Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pitchfork, horns and a red suit

A few months back I read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I know, every seminary or Bible college student in the Western world has probably read this book, and that is partly why I wanted to read it too. It was interesting, and I have been internalizing and processing the main concept in the book: the Evil One is sneaky, he wants to thwart everything that comes from God, and he won't use the traditional pitchfork, horns, and a red suit.

Lewis writes a lot about complacency and how that is such a huge tool of the Devil, that is why Peter wrote:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)
We must be alert to his schemes and plots, because he is looking to devour you! The thought that you have an angel on your shoulder telling you the "right" thing to do and the devil on your shoulder trying to lead you astray is naive at best, and life-threatening at worst. The Hollywood depiction of the Devil dressed up in a red suit with a pitchfork is ignorant - the Evil One "prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour." This is serious stuff, not humorous guys dressed in suits. His main tool is complacency and ignorance. As Eugene Peterson writes in The Message,

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. (I Peter 5:8)

I began to really process The Screwtape Letters when I listened to a song by Andy Gullahorn called "If I were the Devil." Gullahorn actually wrote the song after he read The Screwtape Letters. Here are the lyrics:

If I were the devil I wouldn’t wear red.

I wouldn’t have horns or a pitchfork.

I wouldn’t breathe fire cause it might give me away.

But if I were the devil you’d never know.

I’d befriend you quick and corrupt you slow

so you don’t notice until its far too late.

If I were the devil. If I were the devil.

If I were the devil I’d spend all day

lowering standards of what’s okay

to think to say to watch on your tv.

I’d break down the value of promises kept

and fade out truth till there’s nothing left

except gossip and lies popping up as thick as weeds.

If I were the devil, If I were the devil.

I might not be as foreign as you think

cause I wouldn’t always show my evil side.

I’ve got the time and patience just to wait

and steal your soul just one sin at a time.

Like I would if I were.

No I’m not the devil but if I was,

I’d take God’s people and split them up

to keep their minds off who they’re called to be.

So they’re no longer fighting over living or dead

its is it the body or just bread

while all the unfed die hungry on the street.

If I were the devil, If I were the devil (Chorus)

I’d make moms and dads who never stick around.

Pain so bad you have to drink to drown.

And guilt so I can kick you when you’re down.

And I would if I were. If I were the devil I wouldn’t wear red.

I wouldn’t breathe fire cause it might give me away.

Satan is prowling, he wants to divide us, he wants to separate, to water hate, and root up love, and he doesn't do it with a pitchfork. He tries to get into our relationships, into our lives at the simplest levels. He isn't complex, he wants to corrupt, he wants to fade out truth, he wants to devour. This is done slowly, so be on your guard, be "self-controlled and alert," and I highly recommend reading The Screwtape Letters even if every seminary student already has.

