50 Days and Counting – Variables

In just 50 days, if it’s God’s will, I will be joining a team of peacemakers on a flight to Amsterdam to connect with a flight to our final destination — Kigali, Rwanda. I say, “God’s will,” because first, everything is subject to God’s will and, second, there seem to be an exorbitant number of variables that could change everything.

For a West Texas boy, these variables were once things I classified as “world events.” By that, I generally took them to be things that didn’t affect me directly. Over time, I’ve come to see that I’m affected by each and every thing that happens. As a result, I feel pain more often. I cry when I hear stories about children and puppies. My breath catches in my throat when I hear others sing with enthusiasm. I mourn at senseless death. I celebrate the deaths of those who lived well and left a legacy. I congratulate those who achieve. I encourage those who who try. I laugh at myself. I party with those who have experienced good things. Who knows, I might even dance some day.

But for now, I’m seeing variables that could complicate our trip and our mission. Airliners that disappear mysteriously or that are shot down unmercifully. Outbreaks of Ebola virus and the real danger of contagion. Acts of terrorism that take the lives of innocent people. Missiles flying. Governments so focused inwardly that they have lost sight of humanity and a world conscience. Total disregard for the role of a higher power in all of this.

As you feel things growing dark, let me remind you that there is light all around. True, these variables could disrupt my plans for travel. Yet, in the midst of all these difficult things, there is hope.

There is hope in the potential of this trip, for example. Hope for those we will touch with our trainings in conflict resolution and servant leadership. Hope for the refugees we will visit. Hope for those otherwise-strangers we will encounter along the way. Hope that the lives of each and every team member will be propelled into a higher orbit of consciousness, sensitivity, and purpose.

But there is also abundant hope in the event this trip is canceled. I’ve come to know six other people who have come from diverse backgrounds to form a team. We’ve learned from each other. We’ve laughed together. We’ve experienced challenges. And in the next 50 days there will be much more.

There is hope in the very challenge of doing something different. Stepping boldly across the lines that define our comfort zone combines terror and possibilities in a single emotion that will forever change us.

I’ll be sharing more about this intended journey. I invite you to join us through your thoughts and your prayers. We’ll be mindful of you and the variables you face, too.

The Nature of Glass

This article appeared as part of my Distinct Impressions series over a decade ago. So many of our fears are unwarranted. Yet, as we dwell on the unlikely, our anxiety builds. And so it was that, on an elevator in Atlanta, I began to consider the nature of glass.

Photo Credit: LeoSynapse at FreeImages.com

There are 47 floors at this Marriott in Atlanta and the elevators move upward in a giant cavern-like atrium.  While I was looking up from the lobby, someone commented that it appeared that we were in the belly of a big ol’ whale.  (Made me wonder what everyone else in the lobby had done to make God angry.  I had a pretty good idea why I would’ve been tossed off the boat . . .)

I really hadn’t much thought about glass elevators until I boarded one with 15 other people yesterday.  I was the last one to get on.  There was a lady at the front of the car who moved toward me as soon as the door closed.

“Excuse me, but I’ve got to be up close to that door,” she said.  “If I look out the glass, I’ll grow faint and I’ll probably throw up.”

With that she pushed me further back in the car.  It was probably a group dynamic thing, but I suddenly found my face pressed against the glass, unable to back away.  All I could think about was her last words, “look out the glass . . . faint . . . throw up.”

Words are powerful weapons in the hands of trained professionals.

As the express elevator quickly bypassed the first 30 floors, little beads of sweat broke out on my head.  But I couldn’t force my eyes closed.  I just kept watching the floor fall away.

But I got a grip on myself and began to think rationally.  This glass between me and oblivion was substantial.  In fact, it was plated glass — strong enough to walk on.  I couldn’t break this glass if I tried.  I started going through everything I knew about glass.  It was then that I remembered . . .

Glass is a liquid, you know.  Over time it will actually “flow” as gravity pulls it earthward.  Next time you’re in an old house check it out.  The glass at the bottom of the windows will be thicker.

(That is one of the few things I learned in college physics.  That course, by the way, is why I didn’t pursue a medical degree.  I figured if all I really learned from eight hours of credit was that glass was viscous, I might not be particularly well prepared for a career that seems to pivot on scientific knowledge.)

Suddenly viewing my safety barrier as a liquid wasn’t the best idea of the day.  The thought flashed on my memory screen about the time the door opened. I moved quickly and decisively to nimbly assist the queasy woman off the elevator.

She would have been more grateful if it had been her floor.

I didn’t think the fact that I also had gotten off on the wrong floor was something I needed to bring up.  So, after I apologized and pressed the button for another elevator for her, I wheeled around and strode confidently down the hall.

When I got out of her sight, I ducked in the stairwell and slowly ascended to my floor.  Not slowly enough it seems.  As I crossed in front of the elevators on the way to my room, my new-found friend was just getting off.

“I couldn’t find the ice machine on my floor,” I said for her benefit and walked toward a likely location for an ice machine.  She was kind enough not to ask what I intended to put the ice in. When I was sure she was in her room, I went back to the elevator platform and pressed the button for one more ride to the bottom and back up. I had to restore my confidence — in elevators, in glass, and in myself.

Why is it that we can think ourselves into fear?  And perhaps more disturbing, why is it we can think our way out?  Surely, raw intellect can’t be the answer to every problem we face.

Tomorrow I fly home to Abilene.  The good news is the plane windows aren’t made of glass.  I don’t think that Plexiglas is a liquid.  If you know different, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to think about it.

