Monthly Archives: July 2011

Abandon Ship!

Day three on a recent canoe trip found my brother and I paddling leisurely out of the Minnesota Boundary Waters, looking forward to a hearty meal that we didn’t have to cook over the fire ourselves and a mocha from our favorite coffee shop to warm up our blood after weathering an unexpected cold snap in the north country. It was indeed to be a trip of unexpecteds, as the next moments would prove. My brother felt something brush against his leg. Looking down at the same moment that he swatted it away, his eyes bulged to see a furry little creature, which until that moment had been resting comfortably on the side of his calf. I heard a yelp and felt the canoe rock somewhat violently. “A mouse! A mouse in the canoe! It was on my leg!” He looked around wildly and flung his legs wide to straddle the gunwales and get them out of harms way. I craned my head from the front of the boat, and caught a glimpse of movement along the small crack where metal concealed the styrofoam floater at the stern. Our four-legged friend obviously was not enjoying the water that had begun to flood his home back there. I maneuvered around until I was sitting backwards in the canoe, keeping an eye on that crack and giving my brother some level of protection from a counter-attack. I paddled backwards and willed the canoe to move faster through the water as my brother declared his intentions to abandon ship if the mouse made a second appearance. I deemed it rather a miracle that he hadn’t tipped us all into the water at the first, certain I wouldn’t have kept my head so well if I had been the one in the rear. But the next time he would jump, and all of us–boat, gear, mouse and me–would go over with him.

The mouse seemed to consider itself a long-term resident of that canoe. It wouldn’t vacate when we reached shore, even after incessant kicks and yells, and we resolved ourselves to transporting him all the way home on top of my car. He apparently found my stratus to be quite interesting, and scampered around in circles on its roof. I feared he would choose a new home in the upholstery of my vehicle. But just as unexpectedly as he came, he went. With a shout my brother declared our mouse run off into the woods. And so my brother and I breathed a sigh of relief and headed off towards Caribou Coffee. We had survived the wilderness, and overcome our giant.

Sometimes life throws a curve-ball as unexpected as a mouse in a mid-lake canoe, and just as unavoidable. It may be tempting in these moments to abandon ship. Jumping overboard, however, will often create more problems than it solves. Sometimes the only thing to do is keep your head and keep paddling. Some days just staying in the canoe is a major victory. And who knows? Your perseverance could eventually pay off in a big way–a solution might present itself when you least expect it–and then you will taste the thrill of the overcomer, more sweet than a milk chocolate mocha.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -Jesus, John 16:33

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He is Here?

“Self-absorption is the great enemy of attunement to God. This is why anything that breaks self-absorption can facilitate attentiveness to God. Music, walks in the woods or meditation on great works of art can all play important roles in this…God constantly reaches out, seeking our attention, seeking to be known. We walk through his world oblivious, failing to notice him. We are so wrapped up in ourselves–our plans, our worries, our activities–that we fail to see him. Anything that helps us develop a receptive posture of openness to the Divine prepares us to encounter the God who constantly reveals himself.”

-David G. Benner, Sacred Companions

Where do we see God? Where do we look for him? Do we remember to look for Him at all? This, I think, is one of the most insidious traps of the mundane. We fail to think of God as present to us in our common-place, all-too-ordinary lives. And yet, if God is truly with us always, then He must be especially here.

And so I look.

But first, I must stop looking at myself.


Just One Glimmer

I peer through dank darkness

Across deep waters

Hear waves break and recoil

On my ship’s brazen hull.

This voyage has carried us

To a vast emptiness

For every direction births barrenness

Isolation is my wake.

And then for an instant

The sea’s mists part like curtains

And I see

There is something out there

Someone else besides me.

Is that a signal?

A flicker in the dark

I bound to my light

And send hope’s glimmer back.

Only one moment

And then it is gone

The ocean swallows us up.

If only the timing were altered

Or our courses changed

We might have made passage together.

Yet my course must be run

And though once more surrounded

By long depths of blackness

The mist seems surprisingly warm

As I ponder the chances

In this deep sea’s vastness

For ships to but pass in the dark?

 

 

 


To Be or Not To Be: What is Perfection?

Being in the school of life often means learning by experience. In my recent experience, that means learning by making mistakes. And I absolutely HATE making mistakes. I’m one of those people who thinks I should be able to do most things right the first time; I guess you could say I pretty much expect perfection. And I’m ashamed when I don’t live up to that, especially when my mistakes are fairly public ones.

That being the case, my recently acquired position as a loner barista has stretched me into some uncomfortable positions. Yesterday was a case in point.

Me: “So it’s a sugar-free vanilla latte and a sugar-free caramel.”

Customer: “Uh, vanilla and mocha.”

Three minutes later:

Me: “Here’s the vanilla, and here’s the caramel.”

Customer: “You mean mocha?”

Me: “Oh, I’m so sorry. I must be thinking everyone should drink caramel lattes today. Let me change it for you.”

In this instance my Minnesota nice customer insisted that she liked caramel and wouldn’t let me change it. The generous tip I received despite my folly made me feel more guilty than ever, and I gave myself  a stern internal tongue-lashing about my need to shape up and listen better after she was gone. She was definitely kinder to me than I was to myself. Never mind that I was on day six of my work week and hadn’t been getting full nights of sleep. Never mind that I was in the middle of a 15-hour work day. No excuses, no mercy. Despite my brutal pep talk, I came home with a list of even worse mistakes that I couldn’t get over.

No, I am not perfect. And the area where it’s hardest for me to be perfect is in the area of forgiving myself. Are you familiar with Jesus’ admonition, “Therefore, be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?” (Matthew 5:48). Perfect in this passage is the greek teleios, meaning complete. “Therefore, be not lacking, as your Heavenly Father is not lacking.” This can refer to your work, your mental capacity, or moral character. I once heard someone suggest substituting the word compassionate in place of perfect. In this passage, the context shows this is a challenge to be perfectly loving, especially of your enemies. “Be complete in love, in forgiveness, in mercy…just like your Heavenly Father.”

I don’t deserve forgiveness anymore than I deserved my tip. Forgiveness for mistakes is counter-intuitive. It doesn’t feel right. I can’t accept it. But because God is more perfect than me, He’s given it to me anyways.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ” Philippians 3:12-14