Life's Biggest Moments

Joel & Sheigh's Wedding - August 5, 2017, Burlington, KS

Joel & Sheigh's Wedding - August 5, 2017, Burlington, KS

They say that life moves really fast the older you get.  "Don't might miss it."  I don't know if I am that old yet, but I can say with certainty that when life shakes you and tells you to wake up because you're about to experience one of the biggest moments, you better pay attention.

That moment for me happened just a few days ago, on August 5th, 2017.  I was honored to preside over the wedding ceremony between my oldest son, Joel Ormord, and his beautiful bride, my daughter-in-law, Sheigh Carpenter Ormord.

It was an amazing weekend! From soup to nuts, we couldn't have asked for a better wedding celebration! (I can't believe I just used that saying, "from soup to nuts" - I guess I really am getting old.) Although it rained all morning on the day of the wedding, the rain miraculously slowed down and came to a halt just a couple hours before Go-Time. The reception was at a nearby lake, under a large open-air shelter area, which was decorated the night before by Sheigh's family and friends.  The level of love and care that went into making that space the perfect environment for a celebration was off the charts! It was awesome!

The night was a joyful culmination of many plans, prayers, conversations and collaborations. For me, it was all I could do to not lose it every time I saw Joel and Sheigh staring at each other with such deep love and commitment. Amazingly, I held it together during the wedding. Although, at the previous night's rehearsal, I was not so sure I would succeed. I had to tell Sheigh not to look at me during the ceremony because I knew that would be the trigger.  There was just something in my heart I couldn't contain. It was as if her eyes were revealing a love for my son that he has so desperately longed for his entire life. A love that says "I'm with you no matter what." I knew she could give that degree of love because she had received it, not only from her parents, or from Joel, but she has truly come to know the unrelenting love of God and has claimed her identity as God's beloved.

Now that, my friends, is worth raising your glass! A toast to the bride and groom!

Leading up to the wedding, I spend several days relaxing and processing the big moment, all the while trying to think of how I could authentically speak into Joel and Sheigh's wedding ceremony. This moment had to be special. I asked God to take me back to some other big moments - times in my life when everything changed - times when God helped me make more room for love.

So I put some thoughts on paper and shared them in the wedding. Here's what I wrote:

"It's hard to believe I’m standing here right now, looking at the two of you - witnessing your love and speaking into this holy moment. It’s hard not to be emotional, especially as I remember two other holy moments – times when I felt my whole world shift. The first was when you were born, Joel. You had to make as dramatic an entrance as possible. Of course, you don’t remember, but I remember your mom on the surgeon’s table, with Grandma Frost standing next to her. It was all happening so fast. I felt scared and helpless as I watched the doctors and nurses perform an emergency C-section in order to save your life. Your mom was struggling to breathe through all the anesthetics. I was trying to say something, anything, to help her. But again, I was completely helpless. The calmest person in the room was your Grandmother, who stoically and prophetically stated, and I quote, “Rebekah, nobody said this would be easy.”

Truer words were never spoken. The nurses handed you to me, and as I held you in my arms the struggle of your birth immediately gave way to a love I never dreamed possible. Nobody said this would be easy, but from that day forward, I have loved every minute of being your dad.

The other time I remember feeling a seismic shift was when I took you to your first day of Kindergarten. You were a very particular child. Everything had to be just right. Your belt was cinched so tight around your waist I thought you would lose all feeling in your legs. But that’s the way it had to be. As I stood at the door of the school that morning, watching you sit so innocently and cautiously at your desk, I felt as if I could see your whole life flash before my eyes, including this moment. Your grandmother’s words were still resonating in my soul, “Nobody said this would be easy.” It was hard for me to let you go, to entrust you to the influence of others, but I knew it was the right thing to do. So I did.

And now I get to do it again.

Life hasn’t been easy - not for you, Joel, not for Sheigh, not for any of us. No doubt about it, Grandma Frost took her lead from Jesus, who said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I’m thankful for so much right now, but at the top of the list, I’m so glad that before you decided to commit your lives to each other, you decided to follow Jesus. He is the one who overcame this present darkness, and through him you will also overcome!

