy and Righteous King that will always choose what is best. Our difficulty lies in not always perceiving the entire plan from our viewpoint in time. We, in our sinful nature, often want to go our own way and choose our own course. But we no longer hold that right. We pledged our service to our King when we accepted His offer of life.

In the middle of the second book one quote stood out. It stated, “Sometimes, it would be much easier to die for one’s king than to give one’s life to him.” I struggle in this area of my Christian walk. I entertain no doubt of the depth of my convictions, of my love for my Lord and King. However, continually laying down my self-centered wants, desires and comforts in order to serve Him as He directs is both a struggle and a discipline. (Surprisingly it also brings joy and freedom and peace…if I will lean into the pain and trust Him to see me through it).

True Christianity through a relationship with Jesus Christ presents two sides. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Compared to the weight of the yoke of sin and the burden of death there exists no comparison. And we possess joy and peace and the comfort of a true friend to see us through life. There remains, however, the fact that we are called to carry our cross and I believe we too often overlook this facet of the Christian life. We gave our lives to a King and they are His to command. Whatever He wills, wherever He leads, we are compelled to follow His bidding by our oath and by our love for Him.

I love how novels often invite a new perspective into a common aspect of life. I appreciated a fresh look at this theme and the reminder of all that it entails for me as a follower of Jesus Christ.

The novels were The Farseer Series by Robin Hobb.
And these are the only books by Robin Hobb that I can personally recommend

Year of Joy: The Doorway

Red Dot Creative Commons

Every red dot is a doorway.

So I let my steps carry me deeper into the unknown, right to the center, where my “red dot” became a door. The very place that I was, stumbling in the dark, became the place of meeting with God.

He was there.

And Joy was available to me.

Softly, so gently, He said, “Ask Me.”

And so I asked.

And I’m still asking.

Give me joy.

Help me know what it looks like to share all my moments with you. To believe, and know with deep certainty, that You are here and that You are glad that I am here.

When all is lost, everything will be gained. Emptiness embraced and brokenness owned creates a void of all that the human soul longs for. The outpouring God cannot see such a void and restrain Himself from filling it – in His time and in His way.  Larry Crabb

“The outpouring God cannot see such a void and restrain Himself from filling it.”  This! This truth is like seeds stirring to life in my soul. The dry husk that contained them is dying and new life is pushing through the soil toward the light. Even winter doesn’t last forever.  The hope of spring is stirring. So this year I’m looking for it. I’m opening my eyes and I’m asking.

Teach me what joy looks like.

Increase my joy.

I’m looking for ways to share all my moments with Jesus.

I’m waiting for the outpouring God to fill me with joy in His presence.

I’m praying: Increase my joy.

I’m calling 2015 my Year of Joy
I’ll be returning to this theme throughout the year
Join me as I wonder, watch,
and wait for joy to grow

Year of Joy: First Movement

“There will be seasons, perhaps days, perhaps years, when no truth however expressed – whether through Scripture, prayer, the kindness of a friend, music or dance – will reach your soul deeply enough to offer joy or hope.” Dr. Larry Crabb (The Prequel – A Call to Joy)

During those seasons, remember, it was when our Lord lost all sense of His Father’s presence that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. The Spirit’s best work is sometimes done in the worst times. Dr. Larry Crabb

The whisper of a promise ringing in my ear I stood to my feet. Joy is available to me?

Could it really be that simple?

Sharing the moment is the signature of joy?

Labyrinth - Creative Commons

I took my first faltering steps, but the wood had become a labyrinth and instead of leaving the darkness, each step took me further in.

Yet, amid the lies that swirled with their blinding blizzard fierceness, the whisper at the edge of my hearing never relented.


“I’m here.”

“Share this moment with me.”

“Even in the darkness, the heartache, the emptiness, you can find joy.”

