I'm doing a conversation with a group of pastors in the area that is not open to the public. But since I'm driving out that way if there are people in that area that would like to connect the night before or the night after, just let me know.
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1560-1 Newbury Rd #313
Newbury Park, CA 91320
Phone: (805) 498-7774
Fax: (805) 499-5975
I’m at the airport this morning getting ready for my trip to Denver, and then continuing next week to Richmond, VA. This is an amazing trip with lots of meetings for reasons as diverse as sharing the journey, consulting with a publishing company that is looking for an appreciation for the “Dones”, to meeting with some people from Kenya who might be able to help us formulate a development strategy for Pokot, and finally to helping a friend with his novel. It will be 12 days with a host of meetings and connections that I hope will advance God’s kingdom in the world.
As I go, I thought I’d leave you with this exchange that explains why I’ve never liked the term, “unconditional love.”
Eileen: I enjoyed your books He Loves Me and Finding Church so much and can't wait to get the latter one on audio book. Well the question I have that I struggle with a little bit us is Gods Love unconditional? My husband and I listened to a message titled "choose life" in which he suggests that there is no such thing as an unconditional love. Even Gods love for us is conditional. Some of the examples he gives are, “ask and you shall receive, knock and it will be opened, you are my friends If you keep my commandments. Those are all conditions he claims. He loves us despite of how we are, which I do agree with, God is love but not unconditional I struggle with. At least that's what I heard from his message. Wanted to hear your thoughts on that.
My response: When you hear someone teach and it doesn't sit right with you, there's usually a good reason—his Spirit within you. When your yuck meter goes off, trust it! In this case it is well-set.
To take Jesus’ invitation for us to engage his Father and turn it into a condition for us to earn his love is poor scholarship at best and manipulative at worst. Seeking him is not a condition for us love, it’s an invitation to draw near to him so we can see how he’s making himself known to us.
You’ll notice that I don't use the term "unconditional love." I know a lot of people like that term, and though I like what they often mean by it, I don't like using it because it gives the impression that something called "conditional love" actually exists. It does not. You either love someone or you don't. If you can stop loving them because they do something wrong, stupid or hurtful, then you didn't love them in the first place. God's love is not conditional, he loves us all the time, even at our most lost and broken. His love never changes. The drama of our story shifts when we begin to discover how loved we are and then respond to him in a way that allows our engagement with that love to grow.
But that doesn’t mean that our actions don’t have consequences. We reap what we sow, but that isn’t God ceasing to love us, it’s the way he made the world work so that we would learn from our mistakes and that our brokenness would invite us back to him. He keeps loving us through the consequences of our own choices, always making a way for us back to his heart.
Eileen: I just wanted you to know that what you said makes perfect sense...that's the way I've carried out my life, but when you're repeatedly told you have to be in church, you start to believe that your the one doing something wrong. I'm so grateful that God has put you in my path, if for no other reason than to confirm what I've always believed—you can win people to the lord by just loving them.
Amen to that!
It is more than a little frustrating to click on an interesting link and begin to read the article it links to only to be interrupted five seconds by a blacked-out web page and a pop-up box asking for my email address or to send money. That's especially true if the box moves so it's harder to close it, or how to close it is cleverly disguised so it takes awhile to find it. I will not go back to a website like that nor will I pass the link along to others because the owners of that site have made it clear to me that their real product is me! They want to sell my eyes to advertisers or my email address to purveyors of junk mail.
Isn't it enough to provide compelling content and know that if people want to follow you they will find a link for email updates or alerts? Why do you think your obnoxiousness will endear me to you or your advertisers? It does not. I'm sure the research shows more people will sign up if you're obnoxious about it, but is it really worth it when you lose so much crediblity about your concern for your customer?
I do not have a problem with people selling their products or services on a website, or even advertising the goods and services of others to help offset their costs of providing content. That can all be done in a comeplling, responsible, and appropriate way, where you guide people to your services, rather than manipulate them so overtly. The need to maximize the monetary value of a website or its statistics by manipulating unnecessary "clicks" has reached such ridiculous proportions, that I've decided I will no longer vist websites that...
- Confront me with a pop-up window to block their page, either to show me an ad or try to harvest my email address.
- Automtically start video or audio without my selecting it.
- Have so many ads around the content they they remind me of NASCAR.