Are you still reading this?

I don't share these words with you light-heartedly.  They were part a "sacred"moment shared between me, my son, my daughter-in-law, and approximately one-hundred people who all know and love them. Make of these words what you will.  But what I hope you pick up from our short time together is a recognition of your very own "belovedness."

Talk about life's biggest moments! Times are crazy right now.  I've never seen our nation divided quite to this extent before. We are dealing with threats of nuclear war, trying to make sense of white supremacists rallying in our nation's cities, and struggling to find the good in one another. Many feel isolated, alone, and confused, not sure who we can truly be ourselves around. So I'm making the plea - Come out of hiding; Learn how to be yourself; Receive God's love.

Nobody said this would be easy, but take heart, you are not alone. You don't have to go through it alone. You don't have to fear the unknown all by yourself. Even if you are dealing with some of the harshest and most painful realities of life's biggest moments, please know that God is with you. God hasn't abandoned you to your suffering. Even if God feels distant, look around you and notice those who are standing ready to come alongside and help you carry your burden.

Life's biggest moments come and go. Somehow we have to welcome these moments - good and bad - and let them have their way in us. Let them draw more love out of you even as you are allowing more love in. Let them bring you to a greater awareness of your true self, the one who God calls "beloved" simply because it is the real you!

Try this on for size:

"The true self is who, in reality, you are and who you are is your total self as you were created by God and as you are being redeemed in Christ. It is the image of God that you are - the unique face of God that has been set aside from eternity for you." (David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)

Do you see it? The image of God uniquely expressed in and through YOU. It's not anything you've earned. It's simply who you already are, and it's who you are increasing becoming as you learn to partner more and more with God in your everyday life. So step into this moment, right now, let some love in, and let it become one of life's biggest moments!

Grace and peace...

Life in the Desert

Daisy Mountain, just north of Anthem, Arizona, in full bloom!

Daisy Mountain, just north of Anthem, Arizona, in full bloom!

Anne Lamott once quipped, "I like the desert for short periods of time, from inside a car, with the windows rolled up, and the doors locked. I prefer beach resorts with room service."

I get where Anne's coming from. The desert heat is unbearable during the summer months, especially for people who are passing through. I remember when I first met my wife and she found out I was from the scorched desert of Arizona. Her immediate response was, "People actually live there?" Her childhood memory of the Sonoran desert consisted of a family summer vacation which led them through the desert sans air conditioning. A beach resort with room service is far superior!

If you're used to lush green landscape, you're gonna look right past the beauty of the desert. You're gonna see Beyond all that, there's a certain stigma to the desert. It's the whole "everything alive in the desert is trying to kill me" thing.

Just today I found myself saying, "It seems like God brought me to the desert to die." Then I was quickly reminded of two very important things.

What if I need to die?

For starters, I long to be like Jesus as described in Philippians 2. He emptied himself so that he could fulfill his mission. He gave it all up, even counted it all as loss, in order to set us free and bring us new life in Him. I want to live with the same humility, purpose and passion. So often, though, my attitude doesn't measure up. I find myself caught up in what other people think. I try to please others at the expense of pleasing God. I let circumstances determine my hope rather than trusting in God alone as the One my hope comes from.

"I stand silently to listen for the One I love, waiting as long as it takes for the Lord to rescue me. For God alone has become my Savior. He alone is my Safe Place; his wrap-around presence always protects me. For he is my Champion Defender; there's no risk of failure with God. So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?" (Psalm 62:1-2 The Passion Translation)

Did you catch the way the Psalmist, King David, chose to re-center his soul on God's salvation? Without God at the center of our lives, we are constantly susceptible to other forces telling us who we are and what we are supposed to do.  We lose our peace when we lose Christ as our vision. And all the things that should die in us as we become more like Christ return with a loud cry..."What about me?!"

So there is a sense in which I have been brought to the desert to die. While it is a painful experience, I can also see how it has been a good experience. Because in the silence and the darkness, in this harsh and isolating desert, I can see colors starting to appear. Transformation is happening. The desert is blooming.

