Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fuel for life

"That's it, we're out."

The bad news came from Travis, the driver of the vehicle, and he delivered the news to his wife with a slightly disappointed voice, although he tried to maintain a carefree demeanor.

"We're not out," she replied. "There's always more in these old trucks, the gauge never tells you the truth. Try it again."

Travis tried it again. The engine coughed, sputtered, tried to come to life, but then didn't, and as it ground to a halt it ground the hopes of ever making it out of The Pit.

Funnily enough, Travis had created The Pit, back when he had too much time on his hands. He'd borrowed a backhoe from a friend, took it slow and steady at first, and then when that hadn't produced the results he'd wanted, he'd bought some dynamite and blasted a hole deeper than he'd intended, but it was a hole nonetheless, something he could be proud of. It all seemed like a great idea at the time.

Now that pit was a trap.

It wasn't just Travis and his wife in the truck, their three kids were with them. They'd stocked enough water and snacks, as well as more diapers than you can imagine, for the trip, but not enough to account for extra time.

Help wasn't on the way. Travis had spent many hours alienating friends while digging the hole, so no one would be coming around to check on them. Not hearing from Travis was more common than hearing from him.

Travis looked at his wife.

"I think that's it. It's just not going any further. I don't know what to do. I know we're close to being out, but it's still too steep for us to climb."

Then he finally admitted, "Also, I don't have any clue what to do when we get out."

His wife was slow to reply, but when she did it was with a smile.

"Hang on, let me check something," she said.

She hopped out of the truck—the truck he'd driven so recklessly—and went to the back, rummaged in the bed for a few moments, removed something, and then walked back to the cab.

Smiling that same, calm smile, she motioned to the item she'd pulled out of the bed of the truck.

It was a gas can.

"Where did you get that?" Travis asked.

"I don't know," she answered. "I just thought you might need it. You think it'll be enough to get us out of here?"

"We don't need much," he said. "So I bet it will. At any rate, it'll get us closer than we are now."

As Travis refueled the truck from the can, he thought about all the times he'd wondered whether God actually heard his cries, his pleas, his fervent whisperings in the night for a woman he could spend his life with, a woman who'd share his fears, his happiness, his life.

Looking up, he caught his wife's eyes in the rearview mirror. She winked.

He closed the gas cap, slapped the side of the old truck—the truck he knew he'd miss—and hopped in the driver's seat.

"Alright," he said, glancing at his wife. "Let's try to get out of this pit."




Monday, July 14, 2014

The Bike Ride.

"As I went down to the river to pray,
studying about that good old way.
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way." 


Today I went for a 10 to 15 mile bike ride through a Latvian forest. I'm not sure how long it actually was because several Latvians have given several different amounts of kilometers and the only conversion I know with kilometers is that a 5K equals three miles and I base literally all my conversions (including temperature and money) off that.

This is me pre-ride. They had to give me a short bike with chunky tires.
If I could go back in time I would tell pre-ride Travis several things that would probably make him not go on the trip, and miss views like this:


And this:


I would have missed seeing a forest floor covered in wild blueberries, I would have missed the fellowship that can come from commiseration, and I would have missed some spiritual wisdom from a Latvian brother and sister who refused to let me finish the ride alone. 

I would have also missed the pain I'm currently in, which is ridiculous. I don't want to gross anyone out here, and if you're a lady you might want to skip this part, but my taint is like a train wreck. The last time I was on a bike was about 16 years ago, and I can distinctly remember not being in as much pain down there as I am now. I know I weigh about 100 more pounds than I did then, but have we seriously not reached the point in our technological advances that where we have a bicycle seat that doesn't make it feel as though you've been split in two at your nethers? 

After riding for what seemed like two hours, we stopped at a halfway point which turned out not to be a halfway point and let everyone (me) catch up. When I got there the guide person said in English, "Anyone who thinks they can't go on, raise your hand." About half the group suddenly turned to look at me, while the translator asked the Latvians the same question, and then the other half of the crowd looked at me. 

I wrecked the bike. 