Let Go, Let God

A year or so ago, during a time that I was really struggling with my kids and mothering/parenting techniques, I heard the Lord clearly say to me, “You cannot control your children, the only thing you can do is love them.” And at that moment it was clear to me that I needed to really look at my kids, ask the Lord what they needed, and learn from Jesus how I was going to let Him love them through me. I was so convicted that I remember saying to Andy, “What have we been doing to our children??!! We need to start all over again!” Obviously that wasn’t going to work, but my heart finally saw that the only way to be a Light in my kids’ lives was to see that I had no control. Yes, I can control their physical bodies and prevent them from doing things momentarily. I can scream at my children to scare them into listening to me. I can form expectations that I wouldn’t even be able to achieve. I can ultimately mold them into “perfect children” who are quiet, well behaved in front of company, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and do what they are told because of their fear of Mt. Mama.
And no, I am not saying that being quiet, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, or being well behaved in front of company is a bad thing. I think it is wonderful! But it is the heart behind it all. Just like God, I want my kids to obey because they love me. Plain and simple. And when He said the only thing I can do is to LOVE THEM, it scared me half to death. It still scares me. That means I have to actually listen to the Holy Spirit prompting me, teaching me, and reminding me. Listening, just like patience is an action, that takes effort, creativity, and time. That means, when my 2 year old is screaming and whining at me at the top of her lungs, I have to ask HIM what to do about it. That means when my son lies to me about stealing candy I have to wait for a minute before I react. And honestly, I mess up a lot. I have formed habits that I have to let the Lord help me break. And I have to let God’s grace and mercy cover me as I parent, or I can so easily be slimed in shame and guilt.
I don’t like having to ask what to do. But, when I listen, He reminds me that He knows them and loves them more than I could ever imagine to.
As we have started our journey on the road, this has been challenging area. There was one day, when Andy and Tim were out on an all day grease hunt, when all hell broke loose with the kids and I. Avery was a mess, Ally was a mess, Eva was screaming, it was hot, we were all tired, and I was feeling out of control. At the end of the day I just cried. After only a week and a half I wanted to go back home to the comforts of my secure little house and neighborhood, with a fence, a backyard for the kids to play in, and structure.
And, now that I have calmed down, we are back in our rv again, and asked the Lord for His perspective, I hear His voice saying to me again, “The only thing you can do is love them.”
Who calls himself Love? God. Who has given me Love even when I don’t deserve it? God.
Am I Love? No. It has nothing to do with me. I can only be Love if I let Him, who is Love, into my heart. Then, and only then, can my kids be loved. Truly loved.
He, who lives in me, can only be let out if I let go. And if I can see that I control nothing in this world, except for my choices, I give the Lord more access to my children through me. Let go, let God.
So, when the Lord reminds you of us out here on the road, please pray for us. We desperately want this time to be a good time for all of us. I hope the kids can look back on this time as a time they felt fully loved and enjoyed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's all about the journey!

Way back in May and June of 2000 Serenity and I took a 40 day trip around the United States to celebrate graduating with my Masters from George Fox University. We had sold my S-10 pickup and bought a 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia. This one was special, we named him Bernie. He had a rebuilt engine, just a little rust, and like all Westfalias, had a top that popped up so that you could sleep up above (you could also sleep down below - like the time we were in Yosemite and the ranger told us that we would have to take out everything that you could eat and put it in a "bear box" if we wanted to sleep with the top popped, we decided to put the top down). It had a table that you could put up in the middle, the back row would be a seat and both front seats swivled around and you could actually sit 5 people at the table. We put nearly 4,000 miles on the newly rebuilt engine. We were able to see a lot of the western United States that I had never seen, and I got to spend it with my new wife. We saw 17 states and 24 national parks. We went as far North as CourDelane, as far East as Kansas City, and as far South as the Gulf of Mexico and South Padre Island.

It was a remarkable experience, and many of you have probably heard me talk about it. It almost didn't happen. We left Portland and in the first 3 days broke down 5 times. The cylinoid quit working for a time in Beavertail, MT, then for good in Coors Ranch, MT. Then, after replacing the starter (because the rebuilt one I bought from Shuck's was no good) we broke down in Idaho Falls, ID. Then again in Jackson Hole, WY and finally in Yellowstone National Park on Memorial Day Weekend. It was awesome, I almost threw in the towel and just headed home, especially if we wouldn't have met the Smith's in Idaho Falls. As I was walking to Shuck's to get the starter I was approached by a big red-headed guy driving a big red diesel truck. He offered to give me a ride to the auto parts store. Later, after he drove me back to the WalMart parking lot where we had broken down, he invited us to stay with him and his wife and 4 kids. Turns out, he was taking his family to Eastern Europe to minister to the people of Romania as missionaries. He connected us with a mechanic that would work on our volkswagen for a minimum charge over the weekend. Three days later we were headed out on our way. One thing that Mr. Smith told me that I will never forget, sitting at his kitchen table he said, "Andy, you've got to remember, it's not about the desitnation, it's all about the journey."
There seems to be a parrallel between our journey in 2000 and our journey in 2008. Let me give you a little rundown on what has been going on with our journey thus far:

1. On our drive down to Eugene on our first day out the return line to the diesel tank came loose and diesel began spewing everywhere as we drove down I-5.