Life begins again.

The Paschal Mystery is that Jesus Christ lived, died, was resurrected to new life, and ascended into Heaven. While we recognize this truth during the present season of Lent and Easter, we can also recognize the Paschal Mystery in our own lives.  In order for something to really live, it must first go through the process of death. The bleak mid-winter always gives way to the new life of spring and summer. Our hibernating spirits awaken once again to the warmth and the joy of a sunny day. We come alive again!

So what if we follow God's leading into the valley of the shadow of death? Don't we know that He is with us? The Passion Translation phrases Psalm 23:4 as follows:

"Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!"

If God has already conquered me, then fear cannot take me captive. Instead I am free to hope in my God who makes a way where there seems to be no way.  And so are you...

My prayer is that you will do what David said in Psalm 62 and allow your soul to rest. To be quiet and still as you wait on God. He will rescue you. He will not leave you in this place of desolation forever. Perhaps there is something in you that must die so that you can fully live and fully function in God's Kingdom as a beloved child.

May God restore you to life and cause your soul to bloom and blossom as never before! May you step into the wonder of God's love and salvation. May you discover your God-given calling and courageously give up the good in order to take hold of the great.

There is life in the desert!


Our Uber Experience

(I originally posted "Our Uber Experience" on 2/12/2016 on Wordpress.  I'm re-posting here so everyone can get an accurate picture of the way things have been progressing - to be more accurate - to get a sense of the slowness of progression over this past year. But it's all good! We are taking intentional steps forward with Restore Soul Care as God is opening some doors and giving us clarity of vision.  I can't wait to see how 2017's still an "uber" experience!)

For those of you who have been keeping track of our transition to Arizona, you know it’s been a bumpy ride. There have been a series of setbacks and surprises making our move all the more adventurous, to say the least.

I honestly haven’t had the heart to blog for the last few months. I kept thinking I would wait until I was through the “desert,” so to speak, but I realize I am living in the freakin’ desert now, so I might as well get on with it.

First of all, many of you are aware that we have filed papers for our very own non-profit ministry called “Restore Soul Care.” It is our dream to eventually run a retreat center where people can come to find healing, hope, rest and restoration for their weary and worn-out souls. We are taking little steps toward this dream and continually praying about the how, the when, and the where.

Second, I have taken a part-time ministry position as Worship Pastor at a church in Anthem, Arizona (in the foothills to the north of Phoenix) called The Crossroads Church. It’s been great to lead worship with a talented group of musicians amidst a really friendly and vibrant community of Christ-followers.

In addition, I am trying to earn extra money by driving for Uber, a ride-hailing company with a very large presence in Phoenix. I work lots of late nights, often leaving the house at 7 pm and returning to my nice, cozy bed around 4 am. Uber says they are “finding better ways for cities to move, work, and thrive.” After giving 268 rides in the last 2+ months, I can say that’s a pretty accurate description. There are a lot of people taking advantage of the low-cost option of Uber to get to various points around the city, especially when drinking is involved. I would imagine any city would thrive in the long-run when drunk drivers rely more and more on alternative means of transportation to get home from a fun night on the town.

Uber – “An outstanding or supreme example”

When I first started driving for Uber, I was really blown away at how many people I was meeting, people who would typically never darken the doorsteps of a church. I hear things in my car…boy, do I hear things…things I couldn’t repeat…things I wouldn’t repeat…things I shouldn’t repeat. That’s just the way it is. People get in and start talking with each other about the club they just left, the people they were hanging out with, the server, the bartender, the girl who got mad at the other girl for giving the guy her phone number, and on and on and on.

Sometimes they engage me in their conversations.  “Hey Uber, have you ever been to (insert name of strip club that I didn’t even know existed)?” “Hey Uber, how’s your night going? Any crazies get in your car tonight?” (Yeah, you.) “Hey Uber, is this your full-time job? What else do you do besides drive?” That last one is my favorite. Depending on the time of night and the level of intoxication, I will occasionally ask, “Do you really want to know?”

