Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Ramona Falls

It was 12 years ago that the Stevens (Joe and Cari) and the Martins (Jonathan and Janie) and their very little kids Nathan -5, Vincent - 3 Darragh -2, Amelia - 1, Dannah - 5 months, and Daylon - 2 and half years in the hole, hiked the three mile trail up the lower slopes of Mt. Hood to Ramona Falls. This past weekend we would do it again - same time of year – trudging through three foot drifts of snow. It was, however, no longer a three-mile hike in. The forest service had since moved the trailhead parking lot down the mountain another mile and a half. But seeing how Darragh was 14 instead of two and Dannah was 12 instead of 0, and Daylon was now in existence - the extra mile and a half should prove to be no problem at all. So we figured.

After crossing the Sandy river on fallen trees, Nathan, Vincent, and Daylon kept ambushing the three girls with snowballs every half mile or so as this section of the Pacific Crest Trail snaked westward through the lodgepole forest at the top of a steep and high embankment above the river. Not really all that many years ago, pyroclastic flows from the volcanic mountain had filled this valley giving the Sandy River easy material to eat away forming quite a Canyon to our right in just a few short centuries
The blue skies and clear view of Mt. Hood which towered 8000 feet above our heads were welcome sights. It has been an extremely wet winter – actually a snowy winter where we were now walking - with patches of snow three feet deep at elevations barely above 3000 feet - and just a week shy of May.

The snow kept getting deeper and the trail kept getting steeper until we finally turned to the North and left the Sandy River. I knew this meant we were almost there, and soon the sound of the Sandy River behind us faded and was replaced by the sound of Ramona Falls in front of us. We left the snow-packed 30-foot lodgepole forest and stepped into a huge shaded canopy of old growth fir and hemlock, which evidently had not been buried in the last volcanic landslides. These huge trees acted like an umbrella and managed to keep the snow from ever really accumulating on the ground. So we went from three feet of snow to none in just a few short steps. Daylon, Nathan, Vincent, and Joe (Mr. Stevens) went by me and I quizzed all my kids asking why there was tons of snow in the sun – but none in the shade. Finally Janie and Cari arrived absorbed in some meaningful conversation. I interrupted them with my same shade-sun question and then I headed into the shade of the ancient trees and down to the falls.

Ramona Falls is quite incredible (as are all waterfalls) - but this one is quite unique. The creek flowing over the falls is not a big one. It comes from springs and varies little from the rainy to dry season. The little water that does come over the falls spreads out and flows over an area some 60 to 70 feet wide, cascading 100 feet or so over protruding and fractured black columns of basalt. It falls almost vertically, but not quite. The result is what seems to be 50 different and unique waterfalls all in the one. I have never seen so little water spread out and falling in so many places as it does here. And in the shaded canopy of the old growth trees, it is truly an amazing work of art - a sort of sanctuary. This is why I never get tired of coming back to this place.

I walked toward the bridge at the base of the falls, lost in the moment of such superb beauty.

This “moment” was shattered just seconds after it had begun.

“Jonathan! Jonathan!”

I turned toward the voice to see Nathan (17) running up the creek toward me.

“Daylon’s arm has a compound fracture and his leg is broken.”

It was just like I stepped from a peaceful dream into a nightmare all in one sentence.

I shouted for Janie, ran down the creek following Nathan, hopped over some huge downed old growth trees, and there was Daylon on the ground beside the creek, soaking wet, with his arm and leg sickeningly twisted, and screaming in pain.

I didn’t even have to ask what had happened. In a half second glance – I could see it all. There were two fallen trees – both about three feet in diameter that crossed the stream at a fairly steep angle. The bark had rotted off at a certain section leaving the smooth white wood underneath exposed. I knew that when Daylon had hit that spot on top of the log, being on a steep incline like it was, and being wet like it was, he had slipped just as it had been ice on a steep sidewalk. This sent him some ten or eleven feet down into the boulder strewn stream below – which was more stone than water.

Looking at my son lying there, broken to pieces, soaking wet, screaming in pain, with tears soaking his entire face, I had one thought screaming at me – “We have got to get him out of here - fast.” It was not going to be fun. And it wouldn’t be pretty - four and half miles mostly over and through deep snowdrifts. None of that mattered. It was time to go.

We could not have been hiking with a better family. Both Joe and Cari are medical professionals, and their son Nathan will be awarded his Eagle Scout soon. Cari took out her long bootlaces. Joe had Nathan gather long strips of tree bark and sticks and others donated their jackets and shirts. In just a matter of minutes we were splinting both his leg and arm. I could hardly bear the thought of the pain we would have to put him in to strap the splint onto his very twisted arm and leg. But this much is sure - the screams that filled the woods when the wood, cloth, and strings were being strapped to him were nothing compared to what would have been had I tried to carry him out without them.

