Sunday, June 24, 2012

How Lost Do You Want to Be?

Last year NPR featured a story about a couple who had been reported missing after having set out to make their way through Nevada from their home in British Columbia. Explicitly following the turn by turn directions provided by the new GPS in their car, they soon found themselves literally in the middle of nowhere – where the wife remained, stuck and undiscovered, for seven weeks. Her husband had attempted to walk out of their predicament and, sadly, has yet to be found.

The news report went on to investigate what officials report is a fairly common occurrence. Another example was of a man who followed the voice commands issued by his GPS into the middle of Death Valley where he finally gave up looking for the road that it instructed him to turn onto. Turns out the road did exist – but hadn’t been used for almost seventy five years. It had become unpassable in the meantime – but nobody told the GPS that.

Another couple, thinking to shave a few minutes off their drive to the in-laws for dinner, followed directions carefully – until they got stuck in deep snow, having turned onto a minor road that hadn’t seen a snowplow since the beginning of the winter. Apparently, their computer was unaware of the limitation of their car in deep snow.

Now clearly, owners of GPS systems are responsible to evaluate the directions given against real world conditions. The programmers of the system can’t be responsible for impassable roads, or roads that no longer exist, or conditions that change making obedience hazardous. But you’d think somebody would take the people who usually use the systems into account – and perhaps do some research on what actually constitutes a road! Even maps have to be tested before being relied on.

It is bad enough if we just limit the conversation to getting from one place to another. But when people do life by GPS, it is catastrophic. I think that is why God has provided us with neither a map nor a GPS system when it comes to living. Instead, we have a guide – who knows us, who knows the road, who knows the destination, who knows the way. Who will get us home in time for dinner.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Daze

Yesterday I was back home in Calgary to celebrate my Aunt Helen’s 90th birthday. She is my dad’s last remaining sibling – and her kids thought it a fine idea to build a family reunion around the day. It was wonderful to reconnect with cousins and the children of cousins! And to talk about people loved and missed. It brought to mind this, written a few years ago.

I can remember the last time I crawled up into my father's lap. We tried for a while to get comfortable, he and I. My head just wouldn't quite fit into that warm place formed between his shoulder and neck without pushing me off his lap and onto the couch. After a short while, it became a game until he looked at me with a smile and a tear and said, "You're too big!"

I can remember the last spanking I received. I had smarted off to my mother within hearing range of my father. We both knew what was coming and, before it began, regretted it. For the first time, my determination not to cry worked. I was not surprised to see my tears in his eyes as he sat beside me on the bed. "You're too big for this."

I can remember the last handshake as I left for college. We stood on the curb, having loaded my two suitcases into the trunk of a friend's car. I felt ready for the adventure. But not ready to say, "Good bye." Especially since he had just told me that he didn't want to hear from me for the next six weeks. No tears that time. At least not where the other could see. He didn't say it. But I heard it. "You're big now."

It was confirmed a few weeks later on my first visit home. He looked at me, over our highly symbolic cups of coffee, and told me he was done being my father and hoped we could become friends. But it would be up to me. I was, after all, grown up now.

I am only now beginning to understand what it cost him to say what he did. Life has moved more quickly that any of us thought possible and I find myself stuck in a father's daze. Stuck between a father who now lives only in memory and sons who live in hope. And, likely, with the same fear I had, but wouldn't show. They are, after all, big now.

The father's daze is equal parts wondering what else to say, confusion over these familiar strangers, pride at who they have become, fear at what the world might do to them, hope at what they might do for the world, and faith, knowing that God loves them more than I. So, only one word more. Seek God and His Kingdom first. Everything else will be fine. You're big now.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


A few Junes ago I was in Montana to perform a wedding. After the rehearsal, I had a few hours to myself and decided to take an early evening drive around Flathead Lake. Heading south from Kalispell, I turned east so that the setting sun shimmered off the surface the lake on my right. It was a stunningly beautiful evening – cool fresh air bringing the sounds and scents of early summer through open windows. The road was not too busy so an unusually leisurely pace left time for looking at majesty all around.

About half way down the lake, a fragrance filled the cab of my truck that, in an instant, took me back to my childhood. The heady, rich, lush, intoxicating smell of which nothing is like it in all the world. Slamming on the brakes and pulling over to the side of the road, I got out of the truck and followed my nose into someone’s back yard and there, sure enough, a lilac bush with a few delicate purple flowers – all that remained of the short season of bloom. But enough to compel me to stop. To pay attention.

We had a lilac bush at the northeast corner of the house I grew up in. Depending on the weather – always a factor in Calgary – it would produce a few hardy flowers or, occasionally, the bush would be so full of purple wonder that you had to look for the green. And the fragrance! You could smell that bush from the moment you got out of your car. It would draw you in with its delicate power and stay with you for years.

Southern California, at least the part of it where I live, is short on lilacs. It doesn’t get cold enough to set them, and the few varieties that take advantage of the ten minutes of winter we get each year have only a pale hint of the powerful aroma of their northern cousins. Perhaps it is the cold that produces such a powerful fragrance. Whatever it is, the drifting, fading smell of that Montana June drive took me back home in an instant.

Fragance has a way of doing that – taking us to places, reminding us of moments, inviting us to pause. Plumeria or tuberose has me in Kaua’i in a heartbeat. Nightblooming jasmine places me in the back yard of home. It all got me to thinking – what do the long cold winter seasons of life produce in me? Is it an aroma of resurrection life in Christ – a fragrant invitation to stop and wonder, to turn aside and see, to pause, reflect, remember?