Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Parenting Teens

His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom. --Job 1:4-6

Next week both of my children will be in high school. It’s a major shift in parenting. While the older boy has a mental outlook that makes him think as a young child, the next boy has been steadily stretching himself toward the world outside our home.

Gone are the big-eyed tikes who saw me as king and hero. And just as puberty has made them different persons, their maturing is changing me as well.

In the past few weeks, especially with Isaac, I have had to start doing different things with them. I had to practically drag him off on a family road trip. He would have preferred to hang around town on the off chance he might run into friends at the county fair. He enjoyed the trip, but it took my best persuasive techniques.

Just before that I taught him and his brother how to shave. That was pretty cool. They have their own razors, and have learned the rituals of hot water, razor angle and direction, and the benefits of aftershave.

Yesterday I took Isaac out and we had THE TALK. It went pretty well. In fact, as we headed off to pick up Mom’s birthday present he said “I’m glad we had that talk, Dad. Let’s do it again.”

Last night I taught them how to play poker, emphasizing the dangers in the game. I think they got the message because this morning J. said “Let’s buy chips to play that game. I don’t think money is good ‘cause we might end up playing with cameras and cell phones and cars and stuff.” Right on dude!

But the real change for me isn’t the need to talk about girls, and marriage, and sex, and responsibilities. The real challenge is to explain how God fits into all of this. The Sunday School classes they have attended only took them so far. The example I set in prayer and reading scripture only set up a foundation. Even their professions of faith that led them to the baptistry in that now burned out sanctuary was just a step. My duty now is to pull the disparate elements of their encounters with faith into something that will sustain them. They need to see how it fits together. That is one of my final stages in parenting.

They need to know how to love and be loved. They need to see that unconditional love isn’t just that I loved them before we even met. That I love them now and forever, and I will not relinquish my adoption of them no matter what they might do.

(Side note: it was suggested that we might let J. go after what he did at our church. That indicates two things. 1. Some people do not understand how deep love is and that biology is not the only way to have your own children. 2. Some people do not understand what unconditional love means. I pity their small hearts. How will they ever come to know our LORD?)

They must learn that they are lovable for them to truly love. If they are to have a mate that will love them fully, they must realize that it is possible for someone to love them and not leave for another, not cheat on them. I suspect that infidelity comes out of the fear of not being lovable. That we suspect that we are not going to be loved and we seek to either pre-empt the hurt we feel is coming, or seek reassurance of our worth from at least one more person (who is probably doing the same lonely thing).

There is one more thing I need to stay steady in this last phase of my parenting. I need to take my relationships regularly to my king. I need to seek His advice as we go into these teen years so He may guide me. Like Job, I need to intercede for my children, and I must do it regularly, seriously, fervently.

For those who do not have this relationship, I offer again all that I have to help you find Him. Leave your email address in a comment and I will contact you so we can chat. We can delete it so you do not get unwanted spam.

May you all keep your eyes on the shepherd’s heels. They are leading us to a place of peace. God bless. I love you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


"The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first." --Job 42:12

I am so grateful! I can’t fully explain how I feel. The LORD is pouring a steady stream of blessings into my life. I am completely in awe of Him. Thank you LORD!

First, I should explain that life has not been easy lately. I’m not saying that I’m going through times as tough as Job's, but it hasn't been easy. Here is a synopsis just to get you up to speed:

Thirteen years ago, after much struggle with infertility issues, my wife and I decided to adopt. That story is filled with miracles, and wonders, and pain. The refinancing of our home to pay for the adoption, the intrusive home visits, the lawyers, the counseling, and the caring for the birth mother led us to our first child, born on my wife’s birthday. The joy of that child was magnified by the generosity of our church family. And that same wonderful group of people were the source of great solace when he died of SIDS three and a half months later.

His death was a watershed event in my life. A very dark year passed where suicide frequently seemed a viable option. But I grew. (Thank you LORD.)