The Struggle Is Real

Not every one who gets into my car is intoxicated. I’ve picked up a woman going to her cancer treatment, a 17-year-old boy running away from his parent’s house late at night, dozens of college students all trying to figure out their future, a twenty-something single woman who just got her car stolen the night before, a hard working single mom whose Driver’s License was suspended, and a blind man who needed to get to the state assistance office.

So many different and difficult experiences. So many people who are struggling. Financially. Relationally. Emotionally. Physically. Vocationally. Spiritually. And this is just a tiny cross-section of the masses of people my God happens to love.

I will often pray the Jesus prayer as someone gets out of my car. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Sometimes I’ll put their name in as well, but mostly I will just say “me” because I realize I am right there in the ditch with them. I’m experiencing the messiness of life, too. And I take great comfort in knowing we aren’t alone. We follow a Savior, fully God and fully human, who entered into the pain and the messiness of our experience as the greatest act of love history has ever witnessed.

I used to lead worship for a church whose stated purpose was to win the man to Christ. It would stand to reason that if the man of the house started going to church, then the whole family would come as well. I was told not to sing phrases like “I am desperate for you” because men feel uncomfortable with that type of language of dependency and weakness.

Now I call B.S.

I witness the desperation of our existence every day. I witness people’s desperate attempts to fill a void, a longing for meaning, with everything but God. I witness desperate measures to forget, if only for the evening, the pain of failure and loneliness. I witness desperate people trying to do whatever they can to prolong their lives, impress their peers, express their freedoms, and escape the darkness that lies just beneath the surface of their awareness.

I’m trying to make sense of the shift in my own heart as I continually serve people who are broken, people who are hungry for hope, people who are thirsting for deeper relationships, people who are scared, people who take no delight in easy answers and smug certainty. It’s literally breaking my heart.

In Matthew 23:37, Jesus stood in the hills overlooking Jerusalem and lamented over the state of his people. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” I get a sense of what Jesus might have felt as I engage in this strange “Uber” experience. We sing “Break my heart for what breaks yours” as if it is possible for us to carry the weight of Jesus’ burden. It’s too much. It’s too heavy. None but Jesus could stand under the weight of humanity’s dilemma. None but Jesus could suffer the agony of rebellion and lostness and pain and struggle. Still, it is a sign of our own spiritual formation when compassion and empathy override our preoccupation with self.

Experience With Experience

Jesus’ mission was to bring God’s Kingdom rule and reign into reality, and he did just that. He promised abundant and eternal life. Yet, we live as if that is all a distant pipe-dream, a reality that we cannot enjoy until this earthly existence is over. THIS is the burden that I am learning to carry: the weight of broken dreams and promises unfulfilled, the sheer number of wounded and dis-integrated souls, the global longing for authentic and loving community, the hope of  wholeness and flourishing in our present experience, not just in the age to come.

Here’s what Philosopher and radical theologian, Peter Rollins, said about our uber experience in a recent podcast interview:

“Eternal life is not simply the continuation of this life into the next, because that would be terrible. Heaven would be millions of people screaming for annihilation. But eternal life is a transformation in the very way that we taste life, in the very way that we experience life.

“That’s how I interpret rebirth. You don’t experience your birth – your birth is what allows you to experience. I don’t experience my life – my life is what allows me to experience. In the same way, for me, religious experience is not the experience of something. You know, I’ve experienced 10 things and now I’ve experienced 11 things because I’ve had a religious experience. Religious experience is what transforms your experience of everything. It’s not so much that you feel it, it’s that you feel nothing in the same way…

“There is a depth and density to life. The sacred is not something that you love, it’s what you experience in the very act of love itself.” (The Liturgists Podcast, Episode 29)

My car becomes a sacred space whenever I turn on my Uber app and start picking up people who I don’t even know but I love them anyway. It’s as much an act of worship as anything I will say or sing on Sunday morning. And you can be sure of one thing, I’ll be singing “I’m desperate for you” with every breath that I breathe. I am desperate for God to transform my everyday existence as I truly pass through death into life, a life worth living…

…an uber experience for the ages.