- Have a flashing "donate now" button prominently on the front page, unless they are a charity raising funds for other people.
- Promise something for free, but then require my email address to get it.
- Require multiple clicks to view simple information
- Use false or misleading titles that don't actually reflect the content of the article.
- Intentionally confuse the "continue reading" button with buttons that link me to their adverisers.
All of these set my Yuck Meter off, and even more so when these are found on websites that present themselves as helping people find their way in God's kingdom. Don't they trust that God will provide for them and if not why do I want to partake of their teachings?
Provide me with great content that is relevant to life and I will beat a path to your door, subscribe where I want to and even make a contribution if that's how you roll. But websites that use the above tactics clearly demonstrate that instead of providing valuable content that are exploiting me for their own gain. Visit them if you want, but I don't have the time to navigate through all the garbage unless the content is truly stellar, and it usually isn't or they wouldn't have to resort to such tactics.
Yes, I feel a bit like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, so call it my one-man rebellion against inappropriate exploitation of the Internet for commercial purposes. But if others adopted the same policy those websites would have to change. If you instantly leave any website that is overly manipulative and they will see it. I click away as soon as they block my view of the site for an ad or email sign-up. If I have a hard time finding the content I want for all the ads that surround it, I leave too. Those kinds of websites track such things and they will change when they discover people are taking offense to them. It's a bottom-line industry and it's not your bottom line that they care about. Refuse to be manipulated by these tactics and your world will grow simpler even if they never change. And what's more, you won't miss their content anyway.
In fact, we can do that with lots of things. When you feel manipulated vote with your feet and whether or not that changes the world, it will change your world. Life is too short and time too precious to let others demand more of you than you are willing to give.
When your ten-year old granddaughter asks if we take have communion with our Easter dinner, the only reasonable answer is, “Of course!”
I love that she’s had it enough here to think about it. I love that her mom and her had discussed Jesus serving it to his disciples as they were working through the events of Easter week. This is a child who has never been in a Sunday school or attended a Sunday morning service. She has grown up with Jesus as a part of her daily life and in the community of friends and family who are seeking to follow him.
So after the meal, we took bread and broke it. We took grape choice and toasted the One who have up so much so that we could have life and freedom in him. And we focused on Jesus and that we would one day be re-united in eternity with some special people we’ve lost recently to this age. It was the high point of the day!
Later I was reading an article someone sent me that only an approved clergy member can “sanctify” the bread and juice and only in approved locations, where people truly worship. Yes, my Yuck Meter pegged. Jesus celebrated a meal with his disciples and told us to remember him every time we partake of that meal. We did a horrible thing when our “religious leaders” made the meal something that could only be celebrated when the “right person” consecrated it. That made the Lord’s Supper a contest of power to decide who can serve it and who can take it, and have argued for centuries argued over its meaning and substance.
Such is what man does when he takes a simple gift of Jesus and turns it into a religious ritual fraught with fear. Contrast that with the early church, who for the first 300 years of its existence would not have conceived of celebrating the Lord’s Supper at any place other than the family dining room table. Imagine what it did for that woman who made the bread and poured the wine as Jesus made himself known at her table that evening as the church gathered to celebrate his life in them.
Isn’t it time to reclaim the simple things Jesus gave to his church and celebrate them in the midst of our lives? “This is my body. This is my blood. As often as you do it, remember me!”
If this isn't the strangest trip I've ever booked, I don't know what is. I'm going to Colorado for a week, then out to Richmond, VA for a week. This isn't just about visiting with people, on this journey. I will also meet with a couple from Kenya doing some incredible development work in Kenya in counties next to Pokot and may help us with the need in Pokot as well. I'll also meet with the people behind TheDones.com website to see if our resources might be applicable in that venue. And I'll be meeting with someone who wants my help on a novel that may be one of the most innovative things I've ever read.
So, yes, this will be a crazy trip. But it does allow me some opportunities to connect with readers and listeners in this areas as well.
- I'll be in downtown Denver, CO the weekend of April 18-19. We're planning a Sunday get-together at 1:00 for those that want to come. Space is limited so check in with Michael if you're interested. I'll also be around on Saturday and Sunday morning if people want to connect in a more personal way. You can email me if you're interested.
- On Monday I have to go to Loveland, CO. If anyone is in that area that would like to open up a place for folks to connect, please let me know.