Eleven years ago, after much struggle with grief, my wife and I decided to adopt again. That story is filled with miracles, and wonders, and pain. The refinancing of our home to pay for the adoption, the intrusive home visits, the lawyers, the counseling, and the trip to Florida led us to our next two children, born and orphaned in Haiti, and brought into this country on medical visas the day after our first child died. The joy of those children was magnified by the generosity of our church family. And that same wonderful group of people were the source of great solace when one of them, playing with a candle, burned a large portion of that church down.

This fire has been another watershed moment in my life. It almost seemed that there were forces at work that were trying to drive me from the church. I continually felt inadequate to lead a Sunday school class. (The whispers seemed to say: Who are you to be here? You should be ashamed. It was your child who hurt these people, why should they have to put up with you anymore? At least you should be sitting quietly in the back somewhere. . .)

I had various physical ailments. I tore the muscles in my lower back. My psoriasis flared up and the skin on my fingers split so badly it hurt just to turn the pages of a book. Rashes appeared on my scalp, toes, ankles, the backs of my hands. My hair started falling out.

My wife and I had difficulty in avoiding arguments. She was having so much trouble loving this child who had done so much harm (there were several people who barely escaped the explosive inferno which literally threw our pastor out of the building).

The D.A. had to decide if he needed to try our son as an adult for arson, which could have included an attempted homicide charge as there were people in the building. We had to get our boy into counseling and agree to a 24-7 watch for him.

Our other son became severely depressed and we seek ways to get his feet on firm ground.

But the LORD is pouring a steady stream of blessings into my life. I am in awe of Him.

Since these events (and others, some of which I have shared in previous postings) the LORD has been faithful. No, He has been more than that. He has been working to make huge changes in my life and those around us.

Our church will be rebuilt, and the new building will better serve the needs of our community and our congregation. Prayer has become much more important to many, especially me.

I have felt confident stepping out in faith. I know that there is evil in the world. It seeks to harm me. (It seeks to harm you as well.) But if God is with me, who can be against me?

I’m a little kid is standing up to a school yard bully, knowing full well that my big brother is standing right behind me. I look at my adversary and I'm saying: "Bring it on!" And my big brother, with His arms calmly folded and wearing that thorny crown, flashes His eyes in warning: “Don’t try it”.

Let me share something with you, dear reader.

We just returned from a road trip, a get away. And here are two of the many things I saw that I want you to consider.

We traveled all the way down the Oregon coast and found ourselves in the Redwood National Forest in northern California. There are trees there. They are real trees. Not those we usually see, but trees that stand higher than any other. Hundreds of feet tall (up to 367 feet!) and can live 2,000 years. Imagine walking beneath a tree and looking up at its lowest branches which are over a hundred feet up! The trunks are over twenty feet wide. The moss, and ferns, and shrubs that carpet the floor of the forest seem perfect for kneeling. The birds that glide through the air beneath these boughs seem like motes of dust in a great cathedral. The burls on the sides of these trees can be over a dozen feet wide! This place cannot be described without superlatives. If I tried to fully describe this enchanted place you would think me spewing hyperbole's, not reality.

A nonbeliever may dismiss the wonder of such a place, but only by disregarding the joy that dances in one’s heart when confronted with true beauty.

We also traveled east and saw Crater Lake. When one approaches the lip of the caldera, the eye drops down a sheer drop of 1,000 feet to an astounding sight. The color of the water redefines the word blue. Because the water is so pure, so clear, the properties of the water molecule cleanly eliminate all but the truest portion of that exquisite color. The lake is the deepest in the United States (over 1,900 feet) and shines like a sapphire. The vision is so pure that one gasps and feels a sense of wonder not felt since they were a small child.

A nonbeliever may dismiss the wonder of such a place, but only by disregarding the faith that dances in one’s heart when confronted by the works of an almighty creator who gave human beings the ability to enjoy beauty.

Those two places are concrete expressions of something that has been growing in my heart this summer. My wife and I have rediscovered the joys of praying together each night. I have rediscovered my duty in teaching my children to pray and sharing the truths of God’s world with them. I have fallen in love with reading the Bible and prayer. And let me share with you my friend, it is all VERY GOOD!

