Darkness and Light

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(This is a guest blog written by my bride and true companion.  Sending Christmas joy from our home to yours).

I realized this morning perhaps why I felt moved to write our letter this week in particular, which turns out to be the last week before our clocks “fall back,” the final week of waking in total darkness with no shred of evidence that morning’s light is on its way.

I woke around 6:15 and noticed the sky was still meticulously dark. The almost full moon had already set behind the impenetrable Front Range and the night was lingering long. Not until 7:05 am did the eastern sky begin to brighten, a beautiful stain of pale blue light spreading slowly above the dark, jagged bluff behind our neighborhood.

By then, Joshua (8) and Abigail (5) had woken, though still arrayed in their Monday morning sleepiness. Abs in fuzzy green footie pajamas, her amber and honey-colored hair cascading out of an unruly pony tail like spring run-off, too wild and vivacious for its banks to restrict; Joshua stretched out comfortably on the family room floor in his boxer-briefs only, beautiful boy-body exposed, testimony to this man-child who is still somehow so unselfconscious and young at heart.

And then it happened: within moments, the pale-blue color transformed into a sash of iridescent rose hemmed in gilded apricot and blazing gold. Joshua exclaimed; “Mom, come look at the sunrise!” And I stopped my morning scurry to turn my face to the brightening sky and the two sleepy children beholding it as well: this overwhelming, unlooked-for moment of beauty suspending us all in breath-catching-wonder.

So it has been this year: such moments of lingering night, darkness extended over sorrow deep, and yet intertwined with moments of such beauty that catch our hearts, resuscitate us and fill us again.

bowlcut LanceSorrow deep: Morgan’s brother, his beloved Lance, passed into Eternity earlier this year on April 13. What sorrow, what loss, and yet in the midst, what unimaginable beauty of a family drawn together, woven with threads of undistilled love and pain: loving, living, being, holding, weeping, remembering, hoping, believing. We give thanks for every moment that we were able to share with Lance and with our family during this season. Mom and Dad, Francine, Ashley and Parker: it is to you that we dedicate this letter. Thank you for the way each of you revealed the face of Love to Lance and to us. (Link to my eulogy for Lance)

Selah.

Swathes of light: In the midst of heartbreak and wrestling with a story which we so deeply hoped would include Lance’s physical healing instead of his premature death, there have moments of great light.

For Morgan, some of the gifts have been so beautiful they can only be understood as Divinely arranged. Rich experiences in the backcountry with his bow that continue to open and expand his heart and passionate appreciation for wild-spaces. Continued fulfillment in and appreciation for his work, watching restoration and life flow into and through the lives of many men. Pain-filled yet beautifully timeless moments with Lance, Francine and his parents and siblings in the months and weeks preceding Lance’s crossing over.

Morgan’s passionate embrace of the words of a mentor, Aldo Leopold, who said, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger in supposing breakfast comes from the grocery and the other that heat comes from the furnace” has been the basis for much seasonal liturgy in our home.

Learning “where heat comes from” has involved treks into the national forest to put up firewood for the winter, with Morg joyfully wielding his new chainsaw and Joshua and Abigail oscillating between carrying aspen logs to the truck and slurping up hot chocolate. Experiencing that food ultimately comes by the “grace of nature” has come through processing wild game meat in our kitchen; Morgan in his meticulous Snyder craftsmanship working right alongside his trusty 5 and 8 year old sidekicks. In the midst of a complicated and often frenzied world, Morgan has fought to restore a true connection with the natural world and preserve the fleeting yet timeless moments of adventure and play with our kiddos; I am so grateful!

photo 2For our ever-inquisitive, gentle yet strong Joshua: discovering a passion for fishing and the power of a canoe paddle in his capable 8-year-old hands, his delight in throwing a spiraling, soaring football, the joy of friendship, the thrill of “treasure-hunting” with his daddy in the wilds of Colorado, honing his innate gifts of patience and attentive focus whether in fishing or fixing the axle on the pop-up, and also moments of cuddling and reading-aloud with his grateful-for-his-still-affectionate-heart-momma.

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For Abigail, the continued thriving of her agile and coordinated little body, her bright mind and her playful heart;  joy-filled moments with beloved cousins, hours of dedicated coloring, more monkey-bar exploits, swimming sensations, and hundreds of cartwheels on the trampoline; composing spontaneous worship songs on the way to the grocery store and her daily routine of vaulting into headstands against the closet door, not to mention playing “hard-to-get” with her Daddy and lovin’ on her momma.

