Thin Places

Thin places are amazing places.  Like an early morning mist, they are elusive and often change location in a moment.  They are well camouflaged, so much so in fact that most people run right past them never even knowing they are there.  Worse still, they often run right through the middle of them, busy, hurried, and oblivious. Like rushing across so much gold in the sand beneath our feet. Such loss.

Thin places, in Celtic lore, are those places where exists only a thin separation between heaven and earth.  A place where we can be in the earthly realm and in heaven all at the same time.  A thin place is where the holiness of the Eternal can be seen, felt, and experienced on this side of the veil that separates mortal from immortal.

Some thin places seem to stay in the same place. They don’t always move around, though it seems that mostly they do.  I have experienced a thin place, close in perception of the Presence of God while standing on familiar ground.  I know I am in a thin place every time at Dinosaur National Monument.  Each time I go I feel heaven so close. Strange, so many of the scientists who study ancient species believe their findings separate man from God.  When I am there I feel even closer.  God. Creator. Savior.  He first thought about dinosaurs and they did not fall apart from His knowledge. He thinks about me too.  Nothing that happens to me is apart from him.  Such care.  I sense creation in the presence of the ancient.

There is a thin place in the mountains where I live.  Often times I find it hovering over the town. Even more I find it hovering over our home just outside of town.  When I cannot find it there I can usually find it in the lonesome trails that are minutes from my front door. It is strong when I am alone.  Stronger still when I share it with others, but that kind is even more rare.  Finding two humans in the same heart at the same moment doesn’t happen often..

Thin places are healing, warm, and restorative places to be.  You can only experience them by first finding them.  You can stumble across them accidental, but will notice only once your senses are tuned to find them.  Loving God and loving folks is the best antennae for tuning into the presence of a thin place.  It makes them stand out more. They are more common than you think.  You just have to look for them, feel for them, and long for them. The best way to increase your odds of finding thin places it to linger longer than necessary once you have found one.  Get to know it.  Get accustomed to it.  Allow your pallet to be changed to long for its taste.  Perceive it, sense it, explore it.

Thin places are miraculous.  The downside is that when miracle becomes the rule then law becomes the exception.  That is why we cannot stay in a thin place, or if we do the thin place seems to move on away from us.  Thin places are special places.  They are places where we love to be.  I think that God loves to meet us there.  A lot like He did with Adam in Eden.

Thin places can go away in an instance.  A clumsy disregard for what is holy, an attempt to explain or somehow invite yourself to partner with it, and poof, there it goes.  Jesus invited three of his disciples to join him in a thin place.  Moses and Elijah came down to meet them.  Peter opened his mouth.  First mistake in a thin place.  Don’t pollute the air with what you have to say.  He tried to get involved, adding man efforts to a God event.  Second mistake.  Then it was over. Vanished and gone.  I wonder how long it could have lasted if he had just been.  I wonder if Jesus was disappointed.

You cannot make a thin place.  It simply is.  It is there.  It is just beyond the common.  It is waiting for you to take the time and to dream the dream of finding and letting it wash over you like a shower.  A baptism of closeness to the One who created  you, me, and the thin places too.

Bread Crumbs, Cookie Crumbs

When I wrote about our Jurassic Journey, I talked about following the crumbs.  Following the crumbs is the way my wife and I describe how we go through life.  We believe that the Holy Spirit leaves little trails of cookie crumbs for us to follow.  We enjoy the taste along the way and find some pretty neat places in the process.

We felt we were on a different crumb trail than the one that we had been on for quite a while.  Who knows, perhaps it was the same trail, just a different type of cookie.  We felt it when we began to plan for our first real breaking away, a vacation from our home network and our two businesses.  At first we thought we were going to look at an old motel we could have possibly purchased in the desert.  On the way there it didn’t feel like it, but it did before and it got us moving and solidified our resolve to explore.

We went along the trip, looking for those thin places where you could actually be in heaven and on earth at the same time.  We found a few and we found clarity in the lack of definition.  We were on a journey, not a trip.  A trip has a starting point, an apex point, and a return.  A journey leads you wherever, and the point is not in the points but in the serendipity of the path.  We didn’t get the motel.

If you have followed along on Facebook you will know that the last few months have been, interesting.

