Thursday, December 4, 2014

We Need Imagination: Thoughts on Childish Desires and the Kingdom of Heaven

Most of my childhood was shrouded in fantasy rather than reality. It wasn’t escapism or a flight from a tortured home life; it was something inherent in me that couldn’t be stopped. A child has imagination, which is something not taught or learned. Out of my parents’ four children, I was the only son, which meant that I naturally discovered ways to play alone. Fortunately, for the sake of my imagination, my family lived in a part of town that enabled me to wander freely in the surrounding wooded tracts. Countless hours were spent wandering in these irresistible environs, as my imagination inevitably transformed them into different worlds.

As I grew up, the imagined world of my childhood faded into the mundanity of reality. Now, as an adult with a wife and infant son, reality has never been more pressing. Bills, appointments at the doctor, child-raising hurdles, jobs, vehicle maintenance and other responsibilities now occupy the greater part of my life. 

But nothing in reality could ever erase the things formed in my childish imagination. It’s as if part of me will always relish those youthful reveries. This make me wonder: must I abandon childhood in order to become an adult? After all, didn’t Paul say he left childish ways behind him when he became a man (1 Cor. 13:11)?

But then, didn’t Jesus associate the kingdom of heaven with childlikeness (Matthew 18:3-4; 19:14)?

So which is it? Abandon childishness or become like a child? Where’s the balance?

I believe the answer comes from those years of childish imagination. As a child, I aspired to be something great, living a great adventure that was full of meaning and purpose; I desired to be needed in a Story that was bigger than myself. I wanted a rich life, void of mundanity. Was I selfish with these aspirations and desires? Certainly not; a desire for life is not selfish if the life desired is the one that God offers.

That is the key: the desires that drive innocent, childish imaginations are the ones that God desires in all of us. Our bodies age and our spirituality may mature, but our most basic, innocent desires will always remain childlike, and thus align with God’s will. This is why Jesus says the Kingdom of God belongs to children.

We must not shy away from the things inside that beckon us back to youth. We need not put on a facade of maturity and steeled self-sufficiency to mask our childish yearnings. If we do this, we miss out on what God offers, and that is having our childish yearnings satisfied. In Christ, all that we longed for as children find their fruition and culmination.

Therefore, my childish imagination is still with me today, but in a different form. Due to Christ and the revelation of Scripture, I know that all my childish desires have always pointed to God, even if it I didn’t realize this until adulthood; the reveries of youth are evidence of our deepest thirst for God. My childhood imagination acted as a hazy lens through which I first glimpsed Heaven. It's where I first believed that our existence was more than flesh and blood. It's where I found myself in love with the Story of God, which continues to be written in the lives of believers everywhere. 

Adulthood does not mean we must abandon childhood, but see childhood in its true light. It means to use imagination as it was meant to be used: as a way to worship God, and to honor him as the great Artist and Storywriter.

This is why imagination is not an attempt to escape from reality, but to see it more fully; to see it as God sees it. Don’t be ashamed to imagine because, in Christ, it only leads to good things.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Outsiders" (Part Two)

        -------------------------> Click Here For Part One <----------------------------

        Stan knocked again.
        “What?” A man’s muffled voice came from the other side of the door.
        “Another one,” Stan said. His tone was one of contrived strength.
        Footsteps approached from the other side of the door. It opened, and the man who stood before us wore only purple yoga pants. His mask extended past his face and covered his entire body, making him look like an actual mannequin. He was certainly the Man.
        “What’s wrong, honey?” He asked me in a dry, quivering voice--as if he had just smoked a Cuban while running a 5K. “You don’t like it here?”
        “No, it’s great, I just--”
        “You just what? Want out?”
        “Yeah, I don’t jive with that whole cosmetic thing.”
        He stepped close to me. His cologne smelt like a stagnant delicatessen. “The masks?”
        I nodded and lowered my eyes. 
        “It’s not all about cosmetics...uh, what’s your name?”
        “Drew.” I looked up again.
        “Drew, the mask is only a symbol of something deeper. Didn’t you come through the fence for a reason? Didn’t you want to belong? I let you through the fence because I want you here.” He stepped back and leaned against the doorframe. “You don’t want to end up shivering in the cold outside, do you? That’s the alternative, you know; I would cast you out.” 
        Something deep within me, which had been stowed away and forgotten, had been dislodged. It was embedded so deep, that even the slightest tug was enough to wrench my entire being. It was a desire to belong. I didn’t want to go outside and be taunted and abused by those inside; I wanted to be inside, to be someone.
        “Let me tell you a little secret,” the Man looked at Stan, then back at me. “I don’t normally tell someone like you what our plans are. But...I think this may sway your decision. 
        “You may already know this, but the outsiders are trapped inside the fence, even though they are unwanted here,” he explained, “but they’ve been nothing to us but thorns, simply because they’re here. If you wish to leave us, I cannot guarantee your survival.”
        “Sir,” Stan said, stepping forward.
        “No, I know what I’m doing,” the Man looked at him with a sharp glare, then returned to me. “We are going to eradicate the outsiders, Drew. I beg you, don’t join them.”
        Eradicate? Am I trapped inside the fence too? “They’re trapped in here?” I said. “How is that possible?”
        “This house has its own secrets, and we simply don’t argue with them.” He shrugged himself off the doorframe and took a step back into his room. “Do you like narcotics?” He then slid into his room before I could respond. After rummaging around, and striking a match to light something, he returned with a steaming hookah. 
        “Here,” he said, offering me the hose, “there’s more where this came from.”
        My first impulse was to refuse, but then the deep pull within anchored me tight. Then the fear came: being an outsider, in the cold, soon to be was enough to tip the scale. 
        “Breathe,” he whispered.
        I took the hose, put it in my mouth, then drew in the vapor. It had a yeasty, fruity taste. My eyes watered, legs quivered and spine tingled. When I exhaled the moist smoke, I felt like a part of me left with it, leaving me with a hollow feeling. My mind raced with panicked thoughts: Wait! What am I doing? What’s in that? Why am I--?
        “Another one,” the Man said as he caressed my hair.
        I drew more vapor, ignoring the hollowness and panic. My knees buckled, and Stan and another mannequin helped me stay upright. The panic eased into a tranquil sleep, and the hollowness numbed, like it was either leaving or filling back up.
        I inhaled another draught. My vision lagged, making everyone’s movements string together in a blur. My ears felt plugged, and when the Man tried to tell me something, his voice was muffled and indiscernible. Every part of me was loose, relaxed and glazed in comfort. My panicked mind had yielded to euphoria, and the hollow place inside was now full.
        The Man leaning closer so I could hear. “How do you feel?” 
        I looked at him, but I couldn’t focus. “Wow...”
        Stan put his hand on my shoulder, followed by the other mannequins. “You belong,” they all said in a sporadic fashion. 
        The Man put his hands on my shoulders. “Do you belong with us, Drew?”
        I went to nod, but my head drooped under its own weight, so I spoke instead with my head on my chest. “Yes...”
        “Yes, you do belong,” he said, raising my head with his hand. “He’s ready, Stan. Take him down.”
        The Man took the hose from me, but I grabbed it back and took another draught of vapor. A surge of ecstasy sent me stumbling to the floor. 
        “Wow. He’ll fit right in here,” the Man said with a chuckle; his voice was distant and deep. 
        Stan and one of my escorts each grabbed an arm and helped me up as I continued along in the euphoric stupor. We passed through crowds, but all I could recognize was the blurred images of their masks.
        My escorts kept their hands on me as we all walked down the hall to the stairway. We descended the first flight of stairs, and a mannequin noticed that I walked freely. “Hey!” He shouted, pointing at me. “The newcomer stays!” 
        Those around him began applauding quietly, but then it progressed into shouts of acclamation as more joined in as we continued our descent. When we reached the main floor, some members near the entryway began a chant in Latin. Others joined in, and it soon mutated into an anthem--an anthem that only a psych ward would concoct. 
        We came through the kitchen and descended into the red glow of the basement. Doc stood beside the table, cleaning his scalpel, but he set it down and cleared the table when he saw us. Stan went to a switch on the wall and the light above the table turned on.
        “Put him on up!” Doc said as rapped the table with his fist. 
        My escorts each grabbed a limb and placed me on the table while Stan locked my head in the vice. The vice! I realized what I had done. My vision had started to clear up, and my mind returned to me, along with the panic. The mask! No! I opened my mouth to say, “Wait,” but my voice was quiet and garbled. 
        “It’s OK,” Stan said, smiling at me. “Just relax, enjoy those tingles.”
        “Wait,” I repeated, finally sounding discernible.
        “What?” Stan brought his ear close to my mouth.
        “I changed my mind,” I whispered.
        “What’s he saying?” Doc asked.
        Stan brought his head away and looked at Doc. “He wants to be drugged out.” 
        “Wait!” My voice was barely above a whisper. I thrashed my arms and legs.
        “Easy!” Stan said while he and the other mannequins held my limbs down. “Don’t strain yourself.”
        “You sure he wants this?” Doc asked.
        “Yeah, he’s just nervous,” Stan chuckled.
        “No!” I said as loud as I could, still barely louder than a whisper, but Stan coughed to mask it.
        I tried to struggle free, but a jab in my neck stopped me. 
        “Lights out,” Doc said.
        My body weakened, and the light above the table faded from my sight until all was black.