2. As we pulled into Burns I noticed a diesel leak coming from the same area, turns out the old diesel line had been rubbing up against the metal frame and had sprang a leak.

3. As I ran to the opposite side of the RV to get my tools I opened up the storage bin door and it began to pop rivets off, probably about 15. The door began to rip away from the side of the RV. I had to use everything I had to get the door to shut and prayed for patience and the filling of His Spirit.

4. We hadn't even left Oregon yet and as we were pulling out of the Wendy's (looking for grease) I heard metal dragging - our generator exhaust had come loose and was dragging on the pavement.

If we become so interested in getting somewhere or doing something rather than being avaliable to God and learning through the journey, we miss out on what God is showing us and trying to teach us. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what God was trying to teach me with a diesel leak, but at least I am taking the time to figure it out rather than writing it off as an inconvenience and cuss at the engine or even worse curse God.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
I need to see the diesel leaks, dragging exhaust pipes and doors falling off as pure joy, only then can I truly see what God is trying to teach me - perseverance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

what is ministry anyways?

So we're out here in the podunks of Oregon hobbling our way to Boise, ID. Our many bumps and inconveniences has rocked us into reality.
Honestly speaking, the planning and preparing almost made this journey a whole different world in my mind. "Going into ministry" is not what is happening. Ministry is too formal for me anymore. Even in these first couple days I'm seeing that this is just our way of forcing ourselves into the path of Jesus. Going and preaching the gospel wherever we go, making disciples. Whether that means my children, the guys who we get veggie oil from (which we haven't found ANY yet), or be ministered to by some folks at the rv park in Burns, OR.
Did Jesus do "ministry"? Or did He just do life perfectly? I am seeing it as the latter. I better look up what the word ministry actually means anyways. I'll post the definition next time.
We have left what we know , sold our possessions and headed into this life of traveling and living in an rv to truly find Jesus. I have never known what it is really like to lean on Him like this. And lean on my husband, and my friends Tim and Jenn. We have been frustrated many times so far but we continue to lift eachother up in prayer and encouragment.
Like always, our plans are nothing compared to God's. He knows what we need, when we need it. And when we make our lives available to Him, He places us in places we could never dream of.
All this to say, this is way different than I had imagined our first few days to be. But that is ok with me. We have a lot of time to see what God has up His sleeve for us.
Our next stop- Boise, ID. We are excited to work with Boise Rescue Mission and meet up with different church families along the way!
Thank you for all your prayers and encouraging words! Overall, we feel at peace and have felt His presence with us the whole time.
This is our passage for the last few days and maybe even for the rest of our time on the road:
Matthew 6:25-34 "Do not worry about your life....."

Friday, June 13, 2008

We're alive!

PRAISE THE LORD! We are up and running again with computer, internet and e-mail!!! Thank you to all who were praying today for us! Prayer works!
There have been many moments of complete frustration, annoyance (and a bit of cussing) with all the technical difficulties this week. We are now on our 3rd brand new laptop since last Saturday. We are still a little bit in limbo with all of our contact information (all of it was on my Outlook program from our PC) but we know we will have all of it back onto this computer when we are in Boise. All of this was on top of garage sale, going to pick up our newly converted RV, in Eugene, doing many errands, saying goodbye to friends and family, and getting ready to move our entire life into an rv.
We are still planning to leave on the 16th, but by now all of us are pretty much relaxed about it. This week has been a very stretching, faith challenging week for all four of us- Andy, Tim, Jenn and I.
We know that nothing can separate us from our big God.
We know He is with us all the time.
And we know that He is for us, not against us.
These are the truths we have been holding onto. With so many distractions and so many things to get done this week, we are tired, weak, and have been at our wits end. But it has been another week of stretching and releasing, making our faith muscles a little stronger and a little more flexible.
Our ways are definitely not His. I have fought Him on this one a few times this week but He won. I am glad I'm not in control of this New Life- it would be scary if I was. So, again, I allow the Lord to pry my fingers off our departure time, our contact information, our dog, our house, our bills, our school loans, our mortgage payments, etc, etc. to YOU, Lord.
We'll just keep packing, praying, and keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Illusions of Normalcy

