Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Warrior

It’s 2:30 in the morning and I am writing this down before I forget it.

I have had another dream. My family was living along a road. We were in filthy clothes and hiding in ditches and trees. It was night and someone was coming.

I lay in the ditch below our tree, contorting my body so that I wouldn’t show among the weeds and dank water. I was clutching a bit of metal rod that had been sharpened on one end. Above me my family was hidden.

Horses cantered up, the knights astride them wore clean clothes and carried beautiful swords. They heard a noise from my family and stopped under the tree, the hoofs of their horses within reach of my hand. They were quietly discussing what to do when one of them glanced down and made out my form in the dark.

“Why look. There is one of them right there.”

I leapt up to defend my family, but they took no notice. They continued to speakly softly. They got down off their mounts and climbed the rude stairs nailed along the sloping tree trunk to where my family was hidden.

I followed. I was terrified of what they may do, and I knew I had to act swiftly before I lost all chances of protecting my family.

In the crook of a branch we had lain some boards to create a place to lie down and sleep. The leader sat down in that squalor, my children fled further up the branches.

I strode up to the warrior and jabbed the point of my bit of metal into his stomach. He looked into my eyes as I confronted him.

“You cannot come and take away from us the little we have. We don’t have much, but if you want our home for the night, you will have to bargain for it.”

He looked at me with clear eyes filled with love, compassion, and something indefinable, something deep.

“No, my friend, you do not understand. We aren’t here to take. I know you think you are doing what is best, that you are defending your family. But this is not where you belong. You and your family belong among the stars, not here in the dirt.”

I awoke.

Those who are regular readers know that I have been struggling with a few things these past few months. I have become convinced that this is more about spiritual warfare than anything else.

It isn’t a subject I enjoy. I love rational thinking. I love science nonfiction, and my views of the world are so conservative that some of my brothers in Christ have tried, gently, over the years to get me to accept a more faith-centered view of creation.

But I am becoming more and more a believer in this supernatural battle that is played out in the mundane world of a mortal life.

My children are from a very dark, very evil, place. They were born in Haiti. My eldest, J., was beaten, abused, intentionally starved, and saw death many times. I believe that he at least watched voodoo rituals, I know he saw scores of corpses during the military coup. My other son bears the scars of ritual burning designed to ward off werewolves.

So I have been reading about spiritual warfare. I am reading about demons and curses and the effects of sin. I am praying with and for my children each night, and I find the entire situation bizarre and a little frightening, but it is my duty to protect my family, and I will do whatever that requires.

So here I sit tapping at the keyboard at my desk in the middle of the night, trying to capture the feeling the dream left in me.

When I looked into those eyes filled with love and compassion and something deeper I knew that someday my family would not be living in the ditches. That we would be wearing clean clothes, and striding through the stars.

The logical part of me wants to defend my position that this is a spiritual struggle by citing all the passages of scripture that I have looked up, that evil is real, and that there really are demons in the shadows according to His word. But I’m not going to do that. Perhaps another time.

Tonight I am just going to close with this thought: I don’t belong in the filth trying to ward off the darkness with a little bit of sharpened metal. I have looked into the eyes of a friend, a brother, a comrade in a greater battle, and have learned that I can lead my family to where nothing can touch us.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Moon Howlin'

When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. --Job 2:11-13

The snow was falling. It lent a hush to the world, a muffled echo of the numbness we felt.
A playpen sat empty in the living room. An undecorated Christmas tree was leaning on the front porch. My son had died the day before. F. was at the door, telling me that if there was anything, anything at all, he could do, just tell him what it was. The child we had sought for so many years was gone. There really wasn’t much anyone could do. I invited him in and we looked at the three portraits from K Mart. I thought about the pictures we didn’t select. Ones we had passed on because of the expense.

“There are some pictures of Willy at K Mart we decided not to buy. I would like to have them.”

“Sure thing!” he said. “Don’t give it another thought.”