        A muffled crash ripped me from sleep. I tried to open my eyes, but the lids jolted with pain. Another crash made my head flinch, which indicated that I was no longer locked in the vice. I slowly pried my eyes open and looked towards the noises. Shapes and bodies tossed around in the shadows. It was Stan and Doc; they were fighting two people who remained hidden in the shadows. Whoever they were, they were skilled, since behind Stan and Doc laid two other unconscious mannequins, surely thrown there by the intruders.
        Stan howled in pain and fell to the ground beside the other mannequins. He tried getting back up, but his attacker leapt onto him and smacked his head, rendering him unconscious. Still crouching over Stan, the attacker slowly raised his head and locked his gaze on me. He stood up and stepped into the light with a relaxed speed. He was middle-aged, had hair just long enough to get messy, but short enough for the mess to look intentional. His beard was simple, hardly longer than a five o’clock shadow. On each of his cheeks were tattoos of bird wings, which covered all visible skin under his eyes that wasn’t already covered with the beard. 
        Doc soon succumbed to the same fate once his assailant clobbered him with a wooden object. The other intruder also stepped up to me and stood beside the older man. He was younger, and clean-shaven with black hair combed to the side. 
        “Out...” My jaw jolted with pain. “Outsiders?”
        They remained silent; their faces were tight, creased with subtle scowls.
        I wanted them to get me out of there. “Please, I...” Another pang ran through my jaw and my eyes watered.
        The older man brought his head close to me. His eyes were blue enough to be windows into a lagoon. He held his hand up to the younger man, then flicked two fingers in a subtle beckon. 
        “Lark, you sure?” the young one said. 
        “Yup,” Lark replied, picking up a bottle of anesthetic. His voice had the coarseness of a diesel engine. 
        “Very well.” The young man went out of view, then walked up with a hypodermic needle.
        Lark took the needle, extracted the anesthetic, and placed his hand on my eyes. 
        I flinched, but he pressed harder.
        “Be still,” he said.
        He jabbed my right arm with the needle. Strength and feeling left my arm, shoulder, then weeded into my chest and head. Lark kept his hand on my face as my whole body eased into stillness, then darkness.  

