Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leaving Your Mark

Have you ever heard of Gustav Stickley? He is responsible for what we now call "Mission Oak" style furniture and he is also considered by many to be the father of the "American Craftsman" movement of the early 1900's. Mission Oak style furniture is practical and natural and is best known for its subtle imperfections, exposed joints, and all natural appearance as it is varnished but never painted.

Gustav Stickley took great pride in his work, so much so in fact, that every piece of furniture Stickley produced bore the image of a compass and the words "Als Ik Kan" which loosely translated means, "To the best of my abilities." Gustav guaranteed that each individual piece was his best work, and back then that meant something.

Early on, Stickley's work was not appreciated, but his emblem was. Today, he is remembered as more than a furniture maker. He is considered a true American craftsman. Stickley's family eventually lost the rights to his famous trademark saying, "Als Ik Kan", but there is no doubt that Stickley left an eternal mark on the furniture and craftsman industries altogether. His products are highly sought after, and the Stickley name is still synonymous with well-made furniture.

Now, think about your parents or your grandparents. They never rushed to sign any document did they? Every contract or agreement and every check that was written, was painstakingly examined, and then signed with an enormous amount of pride and each signature was beautifully written almost resembling caligraphy. One's signature at that time, was indicative of his character, thus it had to be flawless.

At the turn of the century, it was commonly accepted that when one could not sign his own name, he simply marked the paper with an "X" in the presence of a witness, and that was enough to seal the deal. And you could expect that the person who penned the mark, would prove to be a person of honor and integrity, and that whatever services were to be delivered, would be delivered with the greatest amount of skill and impeccable accomplishment.

Less than two years ago, I accompanied my 59 year old mother to a law office for one last meeting with her attorney. Mom, ailing from cancer and a brain tumor was quickly declining, though she was still lucid, and held onto her sense of humor. She had lost the use of the right side of her body, her speech was slurred greatly, and she had to use a walker. On this particular occasion however, she had refused any assistance. She made it clear that she wanted to walk into the law office on her own and that she planned to sign each document herself.

On that day, I sat with my mom in a large law library that doubled as a conference room, and in the presence of witnesses and her attorney, I watched her take great care in leaving her mark on her very own last will and testament. You could have heard a pin drop in that room. The secretaries and clerks sitting around the table as witnesses, fought back tears as they watched her take several moments to sign her mark onto each document. Slowly and carefully she left her mark on those papers to the very best of her ability. She was leaving a legacy even as she signed away her legacy. Als ik kan.

Colossians 3: 23 says "Whatever you do, work at it with your whole heart as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ You are serving."

Awhile back, I had the pleasure of talking with a young man who works for a local fast food burger joint. This young man shared with me that his fellow employees stayed frustrated with him most of the time. When I asked him what he could possibly be doing to irritate them, I was pleasantly surprised, impressed, and humbled.

He explained that his coworkers were put out with the fact that he takes too much time to carefully craft each sandwich. His philosophy is that he likes to serve his customers the food pictured in the restaurant's advertisements.

Furthermore, he is also committed to making sure each person receives a generous serving of fries in order to get the full value the restaurant is purporting. Very subtley he also added that he is a fellow believer. In other words, this teenager takes pride in his work and he doesn't want to cheat anybody, and moreover his motivation in his approach to his work, is his relationship with Christ. He leaves his mark on each and every burger he makes.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if we were all working with the attitude of this young man, or of Gustav Stickler, or moreover living out Colossians 3:23 in our daily lives?

That's what it means to live a raw faith. No matter what our job, our position, or our circumstance might be, let us all strive toward excellence and leave our mark, His mark, on the world around us.

"In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." Proverbs 3:6

Als Ik Kan.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fencing with Sailboats, Dancing with Flashlights

When I say it, he thinks I'm joking, but I'm not. I absolutely, unequivocally want my son to stop growing. At least for now. I tell him that often these days in fact, and many times, he'll reply with a sly grin and raised eyebrows. "Hey dad," he'll chide, pointing to his muscles or his feet, "look, I'm groooowing again." As if to say, "What're you going to do about it?"

Usually that's the cue for some "wrestle" time. Only lately he seems to be taking me down. Just last night on the couch, I was minding my own business and watching a little t.v. when suddenly, I was jumped. Only this time, all 64 lbs were perched atop my head in a never ending series of punches, and wild kicks as his arms and legs took turns clamping to my neck. I was pummeled. He was wearing me out. Sixty-four pounds doesn't seem like much until it's completely wrapped around your neck or spinning around floggin' your noggin.