- And, on April 24-25 I'll be in Richmond, VA in some open times for people to connect there. Contact Richard if you're interested in joining us there.
I'm sorry there isn't more time on this trip to just hang out with people who want to come, but we can make best use of the times we do have...
What a crazy week this has been. After a worldwind trip around Florida I returned on Monday. What an amazing trip. I started in Daytona Beach, spent a few days in the Orlando area, then a week teaching The Jesus Lens at a YWAM base in Sarasota through a German translator. After which I finished up in West Palm Beach reconnecting with some old friends and enjoying time with some new ones. This was a wonderful trip and I met so many people who are learning to live in the reality of Father's affection and break free fo the trappings of religious obligation and performance. I am always amazed by what God lets me do in the world and who he gives me to know. And I admire the courage of so many who are willing to take the road less traveled even when suffering the judgment and abuse of friends and family who regard them now with suspicion simply for rejecting the idea that Jesus came to start a religion. He didn't. He came to invite us alongside his Father, to freely embrace his love and to freely share it in the world.
I only had a couple of days to re-orient from the trip, try to catch-up on my email backlog and make the few appointments I had previous scheduled before the lead producer, Kevin, and the screen writer, Angela, for the movie adaptation of So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore arrive for a weekend of trying to finalize the script. Tomorrow someone else, Eugene, will join us who might be the director of this picture. I am still amazed that this book is making progress through the machinery that tries to cough out a movie.
But I've had a lot of fun living inside the story again. Tentatively called, "Out of the Game," it takes the major parts of that story and reshapes them in a way that will help it communicate with a different audience on the big screen. I've enjoyed working with all the people on this project and the passion they have shown for this story. We're still not agreed on every detail, but having just finished my most recent read of the manuscript, I'm convinced we're getting very close. So the next three days we will be refining the screenplay as well as making some critical decisions about moving the process forward. And on Saturday we wil be sitting with a group of actors who will read through it so we can see how the dialog sounds in their mouths. It's an adventure to be sure and I love at this stage of my life revisiting that story and my own life being a bit re-shaped by it. I don't usually get touched reading my own words, but some of this I worked on fifteen years ago and have enjoyed the re-focus and the gracious invitation of a Father into a life better lived in the security of his affection rather than the rabid fears religion often uses to make people conform. Only about 15% of the projects that get this far actually get made. There are so many parts that have t come together for this to work. So, we'll see. One step at a time.
And for those who ask about the film adaptation of The Shack, that is still in process as well. Lionsgate is the studio and they've already selected a director and are now workiing to cast the movie and schedule production. There is no clear release date on this movie though it should be sometime late in 2015 or early in 2016. There are lots of rumors floating around about who is involved. Just remember, Hollywood types do a lot of negotiation and compete for media attention by using rumors and leaks. Until you read, "Lionsgate announces...", don't believe everything you read.
I couldn't believe it when I heard the story, and he couldn't believe he did it when it happened.
A friend of mine, who has twice been the city champion of the state capital where he lives was on his way home from a vacation in Florida. He had arranged to stop at the Bay Hill Country Club to have lunch with a good friend. Bay Hill is Arnold Palmer's home course, and where this week he is hosting a prestigious PGA tournament. After they had lunch with his friend and was getting ready to leave, his friend asked if he'd ever met Arnold Palmer one of the great legends of golf and by all accounts one of the most gracious men in the game.
They finished lunch and as he was about to leave and get back on the road his friend asked him if he'd ever met Arnold Palmer." He hadn't so his friend said, "Let's go see if he's in his office."
He was. Ever cordial with the multitudes of people that want to greet him, Arnold got up from his desk and they had a brief conversation. Eventually Arnold had to leave to make his tee time with some others who had arranged to play golf that afternoon. "We've only got three of us. Would you like to be our fourth?" Without thinking and pressed by the fact that he was already getting on the road later than he planned, he declined.
It was only later as he was back on the road that he realized what he had done. He had just turned down a chance to play golf and spend a few hours with Arnold Palmer! What golfer in his right mind would turn down the chance to play a round of golf with the King of Golf on his own golf course? He has kicked himself ever since for declining such a great opportunity.
Have you ever missed an incredible opportunity because you were thinking so far down your schedule, you missed what was right in front of you? I have. And not with the King of Golf, but with the King of Kings.