        It was cold, but an orange glow beside me kept me warm enough to hamper shivering. The orange glow crackled--it was a fire. Fire? 
        I opened my eyes. Tree branches canopied above; the shadows of their branches quivered from the firelight’s flares. I looked around me. The orange glow illuminated the faces of two dozen people; they were the outsiders. Lark sat directly across the fire, staring at me through the flames. His peering eyes made it hard to know if he was an enemy or friend.
        “The hostage is up,” said a man who sat beside me.
        “He’s not a hostage, Steven,” Lark said, still staring at me, “he’s one of us.”
        “Well, he sure doesn’t look like it,” Steven said.
        Lark stood up and came over to me, kneeling so I could see his face in the firelight. “I’m Lark.”
        “Drew,” I said, but only a whisper came out.
        “Drew, do you want the good news or bad news?”
        “Uh, bad news.”
        “Bor,” Lark said to a man who sat near me; it was the young man from the basement. 
        Bor held out a small mirror to Lark, who took it.
        “Don’t be alarmed,” Lark said as he gave the mirror to me.
        My hands were shaking, but I managed to steady it. I angled my head so the fire could illumine my face. I appeared glossy in the reflection, so I brought the mirror closer. Then I saw my faceless face, the fabrication of skin--the mask.
        I dropped my arm to the ground, released the mirror and clutched my face with both hands. A pang of sobs jostled my chest, while tears wedged themselves behind my eyes as if the sockets were too small for the flow.
        Lark placed his hand on my shoulder. “The good news is that you’re free. Bor and I have freed many outsiders from those inside, but you're the first one we've saved who wears a mask.”
        “How am I free?" I asked "I'm still inside the fence.”
        "I'll explain in a moment." Lark turned towards the fire so all could hear him. “I gave Drew the heart.”
        Heart? What heart? 
        Gasps and mumbled laments trickled through the gathering.
        “I know that I promised--” Lark began.
        “You broke your promise!” Steven yelled.
        “I did not,” Lark said with a calm tone. “Don’t you remember? I promised it to the one among you who needs it.”
        “But he’s one of them!”
        “Are you blind, Steven? Can’t you see--”
        “When did you become our leader anyway?”
        “Steven,” a woman said, “listen to Lark.”
        “I’m done listening. All promises, no action.” Steven stood up and went into the shadows. 
        “Steven, let me explain.” 
        I craned my neck up to look at Steven, but the shadows eclipsed him.
        There was the sound of a wooden door opening. “I got the guts to do what you can’t,” Steven shouted.
        “Steven, if you--” 
        The door shut, and Steven’s footsteps faded away. It was apparently an underground passage into the house.
        “Lark,” Bor said, “he’s gonna...”
        “I know,” Lark leapt up, “just keep them calm.” He sprinted after Steven, disappearing into the darkness and through the door. 
        The fire crackled and the house still boomed with music and laughter, but the outsiders remained silent. I glanced around at their faces, most were downcast and were frozen with empty stares at the fire. Others held frowns, staring at me--at my mask.
        “You’re lucky,” a woman said from across the fire; she was looking at me. “You’re the only one who can get out of here.”
        “How?” I said, barely audible.
        “The heart,” Bor said, “Lark gave you a new heart.”
        “What? Seriously?”
        He shrugged. “Maybe he pitied you,” he looked at my face, and I could tell he was referring to my mask. “I don’t know, he has his reasons.”
        As I stared at the fire, I brought my hand under my shirt. There was a large patch of gauze strapped over my ribcage. I pressed down on it, eliciting pain. 
        Bor looked at me, with hard eyes at first, but then they loosened into a relaxed smirk of sympathy. “The house is cruel, Drew. It entices and entraps all who enter. We all fell for its lies; we’re all stuck here. The house welcomed us like old friends only to betray us and suck the life out of us.” 
        “Yeah, I felt something get taken from me, when I...” A pang of guilt sprung up when I recalled the house.
        “Look, Drew, I don’t care how far you went before you changed your mind, but you’re free now. As good as new.”
        The music stopped and the house went silent. A shout and a gunshot. The outsiders murmured, watching and waiting. Some stood up and began shuffling around the fire. 
        “Lark’s been shot!” someone said.
        “We don’t know that,” another said.
        “Could be Steven,” the first woman said.
        “Lark’s shot!” Steven yelled as he ran out of the shadows behind us.
        The outsiders clamored, but then the sound of shattering glass from the house silenced them. One of the fourth floor balcony doors had been thrown open with such force that it’s glass pane broke. The Man came to the balcony railing with an entourage in tow. Lark stood in the front, head slumped to his chest; Stan and Doc were holding him upright.
        “Outsiders!” the Man shouted. “Behold your Lark!” 
        Doc and Stan, who were holding Lark upright, tossed him over the railing. He fell lifelessly. After a short distance, a cord that had been tied around his chest went taut and left him swinging him like a pendulum from the marble railing.
        A mannequin appeared behind the Man’s entourage with rifles. He handed them to Doc, Stan and two other mannequins.
        “Guns!” One of us shouted.
        Spotlights from the house clicked on, illuminating us like nocturnal criminals. A series of loud cracks and muzzle flashes came from the balcony. I saw three outsiders clutch various spots on their bodies before collapsing. We scattered. Some stumbled in panic, but most sprinted alongside the fence, flanking it in an attempt to stay as far away from the bullets as possible.
        Bor pulled me to my feet, shocking my body into action. My heart surgery didn’t seem to affect my mobility, since I was able to walk and trot, and keep up with Bor as we snuck towards a large ash tree whose trunk and low branches cast a concealing shadow.
        “Bor!” Steven said, grabbing Bor’s arm. “We gotta get Lark!”
        “He’s dead,” he said without stopping or even looking at him. “Thanks to you.” 
        Gunshots continued to resound, but I didn’t bother looking where or whom the bullets hit.  Throughout the yard I heard screams and moans of pain, but Bor and I were able to reach the fence unscathed.
        “You’re free,” he said with a hand on a fence picket.
        “Your heart! Remember?” He took a few steps along the fence, then glanced back. “Now, go. You owe it to him to go. Leave before it’s too late. Otherwise Lark died for nothing.” He sprinted alongside the fence, periodically checking outsiders that laid on the ground.
        I looked to the fence, and not knowing what else to do, I grabbed a picket. The iron felt soft in my hand. I pulled at it, and it bent! I grabbed the picket beside it and was able to pull it also, creating an opening large enough for me to squeeze through. Somehow my heart gave me powers, or strength, but the more I searched for an explanation, the less convincing they became.
        I glanced back at the house. The snipers continued to fire on the scattering targets, but now I noticed something else: a horde of mannequins poured out of the house; they all held clubs and other types of bludgeoning implements, and were now converging on the scattered outsiders.
         The chaos trapped my eyes, refusing to let me turn away. It was all unfair. I was free, yet the only ones who deserved to be free were being slaughtered--slaughtered by the very people whose visage I shared. I couldn’t leave the fence, not without doing something. Yet no idea came to me; any attempt to save the outsiders would’ve been futile. As Bor told me, if I died, Lark’s death was meaningless.
        Yet I still couldn’t turn away. I crouched and watched the chaos from the cover of the ash tree’s shadow. Tears trickled out of me as I heard less gunshots and saw less outsiders alive. Soon, the Man’s entourage on the balcony had left, and a congregation of mannequins formed in the front lawn. Most of the outsiders had apparently been slaughtered.
        Then, a flash of light blinded me from somewhere in the backyard. A mannequin had been shining in the shadows for cowering outsiders. 
        “Hey!” he yelled. “There’s one!”
        The congregation in the front turned and spotted me as the snitch illuminated me. They whooped and laughed as they all crept across the grass, converging on me.
        Time to go! I pivoted to go back to the fence, but I did a double-take when movement on the fourth floor balcony caught my attention. Suspended from the railing was Lark, but he was no longer motionless. He wriggled and writhed, attempting to free himself from the cord. I stood up, compelled to race to the house and free him, but then, how could I? To try was to fail with the mannequins converging on me.
        I gritted my teeth, turned from Lark and stuck my head through the opened pickets when snarls and moans startled me. I looked up, and out of the darkness emerged the mob; they had seen the opening I made. I pushed through, but my shoulders caught on the pickets. 
        I was the cork in their bottle that was ready to explode, and I needed to act quickly if I wanted to live. I pulled out of the pickets and bent them farther apart so I could fit through, but then I had another idea. I glanced back to monitor the converging mannequins, who were still far enough away, and I leapt up and grabbed the top fence rail. As I fell back to the ground with the rail still in my grasp, it bent, but also cleaved from the pickets. I took the rail and arched it until it snapped in two. Then, I grabbed the lower rail, pulled it free from the pickets and snapped it in two as well. With both rails in hand, I pulled them along the fence until a dozen pickets were left freestanding, without the rails’ support.
        The mob collided into the weakened fence, sending tremors through it, which wrenched the rails from my hands. I leapt to the side and tucked myself into the shadows, where I remained in a motionless crouch, fearing that the mob would treat me like an “insider.” 
        The converging mannequins halted when they saw the mob heaving against the weakened fence. Then, one by one, they all retreated to the house. 
        The juggernaut bent the pickets in at various rates. Soon, they were angled inward enough for the first four desperate souls to weave through and dart towards the house. Then more pickets bent, which let another six through. 
        I slyly peeked at the fourth floor balcony to watch for Lark, but all I saw was the cord dangling from the railing. He was nowhere in sight. The stream of bodies, only a few feet from me, didn’t give me much license to keep looking for him if I wanted to remain unseen, so I just dug my head into my knees and waited, hoping he was OK.
        The pickets finally bent completely to the ground, and the full force of the mob gushed in like a tsunami. Soon the lawn was filled with the clamor of desperation, besieging the house of mannequins, who were now trapped in their own paradise. 
        The mob rammed the front door open with a bench they had found somewhere in the lawn. A few gunshots rang from inside, but they were ineffective against the juggernaut. The mannequins fled out the backdoor, but the mob’s ubiquitousness denied them any chance of escape. The hunters were now hunted down, thrown to the lawn in defeat while the new occupants of the house overwhelmed the premises like ants. 

