Relief

November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

We may joyfully believe that there was, that there is, one to whom no human suffering and no human sin is strange, and who in the profoundest love has achieved our redemption. It is such joy in Christ, the Redeemer, that alone protects us from the dulling of our senses by the constant experience of human suffering and also from accepting as inevitable the suffering in the spirit of resignation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to the Brethren at Finkenwalde, 1942

This week, sitting in Starbucks was more than about burrowing in my preferred writing spot. It was also due to the fact that our office was closed and without electricity since Monday, when Hurricane Sandy hit Maryland. Only late yesterday power restored. Fortunately our Staff found creative ways to meet, study and work in spite of the circumstances.

We got off easy. The devastating consequences of Sandy’s wrath in states like New Jersey and New York will yield decades of aftereffects and sorrow. Loss of life has been high, and is climbing. Homes were demolished and entire communities obliterated by water, wind and fire. The sorrow that comes through in news stories and interviews is almost too much for Katherine and I to bear.

Having lived through hurricanes, and having experienced two historic floods in Mississippi during college and grad-school years, I can tell you that there is nothing romantic about going through something like this. Jobs will be lost. Lives will be altered. Families will walk away from their homes, never to return. Relationships will be tested to the brink. Opportunists will exploit desperate people. The world many know will never be the same.

When Hurricane Andrew demolished much of the southern hemisphere of Miami in 1991, a friend (and one of my models for leadership), Ray Goode, the one-time City Manager, along with another city leader, decided to launch a campaign called, ‘We Will Rebuild.’ They rightly resolved that the city was worth restoring, and so as he dealt with the devastation on his own block, Ray led Miami in an effort that was nothing short of Herculean.

Relief is more than a physical dynamic. It is a resolve. And it is something that doesn’t happen effectively in a vacuum and without a larger community of people committed to something greater than themselves. The most enduring and effective relief efforts happen when broken people recognize their own condition in the lives and events of others, and then act on them – together.

A long time ago I discovered something about Jesus that I might not have guessed in my ‘neat’ and ‘responsible’ universe. As you follow Him, and observe how He is constantly confronted by the pathos of people who bear the effects of a fallen world, you discover that He only ever offers relief. What I mean is that He doesn’t ask how something happened, never ascribes blame, and makes no demands – He simply relieves burdens. His response to brokenness is never conditional.

Because the crazy thing is that Brokenness is Jesus’ point of connection with humanity – it is the singular reason for His entrance into our world.

And He wasn’t merely exhibiting His saving power, which would be enough. He was also demonstrating what the Church is called to, and how effective she could be by merely entering into and serving the very broken world Jesus came to save.

Here is the thing: We are connected. All of us. When one person is cut, we all bleed. When one suffers, we grieve together. When a city lies in ruins, we are reacquainted with the reality of our shared condition.

And when there is renewal, as one, we all have cause to celebrate. So we find connection in our shared brokenness. And in relief, together we taste of and share in the good mission of the One who is making all things new.

This is our good news.

peace.

If you are looking to help, you can do so directly. Here are two sister church communities that will bring relief where they serve:

1. Brooklyn Presbyterian Church (a community of several congregations):

Brooklyn Presbyterian Church – Mercy Team (make your check payable to this line as well)
174 Prospect Park West
#1L Brooklyn, NY 11215

2. Redeemer Presbyterian Church – Hope for New York

The Journey of our Longing

December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tomorrow our daughters leave Pensacola, Florida, where they attend college, for Baltimore, Maryland, where we live. It will be a fourteen-hour drive. They will embark in the early hours of the morning in order to travel into, and remain in the light throughout the trip. Needless to say, we can’t wait for their arrival.

They will pass through up to nine states in making their way home. As someone who loves long driving trips I am excited for them. They will experience the changes in topography that come with each new state, while enjoying conversation that rarely transpires apart from such uninterrupted portions of time together. They will feel the gradual drop in temperature as they move northeast, and maybe even encounter a few flurries here and there. They will remember this trip for the rest of their lives.

It is virtually impossible to go through a Christmas Season without seeing images of Joseph along with Mary who is perched atop a donkey as they make their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Traveling those many miles wasn’t as easy as loading up the SUV and driving off. And I would imagine that for a teenager, pregnant in her third trimester, riding a beast was no picnic either.

As a dad I will not be short on anxiety. Our girls will be on the road – the big road – lots of big roads – without us! I’m not so worried about them, but everyone else they will encounter (and therefore them!). That’s my job and I embrace it without apology. We will call them and pray throughout the day as they make their way home.

In thinking of their drive it occurred to me that Advent brings with its hopefulness, the daily perils of the journey. While we long for Jesus, we travel through the complexities of human brokenness, our own and the world’s. There is something to this. It isn’t so much that every aspiration comes with requisite danger, but that in longing for Jesus we understand the big picture – it is always about the destination, and while we encounter the daily perils and pitfalls of human existence, it is all framed within the larger narrative – that we are making our way Home.

Ironically, from the moment He was born, Jesus began to make His way home as well. And I am convinced that His words in John 14 (In my Father’s house…) are more than theological ruminations, but also the humble disclosures of a homesick Son. Amazingly and beautifully, the path to His destination would take Him to the Cross, and on a more personal level, our Redemption.

Our girls have a big journey ahead of them – but then they will be home.

So will we…

Such sweet, good news.

peace.

