What kind of community do you create?

A recent talk I gave to CCU chapel about community:

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Voices from Silence – Retreatant 1

Hearing God in the Silence

Going into this past weekend, I had planned, expected, and hoped to see and hear God in a more obvious way than I have in a very long time. Since beginning a season of grieving and wrestling with God a few months ago, I have been yearning to go deeper in my relationship with Christ. I long to feel that I know and understand His character as much as humanly possible so that I may also better understand who I am in Christ as well.

Thursday night after we arrived at Sacred Heart Retreat House and left our first group-debrief, I felt somewhat frantic. I didn’t know what to do. My life has always run on a schedule. A very tight schedule often planned out to the hour or even minute on my busiest days. After wandering around the retreat house I decided to try and read in my room for a while before deciding to simply go to sleep.  The next day, I began my day with a run not quite sure how to release the tension and discomfort I felt from needing to stay in silence. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of running when the only soundtrack I have to pace myself is the pounding of my feet and heavy breathing. After my run I found my way to one of the spaces I would return to throughout my time in silence. A wooden swing looking out upon the mountains where I would begin to dive into the Word and also later argue and wrestle with God to a point of complete frustration. After relaxing in His Word and prayer for a while, I made my way to my next spot where I read a book that made me feel like I got socked in the stomach. I had begun to hear God saying to me, “Let Me heal you…” To which, I very stubbornly said no. I struggled through the idea that while God does not will bad things to happen to us, we can still trust He is present. I felt if He was even present, then bad things shouldn’t happen. But they did, so why would I think He was there? And this had to mean He had left me and allowed me to be sexually assaulted. He left me in a place to be vulnerable and hurt emotionally in a way that I have yet to heal from. And yet, I continued to hear Him whispering to me, “Let me begin to heal you…” I could almost see His face looking at me with sad but overwhelmingly loving eyes, outstretching His hand to me. It was almost as if He was pleading that I take His hand and let Him lead me to freedom from the chains I have worn for too long. Yet I still refused. Like a stubborn child I would draw back from Him. I continued to choose to walk in my desert of hurt, anger, bitterness, fear, and confusion. When I realized the inner turmoil I was having in this moment, I began to cry with every tear carrying the weight of my sadness but also my longing to be able to accept His helping hand.

Through my reading I also began to realize how long I have trapped myself in my own safe but far too small dungeon. I had made my home in a place that is not meant to be a place of prolonged residence for a heart. The dungeon I have inhabited is a place filled with control, distrust, fear, and the inability to see myself for who I really am. Obviously nothing about my dungeon is too appealing except for the safety of staying within what I have known and survived in for the past two and a half years, maybe even longer in some ways. My dungeon has also trapped me in silence and denial. Silence had become the norm whenever I would feel or think things that I didn’t believe anyone would want to hear, especially in regard to my sexual assault. A code of silence had been pressed upon me and has weighed me down to the point that I physically struggle to get myself to speak out about my feelings and thoughts. This exact code of silence closed me off to sharing in our group meeting Friday night until the very end of our meeting, when with a little poking, my emotions erupted from within me. I cried harder than I have in a very long time, releasing my hurt, anger, frustration and confusion with God that I had been experiencing all day. The emotions overwhelmed and consumed me, and I became raw and vulnerable.

Saturday I woke up the next morning with a looming headache from the night before when I was hijacked by emotions I had long been holding in. I began my day somewhat similar to the previous morning, beginning my day with a devotional and reading the Word while gazing out at the mountains. But I knew I was already emotionally distant and closing myself off to hearing from God. Yet there was His voice, continuing to pursue me almost begging now, “Let me heal you…” I became even more determined to read and hope that somewhere in the pages of the books I was skimming would be a bit of hope so that I could heal myself. I believe God knew that this would be my response, so He spoke to me again through the words on a page that basically called me out for not allowing Jesus to heal me. Reminding me that right now He is only a few yards away yet I am refusing to feel His healing touch. I was broken again, but still decided to turn away both figuratively and literally. I left the spot I had been sitting in raging with anger and frustration. Why couldn’t I simply say okay to Jesus’ healing touch?

The rest of the day I spent my time trying to shut down and turn off my emotions so that I wouldn’t have to wrestle with God anymore and feel the tension within me resulting from my defiance to accept grace and mercy. I spent the next couple hours of the afternoon trying to avoid anything and anyone who might be able to get me out of emotionless, thoughtless void I had put myself in. I was once again back in my dungeon attempting to not just shut the door behind me, but lock it and not allow anyone to gain entrance. But this is not what God wants of His children, to be locked away and hidden in a place that they cannot be seen or known by others. A community founded in Christ refuses to let another child of God sit in lies and discouragement, so He used two people to poke and prod and speak truth into me while I dug my heels in trying to refuse to be moved. Even after having truth spoken into me for almost two hours, I was still somewhat discouraged by how upside down and backwards everything felt and appeared to me. I even began to wonder if I was truly going to get anything out of my time spent at the retreat. Going into group talk that night, I was discouraged feeling like I hadn’t heard from God and hadn’t “made any progress” in my relationship with Him or in my relationship with learning the land of my own heart.