And for me, more “growing up” as a woman and mother, beautiful moments with our kids, Morgan, our parents and extended family and friends, rediscovering my love for “words” and the thrill of wading deep into their etymology and connotations, and the weekly joy and privilege of teaching Holy Yoga and the wonder of this beautiful, mysterious, self-revealing, generous and near God who chooses to come and fill that time, week after week.

It has been a hard year; it has been a beautiful year. Darkness and light. Lingering night and beauty-soaked sunrises. In all of it, we are very rich in love and so much of this goodness is fruit of your love and prayers all these months and years. Thank you; we love you!

One closing thought from our experience with hospice: a forerunner of the hospice movement, Dr. Ira Byock, suggests that what it means to live “well” and die “well” are inextricably connected. He does not mean “well” as an adverb, as in “to do a good job,” but “well” as an adjective, as in “to be well” as we live and as we die. He insists that there are eleven simple words with profound reverberations that can help us be “well” in both living and dying. These words are:

Please forgive me

I forgive you

Thank you

I love you

These eleven words are now taped to the front of our fridge. And this is our prayer: Oh Beautiful God! Help us to live in and through these words and the posture of heart they express every day, that true wellness might abound in us and among us and through us. Amen and amen.

Wishing you moments of joy and unlooked-for beauty in seasons of painful darkness; wishing you moments of true presence and intimacy with those you hold dear; wishing you wellness in all of your living and letting go. Again, we say thank you and we love you.

With all our hearts,

Cherie, Morgan, Joshua and Abigail

Unity Trumps Disunity

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The last month has been one of the best months of our 12-year marriage that I can remember.  And the holy part is that it had nothing to do with circumstances. It wasn’t because of a week in Hawaii, a $10,000 check arriving unexpectedly in the mail, or any other outside change.

It’s the result of a shift that God has brought at the deepest level of our core beliefs about marriage.

As the ancient proverb goes,

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

We’ve been pursuing healing, deliverance, restoration, and freedom for many years.  We’ve individually sought personal counseling and many prayer sessions.  But it still hasn’t touched the rift of deepest pain in our marriage.  Cherie and I would both say that most of our marriage is healthy and strong. But a small percentage is incredibly painful – perennial patterns of hurting each other, missing each other’s hearts, and mutual misunderstanding lead to all sorts of problems.

Then: a rescue.

Through the help of a couple who has chosen the narrow road in their marriage (Jared and Megan Anderson, thank you) and the ministry of an older and much wiser couple showing us the ancient path (thank you, Tim and Anne Evans), we were led back to God’s design and given an entirely new layer of revelation on what is possible for marriage.

They brought us back to the timeline of the Larger Story.  Our story began in Eden when all was “good” – as it was meant to be, a design that brought life. With the Fall, all hell broke loose and separation from God wreaked havoc and rendered broken almost all that our hearts hold as true, beautiful, and good (The Sacred Romance retells this story in a most compelling way).

Through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus – restoration began.  And we find ourselves partway, in the “not yet”, but headed back to Eden – to the restoration of all things.

We were challenged to begin our theology about marriage on God’s design before the Fall.  They invited us to meditate on Genesis 1 and 2 every day for three months in order to let God’s design, God’s desire, and God’s intentions find deep roots in us.

And in Genesis 1 and 2 they helped us unearth a timeless secret.

Let US make them in our image… let them rule.

We were made, fashioned and formed, in the image of a Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  A mystery of one God who is also a holy fellowship and community, a Unity of three being One.  And we were given the assignment, and the honor to care for, protect, and graciously rule over all of creation together, man and woman.

In Genesis 2, God takes us right into his creative studio and shows us how he rendered this mystery and holy possibility. First, He draws man from the dust of the earth, from organic compost. Then He does the most intimate and extraordinary act in all creative history (relived countless times every day in maternity wards around our nation and in homes around the world): God “breathed into (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). God’s spirit fills our mortal bodies with an inextinguishable LIFE from his very own breath (Eccelsiastes 3:20).

It was framed to us this way: “God brings us to life with the intimacy of a kiss.”

