20100727

My Friend the Coconut

I sit on the beach at Grand Bassam. In many ways, this is another turning point in my life. College is coming to a close. I have 17 hours left on my degree; I'm confident I know who I'm going to marry; I'm coming to grips with what is likely my last visit home. The final chapter in this season of life is beginning. So now again I ponder, just as I did in the last chapter of high school. What does the next season hold? How best should I proceed? These thoughts weigh on me during this time, and the ocean is the perfect counselor for these thoughts. Sometimes it sooths with soft splashes; sometimes it confronts with crashing crests; in all its ways, it proceeds in accordance with its Maker.

A worker, in his attempt to “clean” the beach, tossed a coconut towards the water. I watched it as it rolled down the steep Bassam beach. I wonder what it would ponder about its state of affairs if it could think. Traumatic enough must have been its tumble from its nest! No longer would it sway in the wind with its mother, or enjoy the cool shade of her branches. I doubt it would have enjoyed the change in its position. Its new home was the hot sand, sometimes like an oven in the sun, and sometimes simmering in the shade.

Maybe it was just beginning to adjust when the man tossed it. But regardless of what it wanted, it was now on a crash course with the waters of life. I watched it as it was confronted with its first, small, inbound wave. It must have been unlike anything it had experienced before. The cool water must certainly be different from the sun-baked sand. This new sensation carried the coconut back up the beach, only for both of them to roll back to the call of gravity when their momentum was exhausted.

Then what might have thus far been enjoyable turned turbulent. Now it was floating in the shallows, no longer connected to solid ground at all. Small crossing waves tossed it from side to side. Must not panic have seized the poor coconut? And so it was batted violently for a minute or two. Would this last forever?

Thankfully, that was not to be! A strong breaker careened onto the scene, casting the coconut headlong up the sloping sand. It ran aground high on the shore, and the receding water was not powerful enough to pull the coconut back to the sea. And so it found rest for at time above the swell. The waters lapped at its base occasionally, but the coconut remained beyond their reach. But just when the coconut began to feel confident and safe in its place, another powerful wave was ordained to remind it who was in charge. Dislodged, the coconut was escorted back into the ocean to be jostled about once more. Had it done anything wrong? No, this was simply the way of things.

As I have watched, this cycle has repeated itself again and again. Seasons of rest in the sands above the water were interspersed with seasons of tumultuous movement in the water. Sometimes it would land on the beach here, sometimes it would land on the beach there, all depending on where the waves carried the coconut. Sometimes I even lost sight of it as it moved hither and thither. But then I would look up from my writing and see my old friend resting not far from from where I sit. Of course it hasn't felt or thought any of these things. It is, after all, just a coconut. But I think that my friend the coconut has taught me something important about life today.

The ocean is a wonderful, beautiful, and terrible thing, as powerful as it is unpredictable. It can caress and comfort; it can empower and provide; it can tutor and teach; it most certainly cannot, however, be tamed or constrained to our will. It humbles itself before its Maker and Master alone. He holds the ocean in the palm of His hand, as He holds the coconut. So He holds life in the palm of His hand, as He holds me.

So Father, let come the battering seasons of change. Let come the refreshing seasons of rest. Only let me always remember from whom both come. Let me remember that I am but a coconut, awash in Your ocean of life.

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The Ocean's Throw

I sat on the sand, in the fading light.
The sun was sinking, setting on the right.
I stared at the ocean, so deep and blue,
The sky aglow, almost violet in hue. 

The crystal waves crashed and the ocean roared.
People were surfing on various boards.
Children were laughing, building sandcastles,
The tide, though, giving them quite a hassle.

Gradually, all departed the sea,
Leaving us alone, the ocean and me.
Problems abounded from my point of view.
At that moment, they were lost in the blue.

Problems indeed seem to become facades,
When one is caught in the glory of God!
Walking away, I learned what I now know:
Comfort can be found in the ocean’s throw.

20100722

Theology of Failure

The bitter sinking feeling in the soul was familiar. I had felt it before. There's nothing else in the world that can me feel so hollow. Fighting against the hot tears that were leaking into the wind as my motorcycle carried me home, I rehashed the conversation. Who had failed: was it God or me?

“I want a better future,” he had said. “I want us to be able to go back to the way things used to be.” A part of me agreed. The world is a lot simpler when you're kids. Right and wrong is more clearly stuck in your head. The decisions you make aren't a matter of life and death. You can make mistakes and they won't ruin you life. But we aren't kids anymore, and there's no going back. Now our decisions have begun to truly shape who we are and who we are becoming. Once brothers, now we were standing on opposite sides of the fence.

If life is a road, there are only two ways to go. Some might say: “there are many paths, but they all lead to the same place.” That's a lie. People who would say that are actually just all together with everyone else on the wide road that heads in one direction. The truth is, there are only two roads. Our problem was that we were on opposing roads. I explained this to him. “What road am I on?” he asked.

I could feel the familiar tug: the Holy Spirit was obviously at the wheel of this conversation.