Some of my best moments of my life have come at the most inopportune times. I've no doubt missed many more because I was so preoccupied with something ahead of me, I couldn't clearly see what was being offered right in front of me. Some I know about, others I'm sure I don't. But I am sure of this. I can't schedule the best moments in life. They appear unbiden popping up in the moment and if you're not free to violate your schedule you may, too, be missing some marvelous moments only to regret later that you didn't have the presence of mind to see what was really going on in that moment.
There are so many great moments in the Gospels, because Jesus was free to embrace the moment and not spend all his time creating or chasing plans. I want to live like that, so that the next time Jesus invites me to go along with him while he touches someone with his life, I'll be free to take a detour and go with him. A life lived without regret is a joyful life indeed.
These days I am finding more and more of those opportunities and greater freedom to recognize and embrace them. I don't think there are just more opportunities around my life these days, I just think I'm less driven by my own plans so I see them more easily at the time they appear. I love that.
I just want to be free to go play with the King, whenever he invites me.
Everywhere I go people continue to ask me about our friends in Kenya and especially the need in West Pokot. I appreciate that so many people are aware of this and continue to pray and give to help us rescue so many people who are in great need in that part of the world. It is truly a human catastrophe with many people dying and a great need to help them build a new economy.
I met last week with someone who is attached to a development agency that is already in that area of Kenya, in Turkana right next door. They help tribes address the five basic needs to build a society: water, food, wellness, education, and generating income. The work with the tribe to help them identify their most pressing need and then begin to act as a tribe to help fulfill that need. They they take on the next one. The plan is that in five years the tribe will address each of those needs and with outside training and resource be able to build a sustainable economy. They have had great success throughout Asia and Africa and I'm set to speak with some of their people tomorrow. I hope this will provide an approach that will let us wrap our hearts around part of the need and move it beyond relief to actually develop a future and hope. They do it for a cost of $15,000 per year for five years and the people are left with their needs addressed and resources for their culture to progress.
While I'm hopeful this might be an answer, I continue to hear of the great need in West Pokot. This morning I heard from one of the people we work with there:
"Last week I had a call from the doctor that elderly and the children have camped at the dispensary in large number since yesterday. The hunger has drived them from the village. If there is anyway to support them for the food it will be highly appreciated because it has affected the dispensary budget. I went to the dispensary this week and brother Wayne, the situation here is extremely bad. Many people have migrated from the village and camp to the hospital environment, because of the hunger, it has forced even the doctors and nurses to be overwhelmed due to this crucial situation and I met the doctors when they have started cooking the maize and beans to safe at least the situation for both the sick and those who had camped, many children women and Old were more totally affected, the old who are strong had tried to come in the hospital thinking that they will get meal and some who are not able to walk they have remain at their home helplessly. This situation has become worse and worse every day. The cry of doctors and Nurses is that if we can be able to get estimated 600 bags maize and beans it can help to save the situation for breast mothers, children and old aged, this can save a bit for about two to three months in this surrounding hospital village. If not we may lose the lives of many.
So immediately we start distributing as you may see in the pictures, this has help a bit the congestion from the dispensary. You have become, the father to the fatherless and the comfort to those who don’t even deserve, we urge you to support where necessary in this point.
Pray for us....
I have attached some of the other pictures below. These are all huge challenges, and I'm always blessed by the Kenyan people we know in Kitale who are spending of their time and resource to help these impoverished people. If any of these needs interest you and you'd like to underwrite it, please let me know. If you'd like to help with offerings that we can share, that would be great blessing as well. Our best guess now is that we'll be putting about $40,000 into Kenya over the next few months as God provides. If you have extra to pass along for the people of West Pokot you can direct it through Lifestream as contributions are tax-deductible in the US. As always, every dollar you send goes to the need in Kenya. We do not (nor do they) take out any administrative or money transfer fees. If you would like to be part of this to support these brothers and sisters and see the gospel grow in this part of Africa, please see our Sharing With the World page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1 • Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.
Here are the young children gathering early in the morning at the dispensary hoping from some food, more people gather hoping for help, and distributing what little grain they had from the truck. Not everyone in line got food this day. There wasn't enough.
