Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Good Ride


Confession:  I like Country Music

Mock me, belittle me, tar and feather me-- whatever  floats your boat, but I probably won’t change my mind.  To clarify, though, my mp3 player is still chockfull of classical, show tunes, oldies rock, movie soundtracks, and worship, but I still enjoy my fifty percent of Country Music.  Why fifty percent, you ask?  Succinctly, this is because Country often seems to be singing about the Lord, family, and cowboys one moment, and in the next it’s all about beer, women, and fame.   I certainly don’t love all of it, so for the sake of a visual aid…

This

Not This

Anyhow, I came across a song awhile back called “Good Ride, Cowboy,” by Garth Brooks.  The primary story arc is about a real life rodeo bronc rider named Chris Ladoux.  Now, bronc riding is a popular rodeo event, in which a cowboy and a bucking horse are loaded into a metal chute.


When the cowboy gives the word, the gate is hurriedly swung open, and the horse explodes into the arena, slinging dirt and twisting like the devil is on his back.


There are several rules to this event regarding where your body must be positioned and how you can hold on, but the primary stipulation is that the cowboy must stay on for eight full seconds without making any mistakes or flying off.  If he survives that eternity, he is then allowed to cling to the horse with both hands and simply hang on for dear life until the pick-up man gets there.  Now the pick-up man’s job is to rescue the cowboy, to have his back.  As the pick-up man unobtrusively circles the arena during this event, he watches carefully, and the minute the ride is over, or if the cowboy makes a mistake and gets himself in a jam, the pick-up man is there to save the day and to pull the cowboy onto his own horse like so…



In Brook’s song, he speaks about life’s struggles as compared to Chris Ladoux's rodeo ride saying:
“Life’s a highway; there’s only one way you’re gonna get through it,
When she start’s to twist, be more like Chris.  Pull your hat down tight, and just Ladoux it.  
When that whistle blows, and the crowd explodes, and them pick-up men are at your side,
They’re saying, ‘Good ride, cowboy, good ride.’”   

What do I mean by all this?  Well it struck me the other day that sometimes life’s a lot like being in a rodeo.  One moment you’re riding along peacefully, and the next you’re clinging to your horse like a bur dipped in gorilla glue, wondering how on earth life began to buck so fast and so hard underneath you.  At times, it can feel like it’s really trying to throw us, to sending us flying off its back and crashing into the dirt.  But fortunately for us, we’re not alone in the arena.


So what’s a man or woman to do when faced with such a daunting challenge?  Sometimes the only thing to do is exactly what Brooks suggests, pull your hat down tight, and ride it out.  You grip that surcingle strap like your life depends on it, because oftentimes it does.

As we walk along the Way, we know we will encounter difficulties, and make no mistake, they are not a game.  They are part of a greater struggle, a race, a war, a song of life that is mingled sunshine and shadow with each step homeward.  But through each trial, hear the pounding rhythm of the rider at your side, chasing your bronco down and saying, “Good ride, cowboy, good ride!”  


If you’re in the arena right now, don’t give up!  Pull your hat down tight, and hang onto Jesus.  Take your gloved hand and hold hard the grasp of the Lion of Judah.  Life may bruise and batter, but for a Christ follower, no thing is ever wasted, and no trial cannot be transformed into roots of goodness and mercy.  Rest assured, when the time comes, the Lord will waste no time in pounding across the arena to pull us free and heal our wounds.  And if we are truly in danger or in need, the Father will not hesitate to ride to our rescue.
You are never alone in the arena, so let our songs be stronger than our pain (Brooks).      

When the dust finally settles, and in the dirt you kneel.   Look to see the Savior’s face, as he extends a hand, welcoming you Home and saying, “Good ride, cowboy, good ride.”  

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior."  (Isaiah 43:2-3)


Images via:  flickr, Stormi Turner, drsphoto.net, mrsjasonaldeanduh.tumblr.com, Rodeio Em Foco, outsidethebeltway.com, reporternews.com, zazzle.com

All work subject to copyright by the author.  Use by permission only.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Haunted



Do you remember ghost stories?  Whether they circled round a backyard campfire or huddled in sleeping bags in a basement by flashlight, most of us can recall a time of two when we wondered about spirits, which might float deathlike through the darkness.  In fact, it’s quite uncanny how terrifying white Hanes T-shirts on a clothesline can appear, especially when accompanied by the indistinct roaring and maniacal cackling of an old furnace.  

