Dog Sled Racing

Glad Angry Lonely and more Glad

Four years ago when what took me to Tennessee was no longer keeping me in Tennessee, I remember thinking, "If we're going to move, let's take our kids on an adventure."  Part of what attracted me to Alaska was a longing to give my kids an experience I knew they would carry with them for the rest of their lives.   

I could write 100 blogs about this (and likely will) and how grateful I am for the gift this place has been to me personally and to my whole family.

I was thinking about this Saturday afternoon when on the spur of the moment, I grabbed my two youngest and we headed downtown to take in the dog sled races.

This past weekend was Fur Rondy, a three day festival in Anchorage that dates back to the 1930's when the population of Anchorage was less than 3000 people . . . and made up mostly of trappers and gold miners.  

"Where else," I said to my boys, "can you go to see dog sled races in the middle of downtown?"


4th Avenue Downtown Anchorage

Drew and David got as close to the action as they could before a cop asked them to step back.

If you look closely, the lead dog on this team gets a little distracted by my boys.

Ice sculpture contest at Ship Creek.

Climbing mountains of snow . . . second best part of the day.

Free Hot Chocolate at the Solstice Cafe . . . best part of the day.


A Horse Tale

Glad Sad Fear Lonely  Hurt  Anger

What is it about the longshot?  I just finished watching “Secretariat.” 

I knew Secretariat was going to win.  I did.  I was eleven years old when he did it for real, so I knew how the movie was going to end before I even pressed play to start watching it.

But when that beautiful big auburn horse broke away from the rest of the pack at the Belmont Stakes, I lost it.  I lost it and I didn’t hold back.  I hit rewind three times and my tears didn't stop.

What is it about the story of an underdog?  What is it about a story like this that grabs me so deeply, squeezes my heart, and wrings it out?

It’s not about a horse. 

When my dad walked out on my family to find greener pastures (not once but twice) when I was three years old and then again for good when I was five, in the hidden places of my heart I started asking a question that contradicted everything I was born to believe about myself and everything I would later learn was true of me because God said it was true. 

And for the next 40 years I doubted that when God made me, He made me of the right stuff.  Fallen . . . but still valuable, beautiful, delightful, wanted, and loved.  So much so that if my life was a movie about a horse, I’d be one who SOMEONE would bet the farm to keep!  Six million? No.  Seven million? No. Eight million?  NO!

My wife told me.  A few friends told me. But I didn’t believe them, evidenced by the internal motor that was always running to make sure I could do enough and be enough to prove I was a deserving object of their affection.  Instead I believed my dad and the few who joined his chorus in the "greener" pastures.

In the movie, Eddie Sweat (the man who spent more time with Secretariat than any other human being) said, “This is the only horse I’ve even known who seems to care who his owner is.” 

Until I knew who my owner was and was convinced that He would (and did) bet the farm for me, I did not have the ears to hear or the heart to believe anyone else.  Ironically, this truth found it’s deepest root in me at a time in my life when I felt the least deserving, the least valuable, the least beautiful, the least delightful, the least wanted, the least loved.

It’s not about a horse at all.


Get in Gear

Glad Fear Shame

Last week I flew in to a small town in XXXXXXX and was picked up to be driven to an even smaller town in a province near the XXXXXX border.

Two lane roads (1 1/2 really).  Dirty.  Potholes.  Garbage and stagnant water in roadside ditches. Hot compared to Alaska but not unpleasant.  When we started to pull out of the airport parking lot, the truck would not go into gear.  Our driver said, “I’ve had this truck for six years and never had a problem like this!”  I could see he was feeling some pressure since a breakdown afforded us few good options.  It was late enough in the day that we’d not be able to get help and we were scheduled for some meetings later that evening.

We put the standard shift pickup into neutral, managed to get it rolling forward, and jammed it into gear.  First gear, but at least we were in gear.  We just couldn’t shift or stop again for the remainder of the 90 minute drive (now sure to be twice that long) because the clutch was worthless or something was terribly wrong with the transmission.