Dannah sat down by her brother, crying with him as he screamed in pain. As we put the splint on his arm and then his leg, she gave Daylon her hand and told him to bite her finger when it started to hurt. It was no token gesture. There were huge teeth marks on her fingers when it was all done. Both emotionally and physically, Dannah really did feel her brother’s pain. Pure love in action. As long as I live, I will never forget her sitting by his side with her hand in his mouth weeping and sobbing, and so clearly wishing that she had been in his place.

The splints on – up onto my back he went. With his arm broken, he had no way to hold on. So it was a kind of horizontal four and a half mile piggyback ride. I would lock my hands together under his rear and hike as fast as I could without bouncing. Dannah and Vincent ran ahead to get back to the parking lot to send for an ambulance. Nathan cleared the way ahead of us by compacting the snow and kicking places for my feet on every snow bank. He bent small trees back and out of my way, and removed countless small recently fallen trees from the path. I, for the most part, could not think about anything but the next ten feet. If I slipped at all on the snow my right leg would bang up against Daylon’s dangling leg, causing screams to fill the forest for the next ten seconds or so.

I just kept going. I couldn’t bear the thought of putting him down so I could rest, for I knew that would be no rest at all for him, but only more excruciating pain than in his present position.

I have carried 75-pound packs before – but they all have had shoulder straps and a waist belt to distribute the weight. Daylon could not hold on at all. I kept joking that I looked a lot like Quasimoto and ventured a few vocal imitations. Daylon even laughed at a few of my horrible jokes on the way down. He even had a few of his own like; “I should have drunk my milk this morning.” And “This was the best weekend ever, Dad.” But those moments of humor would be suddenly interrupted with screaming as I would accidentally bump his leg again.

And then we had to cross the Sandy River. He had just fallen off a log crossing a creek, and now, his Dad was going to cross a river with him on his back. The fear of falling compounded with the fear of my bumping his leg was almost too much to bear. He closed his eyes, and across we went, helped by Nathan who stood in the stream with his arms beneath us to arrest any unexpected faltering. Once safely across, Joe and Nathan helped me up the bank on the other side, and we were off for the remaining mile and a half. The same mile and half that was drivable 12 years ago. I tried not to think of the fact that we would have been in the car by now . But we were finally out of the snow and so it was a race to get him down. Daylon was wildly shivering and teeth were chattering because he was soaked from the original fall into the stream. And here I was underneath the shivering boy, drenched with sweat, eyes stinging, and badly overheating - the two of us coming down the trail as one. When I would stop to regain the hold on him that always seemed to be slipping, I would try to raise my head so Joe could pour some water down my parched throat.

Finally, through the trees, I could see the sun’s reflection from the top of a car. “Daylon, I can see the parking lot. We are there.”

Janie had run ahead and had the van door open and engine running. Joe and Nathan carefully lifted Daylon from my back, and I turned to help lift him slowly into the seat. I reached up to help only to realize that arms no longer worked. From supporting Daylon’s weight for the last two hours I had used up every ounce of strength - I couldn’t even lift my hands to the height of my shoulders.

Joe and Nathan laid him carefully in the seat, put his seatbelt on, and covered him in blankets. We turned the heat on full blast, and started down the road for the hospital. Two hundred meters down the narrow forest service road we met the paramedics coming up, who then took over.

Twenty minutes later and Darragh shouts, “There it is. Here it comes.”

“Which side?”

“It is directly over our heads”

I lean forward over the steering wheel and look up. There it is. The helicopter speeds in front of us as we speed down the highway. In just a little more than a minute it disappears in the distant sky. “There goes your little brother. He’s almost there.”

Then it comes over me like a flood. The emotions from the last two and half hours all come at once. Tears fill my eyes.

My little boy … he’s almost there.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Purposeful Kindness and Meaningful Acts of Beauty

I had just finished writing an article on why we as the body of Christ are to be engaged in good deeds, why we should serve in our community, and why we should help those in need. I pushed the “save” button, ran out to the car, and raced home..
After being cooped up all day in the office, I changed my clothes, jumped on my bike, and I was going to break loose. A ten and a half mile loop down Lusted and then back up Dodge Park Road – right on Pleasant Home and back down Lusted through the stop sign on 302nd and back to the top of our drive-way. I was going to break my record. I was feeling it.
I pushed the stop-watch button and I was off. 13 and a half minutes later I turned right on Dodge Park - 10 seconds ahead of world record pace. As I raced up the hill – I noticed a guy with a mohawk talking on a cell phone standing next to his motorcycle on the side of the road. I was in route to a new world record and there was no time to stop to see if he needed anything – which of course with a cell phone – he didn’t – and with lungs screaming, I blew on by at break-neck speed.

Suddenly, the story of the Good Samaritan popped into my head. Imagine that, I - a “pastor” - am blowing by a guy on the side of the road, and of all stories – the good Samaritan pops into my head. And wasn’t there just recently article on this subject somewhere – oh yeah, I had just written one - on why we do good deeds. Ouch.

