Sunday, April 2, 2017

Notes from a War Zone

I've spent the last month in an emergency field hospital (EFH) located near the ongoing battle against Daesh (ISIS) in Mosul, Iraq. And, not surprisingly, it's been a difficult month, both in ways I expected but also in ways I did not.

The gore and trauma, for instance, was a given. Otherwise, what would be the point of a flying thousands of miles to a field hospital? And the gunshots and sounds of mortars and explosions in the distance were also fairly routine.

But there were other things that took my by complete surprise, like the sucker-punch attack of self-doubt in the middle of the first few days that made me certain I had been wasting my life up to that moment because everyone around me was so much more exciting and so much more interesting and definitely prettier (for what that matters). Or the boy who I cared for all shift without trouble until I suddenly realized he was the same age as my youngest brother, and I didn't think he was going to make it through the week.

All of these things combined to make this one of the most difficult experiences of my life. And now that I'm leaving it all behind, I feel almost as if I've taken the easy way out since there is still so much work to be done.

Almost daily since the beginning of this trip, I've had to remind myself that God called me to this place. Me. And I followed his voice. And I am enough. I am enough to do the task he has given me, because he has prepared me for it and because his strength continues to fill me. I am never alone.

The other thing to remember is that God is in control. He's in control when the child is miraculously unharmed by the bullet that went through his neck. And he's in control when an eight-year old loses both legs. And he's still in control when a ten-year old dies from wounds sustained while fleeing Mosul with his family.

These are hard lessons to remember. Hard things to live through. Especially when combined with sleep deprivation and the overload of having to learn fifty new names in a day. But leaving is even more difficult.

Here, in the middle of chaos and the unknown, I have felt more at peace with God than I have for years. The difference I can make here is so evident that it's almost tangible.

Going home I have to remind myself that I am not really leaving the war zone. Although there may not be mortars dropping on my hometown or bunkers and barricades and soldiers surrounding my bedroom, my town is no less a war zone than Mosul. Some of the wounds that people sustain here---that we treat in the EFH---are obvious, easily identified, but they carry inside them the exact same brokenness as every single man, woman and child in the USA who doesn't know Christ.

This whole world is a war zone, and the enemy---crafty and clever as he is---uses different tactics on different fronts, but that does not change who he is or his ultimate goal. In Mosul, the enemy uses Daesh to destroy hope and take lives. In America, he is so much more subtle. He uses social media, drugs, pride and even education in an attempt to destroy our ability to believe our only hope of salvation.

I suppose that is why, even when I've seen the children who've been shot by snipers, that I can't feel anger toward Daesh. All I feel for them is sorrow. I truly do not comprehend the kind of brokenness that would lead someone to shoot at women and children. So, please, if you are reading this, take a moment to pray. Pray for Iraq and it's people---the rich and the refugees. Pray for Daesh---that their guns would miss and their souls would be saved. Pray for America and its decadent decay, and pray for those of us who are living in the middle of it all just trying to save a life.

Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” 

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Psalm 42:7-11

Friday, February 24, 2017

All the Little Things

On December 19th, I wrote this entry in my journal: "I wish I could have some proof that there was purpose in the waiting, that my life still has importance... I want peace. I want rest. I want to be content in being alone. I have waited and struggled, dear God, and I am tired..."

I'm sharing this because, unfortunately, this is a place I have found myself in periodically over the years. I have come to realize it has nothing to do with my actual circumstances, and everything to do with what I am focusing on.

Here I am, two months later, in such an amazing place that the person who wrote those words could never even imagine what God had stored up for me. I'm heading into a situation that contains so many unknowns that I don't even know what I don't know. And I am perfectly at peace with it. I'm eager even to step forward and jump off the ledge. So I would like to give my future self some advice while I am still clear-headed. Maybe it will speak to you, dear reader, as well.

Dear Future Self,

Every single moment is worth something. Every day is a new layer of growth. This is difficult to understand. Especially for someone like me, who measures so much of my self-worth and value by what I do, the actions and forward motion, the big and shining firework events. But not everything can be fireworks, unless you want to burn out at once. And everything in life, especially the little things, add up to prepare me for the next step, the next mission, but that does not mean there is not a calling in the waiting. It means that sometimes I am called to silence---maybe so I can learn how to listen, or maybe so I can learn not to be shaken by it. Sometimes, I am called to be alone, and that does not mean I am worthless. It doesn't mean I'm not important. All it means is that there is some way I am meant to grow, something I am meant to learn or store up for the next stage.