It was like an attack by a Tasmanian Devil, both the vicious, live, rabid one and the whirring, zooming, cartoon one. It seemed like it lasted forever, and he was laughing like a maniac the whole time. Shell-shocked, I was looking to my wife for help. No luck. She just sat there glued to the scene, wide-eyed, biting her lips, trying not to lose it. She was ignoring the parental unwritten rules: when it looks like its hurting, stop it, don't egg him on, and intervene if necessary.

It may have only lasted 3 or 4 minutes but man, it hurt. By the time I pulled him off, my ears were ringing and my whole head was vibrating. Sudden attacks like that used to be menacing and annoying, but as I realize how quickly he's growing, I don't mind. Nowadays, I may lose an ear and I may end up with bruises tomorrow, but I don't mind.

Lately, I find myself watching him when he doesn't know I'm there. And even when he knows I'm there I stare at him. "Dad, stop staring at me, you're making me nervous," he moans.

I can't help but stare. He inspires me. There I said it. My seven year old inspires me. There's no denying it. Let me just state for the record right now, that he's better at many things as a seven year old than I have ever been.

Example? I was never good at running. I was never fast. I tried. I really did, but over the years I gave up. All my friends have been warned, if they see me running, they better stop and help me out, because either someone's after me or I'm on fire. But my son, he's as fast as the locomotives he loves to watch and read about.

Another example? He's mechanical. He can take things apart and put them back together and most of the time, he has the patience for it. I never had that gift and I've never had patience. But he teaches me. I'll confess that I've actually had him put things back together for me too.

I've never known a kid who loves the outdoors more than Corban. He would stay outside digging holes, riding bikes, spraying the water hose, riding a scooter, swimming or learning a new sport every waking minute, if it weren't for homework, church, bathing and sleeping. (He eats on the go regularly).

To say the least, our home is alive with the activity of a seven year old who loves life.

While there are moments in our household that make me want to scream (and sometimes unfortunately I do), most of the time these days, I just want to capture each and every moment with him. I need time to stand still, and so I implore him to stop growing. "You heard me son, obey your dad, no growing tonight you hear?" He laughs. Like the wrestling I wrote about, this is one of our rituals. One of our "things."

Role playing and improvisation are two of our other things. Being goofy and making a fool of myself are definitely within the realm of my comfort zone, so I especially love those moments together with him. We play off each other really well and it could go on for hours. We've played dentist (I was the patient of course). And we've played veterinarian (I was the rabbit, the dog, or the monkey). We've played Nascar (I was the announcer or the judge). And the list goes on. My role playing and improv credentials have become quite extensive.

Recently, we purchased a CD that he's grown to love. He stands on his bed and puts on shows for us. My job? To turn the bedroom lights out and hold the "spot light" (a large utility flashlight), and when the timing is just right, I'm supposed to flash the light all over the walls, the ceiling, and of course the superstar, like we're at a rock concert. Sometimes he even sells tickets to his concerts with light shows. And of course, I'm his biggest fan so I find myself dancing with my flashlight.

Then there's last night. We were watching a sitcom on Nickelodeon, and some teenagers were fencing. As soon as the show ended, I was summoned to the master bedroom where earlier we'd been building objects with Connex. You know, similar to Legos only with discs and long sticks and joints that "connect" so you can build things that actually move.

Several weeks prior we built sailboats together out of Connex, and until now he'd been reluctant to take our special sailboats apart. The time had come however, and after a moment of disassembling, the sailboats fantastically transformed into swords and we began a fencing match throughout our home and around the kitchen table, where mom worked busily on paying the bills or schoolwork, or one of those other mommy things. Her hair barely escaped a good tangling from our swords more than once.

It's times like these I wouldn't trade for anything and I guess as sappy as it may seem, I'm sharing with you today that I'm struggling to come to terms with the idea, that someday it won't be cool to do those things with me anymore and I'll be replaced by new friends, girlfriends, hobbies or school sports. I think one of the scriptures that used to give me pause, now just terrifies me:

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, but when I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." I Corinthians 13:11

Don't misunderstand me, I know the context of the scripture, but it still scares me and if you'll indulge me, I need to wallow for a moment in the fear of my seven year old losing the magic and wonder and child-like imagination that for a brief moment in time, God has allowed me to share with him.

And so whether it's calling each other silly names, spending hours sticking a glow-in-the-dark solar system to the ceiling, or fencing with sailboats and dancing with flashlights. I'm game.

Live raw...let them know you love them.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bouncing Back from Spiritual Assault

Have you ever been hurt by another Christian or by a group of fellow believers in Christ? Maybe your character was maligned, or maybe some small misunderstanding was somehow purposefully transformed by another individual into a more colossal misconception. Perhaps you've witnessed one disagreement cause great dissention or discord among brothers and sisters, and tragically those relationships never recovered.

