Life As I Have Seen It
I remember Matt Cross gripping my wrist.
I was on a walk in Estes Park, CO with some college friends. We had no ropes, no harnesses, no caribiners. We didn't need them because we were going for a walk. But the walk turned into a hike and the hike turned into a climb.
This seems to be a theme with me. I may just need to carry climbing gear with me wherever I go. The flat, three-mile path around the lake in my town may one day sprout a cliff face that begs to be climbed. Sam's Club or Costco? Strap up. Those shelves won't climb themselves. You just never know with Sam Evans. I should come with a manual.
At first, it was a leisurely, casual walk among friends. We crossed a sturdy wooden bridge without thought and continued on.
The wide, dirt path became narrower and began to wrap itself around the birches and evergreens that towered above us, sheltering us in a canopy of limbs, leaves and needles. The grade grew steeper. Dead twigs snapped beneath our gym shoes and patches of snow appeared, covering the low foliage on either side of us.
Hiking became hoisting and the handholds were further between. The lips of real estate to stand on seemed to be shrinking. I was still more nervous, really, about looking stupid in front of my friends—who seemed to be climbing without a problem—than I was scared.
Then I looked to my Hundreds-of-Feet-Down—don't look down—and I was startled by my proximity to the edge of the peak. The river we'd crossed earlier that day was the width of blue ribbon and it was hard to see it past the tops of the evergreens that embraced it on either side. I was pancaked to the vertical rock wall in front of me, heels hanging off the narrow lip that I was perched upon.
I no longer cared what my friends thought. I turned my head back to the rock in front of me, feeling that if I moved too quickly I would lose my footing and fall. My lips brushed against the cold wall, my palms flattened against the escarpment and, fighting off tears, I was too fearful to do anything except breathe. I was living a nightmare.
“Sam. Sam.” Matt was on a ledge above me, reaching down toward me. His hand clamped around my wrist. “You're going to put your left foot there and push.”
I slithered my hand into his grasp and placed my left foot on the tiny, waist-high hold that he directed me to.
“One,” he said.
“Two. Three,” I said with him.
I shoved myself upward and Matt pulled. My right foot found another shelf and seconds later I was standing on a broad surface with my friends. The smile and relief were instant. My hammering pulse faded away from my ears and I marveled at the majesty before me.
The timberline was visible on the snow-dusted peaks across the canyon. The crisp cobalt ribbon of river threaded it's way downstream, throwing off fire as ripples reflected the light of the sinking sun.
Psalm 37:24 says, “Though he may stumble he will not fall for the LORD uplifts him with His right hand.”
Over the years, when I have recalled this verse, or when I think about what Max Lucado refers to as being “in the grip of God's grace,” this is the image that comes to mind—Matt's arm entwined with mine.
God grabs on, pulls us up and steadies us on a firm foundation. Seven times in Psalm 37 David states the LORD will uphold the righteous.
However, as most Psalms tend to do, Psalm 37 does not speak exclusively of the righteous. David mentions that destruction is the inheritance of the wicked sixteen times. Because we are all so great at thinking of ourselves first, if you are anything like me, then you will feel instant relief in counting yourself among the righteous. That's not my fate.
Have you ever had a nightmare in which you are falling and then you wake up as you are falling off of your bed? When I was young, seven-years-old or so, I dreamed that my family and I went on a hike around a waterfall. There was a narrow path made of rock and to our right was a dark abyss. I was the only one that could see the boy trapped beneath the rocks on the path. I called for help but no one heard me. I tugged and strained to pull the boy out from beneath the rocks and I succeeded, but in doing so we slipped and he fell into the abyss.
I woke up from that nightmare, sucking air. Thirty years later, I can remember the face of the boy in my dream. It wasn't a nightmare because I fell. It was a nightmare because he did.
Amidst the comparisons between the wicked and the righteous in Psalm 37, there is a call to “turn from evil and do good” (Ps. 37:27). The line between the wicked and the righteous is not as black and white as we would love to believe. What a nightmare to have someone in our path that needs our help and hike on by. What a nightmare to see the destruction of the wicked! It's definitely easier to say, “good riddance,” or “she deserved it.” But if that's how Christ felt, there would be no cross, no bridge to the Father.
The world around us is losing it's footing and living in fear. It needs us to climb the hard path beside it, to show it the way and to look down, reach down and grip it with the strength of God's grace. Your enemies, and the people in your life that annoy you and disgust you—they need you. They need you to be Christ to them. God gave them you.
Just as the LORD is upholding you with His hand, I implore you to reach down and grasp for theirs.
See also Phil. 2:3-11, Luke 10:25-37, James 5:19, 20
I forgot to pull the rip cord—the cord that deploys the parachute—yep, awesome. So it’s a really good thing that I was skydiving tandem.
“If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:9-12).
Ha! There is Biblical proof for my guardian angels, Sam Squad, a.k.a. Sierra 2. Shame on me for taking two months to make the connection.
“HQ to Sierra 2.”
“Sierra 2 Copy. Good news, first, Hotel Quebec.”
“She’s shortened the distance for you today by 13,000 feet.”
