To all the shepherds out there…

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“Every year it’s always the same…I always end up a shepherd.”- Shermy, from Charlie Brown Christmas

Luke 2:8-14

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I feel bad for the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke sometimes.  Really.

Everyone prior to this…Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and even Joseph (better late than never!) get SOME indication that a thing extraordinary will happen in the near future with the birth of Mary’s son, Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the “great joy for all people.”

It is kind of sprung on the shepherds, though, isn’t it?

No WONDER they were terrified.

The birth of the Messiah is announced.  When did it happen, angels?

Today!  and He is over THERE!  And now we are going to light up the sky and sing like there is no tomorrow!

I wonder if the sheep even stuck around with all that going on.

And what was a shepherd, anyway?  Certainly not anyone high up in society.  I’ve heard of descriptions that call them “rag-tag and a bit grimy.”

Rag-tag and a bit grimy.  Sounds a bit like my ever wandering soul sometimes.

And to this rag-tag and grimy crew the very chorus of heaven shows up and points them to the Savior of the world.  “I bring you news that will cause great joy for all people.”

Not just the have-it-all-together crew.

The shepherds as well, who, just as the Wise Men did, followed a star to a manger and saw Jesus, the gift to us all.

It has been a while since I have posted, but that time has not been wasted.  I’m in recovery, my friends.  I’ve been led to a Christ-centered recovery group that takes on all manner of addictions and issues, those specifically shaped sins of ours that need the utter and complete mercy of God.  My recovery is going well, with of course a few stumbles on the way.  This recovery takes place amidst a growing family (the twins are due in a month!), a growing young boy, master classes in literary studies, and my own teaching responsibilities.  And each week as I sit with my group of Christian brothers, either in sadness or joy, the reminder is given to me that I am His work, that I have a role in this great Story He is telling.   I am learning to be myself, in Him.  Massively challenging at times, and at others a simple warm embracing of realization.  Like a shepherd, I am a bit rag-tag and grimy.  But the good Lord send Him in the form of babe to change the world.  And me.  And you.

May God bless each and every one of you this Christmas, now and every day.

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Patience and Hope, Day After Day

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“But make up your mind not worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luke 21 v.14-15

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.  For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.  Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21 v.34-36

The problem with letting a blog go stale for a while is coming back stuffed with news, and wondering what to write about first, and in what context.  Additionally, seeing how wont as I am to distraction, the Holy Spirit in one way or another will put in my ear, softly, subtly, “it’s time to reflect.”

So here I am.  Good news and bad news follow.

First, good news.  Wonderful students.  Respect from most of my team and administrators.  Healthy twin baby BOYS gracing our house in February, and they are developing just fine in mommy’s womb.  A healthy young two year old as well.  I am also dealing with my anxiety with continued counseling and now medication.  New books.  An upcoming C.S. Lewis conference.  Counting blessings on all those things.

Bad news:  My mother fell sick up North with a pretty serious bout of pneumonia.  Very serious.  Currently she is in stable but critical condition in an ICU in a Boston hospital.  I live in Florida, and therefore cannot do much but hope and pray, and have daily communication with my family for updates.  My mother is someone who constantly gives, often in detriment to herself.  She simply does not think about herself: a virtue of course, but the Lord says love your neighbor as yourself, which means we have to show ourselves care as well.  She originally went to get her hip checked, which will probably need to be replaced, but as soon as the doctor’s saw what shape she was in, she was admitted almost on the spot.

All news:  in the hands of God.

Gotta remember that.

I am reading commentary/reflections on the gospel of Luke by N.T. Wright, and the two verses above he puts in marvelous context by framing how these words would have been received by the early Christians in Jerusalem, circa 68 A.D. when Luke wrote.  The apostles were scattered, most of the spreading of the gospel was taking place far and away, and tensions in Jerusalem were still high with the Romans.  So day by day their lives dragged on, and if neighbors asked with a sneer, “Where is your Jesus?” then “all you could do would be to retell the stories, including the sayings of Jesus.  Hang on.  Be alert.  Pray for strength to meet whatever comes.”