While each of these situations is difficult and stressful, the effects of such injuries to the Christian soul are traumatic and life-changing. Yet without a close, firm, constant relationship with Jesus Christ, it is almost impossible to recover from the purposefully inflicted pains of such a spiritual assault. I know because I've been there. We all know that Satan roams the earth looking for whomever he may devour however; today, I'm talking about intentional assault inflicted on Christians by other Christians and yes it happens.

I have always been taught, that if serious problems occur in any relationship, that there is plenty of blame or fault to be laid at the feet of all the parties involved. This sounded reasonable and even logical. Simply put, if you want to stay out of trouble and protect your reputation, character, and relationships with others, just make wise decisions, be forthright and optimistic. Live for Jesus, and no harm will come to you.

I have come to understand that such a belief is naive and unfair to those of us who have been blind-sided and disillusioned by stealthily calculated assaults within the context of Christian life. Until you have fallen prey to such attacks (and I hope you never will), it may be difficult to understand the context from which I write today. Unfortunately though Christians sometimes hurt each other and it takes months, and in some cases years to recover.

I know you're thinking, "What do you mean? Obviously if they purposefully cause others serious problems, they cannot be true Christians?" But we must remember that flesh is weak, and that pride and ambition left unchecked can wreak havoc on the Christian life and on Christian relationships.

I always try my best to heed the warning of a close friend of mine who said, "We must never put a face on the enemy." In other words, our true enemy will wear many faces in our lives. As disheartening as it may seem, occasionally, the enemy will wear the mask of a friend, a co-worker, a loved one, and even our fellow church members.

A few years ago, the enemy was able to play out such a scenario in my own life and I suppose the fact that I am writing this today is evidence that I am still somewhat in recovery. Without airing the specifics of that horrific situation I wanted to, in a nutshell, share with you some insight, some encouragement, and some steps to recovery for your wounded soul.

And so, if you are reading this and you can relate to it. I'm so very sorry. I know how dismayed and hurt you have felt. I know how hopeless a situation may seem and I hope that your battle scars and the wounds and bruises to your spirit will not hinder your relationships with others and more importantly with our Savior.

I hope soon that you will be able to trust your friends again. I hope that the truth of your circumstances will be revealed to those who chose to believe less in you, or those who have fallen prey to the enemy's deceit. And I truly hope that someday you will be able to heal those important relationships that were merely collateral damage for the enemy and his troops at the time.

I believe such attack-scenarios by the enemy come in three forms:

1) Shock and Awe: an overt attack by enemy forces planned to get everyone's attention and to reveal signs of potential weakness in your life, your job or your relationships.

2) Infiltration-I'll use the military definition of this: when individual solidiers or small groups attempt to penetrate the opponent's lines by assembling at weak or guarded points, even secretly from the inside.

3) Abandonment: the forsaking of an individual, a withdrawing, or discontinuing of their relationships with others.

In my case, all three of these attack methods were deployed.

My shock and awe attack, came in the form of lies. At that time, most of the people in whom I had great trust disregarded them, and so I was comforted by that, and I resolved to let the situation go as best I could. This to me signaled early defeat of those who were trying to hurt me and so naively, I did nothing to fight back.

The second attack came in the form of purposefully well-mastered manipulations and infiltrations. Those who were involved in trying to hurt me, began to work on the people I felt were close to me and those who had confidence in my abilities. They began to chip away at those confidences and at my friendships, and even my reputation.

Ultimately, I chose to purposefully withdraw from a situation which was hurtful to me and to my family. In the end, I turned around and very few people were left standing with me. Because of that abandonment, I retreated. I avoided going into public places because I didn't want to be reminded of the relationships that had been severed.

In recent weeks, I was with my family in a public place and came across a group of "friends" whose lives had also been touched by this horrendous experience. There were several. It was exciting to see them all together in one place. Unfortunately, I approached them and only one person in the group spoke to me. The others turned away, and I mean they literally turned away. It's sad that after so much time has passed, incidents like this still happen.

From my own personal experience, I liken the Stages of Spiritual Assualt to a grieving process:

1. Shock or disbelief. You want to believe that Christians don't hurt each other on purpose or at least that when they do, they're sorry.

2. Denial. You think to yourself, "Ok, this didn't just happen to me. Surely good, solid believers I know and trust, did not fall for this." And you hope that it will just blow over.

3. Realization. You come around to the idea that another Christian purposefully attacked you and your family and you begin to assess your current friendships and your standing with those around you.

4. Disillusionment. After you've assessed the situation, you begin to see people for who they are and the results can be enlightening. A good friend once told me, "When people show you who they really are, believe them."