There would no world record today. I turn around.

I find out the guy had run out of gas and could not get a hold of anyone on his cell. I told him it would take me about 12 minutes to get home (at world record pace) and I would be back in about 25 minutes with some gas. He was so thankful.
I am off.
As I rode home, I thought about what I written a few hours earlier. “We don’t practice random acts of kindness – we have purpose in what we do. That Christ’s name be lifted up.” “If I - Jonathan - accept the thanks for an act of Kindness – then Jonathan’s name gets glorified. And a lot of good that does everyone! If, however, Jesus gets the credit – somebody might forever see our Savior in a different light.”
Suddenly this act of kindness was not at all about me. It was about Jesus. It was about letting this guy see Jesus for who he really is – a servant who truly loves this guy.
I got home and found I had just enough gas in my two gallon container to perhaps get this guy to the gas station. “Should be enough”, I think. But wait – now that it this is about Jesus’ name - “Hey, let’s get lavish and fill the whole two gallon container. At the gas station: “Wait now that this is about Jesus name – this guy might be thirsty. Let’s get the guy a coke. 16 ounce. No that is Jonathan. 32 ounce – ice cold – now that’s Jesus.”
This is getting exciting. I will, when he thanks me, direct that thanks to Jesus. After all it was Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan that turned me around. In that very real way, I can tell him it was Jesus that turned me around to help him. This is going to be fun.

I pull up next to him. “Wow, man - you are the only guy that stopped in the last hour.”
I give him the coke. I tell him the story of how Jesus turned me around and the whole story of the Good Samaritan, as he pours in the gas. “Take all you need.” I let him see Jesus. He says this is the first time he had heard anything about Jesus. He really is listening.
He offers to pay me for the gas. I say “Nope, this one is on Jesus.” He says “Somehow, I figured you wouldn’t take any money.”

Cody will never remember my name. But I believe he will remember Jesus’ name.

We, who hold to Jesus’s name, never practice “random” acts of kindness. If it is random, in the ultimate sense, it is not true kindness – any more than a random slot machine is being kind by coming up all cherries for a guy with no family who is going to die of a heart attack five minutes after hitting the jackpot.
We need to be purposeful in our acts of kindness – to lift high His name. And then, we are become way kinder than we ever thought we could be. And not only is it a heck of a lot of fun but in an ultimate sense, a real “beauty” results – that just makes sense.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Ultimate Runner's High

I just came across this old story from a few years back. But with the recent events in Tibet I thought it might be of interest to those of you who are really bored.
The Ultimate Runner’s High

Runners are a different breed. And there is this fundamental question that they can not satisfactorily answer. Why? Why starve your body and mind of much needed oxygen, pound the joints beyond recognition, compress already compressed discs, while running around in circles (some bigger than others) day after day and never actually getting anywhere. And for what reason? There is not a good answer. Some may offer some lame excuse like – it is good for you; or - it brings a long life. But then why, pray tell, did Jim Fix keel over and die while running just a couple years after writing his best seller – The Complete Book of Running. You see, there is no good reason to run. The number of allotted heartbeats in each man is known exactly by God – few orthodox theologians would disagree. It so follows, then, that every time one runs and speeds up the heart, he has just used up a huge share of the number of beats remaining. Using up those allotted heartbeats can’t prolong your life. And then there is the well established fact that running is as addicting as things get.
I know a guy who sort of innocently got started in high school on the track team. But the wimpy three miles, which seemed so far when he first started, was soon not enough. He went for a 10 K --- Not far enough. Half marathon ---- Baby stuff. Marathon number one ----- What’s the big deal? Marathon number two ----There must be something more. This joker had to sign up to run the Pike’s Peak marathon to the top of the peak at 14,110. It didn’t stop there. He decided to run around Mt. Hood in a day. Addict. The surgeon general should start putting warning labels on every pair of Nike running shoes. Why did this joker do all this? Don’t ask. There is no good reason.
So why run? Now perhaps – just perhaps - there is one reason that might suffice. If one was training to climb Mt. Everest, that would be a satisfactory answer as to Why run? But why climb Mt. Everest? This offers even less of a satisfactory answer. But perhaps, just perhaps, if someone is visiting a village deep in the jungles of Africa and is bitten by a black mamba, and has only three hours to live provided he receives not the anti-venom, and the only anti-venom is 10 miles away back in camp. Perhaps then, a friend who has spent countless hours running in circles might come in handy. Indeed, it is every runners dream to find a productuive use for his mindless skill, but the chance of such an occurrence is much too unlikely to justify the millions of laps run and hours simply thrown away.
So why do I run? No excuse. No explanation. I just run.
So you see, since the time I ran around Mt. Hood, there has been little to challenge me. I took up biking to see more terrain. Tried swimming, but it reminded me too much of what hell might be like (seeing nothing, hearing nothing but gasping, isolated, all the while feeling like you were about to drown). So I still ran --- looking for the next challenge. Going for a greater distance was out of the question - my joints come to a grinding screeching halt when I go anything over three or four miles. So what could I do? How could anything compare to Pike’s Peak, Mt. Hood, and the other adventures in the idiocy of my youth. But suddenly in the most unlikely of places – there it was.