Celebrating Our Sweet Grad

May 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

Today our youngest, daughter Erin, graduates from high school. Needless to say we are thankful, proud and overjoyed. Erin is an amazing girl. We have been blessed with three wonderful children and she is no exception. The picture in the post isn’t recent, but it has always been one of my favorites of her. It was taken about seven years ago aboard a boat headed for Alcatraz off the coast of California, on the first leg of a great family vacation.

The picture captures what I think of when, with tears of joy, I consider our baby girl. It is one of those many ‘snapshots’ that run through our minds and hearts as we consider her life at this special moment. For me it seems symbolic of the way Erin has always simultaneously maintained her roots and her potential. On the boat, as in life, she is firmly established, solidly at home, but also, because confident that she is loved, she is fearlessly extending and reaching – seeing the world she lives in – breathing in the moment – wondering what is out there – thrilled with the prospects – filled with love to share.

From the moment she entered into the world Erin has been a person of tenacity and fiery character. As a little girl she had a unique guttural growl that she freely expressed whenever she deemed it appropriate to register disapproval or frustration – to friends or strangers! However through the years, as she has matured we have come to realize that her tenacity and growling were all part of God’s work of sculpting a young woman of passion, who cares for the weak, fights for those she loves and stands on principle, even when it hurts. Along with her older sister, Erin reflects her mother’s beauty, inside and out. She loves Christ and enjoys a deep and reflective relationship with Him.

I can’t wait to see what will come of Erin’s life! It has been sweet watching her grow – the fun things – the hard moments – the fashions – the hair styles – you name it. She has been part of a tapestry of joy and loveliness that Katherine has woven into our daughters, and therefore our home and world. Our son left home for college, and then marriage years ago, so for me it has been life with three women for quite some time. I often joke that I’m ‘over-womened’ – but the truth is that I love my ‘girlies.’

That picture informs this dad’s heart that throughout her life Erin will settle for nothing less than something sweet and beautiful. Something she will discover, while extending out, reaching for the oceans, stars and landscapes, that God seems to have laid out for her to discover – something as breathless as she leaves me with when having enjoyed yet another encounter with our precious daughter.

At this moment I can’t even begin to think about how profoundly Katherine and I will miss Erin when she leaves for college in the fall along with her sister Emily. But on this day, while we have her, and as she officially becomes a high school grad, we celebrate her. We are so proud and we love her with every fiber of our beings. And once again, with the deepest of thankfulness to the Lord, along with John, the apostle, we find that ‘we have no greater joy than to know that our children walk in truth’ (3 John 1:4).

What sweet, good news.

peace.

Letting Go

January 6, 2011 § 6 Comments

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9

This has been a surreal week in the story of our lives as a family. Though we have been ‘there’ before with our son, leaving Pensacola, Florida where our daughter Emily will finish college was yet another reminder that a time comes when a child-turned-adult, leaves home. For nearly our entire married life Katherine and I planned for that moment. We prayed regularly. We hoped for it. We instilled the rationale into our children. We have always seen it as our responsibility to release our children into ‘the rest of their lives.’

But that moment when we said goodbye – Wow – We spent all those years preparing our daughter (and all of our children), but nothing could prepare us! Nothing could really prepare us for that moment – to let go – of her – of our final embraces – of the idea of no longer living under one roof. What about what we didn’t say? What about that one final, crucial piece of advice, that one final, ‘I love you’ that was left unsaid? So much…

As I’ve reflected on that moment and reality this week, it seems that at the same time that it is all so natural and healthy, it is such, only insofar as letting go is also part and parcel of life in a broken world.

Abraham was willing to let go of Isaac, his son of promise. Moses let go of a 40-year passion for entering the Promised Land. Hannah let go of Samuel, the son she had for years hoped and pleaded and prayed to be able to have. David let go of a dream to build a Temple. Jesus let go of a Rich Young Ruler that seemed so on the verge of belief. Paul and the Ephesian Elders sobbed as they let go of him, their pastor. And of course, the supreme example of letting go lies in the heart of God, who released His only Son, Jesus into the hands of a world that would unjustly execute Him. And then, Jesus’ disciples had to let go of their Friend when He returned home to heaven.

So, at the same time that I know letting go is natural and part of our development in life and faith, deep within me, I have to believe that it is the most healthy and natural thing we do under the circumstances.

I mean, you never read about the new heavens and find that we will be segregated or kept from one another. No! What we discover is that the end of time is a time of reunion. Even the seas that divide the peoples of the earth into continents will be no more (Revelation 21:1)!

So I think I get it. It is true that we weep because we love – I am a profoundly blessed man with the family God has given to me. But we also weep because we long for a day where there will be no more ‘Goodbyes’ and no more separation and no more tears at the moment of departure.

And I think that this is what is most beautiful for me in John’s vision of the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 7:9) – Every difference and everything that separates us will have disappeared – and we will be together again – all of us in Christ – those we don’t know – but also, those we know and love – those we weren’t ready to be without – those we lost before we finished saying everything we thought we should say – those we wanted more time with. Fortunately the list goes on.

The truth is that I don’t let go well. It’s right but it doesn’t feel right. It’s healthy but it makes me sick. I don’t let go well but I want to let go of all our children for all the right reasons. Because together and separately we have this until Jesus makes all things new: He will never let go of us.

Tears fill my eyes as I write, but they are sweet tears – tears that long and that believe that the Gospel must be true.

What Good News, friends…

peace.

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