Dying to Live

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s, will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? And what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” — Jesus

I really hate the gym. Nothing against people who love it – it’s just not my thing. My thing is walks, and the occasional walk-run when I’m feeling particularly energetic, or I need to work off the cookie I just ate. Today, I walked my normal route backwards. (No, I didn’t walk backwards, I just took my loop clockwise instead of counterclockwise). I was stunned to discover that the scenery was new. Just approaching the neighborhood from the opposite direction changed everything. Bushes and trees I passed every day suddenly seemed like I’d never seen them before. I even found an entire house that I barely knew was there.

Jesus often called his disciples to flip the world upside down and see it from a different perspective. Where the world sees success as gathering material possessions, Jesus says, “lay up treasures in heaven”. Where the world clamors for their personal rights, Jesus says, “turn the other cheek”. Where the world frets about issues over which they have no control, Jesus says, “do not be anxious about your life”, and “Come to me. I will give you rest.” If you are a disciple, Jesus calls you to walk the route backwards – to see the world from his perspective. To think and live differently than the world around you.

Jesus lays out his upside-down kingdom ethics in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. But, in Mark 8, he throws down the hammer. He draws the proverbial line in the sand. He describes a no-holds-barred, all-in version of discipleship that frankly scared many of his followers away. After Peter tells Jesus he is going too far with this whole “I’m going to die” business, Jesus first tells Peter that he is a tool of Satan (ouch!), then he gathers the disciples and the crowds around him, and says, “If you really want to follow me, you have to die too.” What?! It is as shocking today as it was to his original audience. They thought Jesus would make their lives better by leading the Jews to revolt against their Roman oppressors. We think Jesus will make our lives better by keeping us from harm, giving us a comfortable life, or helping us overcome our fears or addictions. But Jesus makes no such promises. In fact, he says that the way up is down. The way to life is through death.

Let this sink in. Don’t squirm your way around it, or water down the potency of Jesus’ words. He said you can’t be his disciple if you don’t take up your cross. You have to lose your life if you want to find it. Stop reading for a moment. Pause. Consider the life that Jesus is calling us to. The path is narrow, is it not?

Before we get into the specifics of what it means to take up our cross, though, let’s talk about the payout. Jesus doesn’t expect us to give up everything and get nothing in return. And the carrot that he is dangling in front of us is the thing that every single person in the world craves. Identity.

Identity

Who of us, myself included, hasn’t spent a good portion of our lives trying to figure out who we are and where we fit in the grand scheme of things? For all our modern talk of identity, and finding ourselves, we forget that Jesus was the first one to talk about this. He lays out quite a different prescription, though, than the one we hear today. Tim Keller talks about the Eastern vs. Western search for identity in his article, The Call to Discipleship. The Eastern way is to lose all sense of individual self by connecting fully to world around you. The way to peace is through denying you even have a self and living an integrated life free from individuality. The Western approach to identity is through a voyage of self-discovery. We spend our whole lives seeking out the things that will fulfill our deepest longings; obsessing over our individual abilities, needs, interests, contributions. But Jesus takes neither approach. He says, “You will find yourself when you lose yourself.” Or as Keller says, “’You’re never going to find out who you really are by trying to find out who you really are. You’re going to have to lose yourself in serving me (Jesus).’ Some things happen only as a byproduct, and identity is one of them.”

Don’t let your desire to preserve your sense of self keep you from following Jesus. He has promised that in losing yourself in Him, you will truly find yourself. C.S. Lewis says, “It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

Now, if you’re like me, you need more detail. What did Jesus mean by taking up the cross? How do I do that on a practical level every day?

Taking Up the Cross

In Bonhoeffer’s classic The Cost of Discipleship, he lays out three ways the Christian is called to daily take up his cross. Number one is by forsaking our attachments to this world. God owns. We manage. It is very easy to get those backwards and feel that we own and God manages. Taking up our cross means prying the stuff of earth from the tentacles of our hearts and giving it back to God (who owns it all in the first place) on a daily basis. If you want to see how entrenched you are in the material world, note your reactions when you don’t get what you think you deserve, or when something is taken away from you. Note how your much your happiness depends upon getting what you want. Note how ungrateful and dissatisfied you are with the life you have been assigned. Taking up your cross means flipping the world upside down, discovering joy in being accepted by God and no one else, being filled up by God and nothing else.

Second, Bonhoeffer says we take up our cross by daily doing battle against sin. The notion of having a wicked flesh is quite unpopular today. We like to think about doing battle against the evils without, not the evil within. But being a Christian means staring down the ugly truth about ourselves every day and then picking up our swords and fighting. To put it in athletic terms, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb. 12:1) We must not self-validate with phrases like, “Jesus understands my weaknesses”, or “It’s just the way I am”, or “I don’t see the harm in this”, or “At least I’m not as bad as So-and-So.” I love this quote from Bonhoeffer about going too far down the trail of self-justification.