And, yes, it is painful. And, yes, I know I'm still going to make mistakes. I may even panic at times. But I am not lost. I am only put in this place so I might feel my way toward God, knowing that he isn't very far at all. That feeling, that crawling and searching, is what strengthens my faith if I will let it, building muscle and reason because I know my hope is not in vain.

So next time a waiting period comes around, dear silly self, remember this: Love in the moment. Love who is placed in front of you and beside you to the best of your ability without expectation. Live for eternity. Don't focus on the temporal circumstances unless it is with gratitude. And listen in the waiting. The call of God is for everyone, but only those who are listening can hear it and respond, "Here, I am. Send me."

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"

Then I said,
"Here I am! Send me."

Isaiah 6:8

Friday, January 27, 2017


The world lies. This is not something new. It has been lying almost since its creation. It shimmers with promises of diamonds, freedom, acceptance, and what we actually find is only the glitter of broken glass, chains and guilt.

The problem with the lies the world tells is that they are not always immediately apparent as lies. Some of them are so coated in glitter and shine that they seem almost right. A lie never appears as empty or damaging or painful as it actually is.

And, taken in reverse, the truth never appears as good as it actually is. It appears harsh and unyielding. Although, the truth promises everything, it requires such a large sacrifice on the face of it, that many people turn away because they are not willing to try for a wealth of reasons including the fear of failure. What they don't realize is that the lie requires an even bigger sacrifice, it just doesn't say it outright.

As an example, let's say we have two masters (or presidents,or kings...whichever you like). One requires that all of his servants follow his laws absolutely. And they are very strict laws---laws that are, in fact, impossible to keep. To those who follow his laws, he gives every good and perfect thing that they need, but as I said, no one can truly keep his laws.

The second master also requires that his servants follow his laws, but his laws are much more in line with human natures, and therefore much easier to follow. He promises wealth and fame and comfort, and most importantly, he allows his servants to do whatever they like, to create their own little worlds of truth as it were.

Everyone, whether they like it or not, is a servant to one of these masters, a citizen of one of these countries. And if the story ended here, as I am very much afraid it does in many people's minds, it would be clear which master would be the better to serve.

However, it goes on. The first master, realizing that humans could never live up to his laws, sent his own son, to obey the law completely and remove the weight of it from his servants by his own death. To serve such a master---who would die for his people out of love for them---changes the nature of the service entirely. And that is the not-so-hidden fountain of life at the center of the truth.

The truth fulfills promises beyond what we can even begin to imagine.

The second master also has a hidden truth. Those who serve him will soon find that he has betrayed them. The wealth and power fade. And beneath the sugar-coating is the hook, that twisting damage that settles deep into the hearts of his servants. It is no wonder then, that they are so bitter towards those who are free. A fish writhing at the end of the hook doesn't know how to free itself, and neither do they.

We would all do well to remember this when we are speaking with those who are caught in the hook of lies. It is not a pleasant place to be, no matter how much they insist that they are pleased to stay there. And it may be more painful for them to get off the hook than it was to swallow it in the first place.

While I always advocate the use of critical thinking and reason paired with faith, reason may not be much use at this time. As with an injured animal, pain and fear tend to overwhelm such things. Panic certainly does. That only thing that can be of any use in these times is the calm, consistent use of love. Gentle words. Kind actions. No matter what is going on around us, or what those who are injured and flailing do to us. Those that are caught by lies are not to be hated, or despised, or ridiculed.

We cannot let ourselves fall victim to the lies. Because the truth is that every one of us has our hooks buried deep. Every one of us has believed a sugar-coated lie. Every one of us needs to be saved from our own mistakes.

Yes, they are making bad choices. Yes, they are hurting innocent people. But fighting them in anger will never get them free. It will only make the hook sink deeper. We must be just as concerned for them as we are for the people they are hurting.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Freeing Truth

In a world where so much information is readily to hand, misinformation abounds, and truth, while made more accessible in some ways, is also obscured by an abundance of thinly shrouded lies.

These lies come in a variety of forms, from the fashionable to the radical. In short, there is a lie out there for everyone. One that will perfectly fit what you think you need. And if you later decide that it wasn't right, you can always change it for another perfect fit.