And off he went in that old white Dodge truck. He was back three and half hours later with those pictures (a distance of eight miles). Smiling ruefully, he explained that the snow had turned to freezing rain and folks were sliding off the roads everywhere. But he had the pictures.

Friends do things like that.

Our church had burned down because my son was playing with fire. It was 2:30 in the morning, the police had left with my child. I called T., my pastor and friend.

“I’m so glad you called!”

Within minutes we were at Denny’s, I was drinking coffee and he was eating an LT (they were out of bacon). He set aside his concerns for his church building, his skinned up arm (he was blown twenty feet out of the building by the explosion). We talked. We prayed.

Friends do things like that.

The fire marshall told me to fix some electrical problems (part of the home fire safety the DA asked us to complete). R., an electrician, bringing equipment, parts, wiring, and expertise, made it right.


Most men I know don’t make close friends. My father buys his friends. When they grow tired of his calling the shots on trips to Belize or Amsterdam, he gets new ones. This is a big mistake. The criteria for friendship shouldn't be that they never challenge us.
It tends to make us self-centered and shallow.

I have one childhood friend still. We email and chat now and then. But there are some guys I can call any time, I mean ANY TIME. And they can call me.

Each month the days scratched off on the kitchen calendar wheel around to the little box marked: “Moon Howlin’.” Once a month five men get together, sit around a camp fire, and talk. We laugh, we joke. We talk politics. We talk theology. We sit by that fire, watching the flames lick chunks of split oak. And as the flames run through their cycles of leaping high on fresh logs and murmuring sleepily on cooling coals, we share who we are. We talk about our passions and our fears. We talk about our wives and children and dogs and trucks. We watch the full moon glide slowly overhead. We talk about what stirs our faith and where we struggle. We practice the art of listening and the art of story telling. I look forward to our Moon Howlin’.

That is what we are supposed to be doing.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. --Proverbs 27:17

I once spent almost three months without speaking to, or even seeing, anyone else. I was curious about world religions and I read a four foot stack of books on every major world religion in solitude. And though that experience gave me background information I found valuable, and though it taught me how to be comfortable with my own company, it wasn’t a healthy thing to do. I was very awkward around people for a while. I didn’t know what to say, or where to stand, or where to put my hands, or anything. People need people. There is a reason we find hermits odd. They ARE odd.

We are created for company. The word company means “with bread”. We are designed to share our food and our lives. We are supposed to be passing a bag of peanuts around a fire. He made us that way because that is the type of being He is.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden --Genesis 3:8

It was natural, normal, for Him to visit the man, visit the woman, and share who He is and take in who they were. It was natural because at the very heart of who He is, He is three. Relationships are what make Him God. And we are created in His image.

He made the angels, and He holds court with them (Job 2:3, Rev 4). He made us so that we can share ourselves, share eternity with Him.

As Americans we are so full of ourselves. We have taken our freedoms as some sort of mandate for self-centeredness. The point in being unique isn’t about selfishness. We are unique so that our lives lend texture to His relationships.

“ in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach...” --Roman 12:5-7

It is good to be unique. But it should be used as an avenue for giving ourselves to each other and to Him.

We act different from each other, and we look different from each other. Diversity is good, but only because it makes the whole better.

“...After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb...” --Rev. 7:9

I don’t wish to rail against bigotry or prejudice. I see it as a stupid point of view, but people need to grow on their own. My anger would not bear any useful fruit. It is better for me to just raise my African American children and continually explain to them why their skin is beautiful. They don’t need to look like me to be loved. Someday people will see that these issues are patently silly. Someday we will share eternity together.

We all need each other. We need friends in our lives, true friends who know when to talk, when to listen, and when to just sit quietly.

Getting to know God is unlike any other relationship.

I come to know Him through His word, through His creation, and through the events of my life. These things reveal His nature.