I was driving along, going at a cruising speed, i.e. making gravity work for me, when I hit a root from a cedar tree. My bike immediately stopped, and once again that stupid first law of motion came into effect and I didn't stop, and I slid over the front handlebars of my bike, then the bike started moving again and flipped over my shoulder, but I'm here to tell you I landed on my feet. I have a witness to that. 

I got my blistered backside right back in the saddle and I kept going. I griped about it, but I kept going. 

Lucas and Elizabeth, two of the church members here in Latvia, stayed right beside me as I struggled along, and never really let me quit. Through incredible patience and long-suffering, they allowed me to take tiny breaks, but they wouldn't let me quit. 

As we were pedaling down the "last two miles" which Lucas said every two miles after the halfway point, he looked at me and said, "There is opportunity for much spiritual wisdom here. This bike ride is like relationship with God. You must keep going. It's okay to complain, but you must keep going." 

Sometimes I wonder who is ministering to who on this trip. 

Lucas and Elizabeth, my heroes. 
The sweetest words I've ever heard anyone say are "We are here." We weren't really there at all, in fact I think we probably pedaled another mile after that. But it gave me a second (or third...or fourth) wind when I so desperately needed it, and I finished "strong." 

When we arrived at the campsite, I drank more water than any one person ever has a right to. I was pretty disappointed at the fact that I was stone cold last, especially after I bragged to everyone that I wasn't going to be last. 

Then the announcement came. Two of our group members were lost, and no one knew where they were. 

As people looked around worriedly, I said, "Oh, so I guess I wasn't last after all. That's cool." 

One of these days I'll learn how to not say things. 

The Latvians had gathered at an overlook on a river. 


They built a fire, and because there were men present, meats were roasted on a stick over the fire. 


There was no way I was going to be able to eat sausages after that endurance test they called a trail ride, so I helped myself to some watermelon and some pickles and I looked for places to sit down then tried to sit down and realized I may never sit down ever again. 

We all talked about the ride and prayed for our lost comrades and sure enough a few minutes later they showed up. I thanked both of them for obviously getting lost just so I wouldn't feel bad about finished last, and they looked at me in such a way that suggested they wished I was the one who'd gotten lost. 

Then, as I was trying to transfer my phone to Courtlyn (who is making me put her in this blog), it fell and the screen shattered, which is always the perfect way to cap off the evening. However, at least it still works, and I'm grateful for that, because without a way to communicate with my wife I might try to sneak home early. 

All in all, I walked (limped) away with a great story to tell. Because I did finish that ride. And on the way, I got to see some ridiculously amazing creation, and learn more about the God who put it there through broken English and dogged determination. 

Tomorrow we go to a couple of small villages to do the English and basketball camps. If I can get out of bed, I'm looking forward to it. 

"Shall we gather at the river? The beautiful, the beautiful, river. Gather with the saints at the river, that flows by the throne of God."



Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Story of a Fall: A Tragedy told in Six Pictures.


One of the facets of the mission trip we're on is teaching kids basketball skills. I'm not helping with that, and maybe after this blog you'll understand why.

As part of our visit, it was arranged for us to play a Latvian university team in a friendly game of international hoops. From what I understand, this can be a pretty important game to the Latvians because they enjoy beating the Americans in anything, and I mean, come on, who doesn't?

I somehow coerced my way onto the American team, which I might add was full of actual college basketball players. They aren't exactly 31-year-old ex-high school athletes with a protruding gut and an inability to make good physical decisions, in other words.

But I demanded my playing time, and then in what I can only describe as a coup, I got onto the starting rotation. To be fair, the kid whose spot I took is a Kentucky fan, and they don't really have souls, so it's okay.

I'm not going to lie to you folks, these Latvians were some big dudes. Three or four of them were at least 6'9", and they all had meat on their bones. Big, muscly meat.

And then the tip happened, and we start our journey into what has turned out to be one of the most disappointing ways I've ever represented our sweet, sweet land of liberty.