“The outcome is usually that self-imparted absolution confirms the man in his disobedience, and makes him plead ignorance of the kindness as well as the commandment of God.”

How can I know, truly know the price Jesus paid for the forgiveness of my sin, if I am not willing to forsake that sin? If I never fight against my flesh, living by the mantra, “Jesus paid it all”, without knowing the depths of the “all” that he paid for, I have no concept of grace.

Third, we take up our cross by bearing the weight of forgiveness. We are called to be people who bear, just as Jesus bore our bodily flesh, he bore the cross, and he bore our sins. This is perhaps the most costly aspect of taking up our cross. I can think of no greater way to participate in the suffering of Jesus than by my gracious forgiveness of those who wound me. Just as Jesus said, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” I am called in love to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things.” This of course, does not mean I become the whipping post for anyone who wants to abuse me. But, it does mean that I am growing in my willingness to cover in love, to assume the best, and to offer grace. This is also the most radical and yet attractive quality of a true disciple. What baffled the ancient Roman culture about the new Christian “cult” wasn’t their piety, but their compassion. Oh Lord, may we be known for being a forgiving people, full of grace and mercy, bearing the pain of this world on our backs and laying it down at your feet.

How is this possible?

Yeah, there’s that. I don’t know about you, but all of this taking up my cross business seems pretty impossible. And it is. If we’re not careful, we will plunge ourselves headlong into a works-based taking up our cross, measuring our success by the amount of our own blood, sweat and tears. Becoming like Christ is not a checklist of expectations, but rather a life-long process of answering his prodding. He convicts, I respond, He changes me. My tendency is to act without listening, or to mistake my own voice for his. I’m still learning to wait and listen, to be willing to take up whatever cross he gives me, but not to go cutting down trees and making my own crosses.  Your tendency might be different than mine. You might be really good at listening, but not so great at obeying. In both cases, we must die to our own desires in order to listen carefully and obey promptly.

C.S. Lewis offers this encouragement in our path of discipleship: “God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one.”

The more I lean into him and depend on him to change my stubborn heart, the more like him I become. He is the one doing the real work. I am just surrendering to him. So, even in this, I am living out the paradox of dying in order to really live.

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I am a Nice Person

I am a nice person.

What does that mean, yoScreen-Shot-2013-01-14-at-1.13.47-PMu may ask? It means I let people cut in front of me in the car line at the kids’ school. I always RSVP. I try to be on time. I say thank you. I don’t back out of commitments. I smile and say hello to strangers. I converse with the cashier at the grocery store. I avoid controversial topics. I complement new hairdos. I vote. I give to charity. I volunteer.

Because I’m a nice person, in general, people like me. This may sound like a great thing, and don’t get me wrong, I’d rather more people be nice than nasty, but being nice has its drawbacks. I’m discovering them as I mature. Here are some ways being “nice” may not be so great.

  1. Nice People Can’t Say No  

It physically pains us to say no. We avoid responding to people when we know we’re going to let them down. We over-commit because it is easier to just say yes and suffer the pain of an overloaded schedule than it is to say no in the first place and suffer the pain of causing disappointment. When we do say no, we over-explain the reasons why we can’t commit, and then still worry that the person won’t understand. We get sucked into one-sided friendships, without even considering that we don’t have to spend hours with people who only take from us. We are responders. If you need us, we will be there. And of course, we feel used by people, and can tend to resent their lack of appreciation.

Why can’t we say no? I used to think it was all about people pleasing – maintaining our “nice person” persona. There is definitely that component, but it is more than that. Being nice is our identity. It is who we are. If we say no, we would be going against our core values, because “that’s not what nice people do.” We don’t think we could look that person in the mirror every day. You know, that person who selfishly works out every day instead of making her kids’ lunches, shops for cute clothes for herself instead of buying a $150 doll for her daughter, indulges in a good book instead of volunteering at school. We’ve built our entire identity on making sure we do not become that person, so that we can feel good about our niceness.

What can we do about it? First, let’s replace the word “nice” with the word “good”. This won’t solve everything, but it will help. Goodness offers a better basis for morality than niceness. If our goal is not being nice, but being good, we will tend to care more about doing what God wants than what people want. When presented with a need, rather than saying, “What would a nice person do?”, let’s rather say, “What would a good person do?” And then check that our standard of goodness is Jesus Christ, and not some warped legalistic religious set of rules.

Second, let’s form an identity that is based on our relationship to our Heavenly Father. The more we see ourselves as beloved children of God, the easier it will be to say no to people without feeling we’ve let ourselves and them down. Why? Because we haven’t let God down. We are still loved and accepted. Even if we go too far with our boundaries, he will still love and accept us.

Third, let’s get better at listening to God’s voice, rather than the guilt talk in our heads. This requires us to pull ourselves away from tasks, to be quiet, to pray and to listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We may be missing out on the needs God is asking us to meet because we’re too busy responding to all the other “shoulds” a nice person does.