We were just a little below 13,000 feet, driving down a street lined on both sides with the old Tibetan style white and black three story buildings – white washed buildings with windows that had about a foot wide swath of black paint all around them. Virtually every dwelling in Tibet is this same color. But then, suddenly to my left, the buildings had come to an end and there was a sight that didn’t belong. Not at all. In this impoverished part of the country, in a city completely inaccessible to train, boat, or aircraft, at an altitude fit only for yaks and airplanes - there to my left was the most beautiful sport stadium I had ever seen in China. Brand spanking new. Rubberized asphalt track without a cleat mark on it. And a lawn --- a beautiful, immaculate lawn that looked as though it had never been stepped upon. What a sight! I did some mental crunching and figured out what the deal was:
The Chinese had built this so they could lay hold to a new Guinness record -- the highest stadium in the World. There is also a big campaign going on here in the country to develop the impoverished western regions. Here they could develop and set a record. It is just what people barely eeking out a living on the land and making less that 10 bucks a month need.. The capital Lhasa, was just a tad lower than La Paz down in South America, so the much needed Stadium would have to be built here in Shigaze. And here it sat.
This excited the runner in me. A mile. I suddenly knew what I had been born for. A high altitude experiment. How fast could I run a mile at two and a half miles above sea level? Exactly, how fast could I run a mile on the highest track in the world? I had to find out. There would be no sleeping until I could find this out.
“So who wants to go running?” I offered to the 14 others who were with us on this expedition. Takers were few. But there were two brainless chaps. A guy named Tad, who has the same last name as I, and a guy named John Weidler – a runner. No, don’t ask him why either.
We trotted the mile or so over to the track, knowing it might be a hard sell to have the caretakers let us onto this picture perfect track in this cosmetically picture perfect highest stadium in the world.
We got to the gate, and to our surprise they were warm and friendly, and were more than welcoming. Perhaps it was because they were bored stiff watching a stadium that never has any competitions. I asked if it were the highest in the world, and the old gateman beamed as he replied that it indeed was. We asked if we might be so blessed as to be able to try to run an English mile on the highest track in the world. He went to fetch the keys.
He unlocked the main gates and escorted us out to the track. I had never run on such a nice track anywhere. A small crowd came from out of nowhere to watch the crazy foreigners.
Back in the glorious days of youth I had run a personal best in the mile of 4:40 and that was only because I was showing off for my wife to be - Janie, who was looking on. At this stage in life, with my wife looking on, I think I could possibly run a 5:00 mile – and if my child needed the black mamba anti-venom within that time….. No, I take that back….. if my three children were all bitten and needed the the black mamba anti-venom within that time. So I figured 6:00 was an attainable goal. Tad wasn’t too reassuring. “We are really high here. Don’t go and kill yourself trying...”

“Runners to your marks, set, go.” I pushed the button on my stopwatch and we were off. Over the years I have gotten good at knowing exactly how to pace myself. If I want to run a 90 second 400 meters (6 minute a mile pace) I generally can hit it within a second without even looking at my watch (unfortunately there is little use for such a skill) so that was the pace I took off with – in full confidence I could make it.
But something happened. I was three hundred meters into the first lap when rigermortus began to set in. My legs had been thoroughly depleted of oxygen and when that happens, scientists have recently discovered, the body simply starts pumping liquid lead into the legs to fill the vacuum. My arms tightened up and knotted. I felt like I did when I was in junior high and they said there was going to be a 6 minute run for the presidential fitness test. Every boy took off in a sprint to impress the girls on the side lines finishing the first lap in under a minute, and then quickly slowed to a pace slightly faster that the proverbial tortoise barely finishing the second lap before the six minutes expired.
To put in mildly, I was sucking wind, but there was no wind to suck. There was no air up here. I tried to shout to Tad that 6 minutes was now effectively out of the question, but at this point shouting was out of the question. I was just trying to breathe. All my efforts were diverted to trying to keep my legs moving. It was as though they were cast in quick drying cement. They wanted to stop. Maybe I should stop and just time myself in the 50 meters. I now dropped from a 6:00 a mile pace ran the second lap at an 8:00 pace just trying to get my heart rate below 400. That didn’t even work. My new revised goal was to pick it back up and to try and run a 7:00 minute mile. On the third lap, I realized that this too was now out of reach. So my new goal had now become whatever time happened to be on my watch when I finished the fourth stupid lap. I came around the last turn, kicked it in with my last ounce of strength, and then stood there hand on my knees for the next several minutes trying to catch my breath. 7:15. I had run a faster mile the month after I had gotten the cast off my leg after a broken femur. I had averaged faster miles in my last marathon.
The pain for such a slow time was eased when I met the top Tibetan and one of the top marathoners in the country. He said that he runs 10,000 meters in 30 minutes at sea level, and that he runs it in 40 up here on the roof of the world.
Tad and John W. also were delighted to have been able to conduct such an experiment. The three of us trotted back to the guesthouse in the comradery that only senseless runners can have. And then it dawned on me. Perhaps this is why I ran after all. A brief moment of senseless comradery. Such idiotic spontaneity can only be found in runners. We were members of The Fellowship of the Pain. And such sweet communion can make three guys fell like they are on top of the world.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Question, Seek, Find, Grow