Frame One

What the viewer should observe here is honestly how good I look. The shirt fits well and is black, so it's slimming, and I basically look every bit the part of an American hero on the court. Traveling down the body we see Duke shorts, so I'm representing the only college team that matters. Further down we see muscular calf muscles, toned and taut from walking 758.9 miles a day on this mission trip. 

Further down is where the problem is. The shoes I'm wearing are low tops. Just out of this frame are a pair of basketball sneakers I brought and an ankle brace, neither of which I gave any thought to whilst plotting to be a starter. This will cause me a significant amount of embarrassment in about three seconds, because after the gentleman caught the ball, he shook me harder than an Oklahoma earthquake. 

I just want you to take every opportunity to see how good I look before you see this next picture. 

Frame Two

I know what this looks like. 

You're thinking, "Oh, Travis decided to do some push ups on the court to get good and loose for the next drive. Well, I hate to shatter any previous misconceptions you might have, but this is unfortunately what I look like when I've taken two quick backwards shuffle steps to stay in front of a giant Latvian, gotten turned around on accident, tripped, and am in mid-fall. 

I'd like to tell you all that this is as far as it got, that I was able to stop myself here, get back up, and make a good hustle play in the end. But unfortunately I can't. 

But I would like to say that as far as push up form goes, if I was doing a push up, that is absolutely perfect, spot on form. 

Frame Three


Right. We're at the bottom of the push up here, only it's not a push up. You know the air conditioner slogan "It's hard to stop a Trane?" Well, yeah. That applies to Travis too. You can see the cause for my condition, number 8, continuing to play as if I'm not in the middle of what will eventually earn the nickname of "Scorpioning," and my teammate with the midriff showing is desperately trying to pull down a board without stepping on my kidney. God bless him for that. 

Again, in still motion, this form looks incredible. Like I do nothing but push ups all day every day. The gentleman in the striped shirt is looking back wondering what happened, but you'll notice a complete lack of concern on his face. I'd think that in Latvia, a fat white man falling would cause a little more concern for the integrity of the playing surface, but obviously no. 

Now it gets bad. 

Frame Four

Go ahead. Finish laughing then come back. 

Done? Okay. 

Let me tell you something about a synthetic rubber basketball floor and friction. They are like fire and gasoline. In essence, I'm a 340 pound match. On a normal wooden basketball floor, you slide. Your jersey is soft, the floor is somewhat slick and smooth, and in a situation like this you glide towards the wall, get up, dust your self off, and no one thinks anything of it. That's the American way. 

But not this court. Not this country. 

Here, you hit the ground in a perfect push up and then when you expect to slide, you stop completely, and your legs, which are somewhat short and white and not hairy, start to rise up from the ground, all because some douche named Albert Einstein decided that something in motion should stay in motion, and then named it physics. So if there's really anyone to blame for this, it's this Latvian number 8 guy, Einstein, and physics. Also the floor. 

And sadly, it's not over. 

Frame Five

And here it is. The "Scorpion." 

My legs are completely over everything else I own, my chin is currently pulling rubber chips off the court, and I look like a giant seesaw. 

I can't exactly tell you what was going through my mind at this point, but I think it was probably the court. Some people have said it looked like I was doing my best worm dance. Again, notice the complete disregard by number 8 for having put me in this little incident and causing the old U.S. of A. a serious dip in jingoistic pride. 

I hurt so bad right now typing this up. It's been 20 hours and I feel like I've been in a car wreck followed by some really bad yoga positions. My knee has invented an entirely new term for swollen, and my back is tighter than the jean shorts Seth tried to wear on the first day. I'm hurt real bad guys. 

But. Here's a lesson for you young folks. Frame Six is about picking yourself back up. Frame Six is about dedication, heart, moxie, determination, grit, and the dogged American spirit. Frame Six is "We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!" Frame Six is the essence of never say quit. Frame Six is Rudy, Rocky, Hoosiers, and Michael Jordan in Space Jam when it looked like the monsters were going to enslave him at their little amusement park. 