“Joy is equally powerful when we are in painful states. We feel very keenly if there is anyone who is glad to be with us when we are hurting. When we settle into the arms of a friend who rushed to the emergency room while we waited to see whether a loved one would survive, we weep with relief rather than bounce with euphoria, but it is joy all the same. Someone is with us, and we are not alone.” Jim Wilder

Year of Joy: The Prequel – A Call to Joy

I’m calling 2015 my Year of Joy

What is Joy?
What does it look like?
How does this fruit of the Spirit grow?

Join me as I explore these questions.

One morning, not all that long ago…

I woke up in a black darkness, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole or being lost in Dante’s wood.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I had gotten there and I had no idea of how to find my way back home.

... came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost

I pushed my way through the morning, but I was a blind man groping around in a blizzard. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t be seen.

At one point I picked up a magazine and saw the article titled “Joy Changes Everything.” I thought it might be a good place to start…maybe the words would lead me home.

I read:

“…the signature of joy is that we are sharing the moment with someone who is glad we are there.”*

And my soul made a kind of growling, frustrated, angry scream. Alone in my darkness, isolated in my blindness, I now felt even more cut off from joy.

And then I heard it,

that whisper,

the Voice that I know so well.

The one who calls me Beloved spoke softly, just on the edge of my hearing.

He said,  “Me.”


“I’m here.
I love sharing moments with you.
I’m glad you are here.
I delight in being with you.
Joy is available to you, because I am with you.”

I heard it,

but I couldn’t receive it…


“There will be seasons, perhaps days, perhaps years, when no truth however expressed – whether through Scripture, prayer, the kindness of a friend, music or dance – will reach your soul deeply enough to offer joy or hope…” Dr. Larry Crabb

*(Jim Wilder, Joy Changes Everything in Conversations Journal Issue 12.2)

New Year’s Opportunities

As the calendar pages turn, thoughts turn to resolutions.  We catalog our intentions to do better, be better in the coming year.  We evaluate our past, we make plans for our future.


Some of this is done with healthy intentionality and realistic expectation.  Some of it is grandiose, impulsive wishing with no real substance behind it.  Some people may enter into 2016 with goals met, but others will abandon their resolutions by the weekend.  Still others will adopt a fatalistic attitude that says, “Why bother even making a resolution.”  For most people, New Year’s Resolutions are less about grace and hope and fresh starts than they are about our own effort.  Trying harder. Doing better.  Doing more.

We often approach our Spiritual Life in the same manner than we approach our New Year’s Resolutions.  Some look to the past and feel shame for who they haven’t been and what they haven’t done.  Some look to the future and experience fear for who they don’t believe they can become or what they don’t believe they can do.  Some throw up their hands in frustration feeling trapped in this “less than it should be” place.  When we all take a good look at ourselves comparing who we are with who we’d like to be, it isn’t a pretty picture.

Take a deep breath.  There is good news.

The good news is that Spiritual Transformation is not about discipline.  It’s not about our own effort.  Discipline plays an important part in spiritual transformation, but it is NOT the core.  Growing in your walk with the Lord is not about doing more.   It’s not about trying harder.

Spiritual Transformation is about opportunities.  God gives us continual invitations into His presence.  We grow by making space to accept His invitations.  We do not grow by trying harder, but by entering in.  We join God.  We sit at His feet.  We walk with Him.  We work with Him.  We enter into unceasing prayer, the continual conversation of relationship.   Yes, it takes discipline to first hear and then choose His invitation above all the chaos and noise of this world.  But, the beauty of the process is that if we ask, He Himself gives this to us as well.

Thus discipline becomes a gift, a means, rather than the goal.  As we look toward our hopes and dreams for 2015 that is good news.

Below are several of quotes that have meant a lot to me this past year, putting the discipline of prayer (entering in) and of spiritual friendship (sharing the journey of entering in) into a good and healthy context…a context in which spiritual discipline is not about doing more or trying harder, but about preparing the way for the Lord.

Discipline is not

May these words encourage you as you walk into 2015.  May you find your own ways of preparing the way for the Lord that lead you into a deeper knowing of the incredible grace, joy and rest offered in Christ.  May you lay down your ambitions to do more and try harder and instead let Him birth in you the desire to create space.  May you know the delight of abiding in His life giving presence.  May you grow and flourish and blossom in deep and sustaining relationship with the Triune God.