“That’s the bad news. Prepare to deploy to flight level 1-3-0. Stand by, Sierra 2.”
“Sierra 2 prepared to deploy to flight level 1-3-0. Sierra 2, standing by.”
I didn’t really mean to go skydiving at all. It was an accident. My cousin Robert had been telling me about his skydiving trip and I said, “Oh. I’ve always wanted to do that.” Wait. Stop. Rewind.
“When are we going?” he asked me.
“What? No. The truth is that I really wanted to go before I was eighteen and then as soon as I was old enough to jump, the desire to skydive mysteriously disappeared.”
Robert grinned at me. “So when are we going?”
The drive to the landing strip was easy. The hour-long training video done by a man with a Beard felt like a documentary about someone else going skydiving. It was when I climbed into a really unflattering green and black jumpsuit that things started to feel real.
Then I met my tandem partner. He cracked jokes about how it was his first jump, too. Encouraged by my straight man responses, the teasing became a running gag. When we climbed into the plane, I saw that everyone else had goggles. “Where are my goggles,” I demanded.
“Uh...shoot,” he said. And even though I knew he was messing with me—I was 89% sure that he was only messing with me—I wanted my darn goggles.
We climbed into the plane through a miniature version of a garage door behind the co-pilot’s seat. There was not even a formal cockpit—only two chairs for the pilots. The plane was about as wide as my dining room table is long, and there were no seats at all. We shuffled in and sat back-to-front in two rows of people, straddling the person in front of us. Tandem man clipped my back to his chest with four locking carabiners. It was a shallow reassurance that he was actually taking it seriously.
Within moments I was distracted by the view as we climbed in altitude. A cold chill swept through me when I realized how I was getting off of that plane. I was mildly comforted by the fact that I was at the back of the line and would be one of the last people to jump.
That comfort didn’t last long.
The door behind the co-pilot opened and suddenly people were disappearing—fast. The goggles that Tandem Man passed over my shoulder provided zero comfort. I paid extra to have my jump photoed and video recorded. Tandem Man pressed me forward and my camera man nonchalantly hung sideways outside the door of the plane, the absurdity of his casual air momentarily distracting me from the open door I was standing in.
Then I looked down. 13,000 feet down. Never look down.
I tried to muster up the gumption to jump, really. But on the video you can hear me yelling, “Oh, God! What am I doing!” Robert, next in line, was chomping at the bit. Because he’s nuts. There was a bar above the door and I didn’t realize that I had gripped iron fingers around it until I felt Tandem Man’s stronger hands, uncoiling mine.
The ground was so far away. I wasn’t ready, wasn’t ready. But Tandem Man jumped and I was attached to his chest with four carabiners.
Then I was free-falling.
For seven. Thousand. Feet. A mile and a half in less than two minutes.
And it was awesome.
Wind was rushing waters in my ears. The uplift pushed back so mightily it didn’t seem like we were descending at all. I relaxed.
I smiled for Camera Man and soaked in the view of the world beneath me and I was so preoccupied that I forgot to pull the rip cord. Good thing Tandem Man wanted to live. I was actually surprised when my body jolted upward and I belatedly thought, oh, yeah, the parachute.
When I say that it’s a miracle I’m still alive, I’m only partly kidding.
Rushing waters, a jolt upward and then the most peaceful silence I have ever experienced, followed by the jubilation of realizing I was going to live. I tucked my feet up as the ground came beneath us and we slid to a stop. The adrenaline boost in NOS quantities had me shouting that I wanted to go do it again and I spun around to where Robert had just landed and ran to greet him on the ground as he was running to me.
Following Christ feels much like jumping out of an airplane. “Oh, God! What am I doing?”
It is frightening and exhilarating. Watch your step. That first one’s a doozy. A cold chill swept through me when one literary agent suggested Facebook Live. But I have been successfully recording devotions every Tuesday at 7:45 am CST for the past two months now. Tomorrow I’m going to bust through some misnomers about tithing. Buckle up.
Iron fingers wrapped around my laptop when multiple professionals in the literary world suggested blogging. For now, I know this is what I am supposed to be doing. I pray that you, reader, are blessed y these stories. And, who knows? Maybe one day I’ll write a devotional book about adventures.
Good thing Jesus has never ever asked us to jump alone. He’s got our backs. We are tethered to Him with a love more powerful than any man-made metal. And even though there are days I am certain He is laughing at me, I know and trust with 89% of my heart that He knows what He’s doing.
89%. I’d be lying if I said my whole heart. I doubt sometimes, and fear. God is in the process of making me perfect but He still has quite a bit of work to do. In the meantime, He’s got my back and all I need to do is let Him pry me away from safety—and enjoy the ride.
“If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:9-12).
“HQ to Sierra 2. Asset is rock climbing—without gear.”
Starved Rock State Park in Illinois derived its name from a legend in which one Indian tribe cornered and starved another tribe up on a ridge. There is also a cliff named Lover’s Leap where, as legend recounts, a warrior of the one tribe fell in love with a maiden from the other. Rather than being fated to live apart, they chose to die together by jumping over the edge of the cliff—hence Lover’s Leap. I have been to Starved Rock. I have been to Lover’s Leap, too, but not like most people. There are paths—broad, clear, well-marked paths. Paths for Dummies, if you will.