Frame Six

That's what perseverance looks like. That's the American way all summed up in one glorious shot of a man's incredibly well developed backside. That's what you young people need to learn about, and I think I showed a lot of Latvians how resilient Americans are by hopping on the struggle bus called getting back on my feet. 

I'm sorry about the fall, America. But I'll never quit. And one day I'll reach the top. 



Here's a gif of the experience for those of you who'd like to see it. 



All photography credit once again goes to Nick Luttrull, who is brilliant behind a camera, but I think maybe could have passed up the opportunity to take this many pictures of my worst international basketball performance ever. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Kristofers.

It took me less than 15 minutes to find a Latvian best friend.

His name is Kristofers, he's 13, and he lives in a flat about a kilometer from the English Camp we're running here in Latvia. He's skinny, blond, has green eyes, and is one of the most polite teenagers I've met in my entire life.

Photo credit: Nick Luttrull
He speaks three languages; Latvian, English and a bit of German. He had the choice to study German or Russian in school, and he picked German because his siblings both studied it. Speaking of siblings, he has a 20-year-old brother and a 17-year-old sister. The family has a cat and a dog, but Kristofers likes the cat more.

I don't know what cemented the friendship more, his love of Game of Thrones (a bit graphic for a 13-year-old, right?), his love of Breaking Bad, or how after I called myself fat, he said, "You give yourself too hard of time, you are not fat, you are typical American, big-boned."

All he wanted to know was about America. He asked me how much money I made a year, and he asked me if I'd ever been to Disneyland. He asked me about my wife, my kids, and my pets. He said Big Pimpin' was adorable. He asked to see the pictures on my phone. He was in awe of the Christmas lights on my house.

He was my partner in all the games, and during craft time, and during the singing time, where we had to be shushed by the "adults" because we were talking too much.

He told me that he thought everyone in the U.S. had an iPad and iPhone, and how if you had one of those here, you were considered rich. He talked about McDonalds a lot. He likes KFC. He told me he's never tried a taco or nachos and didn't even know what they were, which was the saddest thing in the world to me.

During the song "Jesus Loves Me," as we were doing the hand motions, he looked at me and made the sign for Jesus, which is touching your fingers to the palm of each hand. As he made the sign, he said, "Why is this for Jesus?" Then before I could answer, he said, "Oh! Because he was crucified!" Then he looked at me and said, "Not everyone knows that sign, but lots of people know who Jesus is."

He was insanely jealous of my Flappy Bird score. He's read The Hunger Games and is on the last book. He claimed to have learned English from watching Cartoon Network. We discussed the killing of Oberyn Martell in great detail, grimacing over the disgusting parts. He tried to get me to tell him if The Mountain lives or dies, and I refused.

Photo credit: Nick Luttrull
He loves hockey, but from what I gather, he doesn't play much. He talked about a couple of Latvians winning a gold medal in the Olympics a few years back. He asked more questions about America than I can even remember, and asked if I missed my wife and kids. He was incredulous about the fact that I've been away from my family for four days, but also said he was happy we came back.

He laughed as I struggled to pronounce Latvian words. When we asked where we could find the best Latvian food at, he laughed and said, "My house." Then he walked us to a bistro, which was good, and cheap, which I need, because I'm running out of Euros in a hurry.

He got me with "high-five, down low, too slow," because I am too trusting of a person. His mom is an accountant. He couldn't explain what his dad does in English, but I got that he's the boss of something. I made the mistake of asking if they had microwaves in Latvia, and for that I earned his sarcasm: "No, we have nothing here, we're very undeveloped."

 His definition of a soul: "It's what makes you good or bad. It's what makes you who you are."

He showed me a Latvian tick, which apparently will kill you if it gets in your skin. He explained that you have to get a vaccination every year here in case one of them bites you. He kept asking if the weather was too cold, and I kept telling him it was glorious (it was about 65 degrees this morning).

We packed a lot of conversation and laughs into that three hours. He said he'll be back tomorrow, and he's going to come hang out at our basketball game tonight as well.