I went to graduation tonight at good ole' Woodburn High School. I didn't really want to go, but I felt like I owed it to a few of the seniors that I had connected with the past 4 years. I'm glad I did. I was able to tell more people about our ministry, and ultimately about my life change. I said to two students when they asked me why I would do something so crazy "well, to tell you the truth, I couldn't see myself going back to teaching for another 25 years and then retiring to play golf or fish or whatever" (maybe even drive around in an RV). They gave me a weird look (very typical), but then they said something that got me thinking, they both responded at the same time with "really?" - like working for 30 years, saving for retirement, and keeping your head above water financially was something you were just supposed to do.

I used to think that I had it made - was home from work by 4pm, had most of June, July and August off, and coached a sport that I absolutely loved. I felt like I was good at what I did, I had an impact on kids, and my job had meaning. Life was good. Then all of this came along. Jesus came calling. God altered my perspective on what was important, and what wasn't. He also gave me a glimpse of what His Kingdom is about - and it's not about retirement. Every once in a while things get a little tough, I can't see what is next, or I don't know if things are going to turn out OK (basically I begin to see myself outside of the sovereignty of God - never a good thing), and I want to turn back, I want to grasp on to the handle of normalcy. I quickly realize though, normalcy is an illusion.

In Numbers 14, the Israelites, fearful of what laid before them in the promised land, examined the alternative: return to slavery in Egypt.
All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt." Numbers 14:2-4
Slavery is not a normalcy that I am willing to endure.

Looking towards our uncertain future, it is scary, it is hard, but the alternative is slavery. God has promised us our reward in heaven, turning around now just seems silly, boring, and unfulfilling. Turning around now would be going back to slavery. Fear wants us to go back, uncertainty wants us to turn around. No matter how uncertain our future is, returning to "normalcy" seems crazy, and I believe it would be an illusion. We may not wander in the desert for 40 years, but it would feel like it. People may give us crazy looks when we talk about our ministry, but I am not willing to sacrifice a passion for a specific calling that the Lord laid on our hearts in order to return to the illusion of normalcy.

Uncertainty is the only way to live, because that is when you know God must be sovereign in order for you to keep living.

Erwin McManus talks about how rhinocerous' can only see 30ft. in front of them, and when they are running full speed they can go in excess of 30 mph (think about that for a second). That is how I want to run this race - like a rhino, not looking back, just following God with every ounce of passion I've got. If we all did it, that pack of rhinos (ironically called a "crash") couldn't be stopped, and there would be nothing normal about us.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

New Website

We decided that it would be cool to combine our ministry into one website, so rather than have our two blogs (the Fidanzos (Following the Tracks) and ours (Downward Spiraling), we would have one website with links to our blogs.

It will be the "starting place" if you will. The website will be shorter posts about what we are doing, where we are going, people we have met. The blogs will remain much the same - indepth ramblings about Jesus, His calling, our role in His Kingdom, family, and other ponderings. Hope you enjoy!

AJC Campout

Over Memorial Day weekend, while Serenity and Ally were having tea parties, the boys, along with Aaron and Asher Chaffee (some good friends of ours), went camping, played with the campfire, watched Indian Jones at the local movie theater, ate a lot of red meat, roasted mashmallows, and figured out the RV, which we nicknamed "Howard."

It's official name was the AJC Campout because we all have the initials of A.J.C. We went to Fort Stevens State Park. On Sunday we went to the old military fort and saw the bunkers they used to defend the mouth of the Columbia. During World War II a Japanese sub was fired upon when it came to the surface off the shore.