        My little alcove of shadow proved effective against the searching eyes of the mob. After the chaos had subsided, and the mob had made themselves at home, dawn had arrived. Since the opening in the fence was now void of the trampling horde, I slowly snuck along the fence and slipped through it. I ducked behind a shrub outside, still nervous about being spotted. I peeked through the shrub’s foliage and gasped.
        The fence had disappeared, and in its place stood a row of flowering shrubs, which nearly eclipsed the house. I could only see the house through the opening I had just come through, which was now a simple dirt pathway through the shrubbery. The house was also different; it retained the same shape, but it was dark, full of moss and black mold. As the sun crept higher, everything was covered in its yellow light, but the house held its shadow, as if the sun had no business shining on it.
        I looked around as the sun brightened the landscape. Mist hovered along the troughs in the land, robins chirped their morning songs and countless silver spiderwebs radiated the sunlight with each rustle of wind. It was no longer autumn, but summer.  
        “Quite something, isn’t it?” came the voice like diesel behind me.
        “You’re alive!” I said before I even turned around.
        “I’m glad you noticed,” Lark smiled, walking along the pathway.
        I frowned and looked beyond him to the house. “What is this place? It just changed!”
        “Are you sure it wasn’t you that changed?”
        I looked at him, perplexed.
        “Your heart, remember?”
        I glanced down at my chest and brought my hand up to feel it, but it felt normal. I tucked my hand underneath my clothes and felt no stitches or gauze. “So I dreamed it all?”
        “Of course not.” He kicked a pebble off the path and ruffled his hair. “Can’t one thing be two things at once?” 
        “Yeah, I suppose...”
        “Houses can wear masks too, you know.”
        My mask! I brought my hand up to my face, hesitating, then touched my cheek. All I felt was skin; my mask was gone.
        “This place is a mystery,” Lark said. “I wouldn’t bother trying to wrap your mind around it; the things of the heart seldom translate for the mind’s convenience.”
        Movement inside the fence caught my attention. The bodies on the lawn, those of the outsiders, began rustling. One by one, they all sat up or rolled over, then stood up. 
        “But they were shot,” I said with my mouth gaped.
        “So was I,” he said, still looking at me. “Like I said, the house a mystery, and so are its physics. Even death itself can backtrack if it contradicts the house’s wishes. The Man had the ability to open the fence, but that didn’t make him lord over the house. He thought that his ability gave him power to do what he wanted with the outsiders, but he was wrong.”
        I saw Steven and Bor, along with several others, walk up to where the pathway met the line of shrubs. They stopped and held out their hands and grabbed something, as if they thought the fence was still there.
        “Why don’t they come out?”
        Lark turned to look. “Because they don’t have a new heart like you do.”
        “But there’s a clear opening now! I opened the fence for them. The mob came through from outside, so why can’t they come out through the same way?”
        “The same reason why it’s easier to fall than to fly,” he said, turning back to me. 
        “So they’re”
        “Everyone who believes the house’s lie is trapped by the fence. The house deceives everyone, whether its the mob who wants to get in or the few who actually make it in.” He looked back at the house. “As soon as they want to get into the house, even if they never get past the fence, they’re trapped by its lie.”

        Steven frowned at us, then walked away. Bor had tears in his eyes, but he held a small grin. He closed his eyes and nodded, as if he had hope.
        Lark nodded back.
        “What about you? You see it for what it is, since you’re able to just walk out.”
        “The fence is only visible to those who believe the lie, yet I never have. I don’t even see the fence.”
        “So, how do we get them out?”
        “Give them new hearts, just like you.” He pivoted and walked back down the path. “You’re free to join me.”
        “Wasn’t there just one heart? Wait...” My chest tightened at the realization. “Lark...where did you get my heart?”

        “Drew, a man may only have one heart,” he gently rubbed his hand on his chest, directly over his heart, “but since when does that mean he can only give it away once?” He winked, then continued down the path.

Monday, November 17, 2014

“Outsiders” (Part One)