(my best attempt to answer all the people asking theological questions
about the book "The Shack")

When I was young I would often go into the living room with big questions for my Dad to answer.
“Dad, can a person lose his salvation?”
“That’s a good question. What do you believe Jonathan?”
“I think he can.”
“Why do you believe that? What does the Bible have to say?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Here are some passages to look up.”

Instead of answers, my Dad gave me a hunger to question, seek, find, and grow. Is my theology all nice and neat and correct now? I wish. I have so far to go and so much to learn. But may we "Learn together".

We, the staff, here at Good Shepherd have been getting non-stop questions about the wildly popular book called “The Shack”. I was handed a copy about six months ago and I read it to my family. Local author, Paul Young, has done a superb job of breaking our preconceived notions of who God is and has painted a beautiful picture of a God, who above all, loves and desires relationship with his creatures. He also treats the problem of pain and suffering in a magnificent way. I especially liked the chapter, “Here come Da Judge.”
The main reason I really like this book is that it creates an amazing opportunity to talk theology. Tragically, few Americans ever talk about theology - which I believe to be the world’s greatest and most important topic of conversation. This book provides the greatest opportunity in years to engage in discussions about the God we say we worship.
The greatest compliment you can give a book is to talk about it. I was a literature major and have loved to debate over an author’s meaning, philosophy, and theology. This is good. It is not being unkind to the author to do this. Authors love this.
Some people love this book so much that they get very frustrated or downright angry when I do this with “The Shack”. I find that phenomenon quite fascinating. What is it about this book that rings such a chord that when one dares to discuss its possible shortcomings – they call it “book bashing”? What about this book seems almost sacred to so many?
Anyway there are a number of questions the book raises in my mind and in the minds of the other pastors on staff here. I have wrestled with these questions with my wife and kids and have spent hours with friends talking theology both with those who agree with and disagree with me. The discussions are valuable and I learn. I love it!!!!!
If the book somehow seems sacred to you, maybe you don’t want to ask these questions. But if it is all good, and you want to be stretched in what you believe about God – wrestle with them. Here is my simple exercise “Read the quotes in “The Shack” in context, and then see if you can reconcile the book’s content with these quotes from the Bible as read in their context.” Then ask yourself “Why does it matter?
Some friends I know can do it, and I can reconcile a number of them in my mind. Others I know simply cannot. But no matter these are good things to talk about. What we believe to be true about God is what we live out and is truly the most important thing about us.
I do feel really bad when people get angry at me and say I am throwing a bucket of cold water on a great book. If you feel that way, you might not want to do the following exercise. I actually look at it - not as throwing a bucket of cold water - but as fanning the flame of a great “God” discussion. If we want to be challenged to think biblically, I think this might do us all some good.

The Shack: “I never left him at that moment” (on the cross)” p.96 -
The Bible: Mark 15:33-39, 2 Cor 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24 and Romans 6:23

The Shack:I don’t need to punish people for sin: sins it’s own punishment. p.120 -
The Bible: Rev 6:16,17 Acts 5:1-11, Romans 2:5 ,6, Rev 2:4,.14-16,20-24 3:15-19

The Shack: “No concept of final authority” or hierarchy in the Godhead 122-124, 145 -
The Bible: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Mark 14:32-42, Rev 2:26-27

The Shack: “I don’t create institutions – never have, never will” p. 178, 179 -
The Bible: Romans 13, 1 Peter 3, Luke 12:42 , Dan 4:24-35, Rev 11;15 , 20:6

The Shack: “These institutions are all a vain effort …. They are all false” 179
The Bible:Luke 20:25, 1 Tm 6:1, Col 1:16 Rev 2:26,27

The Shack: “Guilt will never help you find freedom in me” p.187
The Bible: 2 Cor 7:10, John 16:8

The Shack: “You never disappoint me” p 187, 206
The Bible: Mark 3:5 Ephesians 4:30 Prov24:17