He comes to know me as I trudge along this trail of mortal existence. He comes to know me as I come to know, to make, myself. As I bumble through life, fumbling for a light switch in the dark, He whispers instructions. I stub my toes, bang my shins, and slowly learn to listen. I become more obedient and He smiles.

It’s a little scary. When I think of the maker of all things watching me, touching my life, it frightens me. I’m tempted to make the human to ant comparison, but omnipotent, omniscient creator to human being is clear enough.

Job puts it this way:

"What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?” --Job 7:17-19

I like the way David viewed it:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? --Psalm 8:3-4

It’s scary because I am so flawed. He doesn’t seem to mind. Odd as it seems, perfection loves imperfection. He loves me.

Things have gotten rough at times. I’ve made late night calls to close friends. But the first calls I make are to the friend who never sleeps, and is always willing. . . to walk in the garden in the cool of the evening.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine. --Job 7:13-15

I had a dream last night. I was walking in Portland and as I passed a parking garage a bomb went off. The debris was flying all around me as I dropped to my knees and pulled my shirt up over my nose and mouth so I could breathe. When things stopped shaking I got off my knees and opened my eyes. Before I could move a car backed over me, pushing me down and bruising me, dragging me into the street. It sped away and I rolled onto my knees. Slowly I stood up. Another car was backing out of a parking space and it also hit me. I lay for a while, got up on all fours and caught my breath. Slowly I rose to my feet and decided that I would not go to work. I found myself walking in the cemetery and my son’s grave had been dug up. I opened his casket and looked long at him.

I awoke. The thing with dreams is that it isn’t just about the imagery. There are emotions that seem to run through the dreams and the images are almost secondary to the feelings. I felt awful.

But there is something about the imagery as well. For dreams such as this the events are clearly metaphorical. It is how we are made. Our minds naturally construct symbols for concepts, events, moods. One doesn’t need to be a literary scholar to know that when it rains in a Hemmingway novel something bad is going to happen. We sense the foreboding.

We construct metaphors for all sorts of things. We devised letters to stand for sounds, sounds to stand for things, things to stand for ideas and emotions. A rose offered to someone we love is a symbol. A great statue greets those entering New York as a symbol of freedom. Our world is filled with symbols that are important to us. The flag of our country brings tears to grizzled veterans. The cross was turned from a hideous symbol of tyranny and cruelty to a symbol of love and hope.

We are metaphorical creatures. He made us that way.

Could it be that all of this, our world, is a metaphor? When I see something beautiful, something that inspires me, could it be a metaphor of something more real? Not because I choose to turn it into a meaning of something else, but because it really is a metaphor, that it was designed that way.

Ah, I see I am starting to lose you. Hang in there.

Consider the things of Man. The greed, power, lust, hate, anger, selfishness, and self-centeredness. We can agree that these things are not of God. But consider the things that He gives us. Love. Beauty. Things that are good. Things that lift us and nurture us and heal us. Look hard at the “Pillars of Paradise” in the Eagle Nebula. Consider the gentle vibrancy of a rainbow that spans a majestic vista or the swaying blossoms of a field of wildflowers in spring. There is something about the way the moon swings through its phases and the sun announces its power with its heraldic rays that inspires. The joy of a child who is happy and loves because it seems natural to do so. I think they are metaphors.

What if they are hints, symbols of the power and beauty and grace and glory that are His? What if this life is a representation of the struggles of good and evil and that what we experience here is part of something larger than us: eternity.

What if this world is to Heaven what a projection is to the real thing? What if the added dimensions that physicists describe are a part of a reality that is more real than we are? That from the point of view of eternity we are mere projections of spirituality? That we are constrained by flesh and blood and three dimensions and that there is so much more for us to experience? That the beauty we see here is just a pale reflection of what real beauty, real joy, is.

Friday we went to learn things about our son. We spent two hours drinking in a flood of information and left with a report of fifteen single-spaced pages that tried to describe who our child is in terms of his physical brain, his mental abilities, his psychological propensities, and his probable behaviors. It is a lot to take in.

