What I Learned from an Uber Driver

 

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While in England recently, I had a brief conversation with the Uber driver who was delivering us to our destination. When he found out that we were Americans on vacation in the UK, he asked where we had visited and what we had enjoyed most. I mentioned our hiking in the Lake District as a highlight for me, and his face brightened as he shared his similar enthusiasm for the outdoors.

I was bemoaning the fact that in LA where I live, there is very little greenery and natural beauty, at least in comparison to what we were experiencing in England. Living amidst the unending concrete jungle and dead brown desert of a Southern California metropolis makes a visit to the natural beauty of the English countryside very refreshing.

In response our Uber driver made a rather profound statement. He said that when we stop enjoying nature, we lose something of our personhood. I don’t think he was saying that from a Christian worldview, acknowledging nature as God’s creation that points us to His beauty and glory. But even so, I appreciated his implication that we as humans are made to encounter and enjoy beauty and nature; thus when we are not regularly immersed in the beauty of creation (whether due to busyness or to lack of interest), there is something of our personhood that shrivels and withers.img_2027.jpg

Now certainly each one of us is wired differently and distinctly by God, and not everyone enjoys being immersed in the beauty of the outdoors to the same degree as I do, so I cannot make this a universal prescription. But I do know that my own soul is refreshed greatly through the beauty and stillness and wildness of God’s creation; thus when I get caught up too long in the treadmill of busyness that keeps me tied to an office and laptop and long commutes, my soul begins to shrivel. But when I can set the busyness aside and step away from the city and enter into the beauty of all that God has created, there is a refreshment and life that enters my soul.

Hiking in the Lake District of England is amazing and wonderful, and if you have a chance to experience it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. But there is natural beauty and stillness to be found much closer to home as well…yes, even in LA! May you be reminded (as I was by my Uber driver) that God has made us to enjoy and learn from and be refreshed by the beauty of His created world—so we would be wise to take regular time for retreat, not merely to enjoy nature but to enjoy the Creator of that nature, that our souls may be expanded and refreshed in Him.

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Further Up and Further In!

In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis’s epic finale to The Chronicles of Narnia, the children find themselves not only in Narnia again, but finally in Aslan’s Country, where they have been longing to go. And as Aslan leads them on a merry chase to discover the riches of what will now and forevermore be theirs, he continually encourages them with the call of “Further up and further in!” They delightedly comply, and discover that they are running faster and faster–without getting winded or tired–and seeing further and further, until they are keeping pace with the eagle in the sky and swimming UP waterfalls and doing what would be impossible in their own world (but not in Aslan’s Country!).

For we who have not yet arrived where we are longing to go–to the country of our King–the call of “Further up and further in!” still rings in our ears and compels us to follow the One who has paid the Great Cost to make us His own. Yet as long as we remain in our own country, the way up and in is not easy, and we frequently encounter weariness and pain in the process. But if we are to keep following our King, at least one thing is clear: we must be convinced that what is ahead is worth the climb.

One of the highlights for me from my family’s recent trip to England was the time we spent in the Lake District. We did a few hikes, which involved some strenuous climbing up seemingly endless steps in the hillside, and as we struggled along, we had to keep reminding ourselves that the view from the top would be worth it. And sure enough, it most certainly was!

IMG_2043We were winded and our legs were sore, but the beauty of what we could see from those heights far eclipsed the struggle of getting there.

So now, as our vacation is behind us and we are entering back into the day-by-day weary climb of caring for the special needs of our daughter, the same truth applies: we must be convinced that what is ahead is worth the climb. She may never (in this life) gain the basic skills that we are trying to equip her with, and we may never (in this life) see the fruit of our sacrifice for her, but if God in His mercy allows her to somehow respond to His grace through our (very imperfect) attempts to love her, then one day it will all be worth it. And that is what we must remind ourselves of as we climb one more step, and then another.

IMG_2049May you as well, dear reader, if you are following Jesus, be reminded and convinced that what is ahead is worth your climb. So when you choose to love the child you’re fostering, without holding back in fear that she will one day be taken from your arms and returned to her birth mom, know that it is worth it–Further up and further in! And when you continue to love and sacrifice for an adopted daughter who rejects your love, know that your determination and tears are worth it–Further up and further in! When you’re facing illness or disease that does not have an answer, know that your battle to persevere is worth it–Further up and further in!