And yet, my family, and the friends that were hiking with us, somehow managed to get off the beaten path. I was about twelve-years-old. The youngest of our group was four.
At first everything was fine. Fun. Grand. But then the path became as narrow as the options before us to move ahead. Turning back never occurred to my father, ever. And THAT is where I get it from folks. Tenacity runs in my genes.
We were not lost enough to be worried, but we were lost enough to say things like, “well, that looks like something.” The problem with the “something” that we spotted—a railing—was that it wasn’t just up ahead. It was up. It was a steep, thirty foot climb and the only thing in our favor was the obvious abundance of footholds.
Between us and the base of this climb was twenty feet of air. To our left was more of the same. I cannot tell you the depth of the drop in tens of feet but I can tell you that a fall from that height would not have been survivable.
We were fresh out of chickens and roads so the only way to get to the other side was a ledge that wrapped along a concave cliff face to our right.
Logic would have turned around. Tenacity pressed forward.
The ledge was about four feet wide, though at some points it was narrower. We pressed our sides against the wall and walked on. There was not much talking. At one juncture, the path had been washed away by rain completely, leaving a one-foot gap. One of the adults jumped first, followed by me, then two others who were also old enough to jump on their own. The two youngest kids were passed across the space from the arms of one adult to the other.
We didn’t have a choice but to survive it, though part of me wondered if we would. Once we made it to the wider ground on the other side, those last, steep thirty feet seemed simple and safe. With team initiative that would inspire you, the seven of us climbed up toward the Something.
Mostly, I think that we were grateful that we weren’t dead and also excited to be nearing the end of our adrenaline-packed adventure.
The oldest of the kids, I reached the wooden, dark brown railing first. Overcome with relief, I climbed over the top and realized that I was the recipient of some very strange stares. I reached an arm out to the others, helping them climb over.
“Hey, Dad,” I said over the railing. “We just climbed the wrong way up Lover’s Leap.”
My dad chuckled when he made it to the top. We were all sweating. Then he shrugged and said to the families that were staring at us, “we like to keep things exciting.”
See, while they were cautiously looking over the railing, imagining a couple plummeting to their death, seven people crawled up over the railing to say hello. Their stares made sense. We were, quite literally, one step away from death. The climb was dangerous, difficult and frightening. And also, rewarding.
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (1 Corinthians 4:17)...
Who was more grateful for the view at the top—the friends and family that I climbed with, or the families gawking at us as we climbed over the rail?
The other families laughed as they hiked the broad path, five abreast up to Lover’s Leap. They snapped a few carefully posed pictures with their 35 mm cameras and read the information about the height of the cliff and the legend of the two lovers.
My family talked less and less as we climbed. The words we spared were spent encouraging and spurring one another on. We were too preoccupied living to take pictures of living, and we didn’t have to read a sign about the height of the cliff. We experienced it for ourselves.
The view was glorious to us, not only because of the view itself, but because of everything it portrayed. Known to the rest of its visitors for death, to us, Lover’s Leap became a picture of life. Life lived to the fullest, life lived together, life accomplished. The adrenaline boost didn’t hurt, either.
There is nothing conventional about following Christ. Known to the rest of the world as a symbol of death, to us the cross portrays life. His call to follow Him pulls us away from the well-beaten path and beckons us to a place of high-risk and high-adventure. Logic clashes with faith as we traverse through bushwhacked wilderness behind the Sword of the Spirit. But every so often Jesus brings us to a Something, a clearing, to show us the hindsight of what He understood all along. This is My will, He seems to say. Isn’t it beautiful?
“...So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
If you have ever been in the wilderness for an extended amount of time, then you know that at a certain point, everything begins to smell the same—the fire, the water, your clothes and skin, the people that you are camping with. There is an incredibly pungent outdoor odor, but after four or five days your nose becomes desensitized to it.
One summer in college, I was living with some family friends—John and Sylvia, and their son Brad, in Apple Valley, MN. Brad and I went on the same week-long wilderness canoe trip with some other friends from our church. (This was the same canoe trip that I referred to last week.)
When John and Sylvia picked us up, Brad and I talked about all the foods we wanted to eat and how quickly we would fall asleep in real beds. And I distinctly remember Sylvia turning her head back toward us and saying, “But the first thing you're going to do is shower.” Her comment surprised us. We couldn't smell what she and John were smelling.
Bits of leaves and twigs actually fell to the floor of the tub as I shampooed my hair. It was a long time before I took a hot shower for granted after that.
Next on the list was laundry. I unzipped my rucksack—and quite literally reeled back and coughed, smelling what John and Sylvia had. I hope I told them so. I hope I apologized.
Rewind to Day Three out on the river. I could still smell myself at that point and something had to be done. The water level was low and the current was lazy due to lack of rain that year. Therefore, I couldn't simply wade out from shore.