But who he is, who I am, is constrained by a “reality” that works in a single dimension of time that drags us along in the direction of entropy (whether we like it or not). A brain injury, or even the full use of all that a human brain can do, pales to the reality of the freedom that is promised in bodies that do not require the shackles that are part and parcel of this world.

When I see beauty, real beauty, something moves inside of me. It is not just an emotion. In fact I know it precedes the emotion. It takes a moment for an emotion to build. I can feel that coming. No, this is something else. I feel something twist inside me, like some living thing that has no physical organ, and I am moved. I feel this thing that tells me that what I see, what I am recognizing there, is something GOOD. I am catching a glimpse, a hint, of Him.

What if the beauty I see, the wonders that makes this thing in my chest move and twist in joy and awe is a metaphor for glory?

Then I shake. I tremble. I know that though I am wandering through a vale of suffering, where people are crushed by falling mountains, and waves sweep thousands into the sea, and evil men prowl with guns and bombs, where children starve, where children die, where parents lay tiny bodies in graves, is all a dream. It is an awful, terrifying, soul-shaking dream that prepares us for a relationship with the maker of stars and graceful molecules, and sharp jagged peaks which arrow into blue skies. The maker of galaxies that dance through space and time, the creator of whales, the artist that painted the grand canyon, the craftsman who fashioned the hummingbird, and pounded carbon atoms within the hearts of stars loves me. He who knitted my bones together and who inspires me with beauty, loves me! He loves me.

He is preparing me for real glory. He is preparing me for a time when I can be freed from the burden of a life which permits hate as readily as love. He fills my world with metaphors that remind me that there is something out there, something greater. And that no matter where I am today, He is there. He is waiting for me to come running home someday where I can share in His feast. Where I can join my son and friends and family. Where I can join Him. He gives me hope with such a simple thing as a resting butterfly and a cloud gliding undisturbed overhead.

For those of you visiting this site and are beginning to wonder what is the matter with this guy who gets all emotional about a God he cannot see, I want to share this one truth with you.

I can see Him. I know He is real. He leaves His fingerprints all over this world and all over my life. You can see it too. All you have to do is feel for that living thing that lives inside your chest, that thing that flips and moves in the presence of things small and mighty that are metaphors of a greater reality. Look into that spot, open it up, and ask Him if He would show you more.

You will find that He will whisper into your heart and make the world of the “real” as metaphorical as a bad dream.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sinners Anonymous

Job was an honest man. He was honest with God, with his wife, with his friends, with himself. He wondered what he may have done wrong, and finding nothing, was honest in how he felt, how he interpreted his circumstances. He told God how he felt. He told his friends.

I thought I was fairly honest.

But I’m not. I saw my children through the lens of my love and took a distorted view of them into my heart. I took that image out and shared it with my friends, my family, and passed it around like any proud father. Nothing wrong with that, except that I have not provided my children the resources, the support that best addresses the challenges they face. Friday I will be meeting with a psychiatrist to share my insights and get a better sense of who he is. For his sake I need to practice better honesty with myself.

I am prone to putting my best foot forward. I want people to like me, to respect me. When I write these pieces for this blog I go over them many times so that they are well-crafted, perhaps error-free. I tell myself that I do it because I want to do the best at all that I do, or that a good writer considers the audience, respects the reader, and therefore approaches what is written with a certain level of care.

What a crock. I want you to like what you read. I want you to like me. It is true that I write these things to work out my own internal issues, and in sharing them I make them serious heartfelt essays. I also hope to help people, and perhaps be a witness for Him, perhaps helping someone make that important decision. But I cannot deny that I enjoy accolades. I like seeing that I have a regular reader in Hong Kong, and I wonder why someone from Nepal or Iraq chooses to read this stuff.