Here's the truth: I'm not good at jumping up on a street corner and telling the world about Jesus. I use this blog (occasionally) and I try to use my actions, but that doesn't always work. I don't know that I'll ever be an evangelist or a apologist that loudly and unabashedly shares Christ's love for me from the rooftops.

But I'm good at relationships. I'm good at making people laugh. I'm good at sharing my experiences with you so maybe you can use them as a guide to making your own experiences.

So today, I did what I'm good at. And the payoff is that I've got a Latvian best friend named Kristofers, who might come back to camp to see me, but who will ultimately walk away with a deeper understand of Jesus Christ, who lots of people know, and who took that thing that makes me who I am and turned it into something that's His, something that can help make a difference.

Photo credit: Nick Luttrull

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tallinn, Estonia

It's so quiet here. I think that's what strikes me the most unusually.

I'm laying in my room, and my roommate has music on in the background, and I'm still blown away by how quiet it is here.

Every once in a while when you're outside, you hear the thump thump thump of tires on cobblestones as a tiny diesel car rumbles past you going way too fast, and you better move because they aren't stopping.


No one yells. Anyone who approaches you on the street speaks quietly, and you do get approached on the street a lot because the restaurants here all seem to be competing for the almighty tourist foot traffic.

Everything here is so old, but not in a terrible way. As I walked the streets this morning with a group of friends, I wondered why America isn't more like this. Cobblestone streets, bright colors, impressive architecture are the norm in this part of the country. I'm sure there are poverty stricken areas like every where else.


The flight from Finland to Tallinn was one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced. The sun was setting (sort of) as we flew over the Baltic Sea, and it made me so grateful to a God who would place me in that place at that time.


I miss my wife. I don't miss the kids yet but I'm sure I will. My wife and I have a special way of making fun of people together, and I really miss that here. We can say more with a look than with words, and just crack up laughing.

Alicia look at this guy. Look at him. 
{During the course of this blog I FaceTimed my wife and youngest son and I started crying when I saw him smile at me so maybe I miss the kids just a tiny bit.}

I've spent WAY too much money on food. I just want to try all the new things I can.


I've determined there is one thing I hate more than terrorism and that's time zones. Time zones are the worst thing in the world, and I don't really care for your input on it. I'm sure there are perfectly logical reasons in place for them, but they're awful.

I climbed 258 stairs in a cramped stairwell full of angry Europeans to get to the top of church spire. The Europeans were angry because as I was going up, a lot of them were coming down, and I've got to be honest with you, at stair number 35, I was on the struggle bus. So basically every time they passed me, I'd hit them full in the face with a blast of hot air, and I ate a pretty ripe cheddar for breakfast and let's just be honest, it wasn't pretty.

Harry! I've reached the top!
My legs are complete jello, and I am wondering how I'm going to do anything at all tomorrow. I wish I could say the view was worth it, but in all honesty I'm petrified of heights and when we got to the  landing, it was fenced in, and the gap between fence and spire was about two feet. I myself am probably three feet wide, which was a terrifying situation. I put more pressure on that guard fence than Congress has put on Obama care.

The hotel we're in is...interesting.

The room I'm in has exposed brick, cedar planks and some sort of drywall texturing. The bathroom is pretty modern. There is no air conditioning whatsoever, but apparently you can leave your window open all day every day over here and no one steals anything. Since it's about 75 degrees tops, leaving the window open is the air conditioning.


I'm working to focus on the mission in the next couple of days. I'm going to Latvia to spread the gospel. My goal is to use words, but I also want to show them love, an unconditional love that Christ has shown me. This is not a vacation. This is Matthew 28:16-20. This is go ye therefore into all nations.

This is a mission.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pillow Kombat

I used to be a pretty puny kid.

In the sixth grade I'd already hit 5'6", and I weighed right around 95 pounds. I was a stick. It was not a healthy, cut up, lean physique, either. I was a measly little sixth grader who got tossed around like a rag doll by bullies.

