Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kodi and the Missional Lifestyle

We have 4 big dogs in the family, all of whom live at our Colorado Springs home. The 10 year old, Kodi, was diagnosed last week with an osteosarcoma in her shoulder -basically a bone cancer. And the hard news is that it is terminal, apart from a miracle. The difficult decision we had to make was whether to have the leg amputated, or to have her "put down" - euthanized - soon, before that leg bone was to shatter. Ultimately, we opted for amputation. For my part in that decision, there were 3 truths that guided me. Truths that actually have a lot to do with living a missional lifestyle.

I would often talk with our veterinarian in Kansas City about end-of-life issues for our dogs, and his philosophy was simple but mature: you are responsible to do for your dogs, who are voiceless and powerless over the diseases/illnesses they have, what offers them the best quality of life, within the limits of your resources. John taught me that when we "signed on" as pet caregivers, we took on a responsibility to do for them what they could not do for themselves, within our finite boundaries. And our goal was to help the dogs have their best quality of life. As I looked at Kodi last week, happy and wagging her tail and full of energy and vitality, it was clear that she is not "done." She has a strong quality of life still possible for some undetermined length of time. That's what I signed up for, to help her have that. It was clear that the amputation was the way to go.

A second truth that helped me in the decision is the call to love, which inevitably means sacrifice. This sacrifice might mean sleepless nights, watching over meds, getting them out for exercize when one might not feel like it, sitting watch in a waiting room, financial commitment, standing by them when they are suffering, and, of course, saying goodbye when the time comes. Amputation definitely fell into this realm.

And another friend taught me the third truth. It has to do with acceptance. He said, "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.. . Unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy." Reinhold Niebuhr said something similar: "Taking, as our Lord Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it." In other words, if I will only accept things the way they are as the starting point, I mean, truly accept that THIS IS THE WAY THINGS REALLY ARE, I can start to celebrate what is possible in light of that starting point, instead of getting sucked down into all that I wish was different. I decided that amputation gave us as a family the chance to celebrate everything that is wonderful about this little dog, to savor every day we have left for and with her, to remember what we have adored about her and will always treasure, and to gather around her and make her last months the best they can be. That's what acceptance makes possible.

This is the way of missional living. "Signing on" with Jesus Christ leads us to decisions in which we do what we can for the voiceless and powerless of our world, within the limits of our power and resources. It means that we will make decisions which will at times cost us, even dearly, and especially in terms of having our hearts broken. And ultimately the missional lifestyle insists on our deciding to accept this world as it is, as our starting point, not some illusory fantasy of the way we wished it were right now. This, and only this, gives us the freedom to celebrate what IS possible and to embrace happiness in the midst of the shadow of sin and suffering.

You know, Kodi may not be much. She in fact is called a "tripod" now, meaning she has only 3 legs. She's lying at my feet snoring at the moment, settling back into her home in the first hours since leaving the hospital. But oh, she's not done teaching me about how to live - even how to live missionally in a ravaged, hard world full of injustice and the blight of evil. What a good dog she is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When You Know You're Getting Better

The truth is that all my adult life I have feared, hated being stopped by a policeman. The moment I see the lights, my heart leaps up into my throat, racing at an ungodly speed. My eyes whip around the dashboard, the seats, the seatbelts, anything out of place, what speed was I going, how did he get there without me seeing him, oh I HATE THIS!! The surge rising up from within is fiery shame, for having broken a rule. The humiliation of being caught by Authority burns hot in my heart. It trumpets that truth I have been trying to evade all my life - that I am a loser, a failure.

So, three weeks ago I was driving all day from Colorado Springs to Kansas City, and when I got to the outskirts of KC, barely 20 miles from my son and daughter in law's home, I saw the lights. Pulled onto the shoulder of I-70 just 1/8 of a mile from the tollbooth near Bonner Springs. The Kansas State Trooper, of whom I had seen 11 others of his compatriots that day on the highway (good Lord, really? 12 on one highway? Are there no bank robberies, no litterings, nothing else to do but roam the one east-west route endlessly?), ambled up to my window and informed me that I was weaving a bit in my lane and had no seat belt on when he pulled me. I kindly told him that actually I had worn it religiously all day, but was reaching for change to pay my toll with and had just unfastened my seat belt, all of which was exactly the truth. He looked at me with a somewhat consternated gaze and took my insurance card and license back with him. But before he retreated to his vehicle, he asked, "So, what brings you to KC?" "Came to see my son and daughter in law and two grandsons and I'm taking them to a Royals game on Saturday!!" He gave me the same look and walked off. Like "Who are you kidding?"