  1. Nice People Don’t Know How to Have Fun

We actually think if we’re having fun, we must be doing something wrong. Enjoying an activity must mean that we are choosing our own enjoyment over someone else’s. I know this sounds crazy, so let me illustrate from my own life. I’m an introvert. Being an introvert means going to parties, being in crowds, interacting with people for a long period of time is exhausting. It doesn’t mean I hate people. I just need some refilling time after being with them. Combine my introversion with my ethos of being “nice”, and you end up with a grouchy stoic. Grouchy because I’m never getting the time I need to recharge, and stoic because I believe this is my lot in life as a nice person.

Here’s another example. I like to write. I have several writing projects in my head at all times. But since I enjoy it, it must be selfish. I have this battle raging in my head: “You really should be doing more”. “But I really want to write”. “Yeah, but these people need such and so”. “I guess that’s true. Helping them would be nicer than spending time doing something I love.” And so I end up neglecting the thing I love to do in order to be nice.

For the nice extrovert, you may talk yourself into staying home with your kids 24/7 because it is more sacrificial than getting out once in awhile and interacting with adults. Or choosing to do clerical volunteer work over people-based volunteer work because it seemed like the greater sacrifice.

Why do we do this? Nice people place an extremely high value on personal responsibility. We admirably lay aside our desires in order to do the responsible thing. I say admirable, because responsibility is a very good trait – one that I am attempting to instill in my children. It is easy, however, for us to equate responsibility with drudgery. We think that doing the responsible thing always means doing the least enjoyable thing.

What can we do about it? First, I think we need to strip down our responsibilities to their core motives. Why do you spend hours making home-cooked meals for your family when you really don’t enjoy it? Because you love your family, and you care about their health. Ok. Love for your family and care for their health is your core motivation. Second, we need to find ways to maintain those core motivations while choosing expressions which better fit our gifts and passions. Can you still love them and care for their health and spend less time in the kitchen? I bet you can. Third, when we find ourselves enjoying our tasks, we need to keep reminding ourselves that we are being responsible even when it doesn’t feel that way.

Going back to my writing example, I need to remind myself that service to people is my core motive, but writing can be my form of service. And it is no less responsible because I happen to enjoy it.

  1. Nice People Are Self-Righteous

Being self-righteous is the most severe side effect to being a nice person. The self-righteousness that I’m talking about is not the judgmental “I’m better than you because I’m nice” variety, although I’m sure that exists among nice people. But, most nice people feel bad about being judgmental, and so we keep our opinions about nasty people to ourselves, even beating ourselves up for having judgmental thoughts. No, the self-righteousness I’m referring to is the kind that assumes that God is pleased by our niceness. We nice people can tend to get along just fine without Christ’s righteousness because we believe we’re being quite righteous on our own. And thus, we have many nice people who assume they are right with God when they are really only right with themselves.

You see, the one posture that we must all take with God is neediness. And a nice person hates to be needy. It is revolting to us. We would rather meet a hundred needs than have one.  But like it or not, we are in desperate need of God’s grace and forgiveness. Jesus said that our righteousness is like filthy rags. Our best efforts at niceness are tainted by pride and fear. We cannot impress God by our good deeds. We can only impress Him by our humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Nice peoples’ self-righteousness may show up in feelings of entitlement toward God. We regularly put God in our debt, rather than seeing ourselves as being in God’s debt. It may show up in our unwillingness to allow God to change us. We are satisfied with our niceness, and don’t see that God wants much more for us. It may show up in dishonesty with God and others. We may be struggling with deep issues of faith or habitual sin, but cannot admit them because to do so would shatter our niceness.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity has a chapter called Nice People or New Men. Here are some of the most powerful sentences concerning the self-righteousness of nice people.

“If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous.”“Niceness – wholesome, integrated personality – is an excellent thing…But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save.”

What can we do about this self-righteousness? We must first see ourselves the way God sees us: needy rebels, arrogantly assuming that we are ok because we are nice. We have to take a long look below the surface and see the darkness of our souls. And really, who of us, in all our efforts to be nice, can fool God who knows the contents of our hearts? And then, we must fall on the mercy of God to save us from our niceness, and rely on him to make us into something new. This applies, not only to a non-Christian who is coming to faith in Christ for the first time. It applies to all of us nice people – every.single.day.

(Re)Interpretation of the Symbol

Dear Laralei,

Considering our positions, you have long been the only person to whom I can turn. I crave your wisdom once more, and pray that we can remain friends.

I have stood on my balcony overlooking the Grand Divide almost every day for the past 36 years, ever since I achieved the Robe of Many Hues. I have a most excellent view of not just the plaza but the Cathedral opposite me and Lake Eslän beyond where it sits, the jewel of the Karillion Mountains. There is rarely a morning when I do not marvel at the sight and the Most High’s marvelous work of creation.