Weaknesses aside, I did have a talent of sorts. I was really good at pillow fighting. Years of church camps and practicing moves on my younger brothers had given me a keen eye, fast reflexes, and a finishing move that rivaled anything the creators of Mortal Kombat could have dreamed up.

Flawless victory.
Seventh grade wasn't much better for me (some of you read my Twitter story about the first time I got slapped), but I did start putting on a little bit of weight.

As a seventh grader I wasn't supposed to go to Kiamichi (the church camp for third through sixth graders), but because my parents were sponsors, I had to go. They couldn't exactly leave me alone at the house for a week. 

Naturally, being one of the oldest kids there, I took charge of the dorm in much the same way the Aryan Brotherhood takes control of a prison, only I wasn't racist. I established my rule with violence, unfairness, and a general sort of all encompassing control. 

One of my first orders of business was to establish the first annual Kiamichi Invitational Pillow Fight Tournament. And, as the founder of the tournament, I gave myself the top seed. I would preside over the tournament like Shao Kahn, and I would fight the winner. 

I have to say, even though the tournament was immediately and forever banned from Kiamichi, it was the best pillow fight tournament ever fought on those hallowed grounds. Young men battled and fought their way to the top, leaving their battered victims muttering excuses to the adults like "Oh, I slipped and fell on a rock." 

The first rule of Pillow Fight Club is you don't talk about Pillow Fight Club y'all. 

And at last we had a winner, Tommy.*

Tommy was a scrapper, a measly sixth grade kid who may or may not have won his matches by incorporating biting into his pillow fights. All's fair in love and pillow fights though, am I right? 

So it had come down to this. 

A crowd gathered around like a playground fight, the better to shield what was taking place from the prying eyes of well-meaning but ultimately overbearing adults who would rid us of our fun if they caught us. 



It was a pillow fight for the ages. Tommy did try to bite, but I fended him off. I was spinning and ducking and dodging blows and teeth like a Shaolin monk, and I was pulling off some spectacular combo moves that left poor Tommy reeling.

Finally I did it. I landed a series of spinning roundhouse hits that put Tommy against the wall. After I was done he looked like this:

He was, to put it in the words of today's youth, "wobbled." 
So I moved in for my patented "finish him" move. Fatality style. 

Now, I've told you all of this to tell you another crucial part of the story. If you're desperate for the end bit, go ahead and skip this, but it won't make much sense without it. 

If any of you have ever been to church camp, you understand the importance of "packing light." I think what this actually means is to pack as little as you possibly can, but in reality how people take it is to cram as much stuff as you can into the least amount of space taking luggage. 

Being the industrious young man I was, I had taken the liberty of saving some space in my luggage by packing about four pairs of Wrangler jeans in another vessel. 

Yep. 

In my pillow case. 

To be completely honest, and I mean this guys, I swear, I had forgotten that I'd put the jeans in there. I really did. I would never have tried to win the Kiamichi Invitational with subversion and ill-begotten tactics, I was no biting Tommy after all. 

Alright, back to Tommy, poor, wobbled Tommy, up against the ropes, and me coming in for the fatality. 

I spun, ducked, and exploded up onto my toes, so I could bring every ounce of body weight I had into the blow. I brought the pillow up swiftly with a flick of the wrists (it's all in the wrists guys), and I made solid contact with Tommy's jaw. 

Since we were poor growing up, I had a rock hard pillow anyway. I also had a homemade pillow case that was stitched together by my mother and would have held 1,000 pounds without coming apart. Now if you add those things together plus the fact that I had four pairs of hard as a rock denim packed in there, you get a pretty staggering result when you force uppercut someone on the jaw with it. 

Fatality.
It wasn't that bad. 

But it did knock Tommy partly unconscious and wound up getting me into a world of trouble with a couple of sponsors who just happened to be my parents. 

And thus ended two things: my reign over the boys dorm at Kiamichi, and the Kiamichi Invitational Pillow Fight Tournament. 

* Tommy's name has been changed to protect his privacy mostly because I'm friends with him on Facebook. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Beautiful Destruction.

"It's beautiful isn't it?" 

"Well, yeah, I guess it is." 