Little did I know that my giving up in a sense of trying to make progress on my own, by choosing to go climb trees the next morning instead of trying to read and look for God with an intensity and determination to hear something, would lead me to experiencing Him more than I had all weekend. Deciding to no longer adhere to the “silent” aspect of the silent retreat, I explored the land the retreat house sits on while climbing trees along the way with two women I now consider very cherished friends. This time produced conversations that gave each of us deeper understandings of who each other are as people, and where we have come from in life. The three of us finished our adventure all squeezing onto one of the wooden swings gazing out at the mountains, enjoying each other’s company and our last bit of time in a place that had already become so impactful on our lives. As we walked back to the retreat house for our last group debrief before we were to leave, I had all but thought my time hearing from God was already way past over. But, as usual, God had amazing plans for our last time together as a group.

The beginning of the meeting went as all the others had, with us sharing our final thoughts on our time spent at the retreat house over the weekend. Then, Dr. Mitsch had one final challenge for us before we would take communion together. We were to speak truth into each other after observing and listening to the things each of us shared and experienced in our short time together. As we began to single each other out one by one, I experienced so much joy listening to the things that were being said to each person, as well as getting to express my feelings and thoughts about the people I had spent time getting to really know over the past couple of days. When it came time for people to speak into me, I felt an even greater shift within myself, within my own heart. It was almost overwhelming at first, not in a bad way, but in a way that I had never felt so affirmed, encouraged, and appreciated before by a group of people. Having prior difficulties with accepting and believing words of praise and kindness, I made myself focus on truly believing and embracing every word that was spoken to me. So much emotion ran through my body in those moments; appreciation, gratitude, joy, excitement, love and the feeling that I was worthy and more valued than I have felt in a very long time. This was God’s greatest gift to me over the weekend. This was where I saw God and His love more profoundly than I had expected or even hoped I would see during my time on the silent retreat. This was the moment I decided I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to ever lose the community that had been created in such a short time. This was the turning point where I heard God saying, “You may have tried to shut me out yesterday, and doubted my presence, but I am here. I am showing you my love. I am showing you who you are, what you are worth, and what you mean not just to your fellow believers, but to Me too.” And how beautiful, freeing, and amazing is that.

I left my weekend on the silent retreat with more than I could have hoped or prayed for. I left feeling rejuvenated, encouraged, uplifted, hopeful, and one step closer to understanding and accepting the heart God has for me; that I am His Beloved. I am one step closer to knowing who I am, and truly being proud of the things I can say I know myself to be. I am a loving friend who will come running the moment I see a friend in distress, ready to embrace them and shower them with love. I am a compassionate person shown by the heart I have for others, especially women who share in similar experiences as me. I am someone who has the ability to be real, to be honest, and to share openly my Unknownexperiences, knowing that I just might speak the words that express someone else’s feelings too, giving them the power and permission to feel and relate. I am unwilling to give up; I am a fighter. No matter what curveballs life throws at me, I will not stay down for long before brushing myself off and trying again. I am stronger than I know; I have the capacity to withstand even the fiercest storms and come out on the other side better and stronger for weathering them. I am a force to be reckoned with; I carry power through my
emotions and my words and I live for a purpose to use them for the glory of God. I am appreciated, valued, and cherished by others; I am a delight and I am loved. Not only by my friends and family, but by the One who gives the word love its greatest meaning.

As Henri Nouwen put it, once “we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are… Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say or do.”

From now on, I am determined to face the call to become who I truly am and to live out my life claiming this truth. I am His Beloved.

Editor’s note:  For more information about CCU’s Silent Retreats just click here

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Spring Retreat 2015

IMG_1691-Adobe_0001We have begun our first full day of the CCU Spring Silent retreat and already some pretty amazing things have happened. As I have done in years past, I will let the participants of our retreat speak for themselves. The entry will be referred to as the “Voices from Silence.” I’m hoping it will bring encouragement and hope, and perhaps even a curiosity in exploring what it means to meet God in silence and solitude. I will say for myself that the theme seems to be caring for my own soul, and what I am doing to understand what that exactly means…. “caring” for my soul. I will let my retreatants speak for themselves, and I will have more to share as God continues to reveal Himself as He always does in remarkable and unexpected ways.