My friend Paul and I canoed out to the middle of the river. The first thing that I had to do was jump out of the canoe without tipping it. I stood atop the seat, did my best to jump more upward than outward, and Paul managed to counterbalance the abrupt motion.
I scrubbed my hair with shampoo while treading water. Treading water in a river—with no hands— is difficult. Every few minutes I'd latch on to the lip of the canoe and Paul would paddle backwards toward where our camp was set up.
I finally finished washing my hair and I swung one of my legs up over the side of the canoe to check for leeches.
I wasn't actually supposed to find one on my shin.
I was certainly not supposed to find two.
Brown with a translucent quality to them, one was about an inch long and a centimeter wide. The other was much smaller—just a cute, little baby leech learning the ways of the world. There was no screaming, but there was panic.
I tried to pull Baby off and it latched on to my thumb instead. I used the edge of the canoe to scrape it off.
“I have a knife,” Paul offered.
“Do it, please.” I replied. After he scraped off the second one, I pulled my second leg up.
Paul readied his knife.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I have never worked so hard just to wash my hair.
Here's the thing to realize, as gross as that experience was. If I got three leeches on my legs treading water in the current, imagine how many I could have collected had I waded through knee-deep muck and the cesspools along the shore. I would have emerged looking like a cheetah.
Our friends on the shore thought we were nuts. But I was clean and refreshed and they were not.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1a).
I have never been accused of being a safety-conscious person, in fact, just a few days ago Clint said very much the opposite. But even I like comfort zones. They are—comfortable. The problem with humans that crave safety is that it edges us away from the challenge of the gospel.
It is my passionate belief that God never intended his Church to be built up along the shore. I'm not sure of your translation—you should check, but in my Bible, Matthew 28:18-20 says “therefore, go,” not “therefore, stay.”
Yet we build up walls on dry ground that block our view from God's work, beckoning would-be disciples to come to shore—where it is safe. “Phew. You made it,” and “safety in numbers.”
Meanwhile, we wonder why we can't see God moving; our questions become doubts and our faith becomes as dry and hard as the ground we sit upon.
Don't get me wrong. God loves us no matter where we stand. But crazy blessings follow crazy acts of faith. There is nothing clean or neat or safe about following Christ. There is a constant challenge to break beyond the barriers of comfort.
In this analogy, “lavished” doesn't happen from shore. And it certainly doesn't happen in the murky waters that prevent us from stepping out in faith. Lavished happens in the high, fast-moving rapids, in which God sets the pace. Frightening, huh?
The Church cannot be stationary because God is not stationary. Before you panic at the thought of your body tossing about and sputtering for air, all for the name of Christ, let me provide for your imagination a life raft named Jesus. May He be your foundation as you are carried in the current of God's passion—that all men and women might come to know Him.
1.) What are the walls that keep you from stepping out in faith?
2.) What is God doing near you that He is asking you to join Him in?
I bow before the cross of Christ and marvel at this love divine. God's perfect Son was sacrificed to make me righteous in God's eyes. This river's depths I cannot know, but I can glory in its flood. The Lord Most High has bowed down low and pored on me His glorious love. And poured on me His glorious love.
Before the Throne of God Above, Verse 4
Also, if you ever find yourself needing to wash your hair when the river is low, simply pour water over your head while remaining in the boat.
“The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously. It must not go out” (Leviticus 6:13).
The last fire I set was unintentional. And in my kitchen.
“HQ to Sierra 2. Asset is cooking again.”
“And there's a fire...on her electric stove top.”
The fire was easy to start. Unseen char from a previous meal plus a distracted mother of three equals an actual, legit fire. The nine-inch flames were easily doused with baking soda—a light day for Sierra 2.
That moment stands in stark contrast to a time when I was nineteen, on a canoe trip, and challenged/ dared to start a fire with flint and magnesium. My friend Paul had a lighter in his pocket, but the expression on his face said that starting a fire with flint would be easier than getting his lighter. He did reach into his pocket--to pass me a bag of dry tinder. Helpful. My expression said things, too.
He just smiled. I had my own knife, as well as a keychain with flint on one side and magnesium on the other. I brought it in case of an emergency, and also because it felt cool to carry it, but hadn't planned on actually using it.
Muttering to myself, I knelt on the compact dirt, small pebbles digging into my kneecaps. I scrunched the tinder into a tiny pile and then, using the knife, I began scraping shreds of magnesium off of the keychain.
I flipped the keychain around, flint side up, and expelled a breath as I mentally prepared to start that fire. I didn't actually believe I would do it. My friend Zach took pity and knelt across from me, cupping his hands around the tinder.
I lowered the flint until my hand hovered just above the pile of magnesium and tinder and began scraping the steel blade of the knife against the flint. Sparks flew fairly easily. The trick was getting one of them to stick to the kindling.
And then suddenly it did. Well, I say suddenly, but it took a good ten to fifteen minutes. Within that timespan I had plenty of time for second thoughts and self doubt.
The spark became one small, single ember—fragile and precious. Breathe too hard and it will disappear. Transforming the ember into a flame was more difficult that creating the ember to begin with. I held one tiny twig up to the ember and blew so, so gently.