For 36 years, Laralei, I have gazed down on the Grand Divide to watch the College students milling, the supplicants on their pilgrimage to the Cathedral, and the citizens of our beautiful city as they make their way across the broad plaza. For 36 years, I have admired the beauty of the plaza and the way the paving stones were designed so that those looking down from the height of the Cathedral’s tower might enjoy the symbol of Saal the Just, god of Law and Order, and what has become the symbol of both Man and the Path of the Grand Order. Never once did I see what should have been obvious at first glance.

For a thousand years, that symbol has been the representation of the men who make up the Grand Order of Wizards, men who are to be honest, brave, merciful, just, and most of all, righteous. Never once have I read any other interpretation, and never once have I had cause to think otherwise.

Today, however, was a red sunrise. There have been fires in the east, and the haze filters the sunlight. Today was revealed to me a new interpretation, one that could test the faith of millions if I choose to share it.

Laralei, you know that the Grand Order does not like to be proven wrong, and when we are, we have gone to great lengths to carefully provide a reason why.

We are faced with a dilemma. The loss of three members in less than one week is unprecedented. Only a handful of times in the past five centuries have we needed to replace two members at once. The newest member has always been paraded through the Grand Divide before the throngs as a unanimous choice. There has always been a man, and sometimes two, who is the obvious choice once we are done with our debates.

This time, however, there are only two men, and they are both inferior to the best two female students in the College. There are no other men who even compare with these two women in wisdom, magical strength, or righteousness. Only, our interpretation of the Holy Books makes it clear that no woman should ever be allowed to be a full wizard, let alone a member of the Grand Order.

However, the symbol on the Grand Divide’s paving stones, when seen upside down in the red light of the sunrise, is not the symbol of man but of woman. Indeed, it is truly the symbol of the goddess of dooms herself. How can I interpret it otherwise? But who will believe me? If I present this to the rest of the Grand Order, will they not reject me and cast me out? Will this interpretation cost me friendships? If any so support me, will the inevitable schism destroy the Grand Order? We face two great enemies; can I risk a divided order over a debatable matter of truth? If you can provide any insights or answers, I beg any advice you would share.

In closing, I can only wonder how many others over the centuries have stood in one of the towers here at the College and seen the same thing, yet kept silent due to the same fears.

As always, I remain your friend and confidant,

U

Uzzoran, Wearer of the Robe of Many Hues
Head of the Grand Order of Wizards
College of the Wizards and the White Magic, Quoque

The Balcony (Dreams that Reveal)

falls-from-balconiesI had a vision the other day.

Is it okay to say that?

I know it sounds weird and maybe some of you are like me and you came from a background where people might have abused that word and now it has become something that causes skepticism. Or maybe you came from a background where the word ‘vision’ in the metaphysical sense was never really used and so when you hear it, I might as well have said, “I had my palm read” or “I cleansed my aura.”

So, what do I mean by a ‘vision’?

For me, it’s really not as mystical as it sounds. I believe that God speaks to us in many ways. One way is through the bible, another is through other believers that make up the body of Christ, another is through circumstance or providence, impressions, inspiration, dreams and visions. Taken all together, and used to check and balance each other, I believe it’s just simply the ‘normal’ Christian experience.

For example, God has spoken to me a few times through dreams. More often than not, theses dreams are ‘corrective’ in nature and usually warn me that I need to either change my attitude, actions or heart about a certain things. There have also been dreams that helped direct me in my life, and some that have been really encouraging. But I could also say all those things about a bible verse and how it has spoken to my life. I also could have said the same about a particular sermon or a good Christian friend. I try not to value one way over the other too highly, (though, I do give preference to scripture because that’s what I judge everything else by) because as Apostle Paul said, “ There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” 1 Cor 12:4-5

Basically, it’s all Holy Spirit to me. Can I get it wrong sometimes? Sure. Just like I can misinterpret a scripture, or have a person give a bad teaching of the bible. But let’s make the assumption that one is trying really hard to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit and is open to correction, okay with getting it wrong and learning from the experience. What I can’t afford to assume is that if at one time I misinterpreted a scripture then I should give up on reading the Bible altogether or if someone misled me and gave bad advice then I should no longer let people speak into my life.

So, what’s a vision? For me, it’s like having a dream, but I’m awake. I see a moving picture in my mind of something and it’s so sudden and out of the blue that I actually think to myself, “Where did that come from? Why did I just think that?”

At this point, I can dismiss it altogether and go about my business, or I can stop for a second and pursue it a little farther. For a really long time, I used to dismiss those weird out of the blue thoughts and go back to whatever I was doing, and soon, after a while they went away completely and I stopped having them.