I feel like singing and dancing. Yes, I know it doesn’t make any sense. Things are all screwed up. But I am a part of His flock. He is my shepherd. I am honored to follow Him wherever He leads. Sometimes the path is rocky, but I trust him. He will lead me beside still waters.

My friend, I cannot express how I feel. But if you have never felt like this, and you wish to contact me and discuss this privately, please feel free to leave your email address in the comment section of this posting. I check this blog frequently and I will respond as quickly as possible. If you wish, we can delete it later so others don’t start spamming you.

God bless. God bless you and your family. May you feel Him walking beside you all the days of your life.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Watcher

“I Loathe my life: I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath. What are human beings that You make so much of them, that You set Your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will You not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my own spittle?”
Job 7:16-19

It can be a fearful thing, living under the gaze of the almighty maker of all things. The omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent I AM is too much for us to bear.

". . .And He said 'I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy. But,' He said, 'you cannot see My face; for no one shall see Me and live.' "
Exodus 33:19-20

This is the creator. The Big Bang that excites physicists so much is the very breath of God. He said “Let there be” and there it was! (All praise His name!) Creator of the universe. Uni-verse = one word. His word. The word. The Living Word. And He still holds it all together (John 1:3).

So Job, struggling to understand the WHY, wants out from under His gaze. He has lost everything that is dear to him. If only he could hide, to crawl away from this intense scrutiny, and die.

But he is too completely the LORD’s servant. He knows that God is watching. He would take his own life to make the pain stop, but he cannot die under that powerful gaze.

King David sings in praise: “. . .What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:4) Why do you love us so?

Job moans in despair: “What are human beings that You make so much of them, that You set Your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment?” (Job 7:17)

Job’s torment is so great. “. . .I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. . . When I say ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then You scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body” (Job 7:11-15).

When my son Willy died I was haunted by nightmares filled with blood and death, guilt and self blame, of past and future hurts.

I imagine Job dreaming of his employees bleeding in the fields, his children gasping for breath as their nostrils clog with debris, the fallen walls squeezing the air from their lungs, dust settling upon their open eyes. His dreams are disturbed by the weeping sores of his skin, his life is all ashes. And when he awakes he looks up at the slowly drifting clouds and knows the He is watching. He is watching!

“Do You have eyes of flesh? Do You see as humans see?” (Job 10:4) He is pleading. How can a loving God allow such pain? He cannot live with it. He cannot die. It is intolerable.

Job is trapped. He knows that the LORD is just, fair, righteous. He also knows that he is innocent of any great sin. Job is trapped in the trap that all men faced before Christ. He is under The Law.

There is a saying: “Forgiveness is for Christians. Guilt is for the Jews.” For Job and those of his age, there is no recourse under The Law. Prayers and sacrifices, obedience and humility before our maker are all we can offer.

Today there is another option. This is one that makes it bearable to be under the eye of the almighty. In fact, we count upon it.

“’I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear Him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs on your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than sparrows.’” Luke 12:4-7

God is an intent watcher. And more. He loves us. He desires us to choose Him for a relationship. We have free will. We are designed to make choices. And we have appetites that we wish to fulfill that tend us toward poor choices. He waits for us to choose Him (Rev. 3:20).

Poor Job lived on the other side of the cross. The side where a relationship with Yahweh is tainted by our inherent failures.

Life on Earth is temptation. We will fall into it. If nothing else, we will fall to some form of selfishness. We want to be praised, honored, regarded, considered, consulted, loved, respected.

We are a curious mixture of traits. We have a spiritual nature that seeks God. We cherish beauty and goodness. We marvel and appreciate. Something lifts within us when we turn our heart and mind to higher things.

We have a physical side that has much in common with the other living things on this world. We hunger for food, for resources, for sex, for control.

