Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lesson #1: Turning my back on my family

(This is a continuation of this story. I am the central character in this one.)

I read about half of Hurnard's journal entries, and stopped because I couldn't wait to begin her allegory based on her experiences in Switzerland.

I flipped to the front and began, still alone on the cafe patio, ears open.

Much-Afraid is the central character of this story. She lives in the Valley of Humiliation and works as a shepherdess. However, she has an unfortunate heritage. She comes from the Fearing family, whose other members are ruthless antagonists. Her many relatives, including Gloomy, Spiteful, Craven Fear, Pride, Bitterness, and Self-pity assault her daily with their words and their constant presence. She is continually cowering and full of anguish as she knows no way to escape their constant oppression. And worse, her relatives know a small part of her defies them. She is not fully controlled by them, so they plot to kidnap her and force a marriage between she and Craven Fear, the most hideous of her cousins. This arrangement would effectively enslave her. Much-Afraid is nearly paralyzed by these creatures, as Fearing is a part of her being. It is who she is, what she was named, and into what she has literally been born.

But she can see there is something more beyond her pathetic existence: the High Places, the mountains above the Valley of Humiliation, suggest a hope which seems just out of reach for her. Much-Afraid has crippled feet, and knows there is no way she could reach them.

One day, expressing her despair to the Chief Shepard at the watering hole, he makes a surprising offer. He could actually change her; he could make her feet like the hinds' and bring her on a journey to the High Places, away from her Fearing family forever. It is an offer too good to be true. Much-Afraid has a lot of questions and a very, very little sense of self-worth, but she accepts the offer. She knows that if she is to survive, she has to. She also knows that her relatives hate the Chief Shepard and will do whatever possible to thwart her association with him. Therefore, her escape is to be carried out in secret, so that she can avoid the opposition her family members are sure to arrange. She is to follow the Chief Shepard at his signal, as he passes by the window of her cottage on an unannounced day.

The scene at the cottage when the Chief Shepard passes by giving the secret sign is a harrowing one. I won't spoil it, but as expected, the relatives throw their vicious plot to apprehend Much-Afraid into motion.

* * *

Familiarity. The base of that word is the same as that of "family." What is familiar is very, very powerful. I too was born into a family that hates the Chief Shepherd. Not my blood family; I'm not talking about my parents. I'm talking about Adam and Eve's family, the descendants of those who rebelled against God. Every one of us is born into that rebellion with a question stamped onto our hearts: Can't I just run my own life? So we are not sinners because we sin. It is the other way around: we sin because we are sinners, born into it by heritage. With that heritage comes a whole host of relatives who hate the Chief Shepard, the ultimate source of love and rescue.

(This is why the Bible says that once we invite Jesus into our lives, we are adopted into His family. We are accepted into His family by His choice to love us, not by birth.)

The hardest thing each of us will ever have to face is turning our backs on our original family. Fears, thoughts, and arguments that rise up against Jesus and His truth can become so familiar that they may as well be our brothers and sisters. Why not call them what they are? We listen to them, trust them, and base our decisions on their guidance far more often than we trust what our spouse says, or best friend. Think about it. Which family members are your greatest enemies?

(Sigh...) Mine are different from one season to the next, and once I have shut the door on one, another tries to overtake me. Pride is always so subtly familiar. She seems so logical and fair. Self-Pity has become a closer sister since I became a mom. It's so easy to think about my pre-kids life through her lens. Bitterness comes knocking as soon as a hint of tension arises in my marriage. Her encouragement to just back away from what may hurt you feels like a good idea now and again. And then there is Fear. She always has a LOT to say, and about everything, always in the name of protection. Whether I want them to be or not, my relatives are constant advisors.

None of my relatives wants me to meet Trust. None of my relatives understand Faith or Grace. None of them actually know Love or care about me at all. In fact, they want my ruin. They want to own me.

