Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking Back to Move Forward

“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God” Hebrews 6:7 (NIV).

“You should sue them for something like that, Raymond!”

My grandmother didn’t mince words, but I rarely saw that side of her. To me her home was like heaven on earth. But in this instance she meant business. The neighbors had ruined my grandparents' garden which often provided for them and their small community.

"The Event," as it is known in our family, happened sometime around 1970 about fifteen miles outside of Philadelphia in the close-knit blue collar town of Ridley Park. Mom Mom, Pop Pop, and their friends had survived world wars, cold wars, droughts and economic downturns; they pushed through all of it together. And this garden was a fundamental life-sustaining part of their neighborhood.

When times were tight they all banded together by sharing ingredients for meals. The butcher provided meat, grandma stirred in her vegetables, and this combination gave life to those in the neighborhood that were short on cash, jobless or sick. That's just how they did things back then.

The garden “event” itself was an accident, but the consequences were devastating. One neighbor's property, the Berkley's, butted up against my grandparents’ yard near the garden. Unfortunately, on the day in question, someone aimed the drainage hose from their pool toward the garden. It didn’t take long for hundreds of gallons of chlorinated water to do its destructive work. The once flourishing field of late-Spring hope quickly turned into a withering and then barren field of anger and despair.

But while Mom Mom was angry, Pop Pop had a different take on the situation. Where my grandmother saw death and destruction my grandfather saw a chance to preserve life and civility in this close knit community.

Pop Pop knew that his neighbors didn’t kill his garden on purpose. So, his immediate response was to forgive. He went straight to the Berkley home, told them what had happened and assured them that there were no hard feelings. Grace, not bitterness, reigned that day in a little corner of Pennsylvania.

My grandfather was a simple but wise man who lived by the truths that had sustained him, his family, and that little community for many years. He simply turned the soil and replanted the garden as he modeled the adage, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” Romans 12:18 (NIV). He learned long before that Spring day not to “be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good” Romans 12:21 (NIV). He learned to give back better than what he had received.(1)

Now some people thought he was crazy to replant. They were sure the chlorine was still in the soil and that it would burn up any seeds or saplings he put in it. But his attitude was profound, “It’s my job to plant the seeds and it’s God’s job to make them grow. I’ll do my part and let the Lord do His.” So Raymond Chatten replanted his garden, much too late in the season, on a chemical-soaked field, with no one believing that it had a chance. “Why is he wasting his time?” they said.

Shovels and spades came out of the shed. The dead plants were thrown away and the soil was turned over. Next, there was digging, planting, and watering. Lots and lots of watering. And as they waited to see the results Pop Pop said, with confidence, “It'll come back.”

And it did! That garden grew back just as bold and robust as ever. It was new life—real life that came from death—from an impossible situation. God honored my grandfather's acts of forgiveness and faith and he was rewarded with a plentiful harvest that year.

And for us this story becomes a harvest of wisdom. Family, failure, forgiveness, community, support, hard work, convictions, leadership, faith and flourishing. These are the values we need to live-out in the coming months and years to honor God, no matter what calamity might meet us as we walk out the door and into the garden of our lives.

How do you respond these days when someone ruins your “garden”? What response would honor God and better serve those around you? What is your next step to getting there?


Lord, please give us the grace, peace and faith to follow Your ways no matter what the circumstances. When we fall short, give us the wisdom to grow to be more like your son Jesus in every situation. Amen.

(1) Dr. Henry Cloud. 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life (Audio Book). Disc 4, Track 24. Carol Stream, IL: Oasis Audio.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Life or Death

“Fathers, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” Ephesians 6:4 (MSG)

His little quivering lip said it all.

I had lost my temper and overreacted in a loud way that could have damaged my young son's spirit. It was a situation I'm sure most of you can relate to, if not with kids, then with a coworker, family member or friend. I was having a tough time at work and the lack of sleep and high levels of stress were turning into a perfect storm of “mean daddy syndrome.” But that was no excuse, so I had to make it right. Fortunately, I had been given the tools to do just that.

Early on in our marriage my wife and I were exposed to some very healthy biblical teaching on relationships. One memorable lesson taught us to take the initiative if we had sinned against another. It was our job to approach the offended party and (knowing that we were forgiven by our heavenly Father) say, “I'm sorry, will you please forgive me.” If I was wrong, then I am called to, as much as it's up to me, make things right. That's what God instructs us to do as His followers.(1) And I needed to make it right with my son. (2)

I remember the time and place vividly. I called my boy back into the kitchen (where mean daddy “got his grumpy on” a few minutes before) and dropped to one knee. Looking him in the eye I said, “I was just loud and sounded kinda mean, didn't I?” His slightly stooped head shook up and down as he wore a frown. “Well, that was wrong and I'm sorry that I did that. Will you please forgive me?” A smile quickly rose across his face as he jumped to hug me and say, “I always forgive you daddy!” Our interaction ended up as a powerful, life giving point of reconciliation for both of us.