We have the capacity for discernment. We have an intellect to make choices, and to implement those choices. To plan, to maneuver, to accumulate, to devise, to deceive. To focus on blood or rainbows, wars or friendships, tortures or healings.

We have an animal nature that hungers. A spiritual nature that delights. A mental nature that decides.

Why do we have these traits? How can they benefit Him? The LORD has spiritual beings who were created to serve him, to praise Him. Beings who have been doing so for thousands, perhaps billions of years. Why would He create us, creatures who are so flawed?

In this book of Job, Satan stands before the LORD as a sort of prosecuting attorney. He is making the case that even this very good man would fail the LORD if things were not so good. Satan wants a warrant from the divine court to set up a sting operation. To prove that love is something God has paid Job to do. God believes that it is in Job’s nature to honor and love and worship regardless of circumstances.

It’s a wondrous gift when someone chooses to love us.

Could it be that when He created us that Satan argued that we are unworthy? Unworthy of His love, unworthy of spiritual gifts, unworthy of eternity? Could it be that the story of humankind is set against a backdrop of a spiritual debate?

For a moment consider that Satan may have felt slighted by our creation (or the plan of it). Satan may have felt that the LORD was wrong in including creatures that sweat, and grunt, and hunger into the spiritual club. That we have no place alongside cherubim, and seraphim, and archangels, and powers, and dominions, and principalities. We do not deserve to be so cherished.

Perhaps the events of human history are under the watchful eyes of the LORD and Satan because we are the Job story. That tale begins with the creation of Man, with his flaws, and a temptation. It also begins with a relationship. Man and the LORD.

Adam walked with Him. “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and the woman hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God. . .” Genesis 3:8

They hide because of more than mere shame. Prior to this they were face to face with Him. They could be in His very presence. Adam was with Eve when she chose wrongly. He failed her and himself. And then they were fundamentally different creatures. Creatures that indulge their baser appetites. They were human.

“’But,’ He said, ‘you cannot see My face; for no one shall see Me and live’” (Exodus 33:20). Part of the reason the first couple hid was simple self-preservation.

So He is watching. Has been all along. Sometimes that is a dreadful thing. It means that if we are in tune with that truth we cannot do anything without being aware of Him.

It is also a wondrous thing. He is aware of every sparrow, but He loves us.

Satan was so sure of the inherent corruption of being human, that the mixture of animal needs and desires with a divine nature, a soul, that he bet it all. He thought that even God incarnate could be tempted while in the form of a man (Matthew 4:1).

So where is our victory for Him in what we do? It is love. Love for each other, love for our creator. When we love we beat the odds. When we praise Him we tally another victory on the side of the LORD. And when we love Him despite the difficulties we face, it is a special triumph over the forces of darkness.

Satan is whispering to us to give up, to despair, to curse God and die. He tells us that we are unworthy, that we are cursed, that we are mayflies burning out our lives in futile desires, we have no hope in deserving His love.

Ah, he is very good at mixing lies and half truths. We are unworthy. We are selfish and animalistic and base. We are crude caricatures of divinity. But that is what is so marvelous! We wade chest deep in the muck of human frailty. But when we stand on our toes, we can lift our hearts above the primordial soup of our desires so that our hearts are pushed above the gunk of mortal existence. We can look upward and love. We raise our hands out of the sloppy mess and lift them in praise. And when we hold up our gratitude to him, especially when the offering itself is painful, we show that the spark of divinity that He has given each of us, that the LORD of creation lives within that heart temporarily above the ooze, we achieve a victory for more than ourselves.

It is a victory over darkness.

So, those of you who struggle, those of you who are hurt, those of you who are beaten and bruised and afflicted and are damaged goods, PRAISE HIM! In praising your creator who loves you more deeply, more fully than we can possibly understand, you claim a victory for Him that proves that love is the strength that binds the universe together.

Praise Him from whom all blessings flow!