Without discipline, unceasing prayer remains a vague ideal, something that has a certain romantic appeal but that is not very realistic in our contemporary world.  Discipline means that something very specific and concrete needs to be done to create the context in which a life of uninterrupted prayer can develop.  Unceasing prayer requires the discipline of prayer exercises.  Those who do not set aside a certain place and time each day to do nothing else but pray can never expect their unceasing thought to become unceasing prayer.

Why is this planned prayer practice so important?  It is important because through this practice God can become fully present to us as a real partner in our conversation…

It is of primary importance that we strive for prayer with the understanding that it is an explicit way of being with God.  We often say, “All of life should be lived in gratitude,” but this is possible only if at certain times we give thanks in a very concrete and visible way.  We often say, “All our days should be lived for the glory of God,” but this is possible only if a day is regularly set apart to give glory to God.  We often say, “We should love one another always,” but this is possible only if we regularly perform concrete and unambiguous acts of love.  Similarly, it is also true that we can say, “All our thoughts should be prayer,” only if there are times in which we make God our only thought….

Many people still have the impression that contemplative prayer is something very special, very “high,” or very difficult, and not really for ordinary people with ordinary jobs and ordinary problems.  This is unfortunate because the discipline of contemplative prayer is particularly valuable for those who have so much on their minds that they suffer from fragmentation.  If it is true that all Christians are called to bring their thoughts into an ongoing conversation with their Lord, then contemplative prayer can be a discipline that is especially important for those who are deeply involved in the many affairs of the world.

Although the discipline of solitude asks us to set aside time and space, what finally matters is that our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell, wherever we go and whatever we do.  The more we train ourselves to spend time with God and God alone, the more we will discover that God is with us at all times and in all places.  Then we will be able to recognize God even in the midst of a busy and active life.  Once the solitude of time and space has become a solitude of the heart, we will never have to leave that solitude.  We will be able to live the spiritual life in any place and any time.  Thus the discipline of solitude enables us to live active lives in the world, while always remaining in the presence of the living God.

Prayer as a discipline of patience is the human effort to allow the Holy Spirit to do its re-creating work in us….  The discipline of prayer makes us stop and listen, wait and look, taste and see, pay attention and be aware.  Although this may sound like advice to be passive, it actually demands much willpower and motivation.  We may consider the discipline of prayer a form of inner displacement.  The ordinary and proper response to our world is to turn on the radio, open the newspaper, go to another movie, talk to more people, or look impatiently for new attractions and distractions.  To listen patiently to the voice of the Spirit in prayer is a radical displacement which at first creates unusual discomfort.  We are so accustomed to our impatient way of life that we do not expect much from the moment.  Every attempt to “live it through” or “stay with it” is so contrary to our usual habits that all our impulses rise up in protest.  But when discipline keeps us faithful, we slowly begin to sense that something so deep, so mysterious, so creative is happening here and now that we are drawn to it – not by our impulses but by the Holy Spirit.  In our inner displacement, we experience the presence of the compassionate God.

Word and silence both need guidance.  How do we know that we are not deluding ourselves, that we are not selecting those words that best fit our passions, that we are not just listening to the voice of our own imagination?  Many have quoted the Scriptures and many have heard voices and seen visions in silence, but only a few have found their way to God.  Who can be the judge in his own case?  Who can determine if her feelings and insights are leading her in the right direction?  Our God is greater than any heart and mind, and too easily we are tempted to make our heart’s desires and our mind’s speculations into the will of God.  Therefore, we need a guide, a director, a counselor who helps us distinguish between the voice of God and all the other voices coming from our own confusion or from dark powers beyond our control.  We need someone who encourages us when we are tempted to give it all up, to forget it  all, to just walk away in despair.  We need someone who discourages us when we move too rashly in unclear directions or hurry proudly to a nebulous goal.