This Saturday, March 7, I have been invited to be a guest on Moody Radio's "Up for Debate" show. This show, hosted by Julie Roys invites two people with opposing views to have a live call-in discussion about the topic. This week's topic: "Is Attending Church Manditory." It will air at 12:00 noon EST or 9:00 am PST. You will be able to stream it live from their website, or listen to the podcast at a later date if you wish. I have been assured that this is not an attack-show with people screaming at each other, but a reasoned discussion of conflicting points of view. I'm looking forward to exposing Finding Church to a wider audience.
It should be an interesting discussion, since my counterpart on the show has written extensively on this topic, including the Twelve Reasons Why Membership Matters. I hope the show can shine a light on the reality that people can still engage Jesus and his church without necessarily being a committed member of a local institution. It should at least be interesting.
Here's how the producers of Up for Debate are promoting the show:
In conjunction with this appearance we are going to be re-offering our Finding Church get-one-free offer. Any one ordering Finding Church before March 31, 2015 will receive an additional copy free to share with someone they love. All you have to do is order one copy and an extra book will arrive with your shipment. We have been overwhelmed with the response to this new book and enjoy helping others share that message of hope in the new creation with others.
I’m just taking a quick stopover in Chicago on my way back home today. After 11 days in the south and zooming past hundreds of congregations with names that conjure up images of peace and tranquility while at the same time hearing a constant stream of horrors stories about the way people were treated by those who claim to represent Jesus in the world, I’m finding myself wishing that congregations were subject to truth-in-advertising laws.
I thought of that when I saw the picture above. I first thought it was a congregation with a bold sign on the exterior. Until I read it. And then I busted out laughing. No, it wasn’t a local congregation but a left over from a Halloween haunted house. But Nightmare on the Hill might be an appropriate name for many of the congregations whose former members and leaders I was with over the past ten days. Just because something calls itself a church, doesn’t mean it bears the image of Christ to the world, much less to its own members.
If you just attend a service on Sunday, you may not be aware of all the intrigue going on behind the scenes—of lies and betrayal, of tribunals to accuse those who simply ask questions of insubordination and rebellion, of insults, exclusions and lies that would make Machiavelli cringe in shame. Proclaiming themselves an oasis of love, they manipulate people in God’s name to great harm and destruction.
In what world would a congregation influenced by legalism and mocking other Christians who see the world differently call itself Grace Community? Or, how can a local pastor who has broken numerous laws and defrauded his people and community of money for his own gain, still be supported by a denomination that claims to be a reflection of Christ’s glory in the world?
Last year someone told me that they were in a contemporary fellowship and were handed a folder that included the order of service and announcements for the week, but in bold type across the top of the first page declared, “This is not a bulletin.” In what world can you deny the obvious and people believe you?
Religion, just like politics, is notorious for using language to hide what’s true. It is filled with double-talk and demands for unquestioned obedience because it isn’t what it claims to be. If you want to go on this journey you have to ask God to let you see things as they really are. Just because a group calls themselves a “church” doesn’t make them one. When the Pharisees claimed to be children of Abraham, Jesus corrected them. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires…. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. “
Let’s call things what they really are. What calls itself Grace Community might actually be a nightmare on the hill. And if it is, then run from it. Run as fast as you can. There is life beyond it.
The joy of this trip has come in meeting some incredible people who have escaped the orbit of such institutions to find a better journey in a growing relationship with the Father of affection. He is walking them through the pain and betrayals to see him more clearly and to love others more freely. We were warned after all that religious leaders would treat us the same way they treated him.
And Jesus still triumphs over them by leading us on a better journey and discovering that despite the failures of people, his church is still growing in the world.
Someone I reconnected with in Atlanta last week sent me a story that they had written. I loved it and I asked permission to share it with you. There is so much in this little story that desribes my own journey as well, how God won me away from the cabin to explore so many things with him. It's quite a process to get us to stop processing life with our own eyes, hopes, and biases and see the amazing adventure he wants to share with us. I hope it inspires you as well.
by Mike Spessard
I cannot remember how or when this journey began exactly, but as I look down into this valley with Him, it just seems like He has always been there with me. This valley is the most incredible place I’ve ever seen. Where is a camera when you need one? I have never seen anything so beautiful and inviting in my life. It is “the” time of day, my favorite. The light is incredible, but I’ve always loved the shadows of this time, long finger-like blues and grays stretching across the terrain like God’s own hands caressing His creation. The sun is slung low on the horizon so that its light casts warm hues of orange, red, and yellow, creating a longing in me, not a sad one mind you, but one of hope. It’s like a lingering remnant of a presence is here, and it’s telling me it’s coming back in full. Anyway, He seems to sense it too.