Whatever pain or struggle you face, the One who gave His life for you walks with you in the climb, and if you are His, one day the climb will end in a glorious view and you will praise the One who has carried you further up and further in!

 

C.S. Lewis: An Ordinary Chap

IMG_2014My family had the privilege of visiting Oxford, England, and seeing the home where C.S. Lewis spent the latter years of his life, called The Kilns. As we listened to some delightful stories of Lewis’ life, what stood out to me was his humility.

The tour guide at The Kilns mentioned that while most photographs of Lewis show him in a suit and tie, looking very distinguished, he actually preferred to wear baggy trousers and an old hat, because he didn’t want to stand out.

We visited the little country church where Lewis attended with his brother–it is small and unknown, except for the fact that C.S. Lewis attended there…just an ordinary parish church. In fact, we were told that Lewis would arrive late to church and leave early, to keep from calling attention to himself. It is at this same tiny parish church that Lewis is buried, with a simple gravestone off in the corner of the graveyard–not pretentious in the least.

Not only did Lewis write the famed Chronicles of Narnia as children’s books (in a time where writing children’s literature was not a prestigious thing for an Oxford professor to do), but he also wrote numerous personal letters to children who had questions about life or about the stories. Despite his great learning and commanding voice, he played well with children and enjoyed their company.

In these ways, and many more, the picture of Lewis that emerged as we listened to the stories about his life was that of an ordinary man, not looking to be a hero, but simply to be faithful with what he was given. And God in His mercy chose to use this ordinary chap very profoundly, in the lives of many people around the world, including my own rather ordinary life. I am thankful!

 

Savoring Weakness

How do you typically respond when what is expected (or required) of you is way beyond your capacity? How do you react when you feel worn out and weak, but life doesn’t let up? What do you do when you are at your wits end, but the problem isn’t going away?

Even when we come to God in our weakness and need (which, if we’re honest, we don’t always do–often we seek to handle it on our own), even then we usually ask God to remove the problem, to make us strong. We get discouraged over our weakness, thinking that if only we were stronger maybe this wouldn’t be happening. So what would it look like to actually savor the weakness rather than trying to overcome it?

Paul teaches that God’s way of exhibiting power is altogether different from man’s way. Man tries to overcome his weakness; God is satisfied to use weakness for his own special purposes. Too many Christians become disheartened over their infirmities, thinking that only if they were stronger in themselves they could accomplish more for God. But this point of view, despite its popularity, is altogether a fallacy. God’s means of working, rightly understood, is not by making us stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker until the divine power alone is clearly manifested.  [David Alan Black, “Paulus Infirmus: The Pauline Concept of Weakness,” Grace Theological Journal, 92.]

The Apostle Paul spoke of “rejoicing in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3), “boasting in our weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and even being “content with weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:10). How does that happen? For those of us who have been Christians for a long time, we may be able to say the right words–even force a smile–in the midst of suffering, but to actually be internally content in weakness seems impossible!

J.I. Packer writes of how this “way of weakness” produces perseverance and eventually character within us:

It works like this. Comes the pain and the grief and the sense that this is too much for us, it is swamping us, we can’t handle it. What does the Christian then do? The Christian looks to the Lord, praying, “Lord, give me strength, give me wisdom, give me resources to handle this”–and the Lord does. So Christians who thought that they could never cope with what the Puritans called the losses and crosses that come their way find that they have in fact got through the trials, by the strength that the Lord supplies. Then the memory of that experience gives confidence for the next round of pain and grief and distress. Sufferings produce perseverance as our confidence in God grows through experience after experience of his upholding grace. The sufferings, the pains, the griefs, the time spent in hard places, are so many experiences of testing; over and over we pass the tests through the strength that the Lord gives us, and the habit of doing that is character–tested character, approved character, strong character.  [Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 217-218.]

So if you find yourself overwhelmed and swamped, and your continual lament is “God, I can’t handle this!” then take heart–God is bringing you into weakness in order to make it abundantly obvious that His strength alone carries you. And as you walk–weakly, but with God–into that impossible situation, He will bring you through and grow your faith and form your character.