And then He goes into this wildly mysterious and nearly preposterous story…. Adam alone is not enough.  Humanity is not yet complete and whole.  Adam is the image of God indeed, as a man but not yet as a fellowship.  So Adam falls asleep, a rib is drawn from his side, and woman is created. The “crown of creation”, to quote Captivating.  The completion of the holiest landscape of beauty, wonder, adventure, and life that God could dream up.

The very next sentence contains the secret that Cherie and I have been missing for twelve years. “Therefore,” the text reads.  In other words, “All that I have just shared was prologue for this next idea.”

OK, wild and creative Trinity, you have my attention.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united (cleave) to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

A man and a woman become one.  They are united.

Jesus echoes this mystery when the legalist on divorce challenges him.  He avoids the question (and the trap) entirely by going back to this very place in the Story; he cuts to the heart by going back to God’s design, desire, and intention.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate…Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:4-8).

And here is the crux.

Cherie and I are a team. We’ve been trying to fight for the best in each other; hoping that through each other’s love, we each will become more than we ever could have been without the other. But most of our life we tag team.  It’s taking turns – shuttling kids, making decisions out of efficiency, seeking God… but separately.

We’ve been missing the biggest point.

Union is what He is after.

In marriage.

And in our relationship with Him.

Unity is the point. Not productivity. Not doing good things for God. Not making good decisions on behalf of our spouse. Unity cultivates increasing intimacy. And intimacy – in marriage with our partner and in union with our God – is the goal and the prize of this story.

And more is available than we have been led to believe. Much, much more.

We have both surrendered our “trump cards” in our marriage.  We have embraced a dream of cultivating our marriage to reflect and embody more of what we see available in the heroic fellowship and union of God Himself, the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is not “efficient.”  We’ve had to put the brakes on in a big way.  Punt on many decisions, offload commitments, and slow down.

We’ve had to listen to each other’s heart and pain like never before.

We’ve had to come to the center of how the other is feeling, seeing, and hoping and be with each other in that place.

We’ve had to seek God together and on behalf of “we” – this holy union.

And the fruit is already being realized. Joy. Trust. Hope. Kindness. Unity. Strength.

And, God-willing, slowly, one day at a time this “we”, this union, will bring about something new in this world…something dreamed up by our God since before creation, some piece of his promise to a hurting world that “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).

Unity trumps disunity.

What would it look like to unfurl this banner over your marriage and your relationship with God?

What’s the next step for you today to take and bold, risky and honest step closer to what Jesus referred to when He talks about God taking two unique people and through some holy mystery making them become one (Mark 10:9)?

The choices in this decade will set the trajectory for the rest of our lives.

 

For some hope and nourishment for your marriage I encourage you to lean into the heart-centered counsel in these books:

 

all is grace

All is Grace

A candid and holy final swan song and autobiography of the heart as John eloquently captures Brennan’s life story of Grace just moments before he finally goes home… a must read on forgiveness, grace and Kingdom come.

The following is the description from Amazon:

It has been over twenty years since the publication of The Ragamuffin Gospel, a book many claim as the shattering of God’s grace into their lives. Since that time, Brennan Manning has been dazzingly faithful in preaching and writing variations on that singular theme –   

“Yes, Abba is very fond of you!”
 
But today the crowds are gone and the lights are dim, the patches on his knees have faded. If he ever was a ragamuffin, truly it is now. In this his final book, Brennan roves back his past, honoring the lives of the people closest to him, family and friends who’ve known the saint and the sinner, the boy and the man. Far from some chronological timeline, these memories are witness to the truth of life by one who has lived it – All Is Grace

Free Audio Teaching – Sonship: Receiving God as Father

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In this season of giving…we’re giving away a free cd of our “Sonship: Receiving God as Father” audio teaching for a limited time (4.95 shipping not included).

Click here to request.

My journey of sonship began in a Walmart parking lot six years ago. It was the second great conversion of my life.

My son was two. We had a ten-month-old baby.  And my wife was in a treatment center battling a deep depression.  I was watching my life seemingly unravel and I folded under the weight of it all.  I carried the weight of the world one day too long, and it finally collapsed on me, left me pinned on the hot asphalt on a non descript summer day with my son still in his car seat in my truck next to me.

And so began my rescue. And the rescue available to every man.