When he finally came back, he asked me "This your truck?" "Yep, 1991 4WD regular cab 5 speed manual, 4 cylinder turn your own hubs exactly what I've always wanted. I just bought it in October" This was no doubt way more than he asked for, but I love that truck and he really didn't seem to be buying anything I was saying anyway. He asked what the funny looking bag was sitting on my seat, and I told him it was a Camelbak.. . incredulous look appears on his face as he says "Huh? What's that?" I said "You use them when you hike and climb, and ride bikes. . " Still more dumbfounded look. . . "Uh, you know, so you don't have to take a water bottle out. Really, that's just water in there." "Oh," he said. And so then, at last he says to me, "We're getting a lot of drug dealers from CO coming to KC in old pickup trucks. Just wanted to take a look at you. Stop weaving and keep your seat belt on." And he walked back to his car and let me go.

Do you know what the most wonderful part of all of that was?

I never experienced fear, shame, worry, panic, fast heartbeating. Nothing. I was full of peace from beginning to end. Calm, serene, even happy, whimsical, blessed. And that's when I knew I am getting better. That recovery from the wounds that plague my deep heart are healing. There is no way for me to make those lifelong symptoms go away. Only a work of God does this.

And the Royals won on Saturday, their fourth in a row. Two miracles in the same weekend. You gotta love this life.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

High Plains

Cold sun gold
warming the high plains drifter
celebrating dirty yellow-brown grasses
spotted cattle dotted

Bold wind cold
calling to life churning windmills
flinging creation down ribbons of blacktop
stark quiet dark

The mountains whispering, beckoning
"come home"

Friday, November 26, 2010

Looking for My Real Self

I'm on a hunt, scouring the underbrush and high mesas, looking for my real self, the one that God had in mind when He thought me up. The one who is, in his Age to Come substance,an expression of the full humanity of Jesus. This journey has been rising up in me for a year now, but it has been most fruitful in the last 3 months. Here's a taste of what I have uncovered. . .

My real self comes only when I stop playing God. When I stop taking responsibility for everyone around me and for what only God can do.

My real self shows up when I'm serene, accepting what I cannot change.

The question "what do I want?" is important to answer prior to listening to "I must/I should/I have to." One cannot discover one's identity, glory, and the will of God without getting in touch with one's affections (Jonathan Edwards).

I must allow God to father me where I have not been fathered by others, if I would know my real self.

The real Paul, God told me, is courageous, and it's already present in my life.

Full humanity requires rejecting and renouncing and grieving all the lies I have believed and embraced for all these years. I have named and renounced 8 lies thus far.

The real Paul prays for my enemies, for all who have hurt me and for whom I have held resentment.

The real person God made me to be owns my part. Cleans up my side of the street. Period.

It's a great wilderness sojourn. The desolation is only to be matched by the stark, stunning beauty of the landscape I'm finding. I hope you'll follow me in.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I'm seeking peace. It seems like it's the most loving thing I can do for others and the world around us, let alone me.

So, not so long ago, my daughter Annie put me onto a song by LeAnn Rimes, that opens up the first line of the Serenity Prayer. You know, "God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

She sings,

"I would like to forget what I cannot change;

I would like to forgive what I cannot change;

I would like to love what I cannot change;

And I will change whatever I, whatever I, whatever I can."

As I have prayed this prayer daily, sometimes dozens of times daily, God keeps opening that first line up as a poem: deeper and deeper in meaning. Like LeAnn Rimes does.

And what I have been learning is that the driving force of this first prayer is that I give up the idolatry of pretending I am God. I think of what I simply cannot and am not responsible before God to change or control:

God's calling on my life
The place to which I am called to live
Who God is, where God is going, what God desires
What has happened to the churches and people I once served, since I left
The denomination in and to which I have given my life's work
Net worth
The fulfillment of retirement dreams
The past
The future
My heart, my desires, and my core identity
All other people in their decisions, behaviors, and thinking
The great sweeping trends, ideologies, and movements in the world
How much God loves me
The culture of the church I serve
My parents' failures in my upbringing
My personal plans for how healthy I want to be

I can invite, seek to persuade, encourage, teach, point and pray. But there is only so much I can do. And the great weight of this life God carries, and only He can change and control and redeem.