Monday, August 08, 2005

The Steadying Hand

There is a flip side to the whisper in the dark. There seems to be an opponent, a force of good that counter-balances evil. Are we pawns in some spiritual chess match? I don’t think so. Despite the paradox of an omniscient divinity who knows all that will happen, there is clear evidence of free will. The pawns can march cross the black and white squares without the pressure of the players’ hands.

The book of Job begins with Satan arguing that the Lord’s servant is good only because he has it good. The Lord permits the testing of Job’s faith (twice) and the reader is carried along to watch how the businessman of Uz handles the outrageous pain he receives.

Job loses his property, his business, and his children. His wife and friends accuse him of some great sin. He proclaims that he has done no great sin, at least not in his adult life, to warrant such treatment. He is an honest businessman, and carefully follows the spiritual laws of his faith. He worships the Lord without reservation. He prays for his children regularly, just in case. He is a man "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil."

He stands between two forces, the Lord and Satan, and tries to understand why he is where he is. He cannot see the hands of Satan in his life, but he is deeply hurt by them. He wonders, is this the Lord’s doing? For what reason? That is Job’s plaintive cry: “why?!”

I have seen some creepy things now and then that make me wonder about what is slithering in the shadows. But there are also flashes of light as well.

December 18, 1992

Willy has been dead for three days. His funeral is tomorrow. The child I had dreamt of, the child who was entrusted to me, the child who was IN MY CARE, died with a whimper and a sigh. There is a terrible scream pulsing out of my chest that makes it hard to comfort my wife. My heart seems to be some sharp jagged thing that continually slices at me from within.

We haven’t hardly slept since it happened. We walk woodenly through our days, accepting the cards, flowers, and phone calls, with eyes that are red and alternating between a watery film that makes it hard to see and a dryness that makes the eyelids scratch.

We can’t keep going on like this. If we continue without sleep much longer we will become very ill. After exacting a promise from my wife that she would not abuse it we go to Kaiser Permanente to get something that will let us sleep.

It is a 30 minute drive to the medical center, where we stand like zombies for 20 minutes before someone notices us, and gets us what we need. We walk like marionettes to the car and head home.

It is a dreadful night. There is a storm pounding the roads. The wipers are on full speed and still I can only catch a flash of the road with its blinking white line as I thread the weaving highway above the river toward home. I’m only going 45, but occasionally I can feel the car hydroplane. I’m gripping the wheel hard enough to make my hands cramp.

“Look out!. . .” Brenda starts to say.

I saw it also. For a moment there was someone in the road ahead of us. But then he was gone.

“I saw it too,” I tell her. "There was someone there, wasn’t there?!”

She looks at me unsurely. She is doubting what she saw.

I’m glancing over at her every few seconds to gauge how she is doing when it happens again. I see her eyes widen for a moment and I jerk my attention forward.

In the brief moments when the wipers have cleared away the sheet of water sliding over the windshield I see someone running along the road ahead of us. He is perhaps 20 feet ahead of the car, running along the fog line between us and the guard rail, racing along the river on our right. His arms are pumping up and down with powerful ease. His feet are flashing down through my headlights into the splashing rain.

I glance at my speedometer. It is hovering about one third of the way between the softly glowing numbers of 40 and 50.

I look up again. There is no one in sight.

I reach over and take Brenda’s hand. I know we are going to be all right.


March, 1972

I’m with a couple of friends and we are at brother Michael’s house. It is a tiny little house divided in two. The left side is a wedding dress shop. Brother Michael lives in the right half. His front room is filled with vegetables and stale bread he has gleaned from grocery stores to feed the poor, and gospel tracts. He drives an old beat up Datsun pick up truck and sleeps on a fold up cot in the kitchen. Years later I learn that he was once a very wealthy man who gave away all his possessions to the needy. Now his eyes twinkle through his cataracts at the teens who want to distribute his pamphlets.

He is giving us SO MUCH STUFF! Handfuls of those old Jack Chick comic book tracts, Campus Crusade’s “The Four Spiritual Laws,” and such. I had a box filled with little red booklets. They are two by two and a half inches:



My friend Jeff’s car is parked across the street. I run out to it. I'm emerging between the parked cars and a car is heading toward me at about 30 mph
, perhaps ten feet away. No time to race ahead, or to turn back. I'm about to be hit.