So when my life gets messy, I try to clean things up a little before I lay them out for the world to see. Some of that is what I should do. There are issues going on with my children, my home, that should not be for public consumption.

I suppose this posting is really a sort of confession. I have not been honest with myself regarding who my children are. I want my readers to think, “Gosh, what a swell guy!” But the truth is I’m just as self-centered as anyone else. I don’t have it all together. I have been cranky with my wife, perhaps even a jerk (why is it that we can be harshest with those we love the most?). I could give the excuse that I am under a lot of stress, that I have taken on more than I should, that I am too busy, too tired.

That is where I am wrong. If I am a Christian. . . no, strike that. If I am a Christ-follower, then I should be living I Corinthians 13. I should be praying unceasingly. Not delving into some private little pity party.

So, let me ‘fess up: “Hello, my name is Curious Servant, and I am a sinner.”


“I am a sinner. I keep putting myself first. I think about myself before I think about my children. I think about myself before I think about my wife. I think about myself before I think about my creator.”

(Murmurs of understanding from the Sinners Support Group.)

“I worry about things in which I have no control. I am secretive when I needn’t be, and I make grand gestures of being open when it makes me look good. I often try to do things for others quietly, anonymously, but I really don’t mind when I am discovered. I am proud of things that are not mine (artistic ability, writing skill, etc.), they are loans from Him. I tend to think that the privileges I enjoy (just because I was born in the midst of north America) are inalienable rights. I am demanding of quality service from public servants (ex.: DMV), and not patient enough with others (especially in traffic). I am self-centered and weak.

“And I am scared. I am nervous about what this doctor will say. I really don’t know what is going to happen Friday and I am afraid that it will place burdens on my family, ah let’s face it, on me, that I am uncertain I can bear."

So, I’m laying it all out there. I want you to know that I am a phony. I try to be a good follower of Him, but I fail constantly. I want you to know that no matter how polished my posts are, they are that way because I do a lot of polishing. They don't just flow out that way. I am not anything like Job. I deserve far less from Him than He bestows daily.

But If you would pray for me and my family I would be grateful.

Heavenly Father: I am weak and unable to do anything without Your help. I offer my life up to You right now. Let me truly be Your servant. Let me feel You near and to acknowledge daily, hourly, continually, that You are sovereign. I lie face down before Your throne and acknowledge that it is all about You. Take my life and shape it LORD. Take my home, my family, my wife and my kids and the dog and the fish and every bush that needs trimming, every squeaky cupboard, every thing I own, valuable and worthless, and make it Yours. Guide me LORD in what You would have me do. I am Yours. Amen.

Friday, October 07, 2005


I’ve been thinking about what I eat. At the start of the school year I decided not to eat with the other teachers and instead spend my lunch walking briskly for a mile while I eat a meager lunch. Usually it is an apple, a piece of cheese, and some jerky. I listen to my iPod (gift from a friend!) and pray while I walk.

I am thinking carefully about what I consume. I even tease myself with food. If I need to get something to eat and no one is home so regular dinner won’t work, I drive by Burgerville, slow down, think about the juicy delights within, and then go on to a restaurant. There I look at the menu, reading over the description of the hamburgers, and when the waitress arrives I say: “I’ll have a bowl of soup please.” I feel like I am a very, very good boy.

I don’t eat that ice cream at bedtime. I pass on the cookies in the staff room (today there were donuts!). I’m being good. I’ve lost 15 pounds in three weeks.

I was once thinner. I was a vegetarian (seven years!). In fact I was the head cook of a popular vegetarian restaurant in Southern California. The restaurant faded away (but was reborn as a chain of markets and cafes). It wasn’t a good diet for me. I abused my body at that time with extremes of fasting and paid the price.

I later went the other direction and lived by raising my own food: gardening, chickens, rabbits, milking goats. I was trying to be responsible for my own diet.

It occurs to me that there are different ways to view consumption. I was reading a blog the other day about transubstantiation, the idea that in communion the elements literally become the blood and flesh of Christ, the essence of His sacrifice. (I’m not taking a position on that issue.)