And even more, the Chief Shepard wants to rescue me from them. This is not just fictional drama. Much-Afraid's desparate situation is ours. If I want healing so I can go to the High Places....even if I am driven simply by curiousity about what the Chief Shepard has to offer....this offer of an alternative way of thinking and being....

I need to stop listening to my relatives. I need to turn my back on my family. And run.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The first waking moment

[Aside from my travel story, I had to share this.]

What is on your mind the second you wake up?

Where does your first thought land when your heart awakens. Does it land on worry? Your day's responsibilities? Do you sigh your way onto your feet, trying to be motivated to face the world? Is your first moment pulled into the day by the sound of a little one, way earlier than you would prefer? On different days, I can say 'yes' to all of the above.

Well, after reading this a few days ago by Oswald Chambers from this daily email, I'm trying to visualize this idea the second I wake up. It is making a big difference in my days.

Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.

That's what I want. Gonna leave it at that.

A word on "coincidence"

Today after publishing my last post, I started thinking. Well, technically, I just kept thinking about what I wrote. You and I know that most people would see things differently: My being in Switzerland and then realizing I was beginning a book that was inspired by someone being in Switzerland would be chalked up as a funny coincidence. Furthermore, some people may even think I was a bit extreme for thinking this coincidence was some message from God. That's fine, and I get it. I don't expect everyone in the world to see like I see, or feel like I feel.

But here's my take.

Coincidence is when you are wondering why you haven't seen George Clooney in a movie lately, and two seconds later, you see a trailer on TV for an upcoming film he's starring in. Coincidence is when my kid says, "Mom, what's a beagle?" and then we see one at the park. Coincidence is for things that don't really matter, and have no impact on anyone's life.

I've been around people who have, and been within a personal relationship with Jesus myself long enough to know that everything else "coincidental" in life has His fingerprints on it. Over time, I've begun to recognize His unexpected influence upon my life like one recognizes an old friend. After years of knowing a friend, you begin to recognize her more by the heart, than by appearance.

He is at work, people. Do not ever doubt this, and do not ever expect to understand the whole picture. The Bible says our Lord never sleeps nor slumbers. In the areas of your life that seem stale or stuck, invite Him in, and then trust He is working. Perhaps you'll have to wait to see how or where; perhaps simply knowing He's working behind the scenes with your best interest in mind is what you are called to put your faith in. We are blessed to get glimpses here and there of His intricate, unbelievable plans. These seasons are so encouraging. But the real test of our faith comes in the quiet.

When God seems still, and I feel like I'm working out my program alone, I can begin to call things "coincidence." I can forget the bigger picture and start to panic at the number of things out of order in my life. But right now, I'm filled up with encouragement. And while it's my turn to be in that position, I wanted to spill some of that onto you, in case you're being asked to endure a tough time.

I strongly believe the Lord desires for us to have a hopeful expectation of His action. In fact, this hope is a part of the Bible's definition of faith:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Often, God's work is unseen. But believe that He is always, always working. If you remain on the lookout for evidence, I know you'll find it.

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:8)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Journeying, Part 2

From Lucerne, Burgenstock, Switzerland is only accessible by first taking a ferry boat like this.

Then taking this, up a 58% grade mountainside, for about 7 minutes. It's kind of crazy that this was built in 1888. (There's my cutie Kevin. We thought it was funny that the white sign said "Lift fahrt." Yes, we were acting like children. Isn't that what you get to do on vacation without any kids with you?)

We never meant to go to Burgenstock. We actually got on the wrong ferry boat and had to stop at Burgenstock to catch the proper one. But that cute red cable car-like thing was sitting just behind the dock (see the top picture) at the base of a ridiculously steep track, which disappeared into the clouds when you followed it up with your eye. We couldn't resist finding out to where it led.

Also, my husband spied this from the dock. He'd recognized it from his pre-trip research online about Lake Lucerne. It is called the Hammetschwand Lift, and you can only access it from Burgenstock. That sealed it. We were going up the funicular (red cable car thing), up into the mist to find this town on the mountain.