The boys met a friend at the campsite, his name was Cameron. His parents thought Aaron and I were their two dads, especially when Aaron told them that we were headed to California because the Oregon Supreme Court wouldn't let us get married.
It was a blast, one of the best camping weekends I have ever had. It rained on Saturday night, but it didn't matter, we were inside the RV. Aaron and I were able to figure out a lot of the ins and outs of Howard, and taking the time to slow down and really spend some time with Avery was awesome. Here are some pics from the weekend.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Setting us apart

I think I may have talked about this before. Setting ourselves apart.
I've thought about this a lot lately, ever since we have made this decision to follow the path that the Lord has revealed.

Our friend, Mike, said something at our life group last night that really stood out to me. Something to the effect of, "Followers of Christ should be placing themselves somewhere in between the world and the church- sparking the interest of the world and making them wonder while at the same time, challenging and pushing the members of the Body of Christ by simply living how God has asked us to live." That was an expanded version, but the same idea. :)

I have read Shane Claiborne's, "Jesus for President". It was very good, very thought provoking, with a little push to make you feel uncomfortable at moments. He discusses a lot on the idea that God used the laws to set apart His people in the Old Testament. The laws were not set to make sure they were doing the right thing, but to set them apart from the rest of the world. Isn't that a refreshing way to look at it? I hadn't really thought of it that way- honestly, that was a new concept to me. One of those light bulb moments.

And so it has led me to ponder and sit and stare off in space quite a bit, just thinking about what we are supposed to be doing here, now that Jesus came and left us with His Spirit.

This is what I have come to understand. His Spirit is what now sets us apart from the rest of the world. His Spirit lives in everyone who acknowledges and believes in God's Son, Jesus Christ. It's not about laws anymore- the only Law is to love God and love our neighbor. It is not a complicated system of rights and wrongs, of do's and don'ts. The thing that seems complicated is His Spirit. We don't really understand it, can't explain it, can't really justify it, but we CAN ignore it. Even if we believe in Jesus, this is the part we all have a hard time with. Hearing His voice and acting on it.

With my own experience with hearing the Spirit's voice it has been one of those trial and error kind of things. I've had to do some things that have been really awkward and weird at times. But it has made me place my trust in His grace and mercy that will cover me even if I hear Him wrong. This is the kicker. We never want to make a mistake and look like an idiot.

Kind of like the time I felt like we were supposed to give our bed to this family (who doesn't speak English) who lives in our neighborhood. I learned how to say, "Do you need a bed?", in Spanish and stopped by and asked, hoping that I was saying the right thing, the right way, etc. And they just stared at me like I was a complete freak of nature, so I said, "ok, thanks!", I ran away, got in the car and drove back to my safe little home. I felt like a complete loser, but I had a pretty good story to tell my hubby when he got home. We laughed pretty hard and now I have a funny story. And doing that actually made me a little more brave. I was not scarred for life or ridiculed by the world for offering my bed to a random stranger. I actually felt proud of myself and felt the Lord give me a little pat on the butt, as if to say, "Nice job, I'm proud of you, now let's keep trying!"

So as we "practice" acting out what we are hearing from that still small voice, we need to be brave. He gives us LOTS of practice! I hear Him telling me to do things all the time, sometimes I do them, sometimes I don't. He is not mad at me if I don't, but He is proud of me when I do.

This is how we separate ourselves, as children of God. We listen to His Spirit and act on it.

We MUST give ourselves grace. We MUST be able to laugh at ourselves. We MUST practice doing the little things so He can use us for the big things. And actually, they are all big things to Him.

It doesn't always have to be weird or random. But I think sometimes those ones stretch us and get us ready for the bigger things. Setting our pride aside to do what He is asking is how we confuse and exasperate the enemy. It stretches our faith and gives us purpose.

So, just try it! Be crazy!