I feel hands on my shoulders. Big hands. The fingers stretch down my chest like they are the size of bananas. I can feel the large thumbs touching each other below my shoulder blades. And I'm flying back in the air, the way I had just come.

I land with a thud on the sidewalk, the car sweeps past, making.

I look around. There is no one. No one anywhere. My legs stretch across the sidewalk, pointing toward the street. I'm still clutching the box of pamphlets.

I stand up, unhurt, and walk slowly back into the house.


11:30 p.m., July 31, 2005

I’m standing on the bumper of a pickup truck that is swerving down the street. My house, my wife, are receding at 40 mph. The truck squeals down a side street, and somehow my feet stay on the bumper, my hands on the tailgate, almost as if I am being steadied.

The truck slows. I jump off. The strange ride ends.


I know it was dangerous. (And I know that what I did was stupid.) But there was something about it that made me feel safe. Somehow I knew I wasn’t going to be really hurt.

I was surprised, certainly. I was a little embarrassed (I was standing there, alone on that street in my boxer shorts). But I felt that I was safe.

The entire series of events that night had the feeling that there was some sort of force field about us, like something from Forbidden Planet. The monster was not going to get through the shielding.

True, there is no evidence, even of my own senses, that indicated anything paranormal, supernatural, or spiritual, but the sense of calm was almost palpable.

The Lord does not coerce us to follow him. But he forbids His opponent to coerce us as well. He places restrictions on Satan.

“The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’"
Job 1:12

There are unseen things around us. There are temptations that come to us as if in a whisper, and there are fears that spring at us from the shadows. We can keep those fears away with a strong rebuke in His name. But sometimes something else steps between us and danger and says “but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

The latest theories about how our universe is put together describe a reality that contains more than the four dimensions that we experience. They are unsure how many (eleven? more?). Perhaps there are spiritual laws that are truly physical laws in realms we cannot discern.

Whatever the truth may be, I believe that there are forces of good at work. Forces that lend a steady hand, that sing louder than the whispers in the the dark.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

All Screwed Up

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason."

"Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face."

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life."
Job 2:3-6

Why do people suffer? Is it some big bet between God and Satan or is there more to it? Here is a little essay I have written on how messed up life can be and wondering if there is a point:


Everything is all screwed up. Everything is perfect.

The last couple of months there has been a series of events that have screwed everything up. My child was playing with fire. Soon we were watching flames leaping from our church. Our church family has been forgiving, loving, and caring but we are going through big emotional, psychological, parental, financial, and legal challenges (optimisticly). My wife and my two sons are seeing counselors. Our dog broke through a french door, resulting in blood on floors, walls, and furniture throughout the house (he’s fine). I ran out one night to investigate a beating in front of our home, and found myself on a fast-paced ride on the back of a pickup.

I have torn the muscles in my lower back, and it is difficult to move. My psoriasis has flared up to the point where I am swelling, peeling, cracking, and splitting all over. In the past three weeks my hair has suddenly found itself more at home on the floor of the shower than on my head, and so I got, for the first time, a sunburn on the top of my head. I just learned that an old injury has gotten to the point where my shoulder muscle is in danger of slipping off the bone (I am doing exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles). We have had a series of unexpected expenses and financially we have just about given up the idea that we can keep from going deeper into debt. Our emotions are pendulums swinging wildly between depression and hope, relief and anxiety (fortunately my wife and I usually counterbalance each other). Emotionally, physically, legally, and financially it is all screwed up.

But everything is perfect. Often there is a great sense of peace (it’s beyond logic, I know). Throughout these events there has been a sense of purpose and power and protection. I know that I (we) will be ok. No, we’ll be great!

Take for example the strange ride a few weeks ago. I was flying down the rode, hanging onto the back of a pickup truck, while waking up (I was asleep less than 60 seconds before).