It is of great value to submit our prayer life from time to time to the supervision of a spiritual guide.  A spiritual director in this strict sense is not a counselor, a therapist, or an analyst, but a mature fellow Christian to whom we choose to be accountable for our spiritual life and from whom we can expect prayer guidance in our constant struggle to discern God’s active presence in our lives.  A spiritual director can be called “soul-friend” (Kenneth Leech) or a “spiritual friend” (Tilden Edwards).  It is important that he or she practices the disciplines of the Church and the Book and thus becomes familiar with the space in which we try to listen to God’s voice.

The way we relate to our spiritual director depends very much on our needs, our personalities, and our external circumstances.  Some people want to see their spiritual director bi-weekly or monthly; others will find it sufficient to be in touch only when the occasion asks for it.  Some people may feel the need for more extensive sharing with their spiritual director, while others will find seeing him or her once in a while for a few short moments to be sufficient.  It is essential that one Christian help another Christian to enter without fear into the presence of God and there to discern God’s call.

The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life


Poem for Lent & Every Other Hard Day

Everything sad is coming untrue
But what will be
is not yet

All shall be well
And all manner of things
Shall be well

But in this moment
All – is – not – well

I long for lament
but the framework is lost

The world spins

I stand

I wish for a rhythm
that understands
the need to wait outside

Forgoing songs of the Bride
Until their time
To find the space
For a soul to unwind

And twice a day
To stand and proclaim
The Majesty
Of Your Great Name

Resurrection frames my story
But from Lament
Springs the hope of glory

Brokenness, pain, grief and sin
The spotless Lamb did enter in

He bore the cross
He wore my shame
My captive heart
to reclaim

Man of sorrows
Acquainted with grief
Suffering servant
My High Priest

He bowed down low
Was lifted high
And I know
He hears my cry

For this is true
Of one and all
Every story
is of the fall

And every hope

The Descending Way

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death-
even death on a cross!

Phil. 2:5-8

“The love of God [has] become visible in Jesus.  How is that love made visible through Jesus?  It is made visible in the descending way.  That is the great mystery of the Incarnation.  God has descended to us human beings to become a human with us; and once among us, descended to the total dereliction of one condemned to death.  It isn’t really easy to feel and understand from the inside this descending way of Jesus.  Every fibre of our being rebels against it.  We don’t mind paying attention to poor people from time to time; but descending to a state of poverty and becoming poor with the poor, that we don’t want to do.  And yet that is the way Jesus chose as the way to know God…”

“Once we have become poor, we can be a good host.  It is indeed the paradox of hospitality that poverty makes a good host.  Poverty is the inner disposition that allows us to take away our defenses and convert our enemies to friends.  We can only perceive the stranger as an enemy as long as we have something to defend.  But when we say, ‘Please enter – my house is your house, my joy is your joy, my sadness is your sadness, and my life is your life,’ we have nothing to defend, since we have nothing to lose but all to give.
Turning the other cheek means showing our enemies that they can only be our enemies while supposing that we are anxiously clinging to our private property, whatever it is: our knowledge, our good name, our land, our money, or the many objects that we have collected around us.  But who will be our robber when everything he wants to steal from us becomes our gift to him?”

“Our lives are destined to become like the life of Jesus.  The whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry is to bring us to the house of the Father.  Not only did Jesus come to free us from the bonds of sin and death, he also came to lead us into the intimacy of the divine life.  It is difficult for us to imagine what this means.  We tend to emphasize the distance between Jesus and ourselves.  We see Jesus as the all-knowing and all-powerful Son of God who is unreachable for us sinful, broken human beings.  But in thinking this way, we forget that Jesus came to give us his own life.  He came to lift us up into loving community with the Father.  Only when we recognize the radical purpose of Jesus’ ministry will be be able to understand the meaning of the spiritual life.  Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive.  All that Jesus does we may also do.”

Father God,

This descending life of humble obedience
goes against every instinct of my flesh.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit
bring forth in my life the humble and obedient
descending way of your Son Jesus.

Teach me to know You.


Quotes from: Show Me The Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent by Nouwen