        Past the wrought iron fence, covered in the dead and dried vines of autumn, stood the towering brick house. Coupled with its four story stature, the numerous marble balconies on the two uppermost levels adorned it with an extra dose of eminence. Like the gate, the red brick of the house was covered in prolific vines, making the entire building look like it was either emerging from the ground or about to be pulled back under. 
        The poshness of the premises seemed to attract a number of hapless souls, since a large amount of them converged on the fence, rattling and slamming the barrier with bloodied hands and faces riddled with spittle. They hurled pleas for someone to let them in, only to be left perpetually dejected by the persistent absence of help.
        I came to a spot of the fence where no one stood and peered through the metal pickets. The house glowed in the twilight, and through the windows the plethora of the house’s occupants could be seen strolling around. The music was loud, the laughter was inviting and the smell of fried chicken and beer perforated through the crisp autumn air. 
        Seeing the house’s glory for myself, a deep desire sprang up within me. I wanted in, so I reached out to test the fence’s strength. Yet as I reached for the nearest picket, part of the fence panel disappeared and an open gate stood in its place. I paused, blinked a few times and even put my arm through the opening to verify what I beheld. I looked around at the people, puzzled why no one came to use the entrance. A rather wild individual to my left happened to find a sledge hammer and was using it to beat on the fence.
        I waved at him. “There’s a gate here, man,” I said.
        “Yah!” He swung his implement and broke its handle on the fence. 
        “There’s an opening!” I yelled this time.
        He ran away, probably in search for another hammer.
        Shaking my head, I readdressed the house. The front door of the house stood ahead of me at the end of a cobblestone sidewalk. It was held open to me, revealing the tantalization inside. I cautiously walked through the gate and ventured across the cobblestones. I turned around to see only the fence--the gate was gone. 
        “Friend!” A man’s voice shouted from the house. 
        I pivoted and saw a slender man standing on the porch between two enormous marble pillars. He stood with arms out in a welcoming gesture.
        “Join us and warm your spirit from the bitter cold outside” he said.
        I slowly stepped towards him.
        “It’s all right,” he said. “You belong here.”
        As I drew closer to him, I noticed some activity on the left side of the house, up on one of the third floor balconies. A few individuals were throwing objects down to the yard, yelling obscenities and insults. At first, I thought they were playing a game, but then I noticed that they were targeting a group of people huddled around a campfire in the darkest region of the yard. These outsiders didn’t seem to mind this assailment; they kept warming themselves and talking quietly. Ignoring this drama, I continued down the sidewalk to the house.
        When I reached the top of the steps, I smiled and nodded at the slender man. His face was perfect, and I looked hard at it to try and see what made it so flawless. There was a type of gloss on his skin, and it gave him an angelic aura. My expression must have revealed my curiosity, since he promptly addressed what intrigued me. 
        “It’s a cosmetic mask.” He rubbed his cheek. “You’ll love it. But definitely grab some food first,” he looked and nodded towards the kitchen to my right, “and whatever else that tickles your desire.”
        “Thank you.”
        “Thank the Man.”
        “The Man, he invited you.”
        “I didn’t get an invite. I just happened to stop by and see--” 
        “Then he invited you! Now go, dig in!” 
        I wanted to ask him about the mysterious fence and disappearing gate, but he turned away and whispered something to an aid. Pushing away my own confusion, I stepped through the door. I was immediately bumped by a suggestively adorned girl, then by the man who was advancing on her. He turned to me with eyes glazed in euphoria. “Sorry, dude,” he said, before chasing his companion upstairs. 
        Everyone looked perfect, like the man at the door. They almost resembled mannequins, but ones whose faces can move. Every face I saw reminded me how out of place I was. I felt like I was missing something. I thought about leaving, but I was hungry and couldn’t pass up free food, so I made the decision to just eat and go. 
        Getting to the food proved treacherous in its own way. A mosh pit of the mannequins were pulsating on the floor in front of the amps and speakers, and I needed to shrug through them to get to the table of food. After giving the subwoofer permission to violate my eardrums, I came out on the other side of the mosh pit and eyed the food, which had been ravaged already. I was grateful, though, to find a few pieces of fried chicken hidden under the edge of the plate that held it. 
        I grabbed a plate and put them on it and moved along the buffet, constructing my meal. I managed to pilfer some mashed potatoes away from the flock of house flies that permeated the bowl. The coleslaw was warm and the cranberry sauce was mixed with the unintentional spills of other foods, but I still took some of each. I grabbed a few black olives and a slice of what looked like homemade bread to finish my plate. There was mostly alcohol to drink, but I chose lemonade; I wanted to keep a level head that night, but in the end, it didn’t matter anyway.
        “Lemonade?” Some guy asked incredulously. He nearly had to yell due to the music.
        “Yup.” I finished pouring my drink before looking over at him. 
        He was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. His left hand held the cigarette and the right was tucked into the pocket of his leather jacket. Jeans from Buckle and spotless black loafers adorned his lower half. His hair was messed up, but I think he wanted it to look that way because that was the style back then. His face also looked like a mannequin, of course.
        His eyes traced over me carefully. “You look like an outsider.”       
        “Yeah, I just came in.”
        “No, I mean you look like those drabs outside. See ‘em?”
        “Around the fire? Yeah.” I threw a olive into my mouth. “Why they out there?”
        He looked hard at me. “Do you know anything about this place?”
        “No, and I’m still puzzled about how I got past the fence. A gate appeared out of no where and--”
        “The Man must want you here, then.”
        “Yeah, the guy at the door said that.” I scooped some coleslaw and half of it fell off the fork, but I shoved in my mouth anyway. “Who is he?”
        “No one knows--at least his name. He’s upstairs now, I think with a bunch o’ choice cuts.” 
        “Oh.” I looked at the homemade bread and saw a patch of green fuzz, so I nudged it away from the rest of my food. “Well, what about ‘the Man’? What makes him a big deal?”
        “Wow, you are clueless.” He drew a draught of smoke, held it with his eyes squinting at me, then blew it at me. “He’s the Man! What else is there to say? He sets the unspeakable rules. We’ve had a fair share of his like before. The last Man fell off a balcony and broke a bunch o’ bones. He was good in his own way, but dumb, a loose cannon. He’s gone now, Heaven knows where. Now the new Man, he’s chill, but that don’t mean he takes crap from anyone.”
        “Good to know.” 
        He looked at my face, but it felt like he was looking through me. “Name’s Stan,” he said. He didn’t offer me his hand. 
        “Drew.” I didn’t offer my hand either.  
        He twitched his head in a crisp nod. I’m assuming he was trying to say, ‘Nice to meet you,’ but then, I don’t know.
        “Let me show you something.” He pushed his back off the wall and turned towards the back of the house. 
        I didn’t want to follow him, but this guy made me curious. I left my lemonade on the table and trailed him into the kitchen. We went through a horde of more mannequins, both men and women. Their demeanors indicated desperation and anticipation. They were all testing each other, trying to determine how much of themselves they were willing to give away that night. I can still smell their hormones.
        Stan glanced back to see if I was still following, then pushed free from the bodies. He came to a closed door near the back door. “This is the heart of this place.” He opened it with a smile. “This is why those drabs are outside, you’ll see.”
        An odor of sweat and must wafted past me when the door swung open. It mixed with the smell of my food in the worst way, and I nearly left my plate upstairs. 
        “Ignore the smell, you adjust.” He began descending the steps. “You actually come to enjoy it.”
        The door revealed a descending flight of stairs that lead to the basement. Light from the main floor was swallowed in the shadows below, and I couldn’t see past a few steps. I kept my right hand on the railing as I continued stepping down. Segments of the railing made me cringe because my hand brushed over something gritty and pulpy; I still don’t know what it was. The steps creaked and murmured and the smell grew in potency. My appetite was now gone. 
        Another closed door stood at the bottom, and Stan, well ahead of me, opened it, unleashing a reddish light into the stairway. I could now see better, but the red light made me anxious; it seemed cultish. Stan went through the door, and when I could see past him, what I saw certainly looked like a cult. A dozen cloaked mannequins surrounded a woman, who was stretched out on a table in the middle of the room. Her eyes were rolled back in a trance and four of the mannequins held her in place while a fifth one braced her head in a vice. 
        Then, a man with a mask marked with various symbols stepped up to her with a scalpel in hand. A light turned on above the table, and the “doctor” proceeded. I’ll not divulge the details because I don’t want to describe how her face got peeled off. Yes, her face was removed--at least the skin on her face. She convulsed throughout the procedure, obviously, and the four figures pressed down on their allotted limbs to keep her still. She moaned and cried, but the creepy man slid his blade along.
        Stan stared at me the whole time, puffing smoke in my face; he probably thought I liked it with how much he did it.
        “Does she feel it?” I asked, still watching.
        “Duh.” He looked at her. “Well, she’s doped out too. That helps the pain.”
        “What is this?”
        “Our beginning,” Stan said, looking at me again. 
        The woman moaned from the pain, but Stan kept looking at me. 
        “This...” My voice cracked. “This is why those people are outside?”
        “You’re catching on!” He threw some more smoke at me. “Yeah, they refused to do the procedure. Fools.”
        “What’s wrong with them refusing?”
        Stan looked at me with his face lowered, as if to lament my apparent stupidity. “They came into the house only to reject us and our offer to be one with us. The Man let them inside, but they want nothing to do with us. They belong on the other side of the fence, with the mob, but they're stuck here now."
        The woman wailed as “Doc” pressed a mask against her skinless face while an aid stood beside him with some strange glue in their hand.  
        “It fits.” Doc said. His voice was pure in tone but toxic in feel. He removed the mask, grabbed the glue and squeezed a bunch on the inside. He gave the glue back to his helper and placed the mask to face of the woman. He pushed down and held it firmly, ushering the worst scream yet from his patient.
        “Easy,” he said softly. 
        The mask that had been placed on her resembled the masks on Stan and the slender man at the door. “You had this done too?” I asked Stan.
        “Uh, yeah.” He twitched his head with preppy sass. “We all did.”
        Doc spoke before I could answer Stan. “Remove her from the vice in ten minutes,” he said to the fifth mannequin, then walked away. 
        The lights went out again, and the red glow resumed.
        “Ready?” Stan said.
        He nodded.
        “Why? I’m not doing this.”
        He sighed. “You seriously gonna reject us? Reject the Man who called you into our midst?”
        “He doesn’t need to know. What’s the big deal? I’ll just leave. Kick me out if it’s--”
         Stan threw his cigarette down and grabbed me by the back of my the neck. “It’s not that easy.” 
        The four mannequins that held the woman joined Stan in manhandling me. I dropped my plate of food in the commotion, leaving it shattered and splattered on the cement floor.        
        Stan's face was now close to mine and I could smell his smoked breath. “Got him?” Stan asked the four mannequins. 
        They nodded. I glanced at them and noticed that their masks had a crease etched on their cheeks, resembling a permanent smile.
        “Come on!” I yelled. I tried kicking but the two figures grabbing my legs clenched them tighter.
        They hauled me up the stairs into the noise and hormones. Stan yelled for the mass of bodies in the kitchen to clear out, and many of them turned to eye me with smug smiles. We went through the entryway and ascended the stairs to the second level. We slalomed through more crowds, whose members continued to smile and laugh at my pitiful state.
        Past more hormones and perfume, we came to the third floor. Stan asked a girl where the Man was. She pointed up to the ceiling, to the fourth floor, so up we went. Nobody was in sight, and the quietness was welcoming, but it only reminded me that bad things happen when no one’s around.
        “Please, guys.” I said. “Just let me leave.”
        “Shut it,” Stan said. “Outsider, just like I said.” 
        “If I’m an outsider, let me go!”
        He grabbed my jaw and pinched it, hushing me. 
        We soon came to a door at the end of a hallway and stopped.
        “We can let him down. He’s not going anywhere now,” Stan said in a quiet voice. They placed me back on my feet but held me with their hands on my shoulders and waist.