My wife had yelled that someone was getting beaten in front of our home. I sprang from bed, ran outside. Gang members were jumping into the back of a pickup. I ran to see if someone was being hurt. The truck sped off while I was peering into its bed. I jumped up and on instead of up and off. I found myself gripping that tailgate as the truck swerved back and forth to throw me off (those swerves only kept the two youths in the back from reaching me). After squealing around a corner and racing down a quiet street they come to a stop. I stepped off, hands open, high. A squeel of tires and it was off again. I stood there, contemplating the receding truck, in my Sponge Bob Square Pants boxer shorts, listening to a dog bark in the distance. I felt no fear at all.

A little later my wife and I, while waiting for the police, found ourselves bumping into another gang member. He was searching for his friend (the recipient of the beating) and was carrying something spear-like.

“What’s that you’ve got?” my wife demanded. She took away the metal fence post. She even scolded him about his need to smoke and not being in bed where he would be safe.

We felt completely safe. And we were, I am certain. Yes, it was stupid to do what I did. It was dangerous. They could have had guns, or knives, or simply used their fists. I could have simply fallen off of that truck at 40 mph and been seriously injured, or killed. But throughout the incident I felt safe, even amused. It was a part of a series of events that should have demoralized us.

The physical, the financial, the emotional drain on our family recently has been rough, but there has been frequent times where we have felt loved and safe in the midst of these difficulties. I understand that it doesn’t make sense. Still, it is true.

I believe that dark forces have wanted to do my family harm. And those forces have been prevented by the prayers of many who care about us. The amusement comes from the incongruity of it all. Picture a malevolent being, thousands, perhaps billions of years old. Seeking to do harm, but is thwarted by an overweight middle aged guy smiling with chagrin in his boxer shorts on a dark suburban street.

For those who are skeptical about prayer let me pause to say, I understand. I can only claim that my experiences have shown that the petitions of myself and others have had a real effect. I love science, but there is a huge blind spot in the scientific paradigm. Science is based on the premise that things are repeatable and measurable and therefore the imperical proofs it offers come with strings attached. I agree that most of what we see around us in the universe is observable, measurable, and often repeatable. But not everything. There are unique events that cannot be subject to verification.

So, dear reader, you have three choices here.
1. Accept my point, at least for the sake of my argument.
2. Reject the point and either read on out of curiosity or quit reading now.
3. Experiment with prayer yourself.

Before any of this began I had been praying a particular prayer for three months. It was about Jesus as our shepherd. I prayed this prayer by writing out the words in tiny letters on a wall in such a way so that when one steps back it is an image of Jesus carrying a sheep. He is the good shepherd, willing to stand between the wolf and His flock. But we are to be obedient. That is our role. We are to follow Him, regardless of how rocky the path is currently. We are to trust that He knows where He is leading us. And that is what I am doing. Wherever He leads, I will follow.

So why the tough spots at all? Consider: we are eternal beings. I will continue long after this overweight, aging shell with the skin problems and receding hairline fails. What kind of creature will I be then? I’m not sure. But I believe that mortal experiences will effect large changes in how I approach eternity.

For example, the death of my first child is the most difficult event of my life. I would NEVER choose such a trial. It was painful, debilitating, and damaged me in deep ways. But out of it I have grown spiritually. What does that look like? It will be different for different folks, but for me it meant getting more out of reading the Bible, more out of my time in prayer. My empathy toward suffering is far greater. My compassion for others has grown. My desire to grow has grown. I believe I am better at helping others through difficult times. Most importantly, I feel closer to God. If you would like to know more about this experience and that type of interaction with God, you might read the first posting found on this blog: “A Starting Point”.

So that is where I am now. In a tough spot. Everything screwed up. But at peace. I feel protected (though I will not test my invulnerability). I believe that no matter the situation, I am under the guidance of someone wiser, someone greater, and it will be all right. I am growing and all growth is painful.

Everything is perfect.