Monday, July 13, 2009


I wish you could see my basement today. It’s not a pretty sight right now. I have two college-aged kids living at home this summer. And you know what that means? Basements are to college students what landfills are to citizens. Basements make superb dumping grounds!

Truth be told, I am by no means innocent in all this. I’ve made a few trips myself to my lower-level landfill. At last count I just deposited 35 boxes of books in my basement. And each time I haul another box downstairs, I silently rationalize, “books are safe for the basement environment.” Let’s hear it: kudos for the king of clutter.

I have a sizeable task in front of me. How will I arrange all those books downstairs? Where will I put them all? We are in the process of moving my office downstairs next to my ecologically friendly landfill. Feel free to join me if you wish. But for that to happen I will need to make space.

I was pondering this thought today: in a similar kind of way, my basement is a lot like my soul. Souls, like basements become depositories. Sometimes the things I deposit in my soul nurture, inspire and sustain me. The people I meet, the books I read, the sermons I hear, the service I offer all do this. At other times, I store away toxins or hazardous materials like harbored grudges, relational bitterness or unforgiveness. These pollute my soul and threaten to bring about great damage internally.

Today, I read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5ff:

Here’s what I want you to do: find a quiet place, a secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace.

I long to experience God’s presence and grace more regularly. Do you? I know intellectually that God is present everywhere, but why don’t I seem to experience His presence more palpably in my day-to-day experience? Could it be that like my basement, there is too much clutter in my soul? Those who experience God’s presence and grace as a rhythm are those who practice what Jesus commends—a “quiet place.” Solitude like few other things creates space for God in my life. And in order to create space I may need to move some things around—even well meaning and legitimate things. Maybe I need to reevaluate my leisure pursuits or draw boundaries on time spent with friends or make adjustments in my daily schedule to include time alone with God or maybe even limit the time I devote to Christian causes or activities. Or during times of solitude God may whisper His affirmation and delight. Sometimes He will detect a destructive soul toxin and commence a program to "detoxify." When I de-clutter my soul, I allow for the possibility of my own personalized and direct experience with the living God. There is nothing standing in between.

Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms states: “…solitude is a place inside myself where God’s Spirit and my spirit dwell together in union. The place within me is private and reserved for intimacies that God and I share. What happens between the two of us in that place is not meant for public consumption. It is a place where I can give myself with abandon to the Lover of my soul, knowing that I am completely safe from anyone else’s curious gaze or judgmental glance.”

That’s enough for today. Now I’m off to basement to de-clutter my landfill.

S t r e t c h e d

Friday, July 10, 2009


Several years ago while visiting my 86-year old mother in South Carolina, I met an inspiring 93-year old man named Charlie. Terry and I enjoyed a delightful dinner with him and my mother one evening, during which he described how he was about to embark on a one-week sailing expedition across the North Atlantic with one of his sons. And this trip was only one of the many trips he had planned during the decade of his nineties.

I love people like Charlie. None would ever accuse him of not being spry. I was thinking about Charlie recently when I read of another older man—an octogenarian named Caleb. At a time when most people his age were showing signs of slowing down and wishing for easy tasks, Caleb asks for a hard one. Joshua, his close friend and admirer granted his request and Caleb set out at once to drive a difficult people called the Anakim from the land. You can read about his inspiring story in Joshua 14-15.

What prompts people like Charlie and Caleb to tackle tasks like these in their twilight years? I long for this kind of faithful courage even as I get older. For a long time I believed that courage was the absence of fear. But what I’m learning is that courage is not the absence of fear—courage is acting and carrying on in spite of my fears. This means that oftentimes I will need to act brave, even if I don’t feel brave because most people don’t know the difference. If I’m not scared or fearful about what I’m doing, chances are pretty good that the hill I’m trying to take is not big enough.

"Courage is fear that has said its prayers." Anne Lamott

Maybe one of the reasons why the Bible tells us to encourage each other so much is because we give in so much to UN-couragement or fear. What I lack most times is courage. When I en-COURAGE others or when I am en-COURAGED by others, I find His strength to sail an ocean, serve the poor, share my faith or stand my ground.

Now let’s go take the hill.

S t r e t c h e d