        Stan took a breath and knocked a few times. While he waited, he looked at one of my captors with wide eyes. He looked scared, and if he was, I only dreaded what was in store for me. 

------------------> Read Part 2 Here <-------------------

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Outdoorsman's Diary: Muddy Mishaps and Muddy Smiles

Getting Dressed Up
I said I didn’t need rubber boots because, in my words, “I’m not going in any mud holes.” I said this as my Dad, brother in-law and I were on our way to the north woods of Minnesota for our annual ruffed grouse hunt. I brought two pairs of outdoor boots because having two allowed me to alternate pairs to keep my feet dry.

I brought ample shotgun shells, food, water, warm clothes and, most importantly, plastic bags wherein to put the grouse meat. I was prepared--and quite confident, too.

I was only nervous about one thing: my phone battery was dangerously low. I shrugged it off, though. I had what I needed, right? I didn’t plan on getting stuck or anything.

We arrived at our destination and assembled our gear and ATVs. We agreed to meet back at our starting point at 4 PM, then dispersed to our chosen locales and trails. I went westward on a four-wheeler, a 2003 Honda Foreman Rubicon. After a short while, I got my first grouse and even lit my pipe in celebration. I continued along, puffing tobacco with eyes peeled for a second bird. 

There was one particular spot I knew about that was an excellent habitat for grouse, but it required navigating through a clearcut logging tract, which, with a four-wheeler, is tumultuous due to the overabundance of logs and large twigs. There was a way around the clearcut tract, on a snowmobile trail, but it involved traveling through a swamp, filled with cedars and black spruce. The swamp would normally be suicide for ATV travel. This year, though, the ground was dry and when I reached the clearcut tract, I surveilled this swampy section of snowmobile trail to see if it was dry enough to navigate. 

I eased into it, testing its stability. The ground was soft, but firm enough for the ATV, so I continued. I soon noticed a low section of the trail that looked like quick sand, but I went through it anyway.... 

Getting Dirty
Think, “mud,” and then think, “water.” This mud was the worst, most Devilish offspring of the two. I nearly got stuck, and had to put the transmission in “Low” to get out. 

Yup, I could get through with the Honda. I was good to go.

It seemed to be the only mud hole on the trail, and after I crossed it, the trail was enjoyable, with the black spruce and cedars lining its sides. The wilderness landscape of the lowland had an impact akin to entering a new world. 

I enjoyed this scenery for a bit, but I kept watching for the emergence of the trail that would take me to my destination--my whole purpose for coming into this swamp in the first place. After a ways, there was clearly no connecting trail in sight, so I turned around. 

Since I couldn’t find a way to my destination along the intended course, I recalled the mud pit and the fact that I needed to go through it again. So I drew up to the dreaded scene with apprehension. The black mud loomed and smirked, waiting for my next move. Instead of going right through it, like before, I attempted to stay on drier ground that was on my left. The dry ground wasn’t wide enough, though, which forced the right side of the ATV into the pit. I pressed the throttle to make it through, but the pit was like a vacuum, and the four-wheeler got eaten. Both of my right wheels were submerged in mud. I rocked the vehicle forward and back to no avail. 

I was stuck in a swamp located three miles away from our rendezvous. I had 1% battery left in my phone, so I called my Dad, but there was no service. My phone battery was soon completely dead. Also, as if to add salt to the wound, the four-wheeler had a winch, but it didn’t work. 

To theoretically get out of the mud, the right side of the four-wheeler needed to lift up so the left two wheels could gain traction on the dry ground. To do this, though, required me to stand in the mud and lift up the 600 pounds of machinery. I knew Newton’s Laws of Motion; if I pushed up, my feet would sink into the mud. Besides, I couldn’t lift a 600 pound four-wheeler (nor will I ever be able to), especially when the mud held its wheels down in suction.

Remember Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing? Yeah, well, Yoda wasn’t there to help me. It was going no where. I stood on the dry ground, looking at the wreck. I wrapped my mind around the problem in an attempt to find a solution. There was none, unless I was The Hulk or Yoda. 

I grabbed some large sticks and put them in the mud so that I could stand on the right side of the ATV. So I lifted up on the vehicle, and all that moved was the slack in the suspension. There was nothing I could do, and after 15 minutes of futility, I abandoned the machine.