Now I have to tell you more about the Hammetschwand Lift. This is truly crazy. Too crazy. First of all, it was built in 1905. It was renovated most recently in 1935. It is a tiny, fast external elevator built into the side of the rock that whisks you up 500 feet to the peak, which is surrounded on nearly all sides by the lake. It offers spectacular views of the region (Don't I sound like a brochure? Not intentional). But once you ascend, you are 3,700 feet above the lake. That is HIGH!

Oh my goodness, I never even entertained the idea of going up. No no no. Personally, I don't enjoy the feeling of being 3,700 feet up in the air (or 50 feet up in the air) in a little glass box that holds three other people. And that was built over 100 years ago. And that is suspended over water. I heard there were photos at the top of ladies in floor length gowns and gents in top hats who ventured here a century ago.

My husband, on the other hand, couldn't wait. I think if it were a 500 foot rope ladder he'd still do it. He's a little bit crazy. Same with everyone else. Apparently, I'm the lame, oldish one.

Here is my brother and sister-in-law at the top of the lift.

Here is part of the view.

When the rest had departed onto the trail you had to hike just to get to the elevator, which followed the edge of the cliff and took about 30 minutes (extra no thanks to that!), I registered the fact that I would be alone for at least an hour and spotted a cafe that was just opening across from the entrance to the trail. I took a table on the far edge of the patio, against a railing, and ordered some tea. Below me, spread out like a scene from the Sound of Music, was the most beautiful pastureland I've ever seen. (Of course, I don't have a picture of that, because the adventurous group got to take the camera.)

The cafe was situated pretty high above it, on a path that reached even higher, so I could look out over quite a large expanse. Little homes dotted the landscape here and there, and I wondered how the inhabitants made a living in this tiny town, way above all the cities and industry. Green rolling hills were all I could see, with small patches of flowers, and virtually no trees. A handful of cows and sheep bleated far off, and the sky was an intense blue. This idyllic setting was perfectly peaceful. I was so ready to read my new book.

I got a feel for the sections first. The preface. The main story. Then a section of the author's own journal entries, which inspired the writing of the book (Hmm, that intrigued me). And finally, an excerpt from the author's autobiography. I decided to start with the author's inspiration for writing the book, thinking that made sense...the WHY before the WHAT. These are the first words I read:

"Written during a three-week visit to Switzerland..." Wait. What? God, that is a little weird. Hannah Hurnard got her vision for writing this book from her trip to Switzerland, which also happens to be where I'm sitting right now reading about it? What are you up to, God. I know you, and I know you're up to something.

I kept reading. Five seconds later, I read this, in her first journal entry: "Through mist and cloud and by a strange path where I could never see more than one step at a time, the Lord has brought me here to Switzerland, 'to a high mountain apart.' I believe that He will speak to me out of the cloud; for I know He has something to say, and I long to hear it."

Wait just a minute now. The Lord has brought me to Switzerland. I am literally on a high mountain apart. And then I had a familiar feeling - this knowing - that something was about to be mixed up inside of me, and apart from my doing. It seemed pretty clear that the Lord wanted to say something to me. I wasn't sure exactly what He was going to say or do, or how He was going to do it. But He got my attention, and instantly my spirit began gathering up inside, like a soldier, scrambling to stand at attention prepared, anticipating a call.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Journeying, Part 1

I just read in a previous post that I was actually imagining I'd have time to write while on my travels. No way. For one, the internet connections were either expensive or iffy. But mainly, this was not a restful, spacious vacay. My parents were our tour guides, taking us to some of their favorite places, and we had a lot of ground to cover.