5. Anger and Resentment. Unless you're careful, this stage could last a long time. Being angry at this stage is normal. After all, you've been unfairly hurt and you did nothing to provoke it. Just don't let it linger.

6. Acceptance. Only when you've accepted the fact that a very ugly side of Christianity, (the human side), has been revealed to you, can you begin the process of recovery and healing.

I remember early on, during the scenario I just discussed, someone close to me saying, "This is not supposed to happen in the context of a Christian life." At the time I thought the same thing. I felt I might have been treated better in the everyday context of a typical, secular life and that at least in that domain, I would have been given more benefit of the doubt. Jesus warned us about these situations.

I know some of you are thinking, "But what did you do to bring this circumstance about?" Or you're reading this and you're saying, "You need to think hard about your situation, because there must be some fault on your part."

Yes, I have considered those thoughts myself over and over. Yet, from the beginning of the situation, I resolved to do what I thought was right and to be above the fray, and this assault still happened and lives and relationships were forever changed.

There have been situations in my life in which I've made mistake after mistake. Some I have owned up to and others I'll just keep to myself and try to learn from over time. I'm not perfect. And you are not perfect. But the fact remains, that these situations really do happen. And many are left wounded. Maybe you were one of them?

Dear friend, sometimes in this life we are temporarily defeated. I know I was supposed to write this today, and so I am speaking to those of you who have been hurt, maybe continually hurt by people you trusted. Consider the Lord for a moment. Peter denied Him three times after promising Him he'd never do such a thing. If Peter could deny the Lord himself, we certainly can be denied by others.

Remember that the Lord allowed Job to suffer at the hands of the enemy and remember Job's own friends, questioned his character and his beliefs.

I know your pain is real. And I'm going to ask you to do three things.

First, stop waiting in neverending vigil for the big apology. I know you've been hoping for all these people to come to you miraculously and tell you they are sorry. That may never happen, and in all reality, it probably won't. Such an apology would require recognition and understanding on their part that they were wrong, and/or that they were deceived. That would require the Lord working in their lives and we know from the circumstances that that relationship is strained (at best) by virtue of the offenses against you. Therefore, forget the apology and resolve to move on.

Second, it is easy to get caught up in our own pain and to become so self-asbsorbed that we think we're the only ones in need of pain relief and restoration. My next challenge is to look around you today. Who do you see that's hurting? Find someone you know is hurting and help them. But wait... let's take it further. Disregard whether or not this person is responsible for his or her own pain, and just love them for who they are. Forget about blame. Forget about scoreboards and circumstances. The Lord never keeps score. The Lord just loves.

Thirdly, work to make your church or your home a sanctuary. There's a whole world of bruised and battered Christians out there. In the physical realm, we send those who are battered, to shelters until they can get on their feet again. But spiritually speaking, I submit to you that the church should be a shelter for those who are injured. All too often though, it doesn't function as the refuge of restoration that it should be. Begin today to help the hurting you know get on the road to recovery. Damaged Christians need to be loved and nurtured by the church.

I've developed the following 7 Steps to Recovery from Spiritual Assault and I hope you'll use them on your pathway to healing. At times you may need to regroup and start at number one again, or maybe you'll need to start at number one daily. I know I do.

The Seven Steps to Bouncing Back from Spiritual Assault:
1. Relinquish Control. God is powerful and almighty.
2. Proclaim Truth. Dig into God's word and know that you are all He says you are.
3. Connect. Don't retreat from the church or from your brothers and sisters. You need them.
4. Resolve to Be Positive. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, ...think about such things."
5. Worship Him. When we worship Him, we realize our place in this crazy world.
6. Model Raw Faith. Don't be afraid to share your feelings and who you are.
7. Understand that people are human and so are you.

Dear friend, I know it's hard, but you have to move on. God wants you to be free from the bondage and the spell that Satan would have you stay under for the rest of your life. He wants to render you ineffective.

But our Father wants you to live life to the fullest. When you dwell in negative circumstances, or you are continually paranoid about what others are thinking, you are not living fully. Don't worry about the scars. They've made you stronger.

Finally, commit this scripture to memory and know that you are not the only one who has been hurt or disappointed by other Christians. Consider Job's promise:

"You will lift up your face without shame. You will firmly stand with no fear inside. You will surely forget your trouble (and pain), recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, darkness becomes like morning. You will be secure because there is hope and you will look about you and take rest in your safety. But the eyes of the wicked will fail." Job 11:15-18 and 20.

Hope is yours today. It is time to heal my friend. And until next time, glorify your Lord and live a faith that is raw.