When He was preparing to die for us, He gathered the apostles and fed them a meal that was real as well as metaphorical. He wanted us to remember Him and the point of His life. He wanted us to take a personal part in His sacrifice, to think about taking in this ultimate sacrifice as nourishment, as food, to consume Him. Just as the priests of the temple took part in the sacrifices of the people, Christians acknowledge their role in the crucifixion by partaking in communion.

How strange! In no other faith do believers take responsibilty for the suffering of God. We actively remember our responsibility by consuming a symbol (or actual part) of that ultimate sacrifice.

Whether or not you believe that the actual essence of communion is the body of Christ, it should be clear that He provides all we consume. We get everything we need from Him, and Him alone. Whether you are a vegetarian or a full fledged carnivore, the source of all you eat has a divine element to it. He holds the universe together.

I have an odd little idea, probably wrong on several levels, but here it goes: All material in the universe (universe meaning “single statement”) is made up of atoms. Atoms are made up of smaller particles (protons, electrons, and neutrons). Those smaller particles are made up of even smaller particles called quarks. There are six types of quarks and they work together in quantities of thirds to make up the constituent parts of the atom. (I find the thirds idea interesting. At the basic level of the universe there is a sort of shared trinity holding things together.)

Many of the theories regarding quarks state that they are made up of tiny loops of one dimensional strings vibrating in at least eleven dimensions. These vibrations produce different quarks in a way similar to a guitar string producing different musical notes or a vocal cord producing various sounds. So at the deepest level of physics there are elements which sing the universe into existence.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

It is all Him. The food I eat, whether it is bread or beef, the things I drink, water or wine, the air I breathe, the light that shines, the things that nourish me are all Him.

I live on and for Him. All that makes me live, all that I consume, all that keeps my lungs working, my heart beating, the very force that holds the particles of my being together is Him. I feast on my deity. I am a deitarian.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Prayer: Part Five

I haven’t been through so much, not like the protagonist in the book of Job. It is hard to imagine what he went through. A devout man, praying for his family continually, a good businessman, a good friend, and everything turned against him.

He lost his wealth. Bandits killed his livestock, fire from heaven killed his employees, and a great wind crushed the house where his children were eating. He must have thought long about the dying moments of his employees, his children. Then he was covered, head to toes, with sores.

I haven’t been through so much, not like the parent in Somalia who watches her child slowly starve. Or the orphan wandering the streets after a tsunami.

But we each have experiences that shape us. It seems that when we have been pushed the hardest we grow the most. Not a pleasant experience.

I have had some unpleasant experiences. I have been gravely ill. I have been kidnapped, and mugged. I’ve been stranded afoot in a snow storm (caught pneumonia). Once I was in a sand storm. It shredded my tent and I sought shelter from the stinging sand under an over turned picnic table for several hours until it passed. I have held and kissed my dead child in my home, in my drive, in the emergency room, and in the funeral parlor. About ten years ago I thought that my marriage was doomed. I’ve had back injuries and skin disease. I’ve had dreams come true. . . and seen them turn to nightmares.

And I feel joy.

I feel joy, and I feel strong, and I feel protected.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

I am currently struggling with how to deal with my child’s mental illnesses while lending my wife the strength she needs. And as I look at the task set before me I am in awe of my creator. He prepared me for this challenge by using difficulties times.

When they used to make swords they would heat and fold the metal over and over, mixing the carbon with the iron to create steel. This would make the metal strong and flexible. The heat of the forge and the pounding hammer on the anvil creates a tool, a weapon, that is resilient and capable.

I sometimes feel like that sword. When life takes us into dark places we are pounded into new shapes. Afterward there is often an imperfection. We become a little bent. We slide our fingers over the damaged areas and even if it isn’t visible we can feel. . . well, a little bent.