But what happens when we grow older, shedding adolescent fears and leaving childhood behind?  To my experience, the ghost stories fade, but their residual presence remains, now veiled and hiding behind the darker corners of our grown up lives.  Each one of us likely faces daily bouts with the paranormal, battling off these phantoms that continue to haunt our hearts.  I do not know what yours looks like, though I’ll wager it is not some giggling pile of green goo a la Ghostbusters.  No, instead I am talking about the shades of ourselves, the images of who we feel we should be.  These specters grin ghastly at us, taunting us with our shortcomings and smothering with our failures.    


A homemaker’s phantom may be the perfect wife and mother, capable of joyfully going about her daily work as cook, maid, judge, accountant, teacher, and playmate etc. without once complaining, and she is simultaneously the vision of a true friend, wise counselor, community leader, and dream wife.  A working man’s phantom may be brilliant, patient, hardworking, creative, and a leader of others.   He is able to deal with a full day of nagging voices, sour attitudes, criticism, and hard work, while coming home to don the hat of the perfect husband and father until bedtime.   We’re all haunted, and the phantoms are endless. 

You might look in the mirror and wonder why you aren't accomplishing more for the kingdom, or why you aren’t more like [insert perceived perfect person here].  And indeed, not at all times are these feelings a bad thing. There are many moments when the Lord opens the eyes of his children, cracking open stubborn and dry lids, splitting wide the thirsty earth so that living water and truth might soak the needy ground.  It is good to respond to the needs around us, to give what we have to the glory of the Father and to keep on learning.   However, it is not these things to which I am referring. 


Instead I am calling out the anxiety, the striving, the expectations, the smothering shroud of never good enough.  This invisible force shrieks my name, pulls at me from all directions.  It drags at me, tugging relentlessly at my skin, at my earthliness.   I wrestle with my own thoughts, struggling to bear the weight of the impossibly heavy upon my shoulders.  As Imam al-Ghazali notes, “I’ve never before encountered anything so difficult as my own soul.”  At times one can feel trapped in that skin, penned in by that earthliness, which tears us up inside, shredding the soul that so desperately longs for the approval of the Father.  We wrestle with perfection, feeling as though our efforts are only disappointing our Lord time after time after time.     


It has also been my experience that even self help volumes on the Christian walk can sometimes serve to fan the flames of disappointment and self accusation all the more.  Often this is because they tend to run something like this, “You are not the person God has called you to be.  But if you only complete these ten godly tasks on a disciplined basis, then you will arrive.  Then, and only then, will you be the person God delights in.” 

For me, a runner already breathless in the chase of God-pleasing, these words only quicken the feet, causing me to strive even more, to madly race the sun each day from rising to setting, trying in vain to fill each day so full of goodness that I might someday be told, “Well done.”  It has often been thought in the Christian world that the most highly spiritual occupation is that of the missionary, and a few righteous steps beneath that station is Pastor.  Everything else, however, falls lower and lower on the staircase of holiness, which is where the Accuser finds a weak spot, “If you really loved the Lord, you would be ___, or you would be doing ___.  You will never be as good as ___.”  Our enemy categorizes everything in our lives, marking them either holy or selfish, with church related activities falling into the former and all else into the latter.   
    

This is a lie of the enemy, words from the pit of hell woven with tiny tendrils of truth.  The Dark One is cunning enough to even use our own inclinations to serve God for his purposes.  So, who can tame this wildness that runs rampant inside?  What words can soothe the not enough or ease the stinging wounds?   In essence, what is the truth?

In Psalm 46:10 t is written, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Cease your striving, lay down your hands.  Or, if you’re like me and are rather spiritually hard of hearing, say to yourself, “Woman!  Hold you still!”  Let all else melt into the background in the presence of Him who is your true everything.   Hear not the other nagging voices, but only that of He who loves you.  The Lord convicts, but He does not accuse, for that is the arena of the Enemy, his work.  


 Additionally, in I Corinthians 12 is says, "If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell?  God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be.  If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body?  As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body...The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without... You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it" (17-23, 27).  To each of us is given a crucial role in Kingdom Building.  Whether serving overseas or digging ditches for a living, all that is done to the glory of God is holy, and different roles are needed in order to make up the whole.  Embrace God's calling in your life and pursue it with your sword drawn and your shield in hand.  You may not know it, but you are in the midst of a war.  Welcome to the front lines.    

  "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:19).  You are redeemed, chosen, loved, and the Lord delights in you, His child.  Seek to do good, but do not allow yourself to be poisoned by the self accusations and lies of the Evil One.  You may not be enough, but you are a Father's Child, and He IS enough.  You are called only to be yourself, the fearfully and wonderfully made you, of which there is only one on this earth.  We are women of the Light, men of the Day, and from whatever place we call home, we are able to contribute to the mighty work of Jesus Christ.  Only He can drive out the ghosts that haunt our lives and replace them with His strength, His calling, His Love, and His Approval.    