Usually I have visions.  They aren’t all inspired.  In fact most of them are not.  I like seeing them and running them to ground.  Often they are more ghost like, or like a mirage in the desert.  I am energized by them, nonetheless.

In our recent case, the reality is unfolding long before the vision.  Oh, my brain keeps trying to catch up.  Usually it is the other way around.  First you see the vision then you shape the reality.  Oh no! That would be too normal.  Right now it seems that we are seeing the reality and it is shaping the vision.  The reality is changing, and I mean changing really quickly.  The vision thing is just catching up.

I don’t really know what was going through the minds of the early Christ Followers.  You know, Jesus said all that stuff about going in all the world and to share this good news of God’s kingdom, then with a puff of smoke they saw him head up into the clouds.  Dramatic. What did they do?  They stayed in Jerusalem and shared the good news of God’s kingdom.  Half right.

When things got really tough in Jerusalem and the church was being persecuted, I kind of doubt they thought of that as a commissioning service. You know, the cool church thing where we pray for our missionaries and send them off with our blessings.  I think that reality happened.  It happened quick and the vision of the missionary call sort of caught up  with them along the way.

Long story, short version, within a few short weeks we visited a community in another part of the state, felt that we were supposed to become a part of that community, got financed for a house in that community and began packing.  Actually it only took 3 weeks.  In the mean time we are living, doing, and going about what we have been for almost a decade.

We carry with us some cool good news.  It is that the Kingdom of God is here!  Jesus grants us access to a great way of living, heavenly, you might say.  We also carry with us some stuff that we have learned about how we as a family do that best.  We do it best through hospitality, love, and acceptance.  How simple is that?

Our mission, in our current community or the one that we are moving to, is to create sustainable rhythms of hospitality that reflect the same love, acceptance and forgiveness that Christ offers us.  I’ve been trying this for a few years.  I have failed at it more times than I can count, but I am doing better.

I live my life out open.  If you happen to come close you will get to see me in all my un-glory.  I get some of it right, some of it not so much, but it is out there.  I put it out there because I am trying to be real.  I was good at a contrived version of who I thought I should be.  Too good, actually.  I don’t want to be anything other than what I am, each version an improvement on the last.

If you are interested, I would love for you to follow along.  If you aren’t, you can always follow along anyway just to do a guy a solid.  The more people who follow the better my blog looks and the more people who will follow.  OK, so that may be too much to ask.  Well, at least pray for me, ok?  I need the blessing and we all need the practice.

Finding the Dinosaurs

It was an epic journey, in so many different ways.

When we finally escaped the gravitational pull that had kept us in orbit around our business for 8 years straight, we headed due east.  We pulled out of the driveway at 8 AM and I was so enraptured by the escape that I drove through the night while my family slept.

The sun came up over Idaho.  We stopped for a while to buy a pillow and seek out the mandatory Starbucks, then headed out with Utah in our sights.  We stopped in Ogden for lunch an

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d saw a sign, “Dinosaur Park”. Well, we came to Utah to see dinosaurs. Not these, but some others. Since there was a sign and since we were already stopped, why not?

The Dinosaur Park in Ogden is on a winding drive up an attractive desert canyon.  While it was wasn’t exactly what we expected, it was pretty awesome.  Inside the building were exhibits and castings of fossils.  There were mineral and rock displays as well as animatronics.

Outside was a grassy, well treed park with life size replicas of the most well known dinosaur species.  We even fed Jurassic sized rainbow trout in the stream that led through the park.

That night, after checking into one hotel and promptly checking out (with some stressful moments in between) we ended up in Salt Lake City. We swam in the chilly indoor pool and I slept for the first time in 38 hours.

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel.  It was somewhat difficult to find food that Angie and I could eat, as we are committed to eating on the ketogenic plan.  I will write more about that in another blog.

We left Salt Lake and headed toward Vernal Utah and Dinosaur National Monument.  DNM is a location I had visited as a little boy and as a grown man. When I visited about 25 years ago it seemed like the first time I saw it as a wide eyed 7 year old.  I wanted to see if it held the same magic 51 years later and to see if my two youngest, 8 and 3, would feel like I did.  I was also very interested in seeing if my lovely bride, an avowed enemy of the desert heat, would enjoy it as well.

We headed into the mountains past Park City and the Olympic village.  I remember when I used to drive truck over that road and all that we there were a few fences and a scattered cow or two.  It was so impressive we had to stop and find some espresso there as well.