But as I’ve been really pursuing prayer this year and have been in the habit of asking God to help me hear his voice in my life, they started coming back. And so now, when I get these strange word pictures I ask, “Lord? Is that you?” And more often than not I discover that these word pictures are like personal parables the Lord is giving me to help me understand biblical truth.

How am I doing so far? I hope this is all making sense!

So, the latest vision I received was corrective in nature and the reason I’m sharing it is because I believe there are some of you reading this that are having dreams and visions (Acts 2:16-18) and are hearing from the Lord through ways other than sermons, hymns and bible verses and I want to encourage you, that if pursued with humility, it can be extremely fruitful in your life as you realize just how intimately the Lord knows and loves you and desires to speak into your life.

So, here’s what I saw.

I was in Manhattan and I was falling from one of the Twin Towers during 9/11.  I was terrified – a cold dreadful terror like we all felt on that day. As I was falling, I attempted to grab for anything that would stop my fall, window ledges, cables, balcony railings until finally I landed safely on a balcony.

At first I thought I was safe, but then I noticed that this balcony had no windows or doors but was just cement all around.  Across from me were other blank skyscrapers and I was very high up – so high I couldn’t see the ground. I noticed how lifeless this place was, there were no people and no one could reach me, especially the balcony I was on. Though it offered me a temporary relief from falling, it was lifeless, cold, and terribly lonely. It very quickly began to feel like a prison.

Then the vision ended.

So, what did all that mean? Context is key.

Before I had this vision I had heard a teaching from a guy named Todd White. Check him out on youtube, but be warned, Todd White is not easy listening. Everything he says basically challenges me or offends me – but in a good way. After listening to his testimony, and hearing him talk about living a fully surrendered and sold out life in Christ, I was conflicted and scared. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what he was saying, it was that I did. I knew exactly what he was talking about and I didn’t want to do it.

I had also been haunted by a recent conversation with a friend where I jokingly replied, ‘Well, we can’t be all Jesus all the time, can we?’ But then right after I said it, a thought came to me that made me shudder: And yet, when the Lord was on earth that’s how he lived for you.

It’s one thing to go on a mission trip and be on ‘active duty’ as a Christian for a week or two, or to say ‘well, if I was a pastor then it would make sense to be all-Jesus-all-the-time’ but that’s not what Jesus said, he said, “ Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

I felt like I was in the cross-hairs and I had nowhere to run.

So, in that context what I got from the vision is this word from the Lord to me:

Look Rachel, you’re scared. I get it. Obeying me by walking in faith always feels like leaping from a great height and not being able to see the bottom. I don’t offer you security from ever being scared, or feeling pain nor do I promise to protect your dignity. You can choose not to ever feel this kind of fear, or suffer for my sake, but you will be stuck in a place that offers you no life, no comfort or way of escape. This false sense of security will become your prison, and it will end up being worse than any fear of suffering you imagined from following me. There is only one way down and as scary as it is, you will be with me and in the process of letting go, you will discover the life that I paid the price to save. This life is so worth it. I promise you. Follow me.

Two things I hope you take away from this: talking with God and having him talk to you is the normal Christian life and I hope you are encouraged to explore it.

And second, being stuck on a balcony to nowhere sucks.

Revealed by the dream by Kate Policani

Aislinn snuggled into her warm, downy bed and fell asleep faster than usual. Her day downtown shopping with friends had been delightful and exhausting. She drifted away amid thoughts of sale tags and caramel macchiatos, which her dad called “foo-foo coffee.”

Her dreams transitioned from the wacky jumble of early dream ideas to a stark and clear vision of a grim place. While gray sky never phased Aislinn in Seattle – she grew up under the cool, comforting blanket of clouds – the sky of the place in her dream held no peace or renewing rain. Its grayness promised only decay and the burn of chemicals. The people possessed a hardness foreign to her. Each face in the dream squinted in endurance of the trying environment, the harshness of life, while they proceeded down streets quite like the ones she had traversed that day. She longed to wake up as soon as she experienced the familiar sensation that told her, I am dreaming.

Slowly, shivering, she did awaken. Her hand fumbled for her duvet, filled with warm down, but found nothing she recognized. When her eyes began to focus, she stared down at a bare, dirty mattress. With a grunt of disgust, she leapt up. This was not her room! Thoughts swam in her head, giving her a headache. Had she left home? Where was she? She gazed at the aged, dirty, peeling, walls with dumbfounded confusion. A gloomy city rose beyond the dirty, curtainless windows.

This must be part of the dream still, right? The city she toured before the false awakening stretched out before her in grim barrenness.

Through a doorway with no door and into a barren and dingy great room, she walked gingerly. It housed a disgusting-looking old couch and a pair of sawhorses with a board laid across that posed as a table. Again, she shivered, painful with cold. In the corner where a breakfast-nook might belong, she spied a heating vent. Hope propelled her toward it and rewarded her with a weak stream of warm air. The ball of Aislinn huddled against it, willing the heat to chase the icy chill away from her bare arms and legs. Her buttercup- yellow sleep shirt alone provided inadequate covering in the frigid room. She trembled at the emotional level before panic erupts.

