Where’s this Story Headed?

When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’
Deuteronomy 31:1 (NRSV)

Last night on the way to dinner with friends, Wendy was sharing with me about a podcast she listened to by Donald Miller. The crux of the message was, what story are you trying to tell with your life? She expressed a desire for the two of us to spend some time in conversation about the story we want our lives to tell. I’m looking forward to that.

In less than a half-year I will hit the big 5-0. I’ve never been one to stress about birthdays and aging. It is what it is. I’m less concerned about the number of my years and more concerned with what I have done with the days I have been given, and with my purpose in however many days I have left. Nevertheless, when you reach certain waypoints in life’s journey there is a natural tendency to recalibrate your position.

Where have I been?
Where am I now?
Where am I going?

In today’s chapter, Moses is approaching a monumental waypoint in life: the finish line. Moses had an amazing life. Saved from genocide as a baby, he grew up in Pharaoh’s courts. He was a murderer and a wanted man living life on the lam. Despite his human shortcomings both moral and physical, God called him to confront his past and unite his people. He stood up to Pharaoh, led the people out of Egypt, and then established an entire nation. He gave the nation organizational leadership structure,  a thorough set of governing laws, and a monotheistic national religion unlike anything humanity of that day had ever seen. Not a bad resume for one man looking back on his life journey What a great story.

Today, I’m thinking about my own story. I’m mulling over the chapters that have brought me here, and thinking about where I want the story to go from here.

So, what’s your story?

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Closer than I Realize

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.
Deuteronomy 30:11 (NRSV)

There were often times when the girls were quite small that I would quietly be present observing and watching over them. They were oblivious to my presence, their attention drawn to shiny things, new things, and the struggle to stand and walk. Their eyes and hearts were fixed on the exploration of the world that existed just 0-24 inches from the ground. There I hovered, quietly watching and wordlessly removing dangerous objects from their path before they got there. I was intent on their growth, their maturity, and their well-being. In the moment, they had no idea.

I remember the early days of my faith journey. I had decided to follow Jesus and it all seemed so new and unexpected. At the same time, I began to look back with unveiled eyes and to realize all of the ways that my Heavenly Father had been there all along. I could, in retrospect, see how things had been ordered to bring me to this place without my even knowing it.

In today’s chapter, Moses reminds God’s people that the things of God are “not too hard” nor are they “too far away.” So often I, like a small child, allow my eyes and heart to be captivated by shiny things, new things, and those things which exists just 0-72 inches from the ground. My Heavenly Father, crowded out of my vision and consciousness, is ever-present and intent upon my protection, my growth, and my maturity, even when I am oblivious in the moment.

Today, I am thankful that God, and all that God has to offer, is closer and more easily accessible than I perceive or believe in the moment.

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The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy

Hard to believe, but I have been blogging for nearly 10 years and have written over 3200 blog posts in that time. On Remember When Wednesdays I repost something I wrote from yesteryear for newer readers. It’s always interesting to me the posts that, as I put it, “get legs” and seem to perpetually drive traffic on my blog.

For today’s Remember When Wednesday, I’m reposting The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy. It is one of my chapter-a-day posts from the Song of Solomon which seems to have resonated with readers. It was originally published in September of 2013. Enjoy…

My lover tried to unlatch the door,
    and my heart thrilled within me.
Song of Solomon 5:4 (NLT)

One of the things that I love about the Song of Solomon is the way the relational give and take develops between the young man and the young woman in the duet. Like all relationships, there is a progression of the relationship from the beginning of the song to the end. There is the initial infatuation with one another as they look upon one another and are impressed with what they see. Then there is the growing desire for one another as they seek to be in one another’s presence. In today’s chapter we feel the growing desire and anticipation of sexual intimacy.

The young woman is having another dream, and this time she hears the young man attempting to unlatch the door of her bedroom. Her heart is thrilled (and, I suspect, other parts of her as well). When she gets up to let him in, she finds him gone. Disappointed, she runs through the streets in a frantic search for him. The night watchmen find her and beat her up. You can see in the dream the anticipation of intimacy, the disappointment that it has not happened, and the intense feelings of personal pain and injury that she has not been able to consummate her love.