And what of us in the 21st Century?  Is it not the same, Wright asks?  Wars still rage, sin flourishes, the world wants us to indulge, forget, numb, rage, be anxious, and turn away from the Light.  Wright says this (a marvelous quote):

“The answer is the same for us as it was the Jerusalem Christians nearly a generation after Jesus.  Keep alert.  This is what you were told to expect.  Patience is the key.  Pray for strength to keep on your feet.  There are times when your eyes will be shutting with tiredness, spiritual, mental, emotional and physical, and when you have to prop them open.  This is what it’s about: not an exciting battle, with adrenalin flowing and banners flying, but the steady tread, of prayer and hope and scripture and sacrament and witness, day by day and week by week.”

In our times of deepest crisis, of deepest pain, we must have the courage to lean in to our Lord and feel the steady rhythmic beat of his pure, unconditional love-filled Heart.  The iambic beat of prayer.  The iambic beat of hope.  The iambic beat of sacrament.  The iambic beat of witness.

Day by day.

Week by week.

It sounds odd, but I have the gift right now of not being able to anything.  This is what my father said as I spoke to him on the phone.  “It is all in the hands of Jesus.”  Because what are we going to do?  I cannot even properly operate a toaster on most days, so it is time for me to trust the gifts and knowledge He has given the doctors and let them do their jobs.

And hope.

And pray.

This is waiting on the Lord.  And it is tough sometimes.  Mind-boggingly difficult for me, as prone I am to despair and giving up.

But our Lord is a Lord of healing.

Let me say that over and over again.

A Lord of Healing.

Day by day.

Week by week.

Would you join me in saying this?

Thanks and blessings.

Greg

“I’m just not used to not running…”

when it hurts run to god

“I’m just not used to not running…”

This is what I said to my spiritual director/counselor the last time we met.  Unfortunately, through many tears and the last vestiges of an anxiety attack.

Because I fell.  Hard.  I am dealing with addictions in my life that seem stronger and more potent and immobilizing now that I am actually dealing them and recognizing God’s will to eradicate them from my life.  What irony.

“Totally expected.  I’m not surprised,” my counselor said.

I told my counselor the whole story.  About The memory of pain from earlier in my life.  The thought of it reoccurring.  The fear that pain was once again just around the corner.  The need for escape.  The escape into things that just lead me into numbness and forgetfulness.  Then the memory again…  The thought of it reoccurring…

And here we go again.  The addict’s vicious cycle.

I think I live in perpetual fear of pain inflicted on me out of nowhere.  Sudden and unforeseen.  It has happened before.  The shock and surprise of it all is sometimes the most debilitating.  It has come in many forms: physical, mental, and emotional.  And the fear of that pain and the anxiety that comes with it leads to a perpetual exploration and seeking after pleasure, which in essence is nothing but a quick distraction which brings with a whole bag full of shame and guilt.

But I still run.

As fast as I can.

To more hurt and pain and numbness.

I grow sullen and withdrawn, anxious and uncommunicative.  I don’t write (hence the silence on this blog for a while).

So I’m relating this story to my counselor, and as I relate it, the memory of pain is there, and I stand up, my heart racing, sudden panic constricting my chest.

Full fledged panic attack.

“What’s going through your head right now?”

“I n-n-n-need to g-g-g-go.  Got. To get.  Out.

“Where are you going to go?”

I realized, through the panic, I had nowhere to go.  I couldn’t escape anymore.  And the umpteenth time, I realized I needed to rest in the arms of my Savior.  That is the only place for me, to face the things I need to face.  Not as a pat-on-the-shoulder, everything-gonna-be-alright comfort fix, but as a real placement of anguish at the foot of the cross, where my Savior Jesus cups my face in his nail-scarred hands and rides through the pain with me and brings me once again out of the depths and darkness into newness and light.

Just to stay in His presence, at that moment, was what was needed.

That realization brought a wave of exhaustion, tears, and more realization.  Because I still struggled.  In between gasps of breath and coughs, I admitted this is in the small room, as my counselor tenderly prayed over me…

“I-I-I’m just not used to it.  To not running.”

But I was there, in that chair, at least, facing things.  I am beginning that long process of running only to God, and to recognizing that only He is there with the consistency of unconditional Love.  For even though Peter said “Go away from me Lord; I am sinful man” (Luke 5:8), Jesus still said “Come, follow me.”

At this point of my healing, this means to lie down in green pastures.

Beside quiet waters.

For the restoration of my soul.

A restoration that will stay.  Forever and ever, amen.