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He’s coming home! – an update

Many thanks and gratitude for many of you who have been praying for Greyson’s recovery in the NICU. I am excited and most relieved to report that our little man is coming homewpid-IMG_0128_2-2015-03-29-11-22.jpg on Tuesday! It’s shocking that only two weeks ago, we thought we were looking at 3-4 months of a stay in NICU, and it will only be two weeks since his birth that he will be discharged. Clearly, the power of the prayer of God’s people on behalf of us and this little one’s recovery has had a powerful effect. He has made steady progress since his admission to the NICU. Each day has brought new developments and steady improvement. From losing his ventilator, and losing his feed tube, to eventually losing his IV feeding and his nasal-gastric tube for feeding as well. It has been amazing to watch, and incredibly comforting. It is often that I go through life feeling that I’m not sure I see God busy in my life let alone those I love. Yet, this event and its aftermath has been a neon sign with God saying, “Don’t forget! I’m still here even if it doesn’t look like it!” I am confronted once again with the fragility of my own faith, and my willingness to abandon all that I know to be true about God and His character. That is the challenge, at least it seems to me, of faith. Giving myself permission to struggle, and whine, and moan about God’s character (because it doesn’t change the truth of His character), allowing me to accept my own humanity and my frailty. I can do all that, and at the same time, remain anchored to the truth of who God is and His faithfulness to me even if I can’t will myself to demonstrate much of a reciprocal faith. The key that I keep having to remind myself is that if I can give myself permission to struggle, and even “lose faith,” I can also give myself permission to re-grasp what I know to be true, and recalibrate my life around the “anchor of God’s truth” so I remain secure and safe in spite of the storm.

There are still many hurdles ahead, for Greyson and for me as his grandfather. In spite of the hurdles he faces, I can hang on to the power of his story that began when he entered this world. He entered the world completely dependent on those around him to care and even repair his little body for him. While that may be the outside story, there is an inside story that he will learn as he grows – a story of protection and faithfulness by his Abba even before he ever appeared on the world scene. When he finally got around to showing up, the “inside” story is to be told of Greyson living in the loving hands of His Abba that healed his little body, and nurtured him into health and a family that desperately loves him. That will be the evolving story, the story of discovery and hope even in the face of the challenges he will face. What he deserves from me isn’t something that he determines, but is defined for me. My job is to model for him (even if he doesn’t understand it) what faithfulness, perseverance, Godliness, provision, protection, and Biblical masculinity looks like. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I’m up for that task, but for the days that I get to hold him and pour into him I will do my best based on what I know to do at that moment. The rest, with God’s help and power, will have to take care of itself.

Posted in Grandparenting, Masculinity/Manhood | 4 Comments

Self-knowledge is only a part of your story

The Ways to Self-knowledge

“Know yourself” is good advice.  But to know ourselves doesn’t mean to analyse ourselves.  Sometimes we want to know ourselves as if we were machines that could be taken apart and put back together at will.   At certain critical times in our lives it might be helpful to explore in some detail the events that led us to our crises, but we make a mistake when we think that we can ever completely understand ourselves and explain the full meaning of our lives to others.

Solitude, silence, and prayer are often the best ways to self-knowledge.  Not because they offer solutions for the complexity of our lives but because they bring us in touch with our sacred center, where God dwells.  That sacred center may not be analysed.  It is the place of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.~Henri Nouwen

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From where I sit…

From where I sit I can see my grandson’s gentle breathing – an powerful picture of trust, peace, repose and safety. Unfortunately, he is surrounded by all the machines, wires, and tubes necessary to monitor his health and launch him into life more whole than he was IMG_2314when he was born. In spite of all that, he is a powerful picture of dependency and safety. It is little wonder that Jesus would often use children to paint a picture of faith.

From where I sit I can see the incredible satisfaction and contentment written all over his grandma’s face as she gets to hold him close listening to his little sounds of breathing and yes, even fussing.

From where I sit, I can see out the hospital window to the world outside that is filled with joys, wonders, and discovery that are only waiting for his exploration.

From where I sit, I can see the future. I am looking into the face of the next generation. What kind of man will he be? A man of integrity running hard after Jesus? A man of sensitivity, gentleness, and insight? A man of generosity, grace, and strength?  A worthy man?  A man who attacks life with tenaciousness and perseverance? A man of fidelity, consistency, and principles? At what kind of future am I gazing? More questions than answers at present, and that’s okay. It’s the wonder and awesome potential of a little one who is just embarking on the journey of life.

From where I sit, I can see the awesome need of the future for Greyson, and the awesome inadequacy of his grandfather. I don’t say that as self-deprecation, but I do say it as a statement of fact. At this moment in time, I don’t have the resources he needs, but perhaps by God’s grace I will have the resources he needs at the moment in which he needs them.