We got to Vernal in the early afternoon.  It was hot, but not desert hot.  Even the lovely Angie of The North seemed OK in the dry 86 degree heat.  I was surprised at the town.  Vernal was far larger than I remembered it to be, but it seemed that half of it was abandoned.  Being on a road that really leads nowhere of much importance to the masses, it was like many other towns we were to pass through and at the mercy and whim of a fickle energy industry.

When we got to the Monument it took my breath away.  Not just the magnitude of what it is, but that I saw my family stare in amazement at the stone cliff, littered with hundreds of dinosaur bones, fossilized and immortalized in stone for us to see.  Even Kian, only three years old, seemed to be transfixed in looking at the display before him.  Perhaps he didn’t fully understand what he was seeing, but it was like entering a massive cathedral for the first time.  The feeling that it is so much bigger than just its size is overwhelming as well as uplifting.

The visitor center, the building that protects visitors from the elements (as well as the bones, I imagine) had been rebuilt since I had last visited.  The new design allowed visitors to actually step up to the wall and lay hands upon the real fossilized remains of an animal that had died there 145 million years earlier.

Never, until this moment, had I ever experienced a first time feeling on second visit.  This was actually my 6th visit and each time, especially this last one, was as good or better than the first.

We spent the evening splashing in the pool at the hotel in Vernal.  We had dinner, a great steak and salad, in town and spent the night full of what we had experienced.  I am taking my kids back.  I  hope that they do the same.

The next day we drove into Colorado and over Douglas Pass.  Just outside of Rangely we saw a badger.  I never saw one outside of a zoo so we turned around and came back to see him again.  He looked a bit annoyed at that, bared his teeth, and took off into the bush at high speed.

We stopped at a lone Douglas fir, all adorned with Christmas ornaments, near the summit. We gathered some rocks for painting back home (see yondesea rocks on Facebook) and headed to Fruita Colorado.

9 years earlier, Angie and I had passed by the Dinosaur Museum in Fruita and had opted not to stop.  This time we took the boys and had a great time inside.  Most of the exhibits were cast, but inside you could see an actual lab where fossilized dinosaur remains, mostly from the Rabbit Valley dig, were being classified and labeled.  I think our little guys were so dino crazed that they ate it up.  It was a bit of a step down from the last two dino sites, but it was fun anyway.

For the rest of the day I took the family around the town of Grand Junction.  It was where I had spent most of my youth.  I took pictures of Cavan in front of the house we lived in as well as my Grandparents home.  We had dinner and spent the evening visiting with my highschool friend, Mike.

The next day was a bit tough.  I took the family for a drive over the Colorado National Monument.  Its a place a bit like the Grand Canyon on a much smaller, but in my opinion much more colorful scale.  Everyone was road weary and I don’t think anyone really enjoyed the trip.  That was too bad.

We spent a second night in Grand Junction, making full use of the swimming pool at the hotel.  It also gave us a second evening to spend with Mike.

The following morning we headed to Rifle Colorado.  I had lived there for a time when I was growing up as well.  We went to Rifle Falls and had an amazing time exploring the falls and the limestone caves.  As a side note, as a result of our ketogenic way of eating, my wife led us on a hike.  Not just a walk around the falls and pools, but up steep and winding trails leading to the top of the falls and around the rim of the canyon.  The boys were huffing and puffing, but Angie led out with the grace of mountain goat.

We reluctantly left Rifle Falls and headed north through Meeker and Craig, stopping for a while in Meeker at the old original Cavalry garrison which was now a museum.  I have never seen a more impressive collection of Americana and I got to sit with the boys inside the original Rifle to Meeker Stage Coach.

The rest of the trip back toward home was more of a chore than a joy.  There is a lot of nothing out there.  I was being renewed by the nothing, but the family was just tired of hours in the car.  We spent a night again in Vernal, then Next in Nampa Idaho, and then finally back home to Whidbey Island.

When we left, Angie and I had the feeling that we were actually being led by the Spirit.  We made no plans and set no agendas.  We just went. We came back feeling that simply going was all that was needed.  I felt renewed, somehow.  The wide expanses of desert and mountains, rocks and canyons, healed some raw spots on my soul.  The boys had a grand adventure and a few tokens to remember it by.  Angie and I felt even closer, if that were at all possible.  We somehow didn’t feel like the adventure was over, even though we were back.  All the joys and pains of owning a couple of barber shops, the intricate relationships, and the unpredictability of humankind reminded us we weren’t on vacation any more.  Even so, we both felt it.  We felt like the adventure wasn’t over.  Guess what.  It wasn’t!