In fact, I looked forward to the travel between places, usually by train, because I knew I had guaranteed time of just sitting. That's when I read my two books. I got through 1 and 1/3 of them. I started off with Tim Kimmel's Little House on the Freeway, which quickly began to make some compelling arguments for slowing down one's family. On my second opportunity to read, I decided to mix it up and started the other book I brought, Hinds' Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard (for more on these books, see two posts down). But after picking up this book, there was no putting it aside. It grabbed me in a big way. Poor Kimmel's book...I'll finish it another time.

Back to the allegory. Let me start off by telling you to what the title refers, in case you don't know. In the Bible, the King James Version of Habakkuk 3:19 says:

The Lord God is my strength,
and he will make my feet like Hinds' Feet,
and he will make me to walk upon mine High Places.

And here is a hind. I just found out on Wikipedia that it is a female red deer. (How did we survive before Wikipedia??!! I don't even know.)

So this allegory is about a girl named Much-Afraid, who embarks on a journey with the Shepard to reach the High Places, where the Kingdom of Love is found. From the place she lives, called The Valley of Humiliation, she can see the hinds bounding gracefully up the nearby peaks, but she herself has crippled feet and is plagued by terrorizing fears, represented by those in her family who torment her, such as Pride and Self-Pity. She cannot see any escape from her life controlled by Fear. Her family members are always trying to keep her from following the Shepard, but He pursues her, offering her the seemingly impossible: If she trusts him, he will heal her feet, making them like those of the hinds so she can go with him to the High Places. He promises her something she cannot yet understand as well: once in the Kingdom of Love, the plant of Needing-to-be-Loved can be uprooted in her heart and replaced with Love itself.

Without giving too much away (my friend is reading it right now!), that is a summary. You can begin to see how the verse in Habakkuk is the launching point for Hurnard's metaphorical-turned-physical landscape. Beautiful and captivating from the start.

I learned and was reminded of so many beautiful lessons in this book that I will have to just intersperse them into my posts here and there. It will soon be added to my list on the right under "These books changed me." But it wasn't simply a good book. God set me up. Little did I know that the timing, location, and material were chosen for me. I had that feeling, that strange connection as if it was written for me, or to me.

But to explain why, I need to tell you the circumstances surrounding my first exposure to the contents. I opened the book for the first time on a patio in Burgenstock, Switzerland. I had nothing but a cup of tea for company, and in the quiet, God got my attention.

This is a part in my own personal story - you know, the one God is writing in my life - where it gets really interesting. More to come soon...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Waffles and Tron. Yes, Tron.

Wow, it's been a long time. We are officially not only back from our trip, but over the hump of jet-lag, laundry pile-up, and recovered from the general reorientation that needs to take place after being away from home for almost 2 weeks. In terms of the kids, I call this window of chaos "detox." And I was just thinking there are so many funny cliches people have come up with to say that they've returned from something:

Back in the saddle.
Back on the map.
Back to business.
Back to the real world.
Back to the grind.

And the most trendy: Back on the grid.

You've heard this, right? It refers to the fact that for a while, you were off the electronic map - you temporarily cut ties with your cell phone, email, internet, digitally vanished from your regular life. And I'm sure when you males use the phrase "off the grid" or "back on the grid," you are imagining the grid to be a sort of Tron-like dimension of coolness where everyone is logged in and happy.

But just so you know, when I think of myself as "back on the grid," what I'm imagining is closer to a Belgian waffle. Every nook is beautifully crafted, smells delicious, and needs to be shared.

And I have a lot to share about the last few weeks! I am not even sure where to start, because what is going on TODAY and the rapidly approaching future (a.k.a back-to-school) is also begging for conversation as well. All the potential blog posts are like little orphan puppies saying "Pick me, pick me!"

I'll adopt one tomorrow. Promise.

In the meantime, appreciate some Tron. It could be the cheesiest thing ever, but Tron still holds a small place in the seven year-old part of my heart. I'm not ashamed.

OK, I am a little. But the 1982 Jeff Bridges being a super hot lightbike driver is not.