The Shack: “I’m not frustrated or disappointed. I’m thrilled” p 187
The Bible: Eph 5:10, 1 Cor 5:9, 1Thess 2:4,15 Heb 13:16, 21 1 John 3:22

The Shack:You won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures pp 203-05 –
The Bible: Luke 12: 47-49, Matt 11:28,29 Matt 12:36, Matthew 25:20-30 24: 45-47

The Shack: I’m omniscient- so I have no expectations, p. 206. -
The Bible: 1 Cor 4:2 Micah 6:8 Matt 12:36

The Shack:In my relationship with those men I will never bring up what they did or shame them or embarrass them. Pg 225
The Bible: - Acts 7:51-60 , Luke 9:26

The Shack:In Jesus I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me. p .225 -
The Bible: Luke 12:8-10, Acts 8:22

The Shack: “The whole world – you mean those who believe in you right?” “The whole world Mack” p. 192
The Bible: Acts 10:43, Luke 19:27, Luke 24:47, Acts 2:38, 1John 2:1 , Acts 28:16,

The Shack: “I am now fully reconciled to the world” p 192
The Bible: 2 Cor 5:18-27

So now that God has reconciled himself to the world – go at it and wrestle these passages and get into some great conversations about the God of the Bible, and may it push us to His word and into real relationship with Him.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How Deep is the Well?

A Letter to my Church

Monday, 12.24.2007


I realize you don’t know me, but my name is Tim Hassel. And you’ve been a part of my family’s life for several years through the prison’s Angel Tree project and I would like to thank you on behalf of my children, James & Victoria and myself.

My next question is that I’m about ready to be released back in the community on 5.15.2008.

I have limited resources and have lost contact with a majority of my family in the last 3 years. I’ve been in prison since 1998 for drug & delivery related charges.

You wouldn’t happen to have any type of resources, or a program that you could refer me too?

Once again, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this letter.



Contact Info:
Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP)
Mr. Hassel, Timothy
SID: 7226782
2605 State St.
Salem, OR 97310

Amazing letter. This man has been led to the living water by our body’s love in action. A drug dealer. In the pen for ten years. I looked at the return address. O.S.P. It took me awhile. Oregon State Penitentiary. Scary.
Can we … do we dare take someone like this in? Do we have systems in place to help someone like this find his place in the community?
Maybe a better question is this: If we -the church- can’t help him, who can? So what are we going to do?
He will need a job – or going back to selling drugs may be his only option. But who will risk giving this man a job? Will you?
He will need fellowship. But what small group is willing to risk taking him in?
He will need discipleship. Who will spend an hour or two a week with him? Starting now by going to visit him in the penitentiary?
His kids need mentors in their lives’ right now. Who will take them out to Starbucks once a week for a strawberry cappuccino? Who will take James fishing? Who will teach Victoria to do crafts? Who will take them to Church when Mom has to work?

Through the Angel Tree gift program Timothy has been lead to the love we have here at this Church – and now he has written looking for hope. But that hope only can be as deep as our love for him. How deep does our love go?
I know the answer: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to com, no powers… no height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ.
This is the kind of love that is around this place. It is the kind of love that will step into danger and say, “The Lord is with me.” It is the kind that reaches into the dirt and is not afraid of getting dirty. It is in these unclean places that Jesus spent his ministry years. He ministered in these places simply because it is in these places that people are most keenly aware of their need for a Savior.
Timothy Hassel has a need. Let’s rise to the occasion, get radical, and meet it. He has been led to the water by our kind actions. Now let us chose to let him drink. Let us not only be known for a cup of cold water – but as a spring of life – a fountain that bubbles over.

Isa 41:17
17 "The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none,
And their tongue is parched with thirst;
I, the LORD, will answer them Myself,
As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Don't Mess with my Christmas

Is it really better to give…..????

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” There is not a one of us who has not heard these words. Usually the guy who quotes this is wanting something from us revealing the fact that he actually believes that it is more blessed to receive. Otherwise, why is he not giving to me – if indeed it is so blessed to give?

And at Christmas time we quote these words to our Children when they get the "greedies". And our Children watch us. Do Mom and Dad really believe this?

I dare you to go find this verse in the Bible. Why? It is scary. That is why. When Paul quotes Jesus it doesn’t have anything to do with giving money or presents. Paul is walking into what will be chains, imprisonment, and possible death. Every one is crying and begging him not to go. “It is more blessed to give,” he says. “It is more blessed to give.”

Give up your comfort? Give up your safety? Give up your life????? And back comes Paul’s answer using Jesus words, “It is more blessed to give.”