Be You Bravely!    

         

images via:  tumblr, flickr, pixadaus.com, Kasey.Keller

All work subject to copyright by the author.  Use by permission only.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Be Brave



     Perhaps I am the only one, but is there anyone else out there who scrutinizes their thumbs on an intermittent basis, wondering why they aren’t green?  It’s not that mine are exactly plant-killing fingers, but they certainly aren’t the dazzling emerald of garden cultivating digits.  Nevertheless, when my mountain home experienced a warm spell somewhere in mid-February, I noticed small slips of green poking shy heads out of a bed of earth.  On my hands and knees in the moist dirt, I watered them carefully, weeded, and then proceeded to beg them to “go back into the ground for a little while.”  Setting aside my strange habit of talking to plants, animals, and inanimate objects, you should notice that it is not uncommon for the West to experience what I’ve come to call climate mood swings, which lead to sixty degree sunny days becoming snow filled flurries of night.  Suffice it to say, whomever is in charge of weather in the West must be a woman. 


I was concerned for my tender little flowers knowing that there was a high possibility of more winter snows which might freeze and scar vulnerable growing things.  Despite my deepest urging and most severe threats, the little flowers continued to bloom, stubbornly baring their fragile green gowns to an often harsh and unyielding mountainside.  When I returned from a recent weekend trip down to sunny Arizona, I returned to find that snows had indeed come again.  But still those flowers remained, fiercely determined to unveil their beauty at the coming of spring no matter the opposition. 

It’s then that I wished I were more like those little flowers.  For we live in an age of progress both social and technological.  The mark of power and strength is that of the cynic, the anti-hero, and the world-wise woman with a hard edge or two.  People are criticized for being na├»ve and innocent, as the voice of the world demands that they wake up and see the truth.  Success is often determined not by skill or ability but of content. The darker, the grittier, the more gloomy—all the better.  These things are described as being a part of the “real world,” whereas love, hope, beauty, and faith are reserved for the simpletons living in their tall towers of ivory. 


And indeed there is truth to what the world says.  Like all lies, it possesses a formative grain of validity.  Even in the luxury of this western world, I have heard the groans of heart-tearing pain; I have been touched by the darkness of despair.  I have seen the skeletons of hunger and the boots and guns that go to war.  The shadows are great, and to say otherwise would be foolish, but the Prince of Darkness does not possess the greatest power.  There is an underground resistance movement steadily infiltrating enemy-occupied territory even as we speak, and it is supported by the only one who can and has overcome the all horrors of this world.   


Like my stubborn little flowers, the brave ones are not those who have allowed the gloom of a fallen world to make them hard and bitter.  For they feel the touch of darkness, and they let it calcify their hearts, thinking that this will form the best shield of defense against life’s pain.  When in reality, it is the opposite.  The Brave one is he who knows well the capability of this earth to cause pain and who blooms in spite of the danger.  Daring to pursue and cultivate beauty in a sin-twisted world is a mark of strength and not weakness.   The ability to try and allow God to heal wounds and soothe angry scars is a badge of power and not stupidity.  The cynic and the critic is not the one to be praised.  Instead, this should be reserved for the one who goes forth into the darkness with a lantern in hand and declares, “I will shine my light anyways!”   And maybe, just maybe, a weary soul may be healed by the face of Jesus within the lantern, for more doses of dark “reality” will never edify a broken heart.   

This world has plenty of scoffers and hard hearts in which apathy masquerades as wisdom and strength.  Is it not the braver and more difficult thing to seek to saturate the earth with kindness, sacrifice, humility, and love for one another?  And if we, like the flowers, stretch our roots into our foundation, even the icy blasts and cold flurries cannot destroy us, and the gates of Hell itself will not prevail against us.

Let us bravely bloom in the face of the storms and say, “Do your worst!  For I will cling to Hope in spite of all.”  Keep your heart tender and malleable.  Allow God to break the hard shell surrounding it so that healing may begin.  By this we will be known. 


It is easy to focus on the negative, one has only to turn on the evening news or open an internet browser to see that.  Choosing hope is difficult, make no mistake, but doesn’t that make it the truly brave thing?  We must remain wise and vigilant.  Ware to the enemy's schemes, friends, for they are indeed the breath of all shadows.  But seek after goodness, mercy, and love with the greatest tenacity. 

Be raw.  Be vulnerable.  Be truth, and in doing so—Be Brave. 


      “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  (Theodore Roosevelt) 



"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16)

Images via:  abeautifulrippleeffect.com, thefreshexchangeblog, etsy, tumblr, flickr, onomora.de 

All work subject to copyright by the author.  Use by permission only.