So I told him the truth. Living for yourself will never make you happy. There's no magic trick, no secret formula to happiness. Thinking that God will give you everything you want if you cross all your t's and dot all your i's just right will only leave you miserable. Not even living for others will make you happy. Living for people always fails because people die, whether we're talking about us or others. Anything you do for you will be meaningless when you die; anything you do for what someone else will think will be meaningless when they die. The only life that has meaning is a life lived for God because God is eternal.

The holy talons of conviction were digging into him sharply. It was obvious both in his eyes and his body language. I know him well and could read him like a book, but it even would have been obvious to a complete stranger. The air was downright charged with the movement of the Holy Spirit. He said nothing, so I continued. I decided a long time ago that I was going to live for God, because that was the only thing that would give my life meaning. We can't find it for ourselves. God has to give it to us, and there's no way to earn it...

That's when it happened.

“Well, thanks for the visit, but it's late and you need to get home. Have a good trip back to the States. Tell everyone I said hello.” He stuck out his hand, but I felt like I had been stabbed. After a moment of stunned silence, I shook it. What else was there to say other than goodbye? So that's exactly what I did, then I drove away. I didn't look back; I couldn't look back. It hurt too much. For the second time in our relationship, I had confronted him with the truth and he had refused it.

Despite my best efforts to put it out of my mind, I'm still on the motorcycle, metaphorically speaking. So who failed, God or me? I don't believe it was me. After all, there's nothing I could ever say or do to save anyone; that's all in God's hands. And I'd gone into the situation with a lot of prayer put into it before hand, hoping that a door would be opened. It was, and I could feel God leading the way, so I followed to the best of my ability. I could second guess myself forever, but the fact is I did my best with the shot I had, and no amount of rehashing will grant me a do-over.

So what then? Does it mean that God failed? I refuse to believe that. If God could fail, he wouldn't be God. And if you want to believe that God wasn't and isn't interested in saving my former brother, you've got another thing coming. It was so obvious God was reaching out His hand as we talked. I could almost see it with my two eyes. There is no way that it was a failure on God's part.

No, God didn't fail my friend, and neither did I. It's not a question of who failed my friend. He made the choice, that's the real problem. He made the choice to close his ears. He made the choice to harden his heart. He made the choice to ignore the conviction that was battling for his soul, the choice to ignore the loving embrace of a brother. That's the theology of failure: individual choice. Sorry Calvin, grace is not irresistible. If it was, my brother would already be a saint twice over.

True, if there was no choice there could be no failure, but neither could there be love. You can't have your cake and eat it too: the ability to love goes hand in hand with the ability to reject that same love. He alone is responsible for his choices, not me, and not God. And someday he will answer for them. He might want to skip over the death and judgment part now, but they are both inescapable in the long run.

As it turns out, what he has decided not to know might just kill him. I just pray he'll decide to listen before the time of grace runs out. No one knows how long he has, but what I do know is that the clock is ticking, and no amount of cotton will keep the deafening tick-tock out of my spirit. The wonderful thing about choice is that sometimes we change our minds; maybe someday he'll change his mind and decide to listen. But until he does, my former brother will be the poster-boy for the theology of failure.

20100715

Prayer for the Wayward

It's rare that I actually pick up a pen to write, but it still happens from time to time. Last night there was a burden in my spirit and I couldn't sleep. So, I picked up my journal and wrote the following raw and unedited text, which is dedicated to all my wayward friends...

Oh brother, what is it that drives you to live like this? Why have you chosen this path? The narcotic is a bitter mistress; whatever drove you to her to begin with? I see it in your eyes; you know things have to change. You want it desperately. You know you need it. And yet you refuse it anyway. You will scour the countryside, turn over every rock, peer in every hole, searching for anything but the solution that is right in your face. The truth may not be easy, but it is straightforward. You cannot pretend he is your savior if you refuse to let him be your sovereign. It's all or nothing, so give him all, or you will be left with nothing. This is your solution; this is the solution. It is the only way to find what your heart seeks.

Oh sister, what is it that drives you to live like this? Why have you chosen this path? The embrace of your many "lovers" has left you nothing but hollow emptiness; why do you seek yet another? The love you desperately long for will never be found in any man, save one. But this is the very one that you ignore. You will go to every party, chase every relationship, share every bed, listening to any voice except the one that is calling your name. The truth may not be tangible, but it is trustworthy. You can't pretend he has your life if he doesn't have your love. It's all or nothing, so find your love in him, or never find it at all. This is your solution; this is the solution. It is the only way to find what your heart seeks.

Oh God, what drives me to live like this? Why do I walk this path? I so often know what your will is, but am too cowardly to carry it out. My spirit urges me to move, but I stand in place instead. I will speak on every subject, pursue every pointless distraction, take on every tedious task, do anything instead of confront those I care about. The truth may not be all-popular, but it is all-powerful. I cannot pretend to be a friend if I will not reach for those who are falling. It's all or nothing, so break my heart over all wayward souls, or I will grieve over nothing. You are my solution; You are the solution. Use me God to show the way to what all hearts seek.