I have learned over time that sexual intimacy in marriage is best built with anticipation, just like the progression in Solomon’s song. While sex occasionally occurs at the spur of the moment, motivated by a surprisingly sudden surge of hormones, the truth is that there is typically a subtle song and dance that happens between me and Wendy. A glance and casual touch at the breakfast table hints at the possibility that this day may come to a passionate end. Hints are dropped by the wearing of things that the other has commented pleases his or her eye. A dab of cologne on a day that none is typically warranted. There is the casual touch in public that lingers a moment longer than usual. The mind is engaged. The eyes are engaged. The sense of smell is stimulated. The ears hear coded messages: “I shaved my legs today.”

Playful thoughts flitter in and out of each other’s minds during the day. Anticipation builds. A regular evening dinner takes on new layers of sensual meaning as each become aware of what I mentioned in yesterday’s post: There is a connection between senses. The feeding of one appetite will invariably lead to another. The main course tastes so good. The wine seems downright decadent, and savoring the dessert feels almost sinful.

One of the things that Solomon’s song subtly conveys to me is that the climactic, sexually intimate event of the day does not typically just happen. It happens when husband and wife learn and know one another’s subtle, sensory dance. It is me learning how to slowly feed multiple senses of my wife during the day in the ways she best responds. It is my wife learning just how to tease the deliberate build up of anticipation that will lead to a successful, intimate feast after dinner that night. There is an art to the intimacy between husband and wife that takes on the unique characteristics of the two artists involved in creating the intimate moment.

In contrast, I find that popular media (especially pornography) likes to portray sex like it’s most awesome when easily cranked out like one of those ultra high-speed photocopiers at Kinko’s (yes, pun intended): Get it fast. Get it often. Get it easy. Everyone gets a copy. Sure, you get the picture – but it’s monochrome, impersonal, and unoriginal. Each one is just like the one before. It quickly becomes meaningless and lifeless. You crank out more copies hoping for something different in the output picture, but it will never be an original work of art.

My experience is that sexual intimacy does not become a breathtaking original work of art unless there are two people learning to create something together over time, learning to work together, make mistakes, erase errors, try something new, explore, play, complement one another’s individual style, and develop their own unique style as a couple over time together. As Solomon’s Song suggests, there is a progression. It gets better, deeper, more refined, and even more powerful in ways neither husband nor wife could scarcely imagine, even in the intoxicating infatuation of the early relationship.

Sexual intimacy between husband and wife is a work of art.

Difficult Paths; Explicable and Not

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 29:29 (NRSV)

My life journey has led me on some difficult paths…

Some paths were difficult, but I willfully chose them knowing full well where they would likely lead. As Bob Dylan put it, “like a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat, going 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street.” Those difficulties and the natural, negative consequences which affected myself and others are on me.

Some paths were difficult because of the willful choices of others and their natural, negative consequences which directly affected me in hurtful ways. Those difficulties are on the individuals who made those choices.

Still other paths were made difficult because we live in a fallen world in which sickness, disease, and inexplicable tragedy may suddenly affect any one of us at any time. Those difficulties are on Adam, Eve, and all of us who tread this earth east of Eden.

Some paths are made difficult because we live within a Great Story of good and evil. Evil exists in the world carrying out its chaotic and self-centered motives to destructive ends. Whether through direct attack or ripple effect, those difficulties are on the evil one and all who follow.

Then there are difficult paths I tread and I cannot explain them. They don’t fit neatly in any of the previous sources I’ve identified. These are the most perplexing. These are the things which I place within the description found in today’s chapter. These are the secret things that belong to God. I don’t see God’s purposes or perceive His reasons, and I struggle perpetually to find a place of contentment or peace in the mystery of it.

This is why it is called a faith journey.

 

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The Latest 10-25-2015

Better late than never

It has been a rather amazing autumn here in central Iowa. It’s been an extended Indian summer. The days have been sunnier, warmer more dry than usual. The blustery, wet chill of an Iowa autumn has been virtually non-existent up to this point.

The past week was fairly routine for Wendy and me with work and fall activities. Taylor has been traveling to see friends and family the past week and a half. She was home briefly on Tuesday night from her weekend in California and flew out early Wednesday to spend some time with Madison in Colorado. So, the house was quiet. Wendy took the opportunity to do some cleaning and arranging late in the week.

The weekend, however, ended up being even more full than we had expected. On Friday night our friends Dan and Anna came over for dinner and the conversation lasted late into the night. During the evening our friend Cyndi texted and mentioned she had two extra tickets to The Illusionists at the Des Moines Civic Center on Saturday afternoon and asked if we’d like to join her, Ben, and Megan for lunch and a show.