Someone wandered into the room. The scowl he wore on his pasty, worn but young face turned into a disgusted snarl. His disheveled, unshaven appearance didn’t detract from his menace.

“What do you think you’re doing in my place?”

She peered up at him with big deer-in-headlight eyes and opened her mouth. No sound came out.

“As you can see, this place is taken, so you can just get out. I’m not looking for company.”

“Um … where do I go?” she said in a high, quiet voice. This must be more of the dream. She sensed the cold, but her brain insisted she remained in her bed, asleep, with her covers kicked to the floor.

“Do I look like I care?” His careless disgust transformed into anger and his skinny shoulders lifted in aggression under his threadbare, dingy tee shirt. He rubbed a hand on his holey sweatpants and said, “Go back where you came from.”

“I don’t exactly…know how I…got here.”

“Hey, if you’re going to get high and break into somebody’s apartment, then you’re not going to know where you are in the morning. Now leave!”

“I didn’t get high!” she said with conviction. She put her hand to her head and pushed aside her chestnut tangles, as if she might push clarity into her head. “I went to sleep in my own bed at home. I don’t do drugs! I never do any drugs!”

“So somebody drugged you. Pick better friends. Now, get out!”

“They didn’t! I was with my parents and they wouldn’t drug me… Okay, okay I’ll go!” she said in fright when he picked up a baseball bat. “Please tell me where I am, though!”

“You’re in Ava building on Western Street,” he said, relenting, and grunted when he bent over to lay the bat in its place again. He shuffled toward the tiny, dilapidated kitchen, devoid of appliances.

“Where is that in relation to downtown?”

“We’re in downtown – Belltown. Where did you come from?”

“My house is in Greenlake close to Woodland Park–62nd street.”

“What?” He whipped around and stared at her like she was an alien. The spikiness of his faded brown hair suddenly seemed menacing. A despairing expression filled her hazel eyes and she made herself tiny. “Did you say Woodland Park?”

“Yes….” She didn’t want to make him angry, but couldn’t tell if he liked her origins or not.

“But that’s impossible. Woodland Park was destroyed twelve years ago! The whole area is uninhabitable.” He spoke with a voice full of conviction, but the glint in his blue eyes begged her to contradict him.

“Um, what? Destroyed?”

“Yes, in the PacMan bombing.”

“What?” Aislinn began to worry her new acquaintance might be dangerously insane. “Look, please lend me your cell or something. I’ll call my parents and they will come and take me right out of your hair.” She tried to wave her hands in a nonthreatening gesture of easy finality, but they shook so much with cold that it resembled a spasm of terror.

“Cell? You mean cell phone?” His excitement grew in opposition to her hopes he would lose interest. “All the cell phone companies went under in ’92. How would I have one?”

He motioned to her for some answer with raised eyebrows ducked head, and intense eye contact demanded a revelation she couldn’t provide. She replied with a blank stare and more shivers.

“You’re from Seattle. You’re from home!” he said and gripped her upper arms so tight, she stopped shivering.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Do you have your papers? Should I call the Zimingcha?”

“The what?”

“See!” he said and shook her a little. “You don’t know what that is, do you?”

“Please…..”

“You don’t! Say it! You don’t!”

“I … don’t.”

“If you were from here, of course you would have met the Zimingcha and you would always have your papers! Where are they?”

“Please, you’re scaring me! I truly have no idea what that means.”

Then he hugged her. She realized she should resist, but he was so warm….

“I’m not alone anymore. There’s hope!” he said in a sob.

“Alone?”

“Both of us, we’ve been transported somehow to this place. This is Seattle, but not our Seattle: like a parallel world or something. Now that you’re here, maybe we might find a way to return home. Tell me everything about your dream, what you were doing before you fell asleep, and the exact moment when you woke up here.”

Aislinn shook her head in puzzlement. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll soon find out. My name is Jack and the same thing you just experienced, happened to me too, four years ago. What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“I’m Aislinn.”

“Well, Aislinn, we have a lot to discuss. You must be freezing.” He pulled her through the house toward the bedraggled couch, fished a dusty, scratchy blanket from behind it, and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you. You’re my only hope, our only hope, of escape.”

Revealing Dreams by Jay Pearson

Revealing Dreams

What do you do when your dream reveals your destiny? What chances do you take? Who can you trust to tell?

Those were my first questions upon awakening. I made no comment to the woman beside me. She was a meaningless slave, no more. Beautiful, yes, but I no more noticed her than the silken sheets on which she slept.

I rose and studied myself in the tall, slender mirror along the far wall. I do not use it to reaffirm my beauty, but neither do I keep it as yet another lovely trophy for my tower. I know far too well how limited my magical abilities are. More, I think, than any of my fellow Grand Order members realize. It is my dreams that grant me any modicum of magical power, a secret I intend for no one but myself.