I have never been more proud of a two-inch flame in all my life. That night we ate dinner off of that fire.
“The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously. It must not go out” (Leviticus 6:13).
In this passage, God is giving Israelites instructions regarding burnt offerings. Why did God instruct the Israelites to burn the sacrifice all night long? Well, ten verses later we read, “Every grain offering of a priest shall be burned completely; it must not be eaten” (Leviticus 6:23).
Perhaps, then, we can draw the conclusion that the reason for the burnt offering burning all night long is similar. In order to ensure that the ox was completely burned required that the fire burn all night long. Regardless, the expectation is clear: the fire must not go out.
My husband Clint can tell you that I like fire much more than your average Jane. I like to start fires, be warmed by them, lose my thoughts into their flames. I have melted plenty of shoe soles by standing too close.
It takes a great deal of work to tend to a fire. It must be watched. Wood must be added and sometimes resituated, embers occasionally stirred. So when God commands that the fire not go out, He is insinuating the offering will require someone watching it at all times—all through the night.
Our offerings are different now than they were during the time of the Exodus (when Leviticus was written). But many of the principles are the same.
If you are a Christ-follower, then you have been lit with the pentecostal, Holy Spirit fire. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. It's not a label that we can carry lightly. It is, and always be, a sacrifice to bear the name of Christ. And just like the Old Testament sacrifices, the flame must be constantly tended to, lest it be dampened.
While I would certainly never describe the Holy Spirit as small or fragile, often times my own passion for Christ flickers and feels so frail that it wouldn't take much to extinguish it. Worry, distraction, self-doubt and regret vie to huff and puff and blow out this little light of mine.
Fires require a perfect balance of materials to burn and oxygen to feed the fire. The truth about the fire within us is the greater Christ becomes, the larger the flame. The selfishness and self-centeredness that would otherwise smother a fire, become the sacrifice, the fuel by which Christ purifies us while simultaneously using the flame as a beacon to draw others to Him.
What would my life look like if instead of limiting Jesus to a single candle, I allowed Him to set the dry ground around me ablaze? How would the lives of those around me be affected by an uninhibited Holy Spirit fire?
I baptize you with water but after me comes one whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear the threshing floor, gathering the wheat and burning up the chaff with an unquenchable fire. He must increase. I must decrease.”
-John the Baptist
Matthew 3:11-12, John 3:30
You’ll likely catch onto this without my saying so, but most of my perfect life moments have been on the water. Those moments in which the sun is shining and the water is glistening and as you capture the panoramic view, you realize with utter contentment and awe that for this mark of time your life is absolutely, completely fulfilled. God, I pray that you have experienced moments in life such as these. Four years ago, Clint and I vacationed down in South Padre, Texas. I’d always wanted to parasail and I finally got my opportunity. I also had the brilliant idea to carry a handheld Flip camera up into the air over the water. If you have read any of my previous blogs, then at this point you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. You are reading ahead to find the dialogue of an exasperated Sierra 2 (Sam Squad)—the angels in heaven assigned to keep me alive. They may have caught their breath several times on this trip. They were certainly on standby; red alert. But on this perfect day, there assistance was never required. The Gulf of Mexico was a glittering endless expanse to the east beneath a blazing sun and not more than twenty miles from Mexico, I could easily see into our neighboring country. The strong wind blew my hair about my face. I glanced up at the rainbow parachute above my head. Its brilliant colors accompanied the mystifying thought that this thin piece of nylon was effortlessly carrying me to such an extraordinary height. My gaze dropped once more to the world below. Clint was in the boat. He had already had his turn. This tick of the clock could not be any more perfect. And then it was. Because suddenly a dolphin pod came into view just beneath me. I could see the whites of the wakes their bodies created as they crested the surface and dipped back down beneath it. But looking through the lens of a video wasn’t enough. I hit the power button, tucked the camera into my life jacket and simply enjoyed the wonder of the moment. Before Jesus of Nazareth, most of the disciples' perfect moments had happened on the water, too, upon their weather-worn fishing boats under the blazing sun. And then Jesus. Moments on water were...different...with Jesus—Peter not drowning, storms calmed, teleportation from the middle of the sea to the shore. There were many breath-taking moments on land, as well. The blind saw, the lame walked, the dead were raised. There was a crazy moment with an entire herd of pigs cliff-jumping to their deaths. And what about that one time when thousands of people were fed with just a few loaves of bread? And now, in John 21, the disciples have seen a resurrected Jesus. Unsure of what to do next, they go back to what they love—fishing. Dawn is breaking. As the sun rises in the east, it casts the waves’ crests with an ethereal glow. I have always imagined the disciples extremely content here. Muscle memory makes dragging nets an effortless task for their sun-darkened hands. Their grief has been replaced with joy at the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection. And as each man quietly contemplates the enormous implications of the last three years, they find a silent comfort in simply being near one another. They scan the eastern horizon as the sky transforms from violet and navy, to red and yellow. This tick of time could not be any more perfect—until it is. They spin around toward the shore as a voice calls to them from the west. “Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” They are slightly confused until the voice says, “Throw your nets on the other side of the boat.” Then they laugh. They obey and they know what the reward will be for their obedience--because the man on the shore is their friend, Jesus. It reminds them of the first time that this man called to them from shore three years ago. He had been a stranger then, and so much has changed. They drag in their net, pulling with it 153 fish. Peter exclaims, “It is the Lord!” and jumps into the water. After three years with Peter, this does not surprise any of the disciples, either. 153 fish was a miracle to the disciples, from their friend—not because they didn’t believe, not because they needed proof, but simply because Jesus wanted to make His friends smile. Also, maybe He was hungry. The moment becomes sweeter still, when they sit down to share breakfast with Jesus. (Meanwhile, Peter is lying his clothes out on a nearby boulder to dry.) The other day I was stationed at a table in a large gym selling books. I eyed a garbage can across the room and reached back to grab the garbage from my lunch. As I spun back toward the table, suddenly there was a man with a garbage can in front of me. He seemed to appear out of nowhere and it felt a little bit like magic. Or a miracle. Now this is a silly example, right? But my challenge for you this week is to recognize the miracles in your own life. And when you find yourself immersed in a perfect moment--pause, savor, reflect and know that that tick of time is a gift to you from your Creator. Just because He loves you. Your Turn. I’d love to hear from you. Answer either of these questions in the comments below. Which of your perfect moments came to mind as you read this blog? What do you think the disciples were thinking about as they fished? Have you ever had similar thoughts about your own life?