Fifteen minutes later the truck slipped out of gear and once again our driver was apologizing to us all the while carrying on a tense conversation with the truck.  Frustrated.  There was nothing we could do except slowly coast to the side of the road.  Quietly, I heard Al from the back seat, “Lord, please put this truck in gear” and before he could get the word "gear" out of his mouth, the truck popped into gear and I finished his sentence without a pause,   “ . . . like you just did.”

Thirty minutes later we were passing through a small town and had to take the truck out of gear for a traffic light.  When the light turned green, we were stranded again as the car would not move. We sat for several long minutes in the middle of traffic as our driver pushed, pumped, and tried to jam the truck into gear.  Again from the back seat I heard Al pray just loud enough for us to hear him, “Lord please put this truck in gear” and before he finished saying "gear," the truck popped into gear and I finished Al’s sentence prayer without a pause, “ . . . just like that!”

Al’s next words to us were, ”You have not because you ask not.” 

I know God does not always work that way. But he did work that way . . . on that particular day.  Those first moments of our trip set the stage for prayers prayed later in the week that were of much greater significance and consequence.

Where am I? Glad to be reminded that God hears me and cares about my life, even the little things. Sometimes I pray because I think I’m supposed to pray and not because I think God will REALLY do anything.  Fear (I am afraid most of the time which is why I need God all the time).  Shame that I live with such an illusion of self-sufficiency.


Gratitude Hat

After day one of our training near XXXXXX, Banjong stayed up all night and made me this hat to take home to Alaska.  

The hat doesn't fit (way too big).  And it's not warm enough for Alaska.  But I don't care.  I'll wear it anyway.  I saw what God was doing in her life and know her gesture of gratitude has little to do with me and much to do with God.


The Fruit of Suffering

Shame Fear Anger Glad

More observations from XXXXXXX and surrounding lands:

I have not been with one follower of Christ here whose story is not one of sacrifice, persecution, hardship, or suffering.

I’m waiting to meet someone, anyone . . . who has lived an “American Christianity.”  NONE yet, and this is my fourth trip to this part of the world in less than a year.  I don’t say any of this to shame myself or be ungrateful for having been born in a country that relative to the rest of the world, enjoys such freedom and abundance.  I just don’t want to miss what I am seeing.

It would be easy (even lazy) to categorize these brothers and sisters (their lives and their stories) as somehow unique, heroic, beyond belief, amazing, inspiring, or exceptional.  When I do this, I subtly but effectively remove myself from the implications of what I see and feel.  If I put these brothers and sisters on a pedestal or in a glass case to be admired but nevertheless observed, it allows me to stay emotionally distant from myself, relationally distant from them, and experientially distant from God.

When I open the pages of my Bible, which I will teach today to a room full of hungry pastors and church leaders, I’ll be taking them to a story that mirrors their own lives outside the Garden and this side of Genesis ch. 3.  In this context (the Biblical one) these men and women are not unique. 

I had breakfast with a godly friend back in Anchorage a few days before I left town. He said he wanted to meet to ask me if I knew anyone (ANYONE!) whose lives truly reflected what it meant to be “sold out” (his words).  I had to think for a moment.  I had to seek clarification and definition about what he meant by that phrase so as to be able to name some people I know who might fit the criteria.  I felt some fear answering.  I felt shame even going through the mental process of scanning my hard drive in such a subjective process.  How do I know?  I guess this is what that looks like?  I guess this is who I’d describe that way?  I don’t know?

It strikes me as I write this that I’m not sure I’ve been anywhere here where that question would even be relevant.  I’m not sure the category (or better yet the need for it) exists in this part of the world.  Not that spiritual mediocrity does not exist here as I'm confident it does.  It's just that there is little here to encourage it.

I’m not drawn to the way of life here.  I appreciate the food in my refrigerator and the car parked in the garage of the house that I own (sort of).  But I am drawn to the fruit I see in the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ in a place hostile to Christianity.