I commenced my hike in a mass of sweat and filth. I had to hurry because I only had an hour before our rendezvous. Grouse were at the back of my mind, and, of course, I saw three on my hike. Two took flight and I quickly shot at the third, botching the shot mightily, and it took flight as well. “Royally pissed” would be a mild description of my mental status at this point. 
After the three miles of hiking, I arrived with sore legs and an achy back. Humbled and angry, I joined my Dad and brother in-law to retrieve the ATV. We used my cousins four-wheeler, which had a winch, to get it out. Without a winch, the Honda would have been in China next Spring. 

For the rest of that evening, I saw no more grouse. I had a bad day, a bad experience. I didn’t want to get stuck, but I did. My confident preparedness wasn’t enough to keep me from making a mistake. My ego got hit in the goods with the only little mud hole in all of Koochiching County.

Cleaning Up
When I was stuck in that pit, I prayed to God to help me out, but what I was really asking was to have the ability to get out. He answered my prayer, but in the worst way for the vitality of my ego: to make me walk three miles and get help from someone else. I was forced to cast aside self-assurance; I learned my lesson.

Frankly, I was tempted to only take the lesson and forget everything else, including the beauty of the swamp--the smell of the mud, the air, the trees. 

How much of my life have I missed because I dwelt on the “bad” part of a “bad day” or “bad experience”? How much have I missed by dwelling on my mishaps and thinking they have some sort of imprisoning hold on my identity?

It’s easy to confuse humbling events as self-depreciating messages about our identity. My mud-hole experience could have easily made me selfish, dwelling on my own failure, but God never gives us such messages that bolster selfishness. He points us to beauty, grace and lessons upon which to become a more humble and selfless person.  

Mishaps don’t identify me, nor you. Our identity isn’t found in mistakes, but in what God says. Knowing this allows us to tell stories about our mishaps with smiles rather than self-depreciating frowns. It allows us to remember the little things that are missed when we dwell on what we did wrong. God reminded me to forget my weaknesses--to forget myself--and to (retrospectively) smell the mud and enjoy it too. I now recall the mud, its smell, the scene of the hopeless ATV, the beauty of the landscape, and I smile. 

(Pictures: the beauty of the swamp, taken the day after the mishap)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Don't Be an Easy Weed

If the sun isn’t enough to bake the sanity out, the carpet of weeds will surely drive one to the ward. I’m looking at a forsaken landscape bed along the wall of a house, and I can’t tell where the bed ends and the lawn begins. The boss tells us that we must renovate the bed and I look at him like he had just told me the joke of the day, only to see the inevitable in his face: he’s serious. 

Landscaping is not a placid occupation. It’s dirty, smelly and sweaty. It breaks backs, twists ankles and scuffs knees. It strengthens willpower and rattles laziness. Yet after the hands are calloused, and dirt seeps into the bloodstream, looking at the finished job is a reward that nearly surpasses the paycheck. When a landscaper can rest, knowing there is nothing else to do, smiles are only natural. 

But before the smiles are the weeds--the weeds that must be removed. Weeds that imbed themselves into the deep into the earth are the collective archenemy of landscapers everywhere. Looking at a landscape bed covered with the forest of weeds is akin to the standoff between Harry and Voldemort, or Skywalker and Vader. Nothing is as tiring as eradicating weeds from a landscape bed gone awry. First, a pickaxe must be used to loosen them from their foundation. This step is by far the most grueling; try it and see. This first step effectively reduces a landscaper’s stamina to nil. Next, a landscape bed rake is used to pull them into piles. After this, the piles of weed corpses are shoveled away into oblivion, leaving many fragments still in the dirt, which, if left alone, would only propagate more weeds in the future. So these fragments must also be raked to further solidify the eradication process. 

At this point, plants are ready to be planted into the bed--but the war with the weeds is still not over. Weed prevention is key to enjoying a house’s landscaping in future years, and this is done by laying down plastic or fabric sheeting on the entire surface of the landscape bed; this greatly reduces the chances of weeds growing. 

Weeds are a formidable force. Some weeds are easy to remove, while others require extensive effort. Certain weeds have roots so deep and structures so complex that pulling them out inevitably leaves root fragments deep in the ground, unable to eradicate. These fragments eventually grow back into the weeds they once were. Weeds like these are the epitome of what it means to be “stubborn.”

While removing some particular stubborn weeds one day, I thought to myself, “Am I a stubborn weed?”

Christians do not belong in this world that is governed by sin, death and the Devil. Just like weeds, we are not wanted here. Christians must be stubbornly rooted in their faith. We must know what we believe and why we believe it. Most importantly, though, we must remember who we are in Christ. Knowing our identity ensures us to be the strongest, most stubborn weed in the landscape bed.

Those who have been beaten and shaken in their faith know firsthand what it’s like to doubt faith and doubt God, but although they doubt and stumble, they don’t give up on God because they know who they are in Christ. They are like the stubborn root fragments that remain untouched by the Devil’s plucking hand. Although they’re wounded, they’re not dead; they’re not removed from the landscape bed. They make the Devil sweat because their deep roots in Christ are never shaken.

Do we make the Devil sweat? Do we make the him cringe? Do we make him struggle? 

We can’t afford to let Satan pluck us so easily. We can't give him reason to smile and finish his job. As long as weeds are in Satans landscaping, he will continually be attempting to pluck us out. 

Landscapers love easy weeds, and so does the Devil. I want to be stubborn and give our Enemy callouses. The closer that weeds grow together, the harder it is to remove them. Christians must remain close to one another and work together if we want to stay rooted in Christ. Let’s rub shoulders and help one another dig deep, embedding ourselves in Christ. We must dig into the Word and soak in its life-giving water and encourage one another daily (Heb. 3:12-14) so that we can become the strongest weeds in the bed.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-3)

“For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Col. 2:9-10)

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (2 Pet. 2:9)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gripping Fire and the Futility of Excessive Control

Few things are as potent, useful and dangerous as fire. It heats, cooks, protects, but it can also destroy and kill. Using fire for our benefit thus requires a balance--just enough for the task. As a pyromaniac myself, I have danced along this line of balance and have nearly regretted some of my stupid, juvenile decisions.

Indeed, many areas of our lives remain juvenile, but perhaps one of the most pressing of these is the desire to control. Like fire, there must be a balance in how we control our lives. This issue is so vital to Christian life that I’m shocked to hear it so seldom from the pulpit. Missed opportunities, lost marriages, bitter children, and needless guilt are often the symptoms of too much control. When we want to control our lives to the extent that others suffer, we are on the path of destruction. 

Yet we can make control sound holy. I hear things like: “we must be good stewards of our finances,” “we are trying to be prepared for marriage,” “we’re teaching our children on the way which they should go.” These are Biblical and good, but they are often taken out of proportion. These goals almost become a god themselves. When cloaked in Biblical language, excessive control can look holy. It’s sad that human nature can take something so good and make it so hellish.