George MacDonald once said,

“The hardest, gladdest thing in the world is to cry ‘Father!’ from a full heart… the refusal to look up to God as our father is the one central wrong in the whole human affair; the inability, the one central misery.”

More than anything else that captures me about Jesus’ life is that he models what it looks like to live as a son.

Wholehearted – Proverbs from the 2012 Intensive – Volume VII

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heart/härt/ n. The vital center and source of one’s being; The repository of one’s deepest and sincerest feelings and beliefs; The truest you.

The recovery of your whole heart is always available. No matter how lost you think it is, or parts of it are. You can always get them back if you invite Christ in.           – Bill

What Did You Believe When You Woke Up This Morning?

 

“Perspective is central.  What you believe about this decade will be the primary factor in shaping what this decade becomes.”

What we believe in our core assumptions shapes everything.

If we believe we are entitled to things, if we believe we “should” be in charge, calling the shots and answering to no one, then these beliefs will sabotage the preparation for kingship that this decade provides, this crucible of preparation into which our very own King is inviting us.

How do you interpret this decade?  I don’t mean your ideals, I mean in your belly, in the bowels of your being. Another angle to reveal these deepest beliefs is this:  what do you believe when you wake up each day?

For me, this question always reveals the civil war raging within me between the false self and true self.

Here’s what the false self believes most mornings:

-It’s up to me (fill in the blank… career, marriage, parenting, finances…)

-I’m not understood

-I’m really only loved and appreciated when I achieve and come through for others.

-I’d better “get my shit together and figure it out.”

These beliefs shape everything.

By way of example, for years, self-hatred shaped my self perception.  And I was completely unaware.  I drove myself, day after day to achieve the proverbial “more” in the category of fitness.  It was always elusive.  Until two years ago some friends prayed over me, helping me to identify an agreement I made with self-hatred. I broke the agreement. And everything changed.  I have enjoyed fitness in ways that I never before was able to enjoy it. I’m kind to myself in new ways; energized, self-accepting, and finally open to choices toward self care.

Remember, scripture is clear that believing is seeing.  Paul says we must believe in our heart in order to be saved – from the inside out (Romans 10:9). Do you recall that Jesus denounced the cities where he did the public miracles for their lack of belief? More people witnessed miracles there than any place on earth up to that time… and belief remained nearly non-existent (Luke 10:13).

Believing is seeing.

(For a healthy reminder, watch this scene from Bruce Almighty)

What do you believe about the decade in which God has you?

As I pray and come into agreement with who God is and what He is doing, I feel the false self peel away, like a snake shedding it’s skin.  I feel the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit fill me.  My interpretation is restored, yet again.

I believe:

–       God exists.

–       I am a son. I have a loving Father who is providing, protecting, bestowing generosity.

–       The Holy Spirit is prompting me, inviting me to respond to His wild ways. Joy is the fruit. The path is not linear and the vision is not long term. But the choice is available. I can choose in this moment to follow and to have life that is truly life.

–       Jesus’ life, His inextinguishable life, is available now, in this moment. I am grafted in.  He is increasing my awareness of how and when I operate out of the false self. He is offering me Life so that I can choose, offer, and respond with the impossible-made-possible, in love.  He is dismantling the false self within me, step by step, and restoring the true. He is showing me what love looks like, right here, right now. In Union.

–       The spiritual context of this day and this decade is excavation and restoration.  The bulldozers are here, digging, digging, digging.  I am the apprentice of the Father in Kingdom-living.  Right where the rubber meets the road today. In blood, in sweat, in tears.  He is training me in the way of becoming a whole and holy man. I’m not the man yet I want to be, but I’m not the man I used to be (okay, now I’m sounding like Tim McGraw, but it’s true.)

–       He is training me to yield my strength.  To be harnessed in love, by His will, His way, and His remarkable intentions for my life that exceed what I even ask for or can imagine.

–       I believe this is a decade of preparation.  The stakes feel huge, but in reality they are smaller than what is ahead. The invitation is to risk, to trust, to choose love, to watch for the outcomes. To learn. To grow.

–       These are the “hidden years.”  Frustration is healthy.  Dropping my pencil at 5 is a holy and loving act.

–       I want to become good soil. Today.

I believe. Help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

What do you believe, on the deepest level?  About this decade? About this day?  Those core assumptions shape everything.  And they are central in determining the outcomes of this decade of character over kingdom.