Thursday, November 26, 2009


Many people celebrate their birthday with a party, a trip to Disneyland, a romantic getaway, or hanging out with friends. Not me. I celebrated by driving into the desert. By myself.

Tuesday afternoon I piled food and water into the Explorer. Last thing I wanted was breaking down in the middle of the Mojave and starving to death three hours from LA on my thirtieth birthday . Not my idea of a great way to go out. If anything bad happened at least I'd be prepared. I also dragged the twin mattress off my bed and threw it in the back of the SUV. Not quite like spending a night at some hotel in Paris or on the beach in Hawaii, but that's ok.

By the time I arrived in desert territory the sun had disappeared. In the darkness I wasn't sure I'd be able to find the little side road leading off into the wilderness. I'd been here before. Two years ago I took a weeklong road trip that lead me up through the wilds of Death Valley, across Yosemite, down into King's Canyon, and back to Santa Clarita. During the first day of the trip I'd come across a dry lakebed just north of Barstow. It's called Cuddeback Lake.

I cruised down an almost empty 385 until I saw what looked like a good sized trail leading back off the road. This was just what I was looking for. I hoped anyway. For eight miles I bumped and jostled down a sandy trail praying my directional skills proved correct. When the path suddenly emerged onto a parched brown, cracked and hardened lake bed I knew I'd been right. This was it. There was little sign of any other human life. Off to the north, many miles away I saw three lights quite spread out. To the south, barely visible, flickered two more. That was it. Other than those five dim reminders that there's still life in this world, it was just God and I. I can't think of a better way to turn thirty.

I drove my Ford Explorer three more miles to the far side of the lake bed and turned to face back the way I'd come. Something inside of me doesn't like sitting in a restaurant with my back to the door. In the same silly way I wanted to be able to see if any other vehicles drove onto the lake bed that night. Sure, that left my back to the wide open desert, but I doubted there was anything out there. What if there was though?

There are certain blessings to an active imagination. Of course, there are many curses as well. One of those curses resulted in the thousand thoughts that ran through my head. What if some sicko killer camped out in that desert and saw my vehicle as the perfect opportunity to commit his next heinous crime? What if deranged ex-Army zombies lived in the hills overlooking my car? What if in the flash of my camera, suddenly the exploding light revealed a rush of crazed creatures hurling themselves toward my car? Yeah, all those thoughts ran through my head. I'm telling you, my imagination is WAY overactive.

After I settled in for the night I stepped out of the car into the beauty of the desert night. A half moon lit the lake bed as far as I could see. I stood in the blue-grey light of the moon and stared up at a sky full of stars arching above me. To the north I made out the faint threads of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. It was just me, God, and the overwhelming sense of his awe-inspiring creation.

For almost an hour I stood alone just listening, looking around, enjoying the moment, trying to take it all in. This was how I spent the last few hours of my twenties. No party, park rides, dinner conversation or friends. That's ok. I enjoyed the silence. I appreciated the solitude.

Monday, November 23, 2009

“In every change He faithful will remain . . .”

Last night I attended an evening service at Placerita Baptist Church. The song leader began our worship time by announcing that we’d be picking favorite hymns; so for several minutes I waffled between “Like a River Glorious” and “And Can It Be” eventually choosing the latter. Ahh, the hymns, I thought. I love the hymns for the clarity and truth packed into only a few lines of text.

Immediately after my choice the song leader pointed to the back left corner.

“Be Still My Soul,” was the song title called back.

Be Still My Soul, I pondered, Not something I would choose. I changed my mind as we began to sing the words, “In every change, He faithful will remain . . .” My heart echoed that thought again and again as the congregation sang on. “In every change, He faithful will remain . . .”

So true. So absolutely true.

As I left the service and began the short drive home I couldn’t empty my mind of that phrase. Before moving from Pennsylvania my head had filled with doubts. I was leaving behind everything I knew. I was leaving my friends and family. I was adopting a new school, new staff, new students, new parents, new procedures, and not least a new home. I’d have lesson plans to do, text books to study, wedding pictures to edit and mail.

“Thanksgiving,” I’d told a friend, “If I can make it to Thanksgiving break I’ll be ok.”

Well, here I am. This morning marks the beginning of Thanksgiving break, and everything is alright. All the lesson plans have been written, tests have been composed and graded, books read, friends have been made, students taught, pictures edited, an apartment furnished and put together. Everything that needed to be finished has been.

“In every change, He faithful will remain . . .”

As I drove home last night I choked up to think of God’s faithfulness to bring me through the process. His faithfulness, God’s goodness, is what brought me from Pittsburgh on August 17 and has sustained me to this very moment. It has all been of the Lord!

“Not to us, Oh Lord. Not to us, but to your name give glory, for your mercy and for your truth’s sake.” Psalm 115:1

Even this morning as I read, the Word reminded me of this simple, but crucial, truth.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers; they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2

Is moving and starting a new job the worst trial a person can walk through; by no means. Not even close. I realize that everyday people around me walk through much deeper waters and much hotter fires. That said, at this moment in my life God has led me, is leading me, and will continue to lead me all the way.

“Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side . . .”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Not Quite Lesson Learned, But Learning

In the past I liked to think I did a mighty fine job of playing second fiddle. Not the actual instrument, but the position. I can humble myself. I can sit back and let others get the glory. My name doesn’t have to be hung in radiant lights.

God decided to test the pride I’d placed in my own humility. He put me in a place where I began as second fiddle, was pushed down to third fiddle, and may quickly become fourth. Now I wonder if there’s even a spot for a fifth fiddle. I’m thinking nobody actually needs five fiddles in their band.

Yesterday I stood off by myself lamenting my personal fall from power. Arrogant thoughts rushed through my head.

What about me? What about my talents, my abilities? What about what I can offer? Me! Me! ME!

I was so angry, disappointed, and hurt; when along came the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. Apparently with the kind of attitude I had fourth fiddle was exactly where I needed to be. God has to teach me to work behind the scenes. He wants me to serve even if I never get noticed. I’m so used to being the front man. I’m used to being the camp counselor, program director, preacher, or teacher. I’ve grown used to people looking and seeing me.

So, this is what I need. Even as I write this, I’m so grateful God would put me in this position. I need to learn this lesson. My pride needs to be greatly tamed. My prayer is that I can learn whatever fiddle position the Lord puts me in, and learn to serve in that position with excellence, passion, and humility.

No, the lesson certainly hasn’t been learned, but by the grace of God I pray I can learn it.