The mirror is…more than it seems. It certainly serves my purposes, for it provides answers to my dreams. Not only the dreams and visions of sleep, but the daydreams of those who are ambitious enough to seize the opportunities that they are given. If you know how to look in the mirror, that is, and I had known how for quite some time.

The problem with dreams and visions is their lack of clarity, even when seen through the glass of my mirror. Daydreams are much easier to see clearly, but the mirror can do little more than enforce those dreams in the waking world so that, depending on the strength of one’s ambition, success is virtually guaranteed.

It is the dreams of sleep for which the mirror is truly meant. How does one recall without such a device? How does one sift through the dreams of fancy and the dreams of true vision? How does one reveal the will of the gods given through dreams?

This morning I stood before the mirror, examining my eyes. The eyes are the trigger, of course. “Windows to the soul,” that is what the poets have called them. “Gateway to dreams,” is closer to the truth. Never before had it been more true than this morning. I do not remember any part of the dream that mattered, only that it would affect my destiny.

The reflections of the mirror are no different from a normal mirror. Except for the eyes. Patience is required. Not my strongest trait by far, but there are times when a true man of ambition must wait, so wait I did, staring into my own eyes as I would a beautiful woman worthy of seduction.

When I first learned of the mirror’s gift, I was surprised that I did not see my dream played out for me, especially the ones like last night’s where I can recall nothing. There was no sudden change in my eyes other than a light that illuminates like the lifting of a veil. The interesting thing about dreams is the number of ways in which they can be interpreted. And just as with daydreams, the mirror provides me the gift to correctly interpret those dreams, or possibly to shape those dreams to my interpretation.

The revelation is often sudden and sometimes painful. A dagger seemed to raggedly gouge my eyes out, the pain was so sharp and deep. I crumpled to my knees seeing nothing but eternal darkness. I must have cried out, for I could feel the woman’s arms around me and hear her cries of “My lord! My lord!” At first, I think she should never have awoken but, as my vision clears and the pain recedes and I see no blood from my eyes, I realize she is the woman in my dream. For, of course, I know my dream fully, and I know the destiny that has been laid on me by the gods. And it is glorious. Oh, it is glorious indeed! But it will require patience, and this woman is the key.

I look at her, revealed to me now by this dream as someone worthy of my respect. Her beauty is easy to look past; I have never lacked for lovelies. No, it is the magic she possesses. It is different from all others, a thing that is wild and willful, a tempest waiting to be unleashed, a beauty unmatched by all other treasures.

For a moment, I panic. How to gain her magic? But I recall the promise of the gods, what I shall unleash when the time is ripe. I look at her again and see the fear festering in her eyes. She has just realized she should have never shown compassion, that she should have feigned sleep. Yet she is the seed, and without her, the fruit will never ripen. I understand that I finally have someone to share my dreams with, someone to trust, for she will never speak to anyone else again. At least, not until I come unto my full, glorious, revealed dream.

Waking Dreams

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“My waking dreams are best concealed, Much folly, little good they yield. But now and then I gain when sleeping A friendly hint that’s worth the keeping.”

John Newton

The puritan writer of the classic hymn, Amazing Grace, John Newton, wrote several poems and short stories about dreams he had which afforded him moments of spiritual clarity. He understood the powerful medium of dreams to block out the noisy flesh and allow the soul, which never sleeps, to have its voice. One example of his dreams is the poem, The Kite, which offers a wonderful image of our ideal relationship with God. John gave much more weight to the message of sleeping dreams than to the waking ones, which he considered to be mostly folly. But, are all waking dreams useless? Can they be agents of truth in a similar way as sleeping dreams? What can we learn about ourselves by paying attention to our daydreams?

We humans are dreamers. From the moments of our first consciousness, we dream with the ease and reflexivity of breathing. Childhood dreams are full of fancy – dreams of fighting giants, of sprouting wings, of walking on water, of being noticed by a handsome prince. My youngest daughter, who is often plagued by nightmares, used to share with me every night what she planned to dream about so she could bring her pleasant waking dream into her sleeping one. In her daydreams, she was the hero who saved the day, the adored ballerina, or the hailed rock star.

As we mature, our dreams become less fanciful and more calculated. We dream less about being fairies, and more about being independent and free. We dream less about fighting dragons and more about rising to the top of the peer pile. We dream less about being noticed by a handsome prince, and more about having the perfect husband and family. We dream about the things we believe will bring us happiness, security, respect, power.

Adult dreams are no less reflexive than childhood ones. They dwell just below the surface of our daily duties, and can pop up unbidden many times in a day. They shape our decisions, inform our frustrations, taunt our insecurities, inhabit our sorrows, and taint our joys. I have heard it said that you can discover your core values when you pay attention to your top five dreams, and your top five fears (or nightmares). What do you most hope for, and what do you most dread? No matter what you say you value, these things reveal the truth.