What about self-control? Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit for a reason, and it is needed if we are to love one another. It gives us the maturity to live lives of proportion and intentionality. We face a problem, though, when self-control is replaced with “other-control” and “life-control.” 

We must stop seeking to control how our lives pan out. It’s as foolish as the man who builds bigger barns to store his goods while neglecting the spiritual sustainability of his own soul (Luke 12:16-20). We may die tomorrow--or today--and no amount of control can save us from God’s plans. It is futile to think one can control life. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” No matter what we think we can do, God is the one who determines the course of life.

It is time to live life with trust. Abraham left all he knew to move across the world (it was the Middle East, but to them it was “the world”) because God told him to do so (Gen. 12:1-4; Heb. 11:8). Does trusting God mean, though, that no preparations are made? Of course not. There’s a reason “moderation” is in our vocabulary.

I think we ultimately have a problem with trusting God and letting him pull through for us. We want to play God and dictate what we do, where we go, when we go and how we go without giving God the first say because we’re afraid that he won’t bring us what we need (or want). Attempting to supplant God in his role is like gripping fire: it’s impossible and dangerous--it wasn’t meant to be done.

I know that risk can be an insurmountable wall that looms before a decision to trust God, but if risk is present in the choices we make, we can be sure that we are doing something right. Life with God requires risk because a risk-less life is a hollow life. A risk-less like is a far cry from the “abundant life” that Jesus promised (John 10:10b). Sanctification, or continual and progressive heart-change, is riddled with risk, since every move we make towards God usually requires us to forgo a sinful security blanket. In the mind of a sinner, it’s risky to give up those things that sooth our cravings, even if those things are utterly self-degrading, for the chance to draw closer to God. But it’s a risk worth taking. Everyone who has stepped away from self-satisfying security and stepped closer to God has not regretted it. C.S. Lewis said that we can be like a child who continues to play with mud-pies, refusing to go on a holiday to the sea because such a prospect is shrouded in mystery. We simply don’t trust risking anything mysterious, even if the God of the universe assures us that it’s worth it. 

We don’t know what God has to offer until we leave the dilapidated shelter of sinful control and venture willingly towards him. Control is as potent as fire, and it must be handled with careful balance. It’s good, but it can be very bad. Let’s take risks with God and let him take control.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Childhood Cabin

Once my family arrived at Fred’s, the small meat and convenience store in Goodland, we knew the little red cabin was only minutes away. As a child, unable to read maps or even process the concept of one, the cabin was a secret--and thus sacred--destination known only to my father, the driver. The only navigation tools available was the peculiar landmarks. Fred’s was the last stop before the lake, and I always made sure to pick up a bag of Peanut Lovers’ Chex Mix. To this day, when I open a bag of it, I smell the cabin with all its childhood memories.

The cabin is long gone, but the memories preserve it like a private museum.

The anticipation built exponentially after we left Fred’s. There were a few turns in the roads that acted as subtle landmarks, solidifying our progress. The excitement reached its palatable state once we got to a small, yellow pipe structure that we would, of course, call the “Yellow Pipes,” (which had eventually been painted white, but we stubbornly continued to call them yellow to maintain our little tradition) where we would unbuckle our seat belts--for good--and ride the last mile in anticipation. We knew then that the cabin would soon be upon us. 
Creeping into the cabin driveway was akin to hunting. We crawled through the tight, sandy pathway with our conversion van, looking out the windows for deer, squirrels or other critters. My dad would never speed down the driveway either, for that would have altogether destroyed the entire journey. The entrance to our wooded getaway required deliberate gentleness and sensitivity. Our arrival would lose its potency if we raced in. 

I would always be the one to open the gate. The lock was hardly extravagant; it was a small plank of wood used to keep the gate wedged in its catch. Due to the gate’s own confusion about whether to stay open or closed after it was unlatched, it would stabilize half-way open. My job would be to hold the gate open, let the van through, then find a stick to jab into the ground and hold the gate open. This job gave me the chance to be the first one to scope out the premises, since the van was too busy parking, and I would run straight to the lake.

The lake was the most powerful welcoming presence, even though I had to run past everything else to see it. Sometimes dead fish or other aquatic debris would line the beach and occupy my interest. The wind was usually from the West, which meant it blew over the lake directly to us. The lake breeze and the sights of the blue water and the opposite shore’s green tree assured us that we had arrived.  

The work began as soon as we arrived, since we had to haul our belongings and groceries into the cabin. My Dad would mow the “lawn” (it was a little patch of weeds) and my Mom would unpack the groceries. My job was directly related to my pyromaniacal tendencies: collect the loose sticks to put in the campfire wood pile. 

My Dad would shortly try to catch a couple of northern pike for supper. If the wind and lure was right, we would surely have delectable fresh fish to eat. As a child, these predatory freshwater fish would often sober my swimming experience, as I would never let my toes go too deep and would always keep moving. Hearing stories of northerns biting toes never leave young ears, no matter what the probability or likelihood of it actually happening is. 

Still, swimming was a staple in cabin life. Although I feared the predatory northerns, I would enjoy strapping on my goggles and maneuver through the weeds. When I got deep enough, though, the dark depths below would propel me back to the surface; too much mystery and darkness laid there.

My pyromania was fueled at the cabin. Finding birch tree bark was similar to finding treasure because it allowed me the chance to wield flame like a primordial human. I found a stick long enough to keep the fire away from me but small enough to handle, and I would then put the bark on the campfire with the “handle” at the ready. The bark burned a certain way that made it naturally wrap itself around the stick. Intuition and experience taught me when it was ready to wield, and I would soon be strutting around the night-laden cabin grounds with fire lighting my path.

The rooms had their own blankets for bedding, but I preferred my sleeping bag. At night, mosquitoes would find their way into the building, which wasn’t difficult for them, since the door was constantly opening and closing with activity. Falling asleep knowing that there was a mosquito in the room was normal. We didn’t like it, but it was a part of cabin life. I often tied socks around the mosquito bites on my legs and arms just to fall asleep since the itchiness kept me awake. The few bloodsuckers in the room would leave me with more bites in the morning, but at least I had gotten sleep before I had to deal with these new ones.

Sometimes life must progress and childhood memories need to be stowed on the back shelves of our minds. These pleasant memories of the cabin will always weave themselves in with new ones I’ll make with my own children. Perhaps that is the point of memories; the ones from the past will fuel and strengthen the ones of the present and future. Indeed, only I will ever see the impact that my own memories of the cabin will have over the rest of my life, yet that doesn’t make me feel bad that others can’t see them too. Everyone has their own set of memories; they are extremely personal, and that is a good thing. They are made to be that way. 

This is why we need to make every effort to foster a living experience for our children that supports good memories. Parents ought to be the chief instruments that provide ways for children to cultivate their own memories. Without my parents, the cabin and all its memories would have remained nonexistent. I want to try my best to be memory-cultivating instrument for my own kids. Let’s craft good memories for our children and the next generation. We know they need it.