So it is Christmas time. How are we applying these words during the season we most often hear them quoted? It just seems completely inappropriate to apply them to the buying of gifts for family and friends so we will in turn have to build additions onto our house or have to go to rent some storage space to fit it all. So how are we…Wait…let me rephrase that … how am “I” giving up my comfort this Christmas? How am I giving up my safety? And why would I want to do that anyway? After all Christmas is all about family, right? About cookies and food and fun games together? About eggnog, apple cider, hot chocolate and biscotti in front of the fire in the pure and uninterrupted bliss of my own family’s comfort and safety? Please say it is so. It’s about beauty…right – Christmas trees, lights, pretty packages, gorgeous table settings - all which declare the glory of God…right?...right?

And yet if we open our ears and listen, we hear the words from of Paul.

"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Help the weak? What has that to do with anything at Christmas? Oh yeah I throw in a few dimes at the Fred Meyer Bell ringing Santa lady...I help the weak. Sort of.

But I know helping the weak means leaving the safety and comfort and the beauty and warmth of my own home – it’s about stepping into the cold and scary world and into lives racked with loneliness, pain, and other things I prefer not to think about at Christmas.

Do I believe it or not? Is it really more blessed to step into the cold, uncertainly, and pain of someone who is weak and hurting – someone who I might not even know? Is that more blessed?

There is only one way to know for sure. Try it.

Last Christmas my family made a small and feeble attempt at taking the Lord at his words. We put these words to the test by a grand experiment. “Kids. It is Christmas Eve. The night we all like to stay at home and bask in the glow and comfort of this place. So we are stepping out. Let’s go.”

Just a mile away there is a retirement home. With my guitar in hand, we go from room to room visiting those who have no family, no home, no decorated cookies, no warm fire. SO many all alone on Christmas Eve with nothing but the company of the TV glow in their room. We turn down the TV and start to sing. We sing a story about another who gave up the comfort of his home. Of one who stepped into a cold and hostile world racked with pain and suffering.
The tears begin to fill the eyes of this dear old woman – left alone here on Christmas Eve.
Pure joy fill the face of the young boy too severely brain damaged to function in this world as he claps along.

The Christmas songs suddenly made sense in a way they never had before.

What a privilege. What an indescribably joy. But we were sad for we could not get to every room. There were just too many sick. And our small family – we were the only ones there singing on this Holy night. Where were the others? Where had I been the last 42 Christmases?

I cannot explain it. To leave the warmth of our own home, to step into the lives of those so alone and in so much pain. We had nothing to offer but a hand to hold and a song. I can’t explain it, but this was Christmas.

So I dare you. See if it is true. Step out of the comfort and into the pain – and then taste and see if indeed it is truly better to give than to receive.

You can only know if it is true – if you try.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Perfect Harvest

"Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others."
Saint Augustine

Maybe this would be the year. Probably not. But maybe. If the weather would just cooperate in a big way. Maybe. You see, as a 9-year-old I had a dream; to go to Disneyland. But the problem was big. It was out in California, and I lived on a farm in Nebraska. It was a long ways off, and it was more than we could afford. Disneyland had its grand opening in 1956 when I was four years old, and for my ninth birthday I asked Dad – like I had every birthday before, “Can we go this year?” He always said, “If the rain comes down ‘just right’ and if we get a crop that is ‘just right’,” then we’d go. So I prayed that this year – 1961 – that the rains would come down ‘just right’. “God, give us a harvest like never before. Make it perfect.”

We owned a couple thousand acres just to the west of Meridian Creek. Just across the creek, our friends and neighbors, the Eastmans, owned an almost identical farm of 2,000 acres. We grew the same crops and raised the same animals. They had 4 kids, the same ages as the kids in our family; problem was, the one my age was a girl. Jennifer. All my other siblings had someone their own age and “kind” to play with but me – the only one my age was a yucky girl. Oh well. Anyway, the Eastmans also held out the hope for that ‘perfect harvest’ so that both families together might head out to California, and the “big D,” as we called it.

Well, I had prayed that the weather would be perfect, and it had been. My dad said it had been a perfect winter and spring and that the soil was just right for planting. The seeds went into the ground and in no time they were growing. Dad was so encouraged. Never had the crops come up so plentiful. I could look down and across Meridian Creek and see the sprouts as beautiful and as plentiful as they had ever been both on our land and on the Eastmans’ land. “Hey,” I thought, “Maybe the Eastmans would be going with us to Disneyland.”

A week and a half went by with no rain. We had no irrigation at that time and so I got nervous. I was in danger of losing Disneyland. I prayed like mad that night. Dad said we needed it now if we were going to have that perfect harvest I had been praying for. I prayed right then. And right when I had finished my prayer … I heard thunder. It was so neat. It poured that night for about 15 minutes, soaking everything. Or so I thought. I woke up the next morning to run and see our crops. It was beautiful. My Dad stood there with me – and he said the words I wanted to hear, “A perfect rain.” We glanced down the hill toward Meridian Creek and the property line we shared with the Eastmans. Dad got a strange look on his face and started down the hill. I followed out of curiosity. As we got closer to the creek I could see why he was so puzzled. The soil on the east side of the creek was dry. The storm had poured on our side, but had left our neighbor’s side conspicuously dry. “That thunderstorm last night,” Dad said, “for some reason decided to rain on us but not the Eastmans. Strange. Boy, they sure need the rain.”