You’ll likely catch onto this without my saying so, but most of my perfect life moments have been on the water. Those moments in which the sun is shining and the water is glistening and as you capture the panoramic view, you realize with utter contentment and awe that for this mark of time your life is absolutely, completely fulfilled.
God, I pray that you have experienced moments in life such as these.
Four years ago, Clint and I vacationed down in South Padre, Texas. I’d always wanted to parasail and I finally got my opportunity. I also had the brilliant idea to carry a handheld Flip camera up into the air over the water.
If you have read any of my previous blogs, then at this point you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. You are reading ahead to find the dialogue of an exasperated Sierra 2 (Sam Squad)—the angels in heaven assigned to keep me alive. They may have caught their breath several times on this trip. They were certainly on standby; red alert. But on this perfect day, there assistance was never required.
The Gulf of Mexico was a glittering endless expanse to the east beneath a blazing sun and not more than twenty miles from Mexico, I could easily see into our neighboring country. The strong wind blew my hair about my face. I glanced up at the rainbow parachute above my head. Its brilliant colors accompanied the mystifying thought that this thin piece of nylon was effortlessly carrying me to such an extraordinary height.
My gaze dropped once more to the world below. Clint was in the boat. He had already had his turn. This tick of the clock could not be any more perfect. And then it was.
Because suddenly a dolphin pod came into view just beneath me. I could see the whites of the wakes their bodies created as they crested the surface and dipped back down beneath it.
But looking through the lens of a video wasn’t enough. I hit the power button, tucked the camera into my life jacket and simply enjoyed the wonder of the moment.
Before Jesus of Nazareth, most of the disciples' perfect moments had happened on the water, too, upon their weather-worn fishing boats under the blazing sun.
And then Jesus.
Moments on water were...different...with Jesus—Peter not drowning, storms calmed, teleportation from the middle of the sea to the shore. There were many breath-taking moments on land, as well. The blind saw, the lame walked, the dead were raised. There was a crazy moment with an entire herd of pigs cliff-jumping to their deaths. And what about that one time when thousands of people were fed with just a few loaves of bread?
And now, in John 21, the disciples have seen a resurrected Jesus. Unsure of what to do next, they go back to what they love—fishing.
Dawn is breaking. As the sun rises in the east, it casts the waves’ crests with an ethereal glow. I have always imagined the disciples extremely content here.
Muscle memory makes dragging nets an effortless task for their sun-darkened hands. Their grief has been replaced with joy at the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection. And as each man quietly contemplates the enormous implications of the last three years, they find a silent comfort in simply being near one another.
They scan the eastern horizon as the sky transforms from violet and navy, to red and yellow. This tick of time could not be any more perfect—until it is.
They spin around toward the shore as a voice calls to them from the west. “Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” They are slightly confused until the voice says, “Throw your nets on the other side of the boat.”
Then they laugh. They obey and they know what the reward will be for their obedience--because the man on the shore is their friend, Jesus.
It reminds them of the first time that this man called to them from shore three years ago. He had been a stranger then, and so much has changed. They drag in their net, pulling with it 153 fish. Peter exclaims, “It is the Lord!” and jumps into the water. After three years with Peter, this does not surprise any of the disciples, either.
153 fish was a miracle to the disciples, from their friend—not because they didn’t believe, not because they needed proof, but simply because Jesus wanted to make His friends smile.
Also, maybe He was hungry.
The moment becomes sweeter still, when they sit down to share breakfast with Jesus. (Meanwhile, Peter is lying his clothes out on a nearby boulder to dry.)