This makes finding the truth not only difficult, but uncomfortable as well. The truth does not change so easily. It doesn't conform. Rather than changing itself, it changes you.

The truth does this in a variety of ways, but the first, I think, is by making you lift your head and look outside yourself. As humans with a limited conscious, our entire world is often in our own mind. Every emotion, regret, hope, dream, even every sense, is entirely our own and can only be expressed with a certain degree of error to anyone else. This makes it easy to retreat into ourselves and find the most convenient and comfortable lie.

However, if we take a moment to look outside ourselves, even to peep through the keyhole, as it were, our entire point of view can change. Once we begin to go farther, to put ourselves in other people's places, to realize their needs, to see their fears and joys and failures as we would see our own, it becomes more difficult to retreat into a lie that only serves to make you comfortable.

Of course, caring for people is not the whole truth, although it is an important part of it. As anyone who has ever cared about another person for a long-time could tell you, people are not easy to love. We are all selfish to a degree, all guarded, and we are very good at expressing hurt by hurting someone else in return.

So the truth must go farther or we only end right back where we started, locked safely inside our own heads.

The question is, how does the truth go about making you look outside yourself to begin? What could possibly entice us out of our selves and our nest of warm and cozy lies into a world of sometimes bitter pain and discomfort?

To say that the truth is love, while completely honest, also sounds a bit of a cliché. So to avoid that, I'll go with another aspect of it and say that the truth is rescue. It is a rescue from the stagnation and bitterness of a life spent lived in such a tiny space as a single mind. It is a rescue, in fact, from yourself. Our selves are fully as needy as other people, and left on to itself a mind is perfectly capable of destroying its owner with anxiety, depression, suspicion and self-pity. All the cares of this life, when mulled upon, create a thick haze that leaves us confused about how to get out again.

The truth is that we have no need to care for ourselves or worry about the future, because we are already being cared for. We do not need to jealously guard our own interests, because they are already safe and sealed in a place no one else can ever cause them harm--assuming we have the good sense to let them alone and not destroy them ourselves. Rather than asking, "What can I get?", "How can I make them like me?", or "How can I make myself happy?", we can begin to ask, "What can I give?" and "How can I make them happy?", which are far better questions to be asking.

When we begin to ask those questions, the truth that caused our salvation starts to leak out in obvious ways and can save other people as well. This does require discomfort at times, a stepping outside our boundaries and certainties, a risk of being hurt--if only temporarily--but remember we have nothing to lose except the prison of our own minds.

There is only one truth that can do all this. Only one truth that does not require further action on your part. Only one truth that imparts grace and mercy, where others offer only endless works and condemnation.

The truth is that Jesus Christ died to take us out of ourselves, to release us from the chains of our sin and worry that held us bound so closely to our own lives and minds. He gave us freedom, and it would be a shame to waste it by closing the doors tight and refusing to budge.

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 
John 8:32 

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age." 
Titus 2:11-12 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Stories and Storytellers

In all stories, we are told by our high school and college writing professors, there must be a core element of truth. You can only expect the reader to suspend reality for so long before they lose interest if the story becomes unreliable. This means that although you can have unlikely devices and twisted plot lines and magic and zombies, the characters who use such devices, traverse the plot lines and defeat magic-zombies must always act in a way that is realistic. In other words, in a way that we as people who have been studying the way other people react all of our lives will find believable. So a man who has never in his life forgiven anyone for a slight cannot suddenly forgive some young woman just because it helps a romance along. There must be a catalyst, a force of change, something that is believable because it holds to reality.

To switch tracks a bit, let’s assume you are a person living during the height of the Roman Empire. In this time period, it was not unreasonable to assume that a god or goddess might step down to earth and dally with humans. This is primarily because said gods and goddesses had extremely human traits, quarrels and jealousies. They were, in fact, little more than immortal humans. And they were born of stories created by human minds, following the very important laws of storytelling to make them believable and relatable.

However, if you are talking about God, and not gods—if you were Jewish (which you most likely were if you were a monotheist in those days) the assumption that God would come down and live among men was another proposition entirely. We are talking about God here—the one who laid the stars in place and spread out the oceans, who stores thunder and lightning and fights in pillars of fire. He held all of the supposed power of the Olympians combined and even more.