But we are stronger. We are better able to take the next blow. The soot, the carbon of the flames, the traces of the furnace are beat in, blended with who we are. We are stronger.

I dearly loved Willy. That little boy who was my dream child, who looked like my baby pictures, who laughed and cooed and giggled. . . But he died, and that event bent me in ways that will never be smooth again.

They say that after decades of persecution the Church is flourishing in China. Many gave up so much for their faith in that country. They gave up their homes, their freedom, sometimes their lives. And now it flourishes. Could it be that the struggle is what made it grow so well? Could it be that the muck and filth of human oppression was needful nutrients to make that hard soil fertile?

Could it be the same for the individual? Could it be that hard times force us to rely on Him, make us better able to serve? Could it be that when we are forced to strive, to struggle and weep and grieve, that we draw closer to the only true strength in the universe?

Let me tell you something about how it affected me. Imagine the human heart as a dial, its needle pointing to its current emotion. You might find that the range of that dial changes during a lifetime (some get wider, and some get narrower). I know that when I was a teen it was a small thing. The needle's pointed range of emotions was short arc. Sure, I felt it was large (teens are so dramatic), but it centered on me. If I was a little sad, a little happy, a little whatever, it wiggled to and fro; it was pretty much all about me.

As I grew and as I experienced, the range of that wavering needle swept into new areas. The death of Willy made it burst, double, triple what it could feel. I grieved over my child, and I grieved over the losses I saw in the world. My heart felt like some living thing bursting out of my chest. It was covered with spikes and it felt like it was trying to kill me. And I found in the midst of my anguish that the world was filled with pain like mine. I had never noticed that there were so many people weeping. My world had been much smaller, my heart had been much smaller. Now it was big enough to hurt for others.

As I face new tasks, I see that the hurts of my life make me better able to handle new challenges. That isn’t to say that I am capable of handling them on my own. I am not. The work at hand is bigger than I can bear. Fortunately my LORD is quite capable of lending me the resources I need. My confidence in Him makes it easier for me to tell my trembling legs to hold still, not run.

That is why I feel joy, strength, protection.

The greatest source of this new found strength, new found courage, is prayer. It is in the knowledge that I am entirely weak and unable. I can do this because He holds me up when my knocking knees will not. I get that from prayer.

I used to think of prayer as something my grandmother would do. It was something for little old ladies. Though I had heard it was for everyone, I thought that real men don’t pray. It was something folks did in groups at church and was preceded with a litany of sad stories, spoken in somber seriousness without joy.

Today I find that prayer is not about a formulae of penitence and begging. It is something that is whispered and shouted and laughed and screamed and wept. And I am still a real man. I don’t worry about what others may think. It is a private thing, and it is a public thing. It is sharing with Him who I am, where I am, and what I am feeling. It is about a relationship. . . my sharing, my giving of me to Him.

I have found value in praying about a single topic day after day (this year I spent a couple of months praying a focused prayer about Jesus as my shepherd). I have found that it is useful to sometimes pray flat on my face, and sometimes shouting at the sky. Prayers can be written, and even drawn (and both! That prayer on The Shepherd was written in tiny lettering on a wall forming a life-sized image of Him.).

But if you are unused to prayer, where to begin? I have a recipe for prayer that I am teaching my children.

Take three gratitudes and place it in your heart.
Mix in three concerns for others.
Stir with love for two minutes.
Ask for strength for two of your largest concerns.
Dust with two more heartfelt thanks.
Frost with a praise and an amen.

It is a simple prayer that fills the soul and can be served hot from the passion of your heart, or cool with the joy of everyday living.

That sounded a little corny. (Sorry.)

I want to say that prayer is more than going to Him with requests (please heal. . . please give me. . . please teach. . .). Those are fine. But there should be more. I find that in starting a prayer in praise and gratitude it puts my heart in the right framework. The real point is in sharing my life with Him and He sharing His strength with me.

I’d never make it without it.