This encounter, and the truths behind it, were powerful and accomplished a few things for both of us. First, my child's faith in authority was repaired. He felt sad, scared, and violated by his most important authority figure on earth, daddy. If life just continued on as if all was normal and my outbursts were repeated (even in sporadic intervals) without any reconciliation, then my son would learn that the authorities in his life were untrustworthy and unsafe. This would have a negative affect on his ability to function well in society. It would also color his view of our ultimate authority, God. How attractive would a relationship with Him look through the lens of a lifetime of interactions with “mean daddy?”

On my side, by working through the act of an apology (to my son and my God) I was forced to step back and assess my actions (or more accurately my re-actions), my mood, and how I could better manage my stress. It was transformational because I allowed my mistake to teach me.

Finally, my act of apologizing and asking for forgiveness modeled for my son the way a follower of Christ should respond when they injure another with their tongue. I showed him the steps he must take to reconcile a relationship when he messes up. Also, since I was able to admit I was wrong, it will now be easier for my son to admit he was wrong when he sins against me. It will help my boy to honor God and preserve our relationship in the future.

Overall, the ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation are simple, profound and necessary to sustain long term healthy relationships. But by no means are they easy to do. The tongue has the power to give life and to take it (see James 3), but even if we mistakenly use our words as daggers we have the chance to help heal the wounds we've created; even old ones. The question is will we choose (as much as it is up to us) to breath new life into our relationships, or let them die a slow painful death?

Who has wronged you that you need to forgive?
Who have you wronged and therefore need to ask for their forgiveness?

Thank you Lord Jesus for modeling reconciliation to us by paying the ultimate sacrifice so we can experience your grace and extend it to others. Help us to pursue healthy relationships through prayer, humility and steps of faith, so we can give and ask for forgiveness when and where it is needed. In your holy grace and truth name, Amen.

(1) Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV) "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

(2) Lon Solomon, Sermon: How to Fight Fair, McLean Bible Church, Vienna, VA.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hope Floats

God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Psalm 23:1-3 (MSG)

It was a cool but sunny June morning on the bank of the Potomac river. A place I sometimes visit before work to gain some perspective through solitude. Privacy to reflect in a natural setting was especially important as I began to emerge from a season of wilderness wandering. God was using that time by the river to show me why I had been wandering in the first place. Basically, it's because I needed some 'heart surgery.'

As I walked onto the bridge towards Virginia I saw a gentle and peaceful glen. A deer that I noticed a week before was back drinking the cool morning water and eating the crisp undisturbed grass. Two great blue herons were also present to welcome the new day. But for some reason I found myself drawn towards the rapids on the river—the motion, the movement is what I like to call The Flow.

As I approached, I noticed a family of Canada Geese in the jagged yet peaceful blanket of granite at the riverside. The father was leading the way with the mother hanging back just a bit to encourage the slowest of their brood of seven goslings. All, even the babies, were traversing the formidable rocks with an ease and familiarity that would have left me tripping and slipping far behind had I tried to keep up.

As I watched this scene play out I noticed where they were headed—towards the river, the rapids (We had torrential downpours the night before so the river basin was full and fully moving. This produced dangerous rip currents in the river and there are signs warning swimmers to “Keep Out.”) My first thought as the “little seven” plopped into the river one by one behind their father was, “Wait, you're headed straight into the flow of this fast moving river, surely your little seven will perish, surely you can't...”

But they entered, single file at first, then the mom edged to the left of the line, letting it pass, so she could give support and encouragement to young ones at the back. The parents craned their necks a few times to paddle into the current, and then they all disappeared under the bridge towards the monuments, the Pentagon, Reagan National Airport and points south.

So with planes ascending above me, headed north following the river towards their flight paths, and the geese floating south below me—on the surface of the flow, riding the current but safe from the rip currents underneath them—I saw that this perfect little gaggle of goslings was safe. They were safe from the dangers of the flow because their father knew the way. He had maneuvered these rocks and rapids before and had, no doubt, guided other young ones through the rough current to a safe shore. One with lush river grass and a bountiful breakfast of “roots and young sprouts.”1

And so it is with our Heavenly Father...

He created the flow. It looks and feels dangerous, and it is. But as we follow Him over the rocky jagged shore and into the rapids of our lives we are often unsure as to how the journey “south” (and it often feels that way—like everything has “gone south” in our lives) will turn out.

But if my experience in, and emergence from, a years-long trip on white water, maneuvering sharp jagged shores with my two little goslings and wife in tow are any indication, then we can have hope. We can rest assured that a lush green river bank with a bountiful blessing awaits all of us that are riding the rip currents right now...all of us that cling to the leading and promises of our Heavenly Father...all of us who believe that Hope Floats.

Question: As a “head goose” in your family, at your work or in your community who do you follow (and how) when the white water comes? How can you help your “goslings” know and believe that Hope Floats?

Prayer: Thank you Heavenly Father for your beautiful metaphors, the help and hope you provide through the rapids of life and the gift of growth and peace that can come from those wilderness adventures. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, and I wouldn't trade it for anything this world has to offer. Please help us to honor you as we navigate the waves today and in the future. Amen.”


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