The Scriptures teach me that persecution, hardship, and suffering can beget passion, surrender, willingness, empathy, tenderness, courage, and humility. It can also produce bitterness, apathy, resentment, and self-pity, but I've not seen much of that here.

There are no “special” believers here.  Just normal men and women who share a clarity of vision about the person of Jesus Christ . . . not to be confused with ministry or organizational vision. They possess a purity and single-mindedness of faith that is as common-place as that which produces it . . . their shared sacrifice, persecution, hardship, and suffering.


Quick observations

Glad Fear

A couple quick thoughts:

  • A Thai baby on an airplane speaks the same language as an American baby on an airplane.

  • After going through airport security in XXXXXX, it’s apparent this country doesn’t see itself as a serious terrorist target . . . or else doesn’t care.

  • It's odd that I can write this on Thursday the 10th and post it real time on Wednesday the 9th. (the oddity of a spinning globe).

  • Sitting with an 84 year old missionary who has been here for 60 years.  A single nurse, she came here in 1951 when she was 24 and didn’t leave.  More later.

  • In every conversation the need here (and in countries nearby) is the same: trained and equipped leaders!

  • We are three years ahead of any timetable we imagined could be possible.  I can hardly grasp it let alone explain it.

  • I’ve made some significant mistakes in this area in the past (like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach) but one of my keenest gifts has been my ability to “see a leader.”  I sat with a brother yesterday and my whole insides knew it, “It will be worth my life in the Kingdom to wash this man’s feet.”

  • Yesterday alone was worth the trip.

Where am I?  In a small town that I can’t pronounce or spell.  Feeling like I was dropped from the sky into the eye of a spiritual tornado.  It’s calm where I am sitting but the work of God around me is a fierce and powerful unseen wind picking up buildings and people and governments in its wake.


Touchdown in XXXXXXX

Lonely Glad Fear Shame Anger

Arriving in XXXXXXX last night felt very lonely.  A long way from home.  

My connecting flight to XXXXXX  didn’t leave for almost 12 hours, and having already missed a night of sleep traveling  26 hours, I took a shuttle to an airport hotel for a shower and a bed.  The loneliness of this leg of the trip was interrupted by two guys on the shuttle who spoke English (sort of).  One was from LA (lower Alabama) – he’s the one who “sort of spoke English” but since I’d lived in Alabama before, I had no trouble understanding what he was saying.  When I told him I used to be the chaplain at the University of Alabama, it was like he’d met his best friend and we talked “insider” Alabama football. Roll Tide.

I am feeling physically and emotionally tired.  Besides the long flight, I think it’s mostly from having taught two four hour courses (Raising a Modern Day Knight and Voice of the Heart) back to back on Saturday and Sunday before leaving Anchorage at 4:00am Monday. 

I used to panic when I’d feel this internal “empty” or “off” feeling with a huge ministry challenge like this in front of me.  For many years, I believed it was a spiritual condition confirming my greatest fear that I was walking into battle on my own, the Lord of Hosts having moved on to strengthen another more deserving of His attention than me. 

Especially when (like it felt this weekend) my teaching (my service to Him) was a little “sub-par” or certainly not “GREAT.”  So I’d conclude that I’d failed and although the Lord still loved me, He wasn’t delighted in me and was not going to continue to be “with” me.  

I cringe writing this having to see my own words and the sickness of my thinking for so many years.  My theology was not the problem. I knew the Lord would never leave me or forsake me.  It was my heart that was the problem.  What I understood about God in my head, I could not apprehend about Him in my heart . . . emotionally, spiritually, or relationally. 

I know the Lord is not only with me on this trip, He is NEAR to me and wants to be.  He is delighting in my need of Him and quick to give me all that I need in any given situation . . . just as I would be if I’d brought one of my children with me on this trip. I also have a stronger sense of being prayed for (bc of the growing numbers reading this blog and FB) than I have on previous trips.