King Solomon the wisest man who ever lived did not believe that it was possible. He said, “But will God indeed live on earth with man? Even heaven, the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this temple I have built.” (2 Chron. 6:18)

So when we tell the story of God coming down to earth we must see that it is not a story that a human mind, who understood the vast power of God, could imagine telling. It doesn’t hold to reality. It is not expected. It isn’t simply a plot twist, it is a twist of the very fabric of the world—this thought that God could consent to be a companion of men, to put on flesh and blood and time itself—the God who created TIME, submitting himself in so many ways to his own creation. It is fantastic and unearthly.

This is not a story that anyone who believed in the one, true God would dare to create on his own. It’s too impossible.

Truth became infinitely stranger than fiction on the day Jesus was born.

And yet, it isn’t strange at all if you consider that God loves humans. Because love is a catalyst, a game-changer. Love explains deeds that would otherwise appear irrational (and perhaps sometimes they still are). God proved his love by sending his son, and up until that point it was not something that man could comprehend—God’s love. Now it is. He put it into context for us. He told a story that we with our limited human understanding could never create on our own, but one that we could believe.

“…One will come from you to be rule over Israel for Me,
His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.” (Micah 5:2)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Arrival

It is such an old, old story, one that has been played and replayed every year until I begin to fear it might lose interest. But the old stories are always the best ones, so I beg of you to listen only a little longer, even if you've heard it before.

In a far away land, there lived a carpenter and a virgin. There were a few kings and several shepherds. There was a host of angels and a star and most certainly there were startled sheep. There was gold and myrrh and frankincense. There was straw.

And there was a baby, who was God, swaddled against his mother's chest and breathing the air of this world. God. With an infant's tiny hands and precious little mouth.

It is a story of surprising contradiction and juxtaposition.

Those who were waiting for a soldier king as great as Alexander never looked his way. 

Those who relied on their own perfection of the law scorned his mercy, but could find in him no flaw.

And those who were destitute and despised: the ill and crippled, the possessed and broken, the women and children and pagans, they saw him and believed in a hope that no one and nothing else had ever or could ever have offered them in all the vast expanse of history.

This is the story of a love so great that it reached across infinity to hold your hand and whisper, "You are precious. You are honored. I love you."

It is the story of a light that came down into the dark and sparked a hope that brought everlasting peace and shattered all fear.

This is the story of the Advent of the savior of the world.
May you savor it as you celebrate this holiday season.

Life was in him, and that life was the light of men.
John 1:4 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Battle Plan

This life is meant to be an adventure, a dangerous quest to traverse the lands of darkness and rescue the lost citizens who live beneath the tyranny of a fierce and hungry dragon. This is not fantasy. It's reality. We have a responsibility, as those who can see, as those who are armored and equipped, not only to save ourselves, but to save as many of those around us as we possibly can.

But somewhere along the way, the logistics of this battle have become muddle with politics. We have started caring so much about us and them that we haven't been able to realize that they are us. We are no different. Hard as it is to see, there is only one enemy, and he isn't the man with the gun, or the man demanding that no one have guns.

The importance of our quest has been downplayed, its necessity doubted, and its soldiers mocked. At some point in time, the illusions of shadows have convinced many that life out there isn't nearly so dangerous as we thought, and it's no business of ours in any case what someone else does with their life as long as we are living our own correctly. This ignores the fact that we can't be living our own lives correctly, unless we care deeply about saving other people.

If someone has been snatched up by the dragon, and you manage to grab their hand, it matters a great deal to you whether they will try to pull themselves free or simply let go. And this is exactly the sort of thing we are dealing with in this quest.

It isn't about opinions. It's about lives.

It is time, far past time, to sharpen our swords, wipe away the rust, and call the dragon out to do battle. We cannot be beaten. There is absolutely no chance that we can lose, and in such a case, attack is the only battle plan. So let us attack. Let us attack the strongholds of darkness that have captured those who are dear to us, let us knock down the towers and walls that keep people enslaved to the dark. With our hands and with our words let us build up foundations of light and love in the power of faith to illuminate this land.

We don't have much time. Someday, perhaps someday soon, our quest will end, and we will leave it to the next generation. They must be equipped well. They must have experience in seeing us fight, or they won't have any idea what to do with the sword when it is handed to them.

This quest is not about us. It isn't even about conquering the dragon...he's already been dealt a fatal blow from which he will never recover. It is about people, the people in the dark. So let us fight for them as we would fight for our best friend and never stop caring.

For the night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Romans 13:12

For you are all children of the light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.
1 Thessalonians 5:5