I’ve noticed the more I hung out with this guy, the more I am aware of our similarities. Neither of us says a word for a long time. I’m not sure how long, but there is no awkwardness. He seems to “get” this moment too. As a matter of fact, He seems to get it more than I do. I love this guy. Have you ever met someone that you just can’t be around enough? I love being us.
He turns and smiles. “Me too,” He says.
Did I just say that out loud? See, that’s what I mean about my friend; He just seems to know what I’m thinking. “Seriously though, did I say that out loud?” I ask.
Now He’s just flat out laughing. “You ready?” He asks.
“Dude, seriously, it’s last light, and you want to go explore this valley? We should really have ropes for this kind of descent. We have no idea how steep this gets at the bottom. Let’s come back in the morning so we can have the whole day?”
With His Cheshire cat smile, He begins descending into the valley. And while I protest, I notice that I too am beginning to get pulled on by this panorama that spreads before us.
“This is so stupid, dude,” I tell Him. This is not the first time I’ve let Him talk me into something I thought better of. But you know what’s strange? He has always been right. Every turn in the road, and new direction He suggests seems to speak life to both of us. But I’m not sure what brings Him the most life; the new adventures themselves, or me coming to life in them.
I think I should back up and share with you some more of this journey with my friend, so that you can better understand why I am following Him into this valley as night falls.
Like I said earlier, I don’t remember how this all began really. One day we just started walking. And we walked all the way to the state line and just kept awalkin’. And that’s all I have to say about that. He loves my Forrest Gump impersonation. Over the years we have seen a lot of different terrain. Sometimes the going is easy through grassy fields, rolling hills, or meandering streams, but other times we’ve ended up crossing what I would call a wasteland or dessert getting the crap kicked out of us by the sun.
“I can’t wait to get out of this place. We could die out here,” was my usual reaction.
“I know! Isn’t it a rush!” he’d say. I cannot tell you how annoying that became. Anyway, I did begin to appreciate all the different places we went even if I did think they were harsh initially.
You know, as I look back, I realize that in the beginning it seemed I was always leading. I don’t remember Him ever complaining, and there were many times, maybe even most, when we walked side by side, but I would always be the one suggesting a direction. “Sure, Mike, whatever you want,” was his standard answer. “Sure, Mike, whatever you want.” It became kind of a joke between us.
Once when we were walking through a field full of cows, I mockingly echoed Him as He said it. A second later I experienced the sensation of not nearly old enough cow pie impacting the back of my head. He was laughing so hard He could hardly stand up.
“That was so wrong!” I exclaimed. As I dropped my backpack to the ground, I bent to pick up my own fecal artillery and announced, “Game on!”
You may not be aware of this, but cow pies are amazingly similar in shape to Frisbees, and I did play quite a bit of ultimate in college. My first toss was a direct hit to the side of His face, knocking Him to the ground. He was so out of breath that He was unable to get to his feet before round two slammed into his kidney. This went on for entirely too long, and you can imagine how we ended up looking and smelling. As we caught our breath leaning on our knees, I noticed the producers of our ammo, some 200-300 cows all looking at us as if they where thinking, “People are so stupid.” We laughed until our bodies ached. Note to self: next time we decide to do something like this, make sure there is a body of water nearby.
It may seem strong to say this, but that memory is a treasure to me. We’ve had many experiences since then that fill my heart, not all of them joyous. Disagreements, fights, loneliness, and distrust have all seemed to find their way between us. Looking back, I see it was all my doing. Sometimes I thought we just needed some time apart. I never suggested this, but I’m sure of how He would have responded. “Sure, Mike, whatever you want.”
Sometime in the middle of our journey, we made our way through a spire of mountains. It was tough going. I mean steep! Toward the end of that day, we discovered a plateau that stretched between two ridges, and because I had begun to walk behind Him, something inside me said this must be our destination. This place was amazing. Once we got in the midst of the plateau, it got even better. There were tons of trees, flowers blanketing every direction, plenty of wildlife, and a lifetime of water to fly-fish. It felt perfect. We ended up staying between these two expanses of mountains for weeks. Everyday we explored more of it, and as it became more familiar, I became more comfortable.