"That's why they do it. They like to set the fire then stand back and watch it." 


***

I'm pretty lucky to have the job that I have. As a reporter, I get to see some pretty neat things. I also get to see the worst in people, which can sometimes be emotionally draining. About a month ago, I had the opportunity to see a little of both of those things, and it taught me a very valuable lesson about the things I've been struggling with in my life. 

The call came over the scanner close to dusk. 

"There's a grass fire, we have a structure in danger, here are the coordinates." 

I grabbed my notebook and my camera, and headed out the door. After circling the smoke for what seemed like forever, I finally found the fire. 

There were quite a few firefighters out, and since the fire had been set in numerous places, they were having difficulty getting enough people to extinguish the encroaching flames. 

After talking with someone in charge about the structure in danger, I sat back to keep an eye on things for a bit to make sure they didn't get any worse. I even took advantage of the setting sun to get a pretty good selfie.



About ten minutes into my fire watch, a local fire chief pulled up next to me and said, "Hey we have to go check out another fire, you want to ride with me?"

Guys.

He offered me a ride in a fire truck.

"YES SIR PLEASE LET ME GET MY CAMERA CAN I HAVE CHOCOLATE MILK BEFORE BED I'M JUST SO EXCITED CAN I PEE FIRST?"

I got to ride in a fire truck!

I sent my boss a text that explained what I was doing, and off we went, lights blazing.

Unfortunately, the trip didn't produce anything more exciting than a ride in a firetruck, and we drove back to the conflagration in progress just as the sun was giving its last few rays to illuminate the scene.

As darkness fell, the burning grass and smoldering trees took on a completely different hue. They weren't red, and they weren't orange. As the breeze shifted and picked up, it whistled through the destruction and turned things an entirely new color, one I'd never seen before, and one I have no name for.

The camera I had wasn't good enough to capture the moment, so I have no picture to offer. My only hope is that you've witnessed the color I'm talking about, because, well, it was. . .beautiful.

"Wow." 

"It's beautiful isn't it?" 

"Well, yeah, I guess it is." 

"That's why they do it. They like to set the fire then stand back and watch it." 

It all came together for me in that instant. The Lord showed me something very powerful. Those who are regular readers of this blog or who know me intimately in person know that I'm struggling with several things. I'm trying to make my marriage better, I'm trying eat healthier, and I have a multitude of other daily battles. 

I win some, and I lose some. 

In that moment of extreme beauty and destruction, it occurred to me that some of the things I deal with seem just as enticing when looked upon from a safe distance. They smolder as they are fanned by the wind of my struggle, and they have a bewitching quality, even as they are destroying my life. 

I think sin can appear appealing when viewed from a "safe" distance. So we do it. We set the fire and stand back to watch. But after a season of alluring annihilation, we're left with nothing but the charred remains of what was once something healthy and alive. 

Then I thought a moment longer, and realized that even in that burned desolation, new life was beginning to take place. Before the end of the summer, the pasture that was burned will start growing new grass, new trees, and new flowers. In a few years, all traces of the fire will more than likely be gone. 

The Lord does the same for us. He sweeps through the blistered remains of the fires we set and rescues us, forgives us, then begins to plant new life in us. That, to me, is grace. Grace greater than all my sin. Green, newly budding, and full of potential, even in the wake of my own calcine intentions. 

So if God can create new life in my self-destruction, what more can He create in fields I don't torch at all? How much more useful are the green areas in my life have than those blackened by insistent sin?

Why—to misuse a popular phrase—can't I just stay green? 

That is the question I've asked myself a lot the past few weeks, and it's something I've dedicated time to work on. Making my wife happier, making my kids stronger, and giving up things I once considered beautiful, but ultimately left me empty and cauterized. 

What fires are you setting in your life? What are the singed areas of intentional sin that you struggle with? Can you stop before you flick the match? I think you can, and I think I can too. Let's work on that this week. Let's all stay green and healthy, and let God work with unblemished grassland instead of salvaging the remains. 

Photo credit.