Let’s take wealth, for example. You may dream of being financially successful to gain the esteem of your fellow humans, autonomy from your fellow humans, or power over your fellow humans. Your dreams eventually become plans, and if those plans don’t pan out, you are dissatisfied. And if they do pan out, you are happy for a time, but empty in the end. What did your dreams of financial success reveal about your values?

Or how about the white picket fence dream? Your dreams may include having a loving, supportive spouse, and a beautiful happy family. You don’t believe you can be truly happy without these things. Even if you do get married, you are constantly frustrated with your spouse for not loving you the way you want/need/expect. If you have children, they will eventually disappoint you and will not reciprocate the love you pour out on them. What do you really value when you dream of this happy ideal family?

God wants our dreams. He will ruthlessly pursue any desire in our hearts that overshadows or replaces our affection for Him. There are many, many examples in the Bible of God asking humans to hand over their dreams to Him. Hannah dreamed of having a son, cried out bitterly to God day after day in her barrenness. But when God finally answered her prayers, He asked her to sacrifice her dream and give her son back to Him. Hosea, Jeremiah, Mary & Joseph, Noah and many others were asked to give up their dreams of human respect. They endured years of ridicule and abuse by their fellow humans because God wanted his approval to trump all others. Paul was asked to give up his self-righteousness, his status, his career. Many converts to Christianity were asked to forsake mother and father, essentially giving up their dreams of security and love. The rich young ruler was asked to give up the wealth and prestige he had dreamed of and labored for, in order to follow Jesus, but the cost was too great. Esther, Moses, and others were asked to lay down their own bodily safety, risking death to obey God’s call.

What do you dream about? When I am alone with my dreams, I have to admit they gravitate towards travel destinations with the family, or home improvements, or educational opportunities for the kids. My worries (the flip side of my dreams) revolve around not being able to put our kids through college, not being able to send them to this or that summer camp which might give them a leg up on their futures. These dreams and fears reveal that I believe vacations, a beautified home, and well educated children will bring me happiness, validation, respect. They also reveal a lack of trust that God will give me exactly what I need.

Why does God want my dreams? They don’t seem so terrible, do they? What’s wrong with desiring financial security, a family, a nice home, good health? And what does handing over your dreams even look like? Is God asking all of us to quit our jobs, give away our money, self-flagellate? To the first question, God wants me to submit my dreams to him for a few reasons. Number one, he knows what will make me truly happy, and anything that ties me to this earth is not it. My real treasure, the one I am supposed to be depositing my energy and time into, is the one that awaits me on the other side, “where neither moth or rust can corrupt, and where thieves cannot break through and steal.” Number two, the things that I cling to that I believe will bring me joy, are often the things God knows will destroy me. The money I think will make me happy may very well turn me into an arrogant abuser. The family I crave may very well cause me the pain of abuse because I pour all of myself into people who will let me down. The career I want may very well turn me into a power hungry control freak. When God asks for our dreams, He is not spoiling our fun. He is removing the cancer in our souls.

To the second question of the practicalities of sacrificing our dreams, I will offer a personal example. When my husband and I started our church 11 years ago, we had dreams for it. Big ones. We fooled ourselves into thinking that desiring a large church was a good thing – why wouldn’t God want more people to hear about his love? – but we weren’t fooling God. He knew that our desires stemmed more from a need for human approval and respect than from a noble, humble desire to spread the news of Jesus with as many as possible. For the first few years, we worked as hard as we could to try to make our dreams a reality. But our efforts seemed thwarted at every turn, and we only grew by painfully small increments. We wrestled with God, asking him to either grow our church or take away our desire for more people. We hurt people in the process of pursuing our dreams, making them feel more used than loved. Our dissatisfaction bled into every interaction, every decision, every frustration, even every joy. I’ve shared in previous posts what God used to change our hearts, so I won’t go into that, but suffice it to say that God surgically removed our old dream, causing us to give up the notion that we had any control over the size of our church, giving us a new value system that grounds our identities in Him, and granting us deep satisfaction with the church he has given us. I know with utmost certainty that had our desires been granted for a large church right out of the gate, it would have destroyed us. Thank you God, for not giving us what we dreamed about!

So, what does it look like to sacrifice your dreams? In some cases, it is actively, day by day, asking God to give you satisfaction in Him alone, holding your dreams with loose fingers, willing to let them go. In other cases, it is responding without bitterness when God chooses to remove by force the dream that is invading your heart.

And when we wake into eternity, we will realize that it is reality, and our life on earth was the dream.

“Since I have known the Savior’s name And what for me he bore; No more I toil for empty fame, I thirst for gold no more.

Placed by his hand in this retreat, I make his love my theme; And see that all the world calls great, Is but a waking dream.”

John Newton