Just from that rain alone, our crops jumped way ahead of the Eastmans’. I was happy ‘cause it meant Disneyland for me, but my hopes that the Eastmans might come with us seemed crushed.

Five days later, it rained again. Brilliant lightning. Unbelieveable thunder. I loved the sound of the huge raindrops on our roof. They meant life – not only for our crops, but for us as well. It was a soaker. Again Dad said it was ‘perfect’. I rejoiced ‘cause I knew the Eastmans got the rain they needed to at least keep their crops from dying. I stepped out into the cool air left in the wake of the thunderstorm. I ran down to the creek and to my horror, it had happened again. Their soil was barely damp. It would not even reach the roots of the shallowest of plants. But ours was ‘perfect’. The rain on our side had never been more perfect.

I saw Mr. Eastman in his fields checking the soil. Disappointment was all over his face. When his eyes caught mine he walked over and said hi, and then he invited me along with my whole family over for dinner the next day after church. What a sweet man. They were hurting, but still they gave.

We knew if they did not get rain in the next few days, their crops were done. But on the third day it came. We had a perfect rain once again. But not really perfect at all. I cannot explain how or why, but the Eastmans were again left dry. The whole family was taking buckets from Meridian Creek to water their own personal garden that they had decided to keep alive right by the creek. It would be enough for their own food, but not enough for their animals or to pay any bills.

While our crops were the best they had ever been, I had to watch theirs wither and die on the other side of the creek. And as we watched our 2,000 acre crops grow healthy from the rains, we watched their whole family carry water and labor to get a small patch of vegetables to grow.

Why? Why such strange weather? Why were we so blessed while they seemed to be cursed?

Had they sinned in some way? That was the first question that came to mind. If they had, this would make sense. But the Eastmans were good people. They were leaders in our church. They were all kind. Even Jennifer was kind – sort of – even when I was mean to her. That was not the answer.

Were they lazy? If they had been, then they would be getting what they deserved. But they were working five times as hard as us to get only one-tenth the amount of crops. They were not lazy.

No matter how I asked the question, I could come up with no good answer.

Harvest time came. “Perfect.” That’s what Dad said. It was the dream harvest we had always longed for. It would be double our usual. Our profits would be so great that Dad could get the new tractor he had wanted and our trip to Disneyland could become a reality. It was everything I had dreamed and prayed for. Except for one very obvious thing.

When I looked down across Meridian Creek, I saw not a dream come true, but a nightmare. A family – just like ours. But because of the weather – decimation. Destroyed and without means. I sat on the hill overlooking their misfortune. I wanted to be happy about our success. I wanted to congratulate our family, but I realized that we ultimately had nothing to do with it. It had been the rains. As I looked over the Eastmans’ desert-like landscape, I wept.

Dad called a family conference. “Kids, we have the harvest of a lifetime. We need to decide what to do with it. I have promised you all that we will go to Disneyland. So come winter break, we are off to California!”

The words I had been living to one day hear. Words which should have been met by the screams of kids so excited they couldn’t contain themselves. Words…, that were instead met with … dead silence.

“I thought you kids would be happy. It is our dream come true. What’s wrong?”

Now, of course, Dad knew exactly why we were silent, but he didn’t let on.

“Dad,” I said. “The Eastmans.”

"What about them?”

“Dad, they have nothing. Why would God do this? Why give us twice what we need, and give them barely anything at all?”

"I don’t know honey, why?”

My question had answered itself. Twice what we need … twice what we need….

And then, it just spilled out of my mouth. “He gave us twice so we could give them half.”

I couldn’t believe I had said it. But more than that I couldn’t believe the reaction of my brothers. “Yeah. Yeah!” Excitement filled the air. The thought of giving to our neighbors excited us as much as the thought of Disneyland used to.

A few days before Thanksgiving, all of us kids climbed on top of a huge truckload of grain. The first of several we took that day down across Meridian Creek and up to the silos that stood empty next to the Eastman’s house. . .

I will never celebrate a Thanksgiving, I will never hear the word Disneyland, without my remembering . . . , without my seeing Mr. Eastman silently standing there on the bottom step of his porch – that single tear as it fell – clearing a path through the dust on his cheek. And Jennifer’s smile as she stood there holding his hand.

It was . . . the perfect harvest.

So why the strange weather patterns? Why such inequities? I finally understood. If it had rained on both sides of the creek, we would have never have known the great joy of giving to those who truly need. And they would have never have known the joy of seeing God meet their needs through their neighbors on the other side of the creek. Truly such inequities bring out the most beautiful and valuable thing this life has to offer – and it is not Disneyland – it’s a simple thing called love.