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The time in the car with Cyndi afforded us an opportunity to run lines for our performance on Saturday night. It was the Silver Anniversary of the Pella Opera House restoration and re-opening. Opera House Executive Director, Kevin McQuade, had planned a huge gala event for the occasion and asked me to pen a short sketch for the occasion. Cyndi, Wendy and I performed the sketch and had precious little time to rehearse, so the time in the car was beneficial.

By the time we returned from Des Moines we had to make a quick change and get to the Opera House for the black-tie event. It was a wonderful evening and we loved visiting with all sorts of people from the community (see featured photo).

IMG_6980As the crowd was ushered upstairs into the Opera House auditorium for the evening’s program. Wendy and I headed back stage to change into our costumes for the sketch. I was standing in the dressing room with Wendy and Cyndi running lines when Laurinda Nikkel arrived. Laurinda is an opera singer who returned home to Pella to perform for the event (it is, after all, an Opera House). When Wendy was a little girl, Laurinda dated Wendy’s uncle and Laurinda sort of adopted Wendy as a niece. They had not seen one another or communicated since Wendy was very young. It was so cute when Wendy approached Laurinda, looked her in the eye and said, “I’m Wendy.” I thought Laurinda was going to lose it right there. It was a wonderful reunion and the we had a great time chatting with her after the program.

IMG_6994Kevin and Linda invited us over for a nightcap after the evening’s festivities. Wendy and I didn’t get to bed until right around 2:00 a.m. We tried but couldn’t remember the last time we were up that late. Taylor’s comment: “you crazy kids.”

Needless to say, Sunday was spent resting and recuperating from all the activity. I spent much of the day on the couch doing a make-over on the Union Street Players website.

Busy week ahead with three days on the road and month-end deadlines looming.

 

 

 

A Million Choices

“…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God….”
Deuteronomy 28:2 (NRSV)

When I was a young man I made an observation as I hung out with my friends. I watched as my friends made snarky retorts to their parents and the argumentative escalation that inevitably occurred and usually ended with some sort of punishment. I would see the willful choices others would make to do what they knew was wrong, and the trouble that it eventually afforded them. I was not a perfect kid, and I did my share of stupid things, but more often than not I realized that there was a peace in life that came with simply doing the right thing.

As I read the chapter this morning I was struck by the list of blessings that were promised to God’s people if they would obey His commands. While some of these blessings are divine in nature, there are many blessings on that list which are simply the natural consequences of consistently choosing to do what you know is right in life and relationship.

Life is both crazy and stressful. The journey is hard. I can make it more difficult with poor choices in the way I live, act, think, speak, and relate to others. I can also assure myself a certain level of peace by choosing daily to live, act, think, speak, and relate to others in a way that is good and right.

The day lies before me with a million choices to be made of thought, word, and action. How I choose in each moment will make a huge difference in how this day ends, in stress or peace.

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Hush Up

Then Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Keep silence and hear, O Israel!
Deuteronomy 27:9 (NRSV)

We grow up being continuously hushed.

  • Be quiet. Your mom is sleeping.
  • Be quiet. Dad and I are trying to watch this.
  • I don’t want to hear another word out of you. Go to sleep.
  • Be quiet, class. Eyes up here.
  • Listen up, team!
  • Shhhhh!

The truth is that it’s difficult to hear amidst all the noise. Even Jesus said, “those who have ears to hear, listen to me.” But in order to listen we have to silence, or tune out, all the other noise around us.

I’m not sure that there has been another time in human history that is as noisy as the time we’re living in. We are deluged by noise. Noise from ever present phones that beep, buzz, and blare. Noise from televisions that are constantly on in the background. Noise from endlessly streaming playlists. Noise from planes, trains, and automobiles. The noise, at times, seems never ending.

So, how am I supposed to hear myself think?

How am I supposed to hear what my loved ones are really saying?

How am I supposed to hear God’s still, small voice in my spirit?

Today, as I switch off the satellite music channel playing in my office, I’m thinking about my need for quiet. I’m contemplating the reality of noise becoming an ever present distraction in my life. I wonder how much I miss because even when I try to listen I cannot hear myself, or God through the din.

Today, I’m consciously choosing to hush up, and listen.

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featured image: Nuno Martins via Flickr