The other day I was stationed at a table in a large gym selling books. I eyed a garbage can across the room and reached back to grab the garbage from my lunch. As I spun back toward the table, suddenly there was a man with a garbage can in front of me. He seemed to appear out of nowhere and it felt a little bit like magic. Or a miracle. Now this is a silly example, right?
But my challenge for you this week is to recognize the miracles in your own life. And when you find yourself immersed in a perfect moment--pause, savor, reflect and know that that tick of time is a gift to you from your Creator. Just because He loves you.
Your Turn. I’d love to hear from you. Answer either of these questions in the comments below.
Which of your perfect moments came to mind as you read this blog?
What do you think the disciples were thinking about as they fished?
Have you ever had similar thoughts about your own life?
I took of my wedding ring and put it in the glovebox of the boat so I wouldn’t lose it.
Anticipation builds as my turn comes closer.
The click click click click of the plastic buckles locking into place.
The cinching of the straps until the life jacket feels like a corset.
Stepping up onto the back of the idling boat, tucking dry wisps of hair behind my ears.
This part has always been the most daunting.
Skin dry and heated with the sun, staring at the cold, wet water.
Then I’m immersed. The shock vanishes and I pop up to the surface and squint against the sun.
The smell of gasoline has always reminded me of waterskiing, of this moment, bobbing in the water behind the boat.
The skis glide toward me across the water’s surface.
I spear the water with them and slip my feet into each rubber boot, adjusting the flap at the back of my heel.
The tow rope is thrown out in my direction. A few awkward strokes later and I am gripping and regripping the plastic handle in my hand.
The boat lurches into gear and the slack disappears too quickly.
I have been waterskiing for more than two decades but the fear of not getting up has never completely vanished.
My knees press back against the water as I’m dragged.
The boat lurches forward, the pressure of the water is hard against my body and then falls away.
I pull out my wedgie.
And then I ski.
I jump the wake.
The skis slap as I connect with the water again.
And then I glide across the water, tugging against the boat, and I feel free.
I whip back and forth from wake to wake, adjusting with the play of the rope.
Smiling, I dip down and run my fingers through the water.
My eyes scan my surroundings, one last look as my back and arms begin to ache and my grip begins to loosen.
I slash at my neck with my finger tips, signaling that I am about to
And then I let go.
Sink into the water.
The water feels warm around me.
One particular August day on Gull Lake we were skiing and we eventually headed back to the home of our friends, Dave and Diane. I jumped out of the boat and asked Clint to pass my wedding ring to me. The jewelry slipped between our fingers. There was a knock as it hit the wooden dock, followed by the distinct plop of it dropping into the water.
The inky, weedy, murky water.
I swallowed a sob. They told me it was futile to try to find it, but it was my wedding ring. I had to try. I raked away the weeds and fingered through them on the dock. The level of the water was just high enough that I couldn’t touch the sand with my fingertips without submerging my face in the water.
Clint kept the girls at bay as long as he could but they were exhausted. After an hour, I went home dejected, reluctantly leaving the lake and my ring behind. But I hadn’t given up.
Three days later I returned with a metal detector and two friends. None of us had much hope by I doggedly continued raking out weeds, feeling along the bottom with my feet, sweeping the metal detector back and forth.
It was difficult to walk without stirring the sand off of the bottom, but with all the weeds that I had pulled up the day I lost my ring, I was able to see portions of the sandy floor. The sparkling light bouncing off of the water’s surface was playing tricks with my eyes. Several times I wondered if I’d found something shiny in the water, only to be disappointed.
All this time I’d been praying fervently, silently, without conscious thought. The ring symbolized so many adversities that Clint and I had survived, the future of so many more. It symbolized blessings and faithfulness, love and promise.
For a moment the reflection on the water vanished and then suddenly there it was, lying upon a yellow, hill of sand, sparkling in the sunlight.
I did a double-take. Surely not. I felt it with my toe, and then once again.
“I found it,” I whispered, afraid to say the words out loud.
“You...what?” Nick asked.
“I found it.” I reached down into the water, closed my mouth and my eyes as my face submerged. My fingertips traced my toes to what I hoped was, what certainly couldn’t be, but was, my ring.
“I found it!”
It became a song. I embraced Nick and kissed him on the cheek, overcome with the emotion of finding the impossible. “Thank you, Jesus!”
I called Clint immediately.
I laughed. “I found it!”
I called Dave and Diane, who’d felt awful. Their sadness was replaced with exuberant joy.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and she loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is much rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner that repents” (Like 15:8-10).
I spent hours searching doggedly for that ring, something temporal that I will not be able to carry with me to heaven. And when I found it, my friends rejoiced with me.
It caused me to consider how diligent I am about prayer for things of eternal value. It has been said that how we spend our time is a direct reflection of where we place our treasure. Does that statement convict you as much as it does me? Do I pray as doggedly for friends who don't know Christ? Do I rejoice with my friends unabashedly over the repentance of loved ones? Where, truly, is my treasure?
As you go throughout your day today, make an effort to invest your time toward things of eternal value. I pray that you find what you are looking for.