Prayer Does Nothing . . . Prayer Does Everything

I pray every day. I talk to people who pray every day. I talk to people who have trouble praying every day.

Photo Credit: Susan Noyes Anderson

Some ask, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” Others exclaim, “Isn’t it wonderful how God steps in and meets my needs!?”

Not a single view is wrong. Not a single view is right.

Today is a day that I’m praying a little extra. A friend of a friend is in surgery. My friend is one who prays every day. She has no lack of faith or failure of moral fiber. At this moment, my friend is not questioning the need for prayer or its power. Yet, she has appropriate fears and concern for her ailing friend.

If we have any experience in this earth-bound life, we know that God’s answers to our prayers aren’t always fashioned to our exact specifications. As a result, we have some anxiety as we wait for those answers. And, honestly, we feel some disappointment if things don’t turn out like we wanted.

So, what are we to believe? That prayer does nothing? Or that prayer does everything?

I’ve never been particularly satisfied with the answers I’ve been offered. They range from the “you must not have asked with enough faith” to “God has a higher purpose and plan in mind.” Perhaps one or both of those is true. But neither is particularly satisfying in a time of need or despair.

Obviously, I’m no theologian. However, I choose to believe that prayer does everything.

In my thinking, prayer is a vital piece of my relationship with God. It is the moment that I am most aware that He is holding me close. Whether I am peaceful at that moment or railing against injustice, I know that God is there. He may be very quiet or he may be speaking in

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distinct dialect. But His arms are around me, no matter what will come.

So, today, while I pray for a friend of a friend — plus all of the other joys and burdens upon my heart — I am able to bear the anxiety and the unknown because He holds me close and because I know, at least for me, prayer does everything.

System Updates

Generally, I don’t have many technological problems. I plug things in at regular times and do regular maintenance and allow major updates. Even though it takes some time, I rarely experience the major crashes and other inconveniences I see tweeted or posted.

In our daily lives, attending to such details can be tedious and often creates an internal conflict between the mundane and the higher callings. Yet, I have learned that if I can identify and prioritize the essential items of the mundane then I can be open to those higher callings when they come.

My “essential mundanes” are generally low demand. Exercise as regularly as I can. Read. Keep things around me reasonably straight and clean. Take my vitamins. Drink a lot of water. Keep my technology updated.

Sometimes life (and technology) requires just a bit more. Today’s system update on my phone is taking a little longer. And the update will trigger updates on countless apps. Despite the fact that the demand is higher and the inconvenience much greater, my phone will remain tethered to my computer for however long it takes. (And, having just looked over for the fourth time, it appears that the update is about halfway through.)

Life hands us “system updates” from time to time. Major changes are required to fix the “bugs” that have crept into our lives. And, just like those phone updates, many of those problems are ones that we haven’t even noticed yet.

I don’t know what system updates are being required of you right now. Some of you are facing illness or the loss of a loved one. Others are changing jobs or dealing with problems at work or school. Maybe you are dealing with an addiction of some kind — there are thousands to chose from. Perhaps a friend needs you, desperately.

It will be better for you, really for all of us, if you heed the signs and plug-in for that update.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Some of the greatest advice of all time circles a common theme.

When you face tough times, just do the next right thing.

As I’m writing this, I can see several hundred runners in the Little Rock Marathon making their way past my hotel, seven stories below. I decided to make my way to street level to cheer the participants on. About the third floor, the elevator doors opened and three marathon runners entered the car. Apparently, they had started the race, run to the hotel and then stopped for a few minutes to pick up additional clothing and rain gear from their rooms.

Yes, it’s raining during the marathon. And the temperature is dropping as Storm Titan makes its way into the area. So I can’t say that I blamed them for the side trip.

But what I thought was remarkable was the conversation they were having. Apparently, there were four runners in their little group. These three chose to make an unscheduled stop, the fourth ran on. What I was hearing was the opinion of one runner that their team member who had continued was going to be sorry. “She doesn’t know how the cold and rain will affect her. She will shut down after a while. She clearly doesn’t understand what she is doing.”

Now, not being a person with experience running marathons either wet or dry, I have to assume that there was some truth to what the woman in the elevator was saying. Yet, I wondered if perhaps the one who ran on wouldn’t be just fine.

The truth is that most of us have been caught in a situation where conditions weren’t ideal. Perhaps there was an opportunity to divert and to take on extra resources or leave the course all together. Yet, in the moment, we made a decision to continue and to simply take the next step.

As I watch the marathoners move past my window, I’m aware of the different styles of the runners. Some take quick steps, others have a long gait that makes it look like they can run for days. The posture of some runners looks painful. They are bent over and every step appears to be a struggle. Others run with heads up and shoulders back.

I’ve watched the spectators, too. Friends and family members are scattered along the road with signs and encouragement. At one point, I saw a young woman with Starbucks cup in hand, leave the curbside to run alongside a friend for a few hundred yards.

Even though others can strategize and still others can encourage, the fact is that each participant has to decide on their own whether to continue, to put one foot in front of the other. So, in the next few hours, tired but exuberant runners will be finishing this race. And the important thing to us — and to them — is that they continued.

The rest of us may not be marathon runners. But we all do essentially the same thing. And those among us who simply look forward to the next step, the next right thing for us, are ultimately content in our plight and happier in our celebration.

I am reminded that when I see someone struggling through life, it is not my place to second guess them. Only to marvel that they remain on the course. And to cheer them on wherever I can.