I’ll meet Al Henson (Commpassionate Hope Foundation) in XXXXXXXX later today.  He’s been here for a week already and relayed the following which will give you a taste of my week to come:

I have found the church in XXXXX is hurting, lonely, fearful, and somewhat discouraged.  But without question there is a purity of heart and the fields are ripe.  In XXXXXX where I have been, the believers have not assembled together for over a year in fear.  They have been told they can believe but cannot meet together or share their faith with anyone else.  The spiritual leader of this region has been missing for over three years.  Outside the city there are a dozen or more Hmong churches. Very strong.  We met with one pastor in a private location after determining it would bring much risk to them if we were seen together. There are 1000 believers in his village but they cannot meet together and he is prohibited from meeting with the pastors of the other Hmong churches. He was definitely glad to have fellowship with us and to know we are here to serve and strengthen them. With our help, we may be able to bring a group of these pastors across into Thailand, thus allowing for fellowship, training and strengthening them in the Spirit.

We are going to XXXXXXXX to meet over the next few days with ones who have knowledge and influence in the churches in XXXXXX.  While we are there, we will meet with a sister whose husband was taken 3 yrs ago by the authorities he has not been seen since.  We all pray he is still alive. He is/was the spiritual leader in XXXXXXX city and the XXXXXX Province.

Where am I?  Physically I am in XXXXXXX.  Emotionally I am glad, sad, afraid, lonely, angry.  Spiritually, I am being held near by a God who knows who I am and who most significantly to me, knows who I am not . . . and who delights in my honesty with Him and dependence upon Him.  

The gift of loneliness is into-me-see.
I'm a long way from home, yet as near to home as I could ever be on this earth.


Turning 49

Where am I? 
Sad.  Fear.  Lonely.  Glad.

Random thoughts from my birthday.

Twenty years ago I was the young guy with lots of potential.  Now I’m the old guy who had all that potential. 

When I was in my twenties (even in my thirties) I had this unspoken confidence that no matter what detour my life took, I could make a course correction.   A poor choice.  A wrong turn.  A wasted day.  A wasted year.  Even a wasted decade.  Time was still on my side.

It’s hard to think this way now.  I’m one year away from 50.  When I was 25, a 50 year old was a guy whose life was almost over!  In 16 years I’ll be 65.  In 21 years I’ll be 70.  Time is not on my side anymore.  At this age, if I get off on an exit, I may not find my way back to the highway again. 

So I’ve been thinking about the handful of men who were older than I am right now when their lives shaped and inspired mine.  Their influence happened in private . . . in the back alleys of my life and theirs.  Unheralded.  Quiet.  

I don’t write their names here because that’s not how God used them (and still uses them) in my life.  No banners.  No lights.  No applause.  No credit.  Their names written nowhere but upon my life.  

My memory of their influence (and the nature and manner in which it happened) gives me hope.  To the extent that I am feeling some fear about growing older, I'm finding myself grabbing hold of their example.

A couple months ago I had the thought:  “I really don’t care if people think I sell drugs or donuts for a living. . . if I could spend the rest of my life doing what I’m doing now (and no one even have know what I’m doing) I could drop into a grave twenty years from now and be satisfied with what I did with the sum of my years.”  

The emphasis in my mind was upon, “no one have to know what I’m doing.”  If I wasn’t called to involve others in the work I do and if I didn’t need to raise the funds to serve in the places I serve, I’d stay in the shadows and you’d likely not hear my name again.

I'm wondering today if that’s one of the differences between being 25 and almost 50? 

Finally: I was surprised (even feel some shame) at how glad I felt reading the birthday greetings on my Facebook Wall this week.  Incredible to me the power of a ten second gesture that says, “I remember you and am glad you were born.”

I called my mom on my birthday before she could call me. I said, “My Happy Birthday to you.  This day was a bigger day for you than it was for me!”  As a father of six, I know this for a fact.