As we ate dinner one night, I brought up the idea that this place would make a great home. “Look,” I told Him, “we have everything we need in this place. We could build a cabin from all the trees and have plenty to eat. We’d never have to ask for anything from people in our journey.”
He just smiled, but this time He didn’t say anything. He just smiled. I almost felt a sense of sadness in His reaction.
“How can you not want to stay?” I said. “We can make it here. I can plant crops. I can fish and hunt. This place has everything we need. On top of that, it’s beautiful.”
“It is that, Mike,” He said, “I’ll stay here if that’s what you want.” He paused as if He wanted to say more, but only added, “What do you want?”
“I’m tired. I want a place to call my own,” I answered.
He gave a disappointed nod, but His eyes didn’t condemn me.
“Look,” I said, “Let’s just hang here for a time. We can explore everything around here. Then we have this place to come back to every night.”
“Sure, Mike. Whatever you want.” There it was.
I started building a cabin the next day. The days were long, but they never seemed it. I would work from first light to last, save for a few hours to wet a fly line with Him. Even though He was out exploring, I finished in about a month. It was perfect, and I must say, I was pretty proud of it.
We settled in to the daily routine of chores and upkeep of the place, always leaving a little time for exploration and fun. I think He even started to enjoy staying there, although, on numerous occasions, I caught Him staring off into the horizon like He was looking for something. When I inquired as to what He saw, He just smiled and said, “Nothing. I was just admiring the view”. I wasn’t sure I believed that. There was a longing in the way He just stood there. What did He see out there?
Days grew into weeks. Weeks grew into years, and I sensed my friend was growing bored. He didn’t laugh as much, and he would go off for days at a time. He would always come back with descriptions of what He had seen and experienced. Something inside of me missed that journeying we experienced years ago. Sure there were a lot of unknowns, but there was an excitement and freedom in it.
“You have got to see this valley I found yesterday. It’s awesome,” He said.
“What’s wrong with this one? This place is still pretty incredible.”
“Oh yea. I know,” He answered. “But there is just so much out there Mike. So much that I want to show you.”
“Yea, it would be nice to see them, but I have so much I can do around here, and there always seems to be a lot of work to be done.” Oh no, I have turned into my dad. I was sure it would never happen. “You know what?” I said. “Tomorrow I want to see it. The valley, I mean.” His smile was one I had not seen in a long time.
Early the next morning, we set out. I’m not much of a morning person unless I am going hunting or fishing, but when I do get up early, it’s always amazing: the dew on the grass, the smells, and the birds just going nuts. The shadows are long, and the sun beckons, “Follow Me.”
It was good to be moving with Him again. I realized I missed being in places that weren’t familiar. There is a kind of discomfort about it. He seemed to thrive on it, my being uncomfortable, I mean.
It took most of the day to get to this place. I didn’t tire though; I guess it was the anticipation of seeing this place He had talked about so much. Getting there was brutal. He never did seem to find easy ways to get to places. He didn’t see the point in that. As I reflect on all our adventures, the most difficult ones were the most satisfying, not necessarily while we struggled through them, but when we would finish. We always seemed to finish well.
That brings me to where I began this story, the valley. You need to understand, He is great at underselling something. His description of this place did not do it justice. I think this was intentional. He wanted me to experience it when I wanted it. After many minutes of not speaking, just looking at this place, I turn to say something to Him. He isn’t even looking at the valley. He’s looking at me. He’s just enjoying me, enjoying this place. Why didn’t I come sooner?
“Why didn’t you tell me it was this incredible?” I say.
“Mike, … I did.” That was all He needed to say. Message received. I was so focused on my comfortable little cabin. I had missed out on being in places like this. I had forgotten what living looked like.
“Dude, I’m an idiot. I’m sorry.” I say.
“No worries,” He responds. “So how was today, Mike?”
I look down and take a moment to make sure I answer honestly. I notice that most of the skin on my knees is gone. Blood is running into my sock, which I’m pretty sure contains a leach I picked up at the last river crossing. I’m covered in scratches and bug bites, and I stink. My response: “It was awesome.”
He smiles and nods as He drops into this valley. Normally at this point, I begin to weigh the pros and cons. Not this time. I’m right behind Him. I don’t think we’re going to see the cabin for a long time.
Mike Spessard is the director of Grace Summit in Roswell, GA.