You may have missed my last blog. I spoke of almost drowning under a sailboat sail and joked about a squad of angels in heaven assigned the sole purpose of my safety. I referred to them as the Sam Squad. Sierra 2.
This is another example of a time when divine intervention was required.
"HQ to Sierra 2."
“Go for Sierra 2.”
“Asset has just been targeted by a wolf.”
Sierra 2 leader groans. “HQ, please repeat.” He had heard correctly. He just wished he hadn’t.
“Whiskey Oscar Lima Foxtrot. Canis lupis. Sierra 2, immediate deploy—“
“Sierra 2 deployed.”
“...ment required.” finishes HQ as Sierra 2 is already performing their HALO jumps (High Altitude, Low Opening) from heaven.
“HQ to Sierra 2, also, be advised. Asset is pregnant again.”
“With child. Again.”
“Does she know?”
“Anything else we should know,” Sierra 2 asks tersely.
“She just registered to run a 5k next Saturday. Record highs for heat.”
“Fantastic.” Sierra 2 leader hesitates, finger hovering over his mike as he plunges to earth. “Her prayers lately have been breaking my heart. Do they get to keep this one?”
“Has to survive a wolf stalking her, first.”
Clint and I had driven to Crater Lake in Oregon. We were camping at Diamond Lake. Take a look at the pictures I posted because words do not do this corner of God's creation any justice. And actually, the pictures are a dingy duplicate as well, so, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to drop what you're doing and book a flight for PDX--Portland, OR.
Gorgeous, absolutely stunning. Breath-taking. No, none of those words are enough.
I don’t know about you, but I always wake up extremely early when I am camping. It’s never the best night sleep, but even more so, it is the pull to be silently immersed in the beautiful world waking up around me.
This particular morning I had started a campfire and I was reading my Bible when I had the sudden feeling that I was not alone. I looked up. Fifteen feet in front of me, across from the fire was a gray wolf—one of the most majestic creatures I had ever seen.
My initial reaction was that of absolute dread. Cold fear. It’s body was poised and it’s piercing black eyes were cataloging my every movement. Weapon. My eyes darted toward the burning logs in the fire pit and back up. The wolf hadn’t moved.
My next thought was, I need to get a picture. I slowly reached down to my left, only to realize that my camera was in the van, which was doubling as our tent.
Rule #491 of Survival: Never chase a wolf.
I begged the wolf not to move but that was that moment that Sierra 2 stepped in. Either that, or the sound of the car door spooked the wolf. Regardless, it retreated further back into the woods. I actually chased it for several paces, camera in hand, before my think-this-through kicked in and I realized the futility—and stupidity—of pursuing a wolf through the wild.
And I didn’t know yet that I was pregnant.
Clint and I had no children on earth, yet this was our third pregnancy. I found out the next weekend. Following the 5K I ran, my head was pounding, my face was fire-hot and I was wolf-at-a-campsite close to losing the contents of my stomach. I had PR'd, pushed myself, but there was no reason that I should have felt that depleted. I remember racing home—pardon the pun—and lying on the floor of the bathroom, consciously breathing away the nausea.
I'd wanted to have a baby so badly. My prayers had tunnel vision and for months it seemed that there was not a time I spoke to God expect to ask him for a child. This morning as I read Genesis 18, it was easy to put myself in Sarah's shoes.
"I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son" (Genesis 18:10).
Abraham is 99 years-old and told by God that the following year he and Sarah will have a child. Finally! After twenty-five years of waiting, God has given them a definitive answer. Next year. Through Sarah. Not Hagar or any other woman. Though Sarah. And then I saw something in the text that I had never lingered on before in the scores of times I have read this passage. “I will return around this time.”
Abraham encounters God, literally walks beside Him. In my mind that is a fairly noteworthy event. So good thing it’s noted in Genesis 18.
But don’t you think it would also be worthy of notation if the Trinity stopped by your home with a baby gift, asked to hold your child and then nuzzled with it nose to nose?! It's like trying to read a story with several pages ripped out.
Even though that story is not recorded in Genesis 21 with the mention of Isaac's birth, I know that it happened. God promised that He would be there. That’s all I need to know. God was there when Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah.
I can joke about Sierra 2 all I want, but the truth is that God has been there. He was there when I was trapped beneath the sailboat sail. He was there when I needed protection from the wolf. He was there when our first daughter Kaylynn was born to earth. He was there for her sisters' birthdays as well. I couldn’t shake His hand, or hand my babies to Him, but He was there. Of course He was there. How could He miss such a joyous celebration?
He was there, too, when each of my three babies were born to heaven. And those three He has held in His arms.
I have experienced so many moments with my Savior that I refer to as spiritual sweet spots—moments in which I feel God’s presence so intimately. Reading my Bible at Diamond Lake was one of them. Even though God has never sat beside me at a campfire as he did with Abraham, God has sat beside me at a campfire.
“You will seek Me you and you will find Me when you seek with your whole heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
God promises that He’ll be there and that is all I need to know.
My prayer for you, dear friend, is that you know no matter what your circumstances this day, God is there, meeting you where you are at.
My advice to you, dear friend-- #491: Never chase a wolf.
Love Sam Evans