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June 26, 2011

This may be a long one.

One of my favorite authors is a guy named Donald Miller.  His books are so honest.  I think I, and my whole generation really, have always hungered for authenticity more than most.  He’s a Christian author who seems to just jump back and forth across tradition and superstition, as if they’re tools to help us understand ourselves, rather than boundaries we have to respect.

He visited my church recently.  Up to that point I had only read his words on a page but he’s pretty much the same in person.  Hearing him say certain things among stuffy church people is endlessly amusing.

The message was about the role of fathers.  It boiled down to the importance of making a plan and having a vision for one’s family.  I liked it because after several years of aimlessness I do have a plan.  Not a father’s plan, but maybe the kind of plan a father might have a long time before he becomes a father.

He wanted to make clear that God gives a man the power to create order from chaos.  I like that too.  Nothing else in the world has that power.  God said to ‘fill the earth and subdue it.’  It may not be the best metaphor, but when I read that I always think of my sister’s dogs.  Some people are so against the domestication of dogs, but when I visit my sister’s dogs it becomes clear that their natural state is not in the wild somewhere, traveling in a pack, but in a loving home where they sleep on the couch 16 hours a day and get their food out of a bowl.  That is what they were created for; they were meant to belong to her.

There are some things we can never tame, and that’s awesome, but there are a lot of things we can.  For the sake of people in need, people that feel like giving up, we have to use that power to create order and safety.  I like doing that.  I like being the calming force; the one who gets to help people when people are in trouble.

Not that we should take any credit for that; I think that’s just the way it’s meant to be.  And it’s a good way to be.

It’s strange then, that I catch myself worrying about my own situation but I’m so confident about helping people with theirs.  It’s funny really.

My preacher always likes to say that God’s ultimate goal for us is character development.  When I first heard that I was angry at him.  All the pain and violence and poverty in the world, and you’re telling me God’s goal is to cause me to be mature?  Ridiculous.

But when a friend calls me in the middle of the night about to hang himself, or when we’ve just been in a car wreck and we are watching the fire department saw off the door to get my mother out of the passenger seat, and my sister is standing there sobbing, I’m sure glad God made me the right person at the right time.  Can’t call it coincidence.

Things like that put our experiences in a different light.  When something bad happens, when a person of faith experiences bitter disappointment or tragedy or heartbreak, there always comes a point where they realize, “This is happening, and God is perfectly fine with it.”  And that’s true.

Donald Miller talked about this too.  The example he used was of a personal experience he had involving a child that asks for chicken nuggets for dinner, and the dad has to say, no we don’t have that, maybe another day.  And the kid, after more and more urgent requests, flips out and starts crying and screaming “How could you do this to me?!”  Not to trivialize people’s disappointment and heartbreak–it was definitely real to the child, she was definitely feeling that pain, and she was having to reconcile, just as we do, the fact that the benevolent master of her life is OK with the pain she is feeling, and he’s not going to fix it right now, that in this case, his plan is different than hers.

And there’s really only two ways to reconcile that–first is to convince oneself that God doesn’t actually exist or that everyone on earth is wrong about him.  This takes a bit of doing.    When a person’s life has been devoted to something and now they want it gone, the only way to accomplish that is isolation from that thing.  A person will withdraw and do a complete 180 and be afraid to even look back.

The other way to deal with it, which I am gonna go out on a limb and call the good way, requires a lot of help.  Going back to the little three year old, I imagine she didn’t run away and join the circus, so she didn’t get her chicken nuggets and maybe it was a few days or weeks or months before she understood why, or maybe she never did, but I bet she still loves her dad.  And that is probably because 1) she still had to depend on him, and she remembered all the other good things he had done for her, and 2) she saw the way other people interacted with him, as if everything was all right and he was still a good man, even though in that moment she was so disappointed in him.

And that leads me to one of my favorite Donald Miller maxims: “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.”

I don’t think God comes down in a big shining light and yells at us.  It’s more his style to place people in our lives that seem to be right where we are.

That gets to the heart of the matter too.  Being here right now was definitely not part of the plan.  But if I had been exactly where I wanted to be, surrounded myself with exactly who I wanted, I would have missed out pretty bad.  I wouldn’t call it fate; fate seems impersonal, and this was intentional.  Call it cheesy but it feels like a love letter from my creator.  Like he said, I know you need a roommate who is going through the same things as you, so here you go.  I know you need a role model, so here you go.  I know you need a new job, so here you go.  And that job is going to be tough sometimes, so I’m giving you lots of support, and a new lifelong friend to lean on, different than any other.

People never believe Christians when we say that God absolutely loves to give us our heart’s desire.  But all that stuff I just described, it happened to me.  You can’t plan stuff like that.  Sometimes all you can do is be in awe.  Certainly gives me hope for the future.

I am rambling.  And it looks like I have to actually do some work.  Till next time!

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