What I can do is to change my thinking, my willing, and my behavior.

"And I will change whatever I, whatever I, whatever I can. . ."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Take It, Bless It, Break It, Share It

At our daughter's college graduation in mid-May this year, the speaker for Baccalaureate was the chaplain of Baylor University. He shared simply and coherently how Jesus lived out the pattern that He mandated when He instituted the Lord's Supper: "Take it, bless it, break it, share it." It was one of the most meaningful, penetrating messages I have heard in years.

"Take it". Take what He gives to you. Receive it. It may not be what you expected. It may look simple and ordinary. It may be beyond your wildest dreams. But accept it. Hold it close. Don't take it lightly.

"Bless it". Add your blessing to what the Lord gives. Pray in thanksgiving and blessing over this offering from God. Your blessing actually adds to the weightiness of the gift of God, and makes us co-partners with Him in what He has intended.

"Break it". C.S.Lewis says that nothing can become what it was intended to be apart from its' being broken. Nothing will ever bear the fruit it was intended for apart from its' visit to the Cross. Every good gift must be broken before it takes its place in the restoration of creation.

"Share it". Every blessing is given that we might be blessed. . . for the sake of the world. Blessings must be shared, or they will die in our clutches.

This is what Jesus did in the feeding of the 5000, and in the Lord's Supper. It's what He does in our lives each day. And it is the very signpost for how we are to make this journey, until we are home in the restored creation.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Big Toe

Okay, so I am one of the most severe critics of people who, in a prayer circle, ask for prayer for their "big toe." Which is a symbol of things that really don't matter in the big scope of things.

Okay, so I have two big toes which annually take the brunt of my foolish, perhaps, hobby and avocation of mountain climbing. For those of you initiates or, worse, couch potatoes, who don't have a clue about what downclimbing on steep slopes can do to one's largest toes, here's the deal: they jam into the ends of one's boots, causing significant trauma to the space beneath the big toe nail, which gets bruised, then turns blue because of dead blood, then the toe nail dies, then the new toe nail pushes up from underneath, causing a most hideous and double depth toe nail that takes at least a year to grow out. The unfortunate thing that happens is that one, like me, who is back into the craft of climbing, is already doing the damage of a new year before the old toe nail is done growing out. And that is doubled, because every year I have two toe nails which bear the brunt of these climbs. My toes annually look like death. Sigh.

So, I have been good this 2010 climbing season. As of July 8th, I had already climbed 5 14ers, and 3 other peaks, and 6 other hikes, without damage to my almost healed big toe nails. But Friday the 9th, I did a mountain with my daughter Annie, which is a fairly severe up and downclimb. And somewhere on the way down I realized that my right big toe was in trauma. sigh. Again. sigh.

And sure enough, when I got home to Colorado Springs last night, I could see and feel the story. The area beneath the big toe nail was swollen, the color beneath it was already changing color to a dark blue, and i was in for another year of ridiculous, deadened, dying, god-awful-looking toenail.

So, drawing back to something my dear friend Dan Clader told me years ago, having come to the end of my patience and endurance, I did the only thing that I had left to my disposal. I got out my elecric drill.

Yep. Dan told me years ago about one of his kids having one of these toenails, severely under pressure from the damage done underneath the nail, and how they, around the campfire, found a way to puncture the gathering pressure underneath the nail. And how they got the pressure relieved with something. . .

And so, the electric drill . . . and I decided, in that moment in the garage, that I was ready to try something I had never done, and, good grief, enough is enough, and, heck, I'm a real self who has courage, and personal strength, and, crap, if it doesn't work, then I'm big enough to live with consequences, and dang it, I'm done with this pressure under the toenail.

So, I drilled it. Took the smallest drill bit I had. Hooked it up to the stupid drill, and within, what?, 15 seconds, blasted through the toenail and blood pooled and trapped underneath blasted like an oil geyser up through the tiny hole, and at once there was relief from the pressure and I laughed like a mad man.

Yep. The toe's good. No pressure. No dark blue hideous color. Just a tiny hole in the big toe nail.

Just in case you missed it, I'm a stud. Don't you ever turn your back on me when I have an electric drill in my hand. . .