Pray for Me?

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.  But I have pleaded in prayer for you, simon, that your faith should not fail.  So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” Luke 22;31-32 NLT

So, I see the picture.  It has been a crazy evening and it’s about to get crazier.  Jesus is saying and doing everything with a sense of urgency. All of the sudden Jesus is addressing Simon.  He doesn’t address him as Peter The Rock. He calls him Simon.  He says, “Ok Simon. I’m going to let you in on something you probably don’t know. Satan has come around.  He asked for permission to sift you guys like they do wheat. You know; like bashing the grains by tossing them around, forcing them through a tight squeeze?  So I prayed specifically for you that your faith won’t fail.  You are going to fail. Your not going to do for me all the things you say you are. You are going to fall. I’m not praying that you don’t fall or fail, but I am praying for your faith, that it will not fail even through the pain of failure. When you pick yourself back up and repent and turn to me, I have a special mission for you, a ministry to end all ministries; I want you to strengthen your brothers!”

OK, so am I the only one that has a problem with this?  If I am Simon, I get the whole supernatural deal of Satan needing permission to go after a specific person making them a target.  Can you remember Job?. “But Jesus, you are the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  You are the master of all of Heaven’s armies and you did WHAT?  You didn’t tell Old Ugly to go packing?  You didn’t call in a few archangels and have him escorted out the door?  Rather than handing him his hat you let him have permission and then PRAYED FOR ME?  Thanks a lot!”

I get all hung up on a couple of parts of this.  First of all I hate to fail.  Failure hurts and it really doesn’t look so good on a resume.  Jesus knew that Simon was going to fail at the vision that he had.  He had a vision of standing strong, of being Peter The Rock, of leading from a position of strength.  Jesus knew, and I imagine he even wept a bit, that Simon was going to fail.  His heart was going to be broken at his inability to stand for Jesus even for one evening.

But Jesus also knew that physical failure could take place and faith remain intact.  Jesus knew that Peter would be a better leader from a position of weakness with a history of failure than he would be with his resume intact and full of accomplishments.  Jesus knew, but Simon didn’t.  Simon didn’t have the privilege of reading the end of the book where he becomes part of the foundation of the future of Christ Followers.  He doesn’t know that he will face death full of victory and faith.  He just knew the moment and in that moment Jesus said he was going to fail, but that He was praying for him.

I guess this really does mean something to me because I, like Simon above, have failed.  I didn’t have the sort of mamby-pamby, lily white sort of failure that get’s all cleaned up.  My failure was big, noteworthy and newsworthy.  It left a big, greasy, soot covered mess! Any victories I had accumulated along my Christian path and all of the promises I made to Jesus and to others, they were burned to the ground along with my resume.  While others stood by and watched me fall and fail, a miserable wreck writhing in my own agony of self loathing and sorrow at having let my Jesus and all of my friends down, Jesus was praying for me that my faith would not fail.

I had to struggle with the whole idea of grace for believers.  Could a believer really ask for grace after falling and failing miserably to keep the basic promises made to God.  Could a believer sin so dreadfully that grace no longer be an option, and even if grace were an option could their original calling remain intact?  Does major failure disqualify a person from ministry?  Jesus said to Peter that his most important work, strengthening his brothers, was going to take place after failure, after repentance and returning to Jesus.  What He didn’t say, but I imagine is true, that Peter would have never been effective at that ministry had he not tasted fully the bitterness of complete and utter failure.  He would have never been able to offer comfort had he not had those nights of inconsolable grief at his own sinfulness.

When people used to say, “I’ll pray for you” I would always say, “Good, I need the blessing and you need the practice.”  Now I respond with, “Really, would you? Oh thank you so much!”  Don’t pray that I succeed.  I never learned a lick from my success. Pray that in my failure that my faith would not fail.

I guess Jesus knew that failure was a better teacher than getting it right all the time, at least for Simon Peter and Kevin Bell.  Jesus knew that in weakness we lead from His strength rather than our own.