From where I sit, I can’t see the future; I can only see what is before me. Unfortunately, I see a world that is filled with misery, man’s inhumanity to man, and just plain trouble. I used to sit and think of the future my kids would face, and now here I sit thinking of what the future will be for my grandson. Never did I think I would ever be sitting here in this place – both figuratively and literally. At times it feels like we are skating on a razor’s edge between overwhelming joy and gratitude and overwhelming sorrow. While that may be IMG_2319overstated and even exaggerated, it is the sense I have of this powerful moment in time. I suppose that is what makes these moments in time so poignant. Greyson is far from out of the woods, but perhaps we are in a clearing where there is sunlight, hope, and clarity (for now). Thankfully, God promises that his mercies are new every morning to help me meet the challenges I will face of that day. He doesn’t loan His mercies to me for the future, He meets me in the day that I’m in. In other words, He meets me where I am rather than where I’m supposed to be because, after all, I will never be where I’m “supposed” to be. Thankfully, I can enjoy the day that I’ve been given with Greyson… and that’s enough.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him ~ Prophet Jeremiah
Lamentations 3:22

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Introducing… Greyson Ray

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Shaking hands with the new “little man” in the family!

We welcomed our new arrival, Greyson Ray on March 17th at 3:12am. As expected he was born with the complication I spoke of in my last blog post. He weighed in at 6 lbs, and was 19 inches tall. He was scheduled for surgery three hours later to have this complication addressed and was promptly admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit(NICU). Since that time, he has been progressing steadily. He is still on his ventilator to assist in breathing since the surgery, and a feeding tube since he is unable to feed just yet. Our next hurdle is to see enough improvement that he can be removed from his ventilator. Once that happens, he can then start the process of feeding. It’s at that point, that we will be able to see if his gastric system will tolerate eating and digest the food, and eventually poop it all out (which is a very positive sign). We are all hopeful but know that his recovery will be punctuated by improvement and occasional setbacks. His mom and dad are recovering from two very long days, and are settling into the routine of tracking his recovery, and beginning their adjustment into parenthood. Thanks to all for your prayer support, and continue to hold us all up for the rigors of camping out in the NICU, keeping the “little man” company, reading to him, and just hanging out to be a watchful presence during his recovery. God has been merciful and gracious in this little one’s safe delivery, and his continued improvement during his recovery.

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Danger and Opportunity – Greyson Ray

It has often been said (unfortunately incorrectly) that the Chinese character for crisis is the Chinese_word_for_crisis.svgcombination of the characters for danger and opportunity. In spite of the fact that this sounds profound and consistent with how we would describe a crisis, after a little research I have found that this assertion has become achieved something of a legendary status including its use by Presidents (most notably President Kennedy). So, in spite of all that, I am about to do what many speakers and writers have done before me — use it to make a point!

My family and I head into a situation pregnant (no pun intended… you’ll see) with crisis as defined by danger and opportunity. One of my daughters is pregnant and heads to the hospital to have her labor induced later this evening (Sunday, 3/15). That will be the joy of opportunity to finally get to see the little one’s face and get to know him – yes, I said, “him.” Finally, there will be another male in the family! Hallelujah for testosterone! A birth is so much the epitome of opportunity and a bright hope for the future. While I’ve been a grandfather for quite some time to a granddaughter adopted by another family, this will be the first baby to remain in our family. A baby that I will get to hold and know in the future. I will graciously be given the opportunity to live out the wonderful duties of a grandparent which are hardly “duties.” The opportunity to sow seeds of vision, and faith, and commitment that will be taken into the future far beyond my limited days.

Now, for the danger. Because so often with every opportunity there is a danger. A danger to do things the same as I have always done them. The danger to see the world in the same way that I have always seen it in the past. The danger of a life that will never be the same. This little one (whose name is Greyson Ray) will come into the world fighting for his life. He is being induced three weeks early, and will be born with known complications that will result in almost immediate surgery and admission to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). As I reflect on what we are going into, and the challenges that I face as the leader of my family there are always the questions, doubts, and confusion that trail in the shadow of what’s about to happen. There is much that we are facing that is completely unknown: his condition at birth, the degree of repair and the interventions that will be needed. Yet, while there is much that is unknown, there is just as much known. Things that are known such as the power of family in the face of crisis, and the tremendous power of faith in a Good God. As the animals of Narnia remarked about Aslan, though, “Oh, goodness no he’s not safe, but He’s good.” Unfortunately that goodness may not be grasped at the point of the spear of crisis. People throughout Scripture are portrayed as living in the midst of tremendous crisis, confusion, and disaster, and yet find the strength to “cling” to God in the face of it all. Do they believe at that moment that He is good? Yes, they believe it. Yet, on the other hand, they don’t feel it. I can grasp the truth of God, His faithfulness, His goodness, His commitment to me, and at the same time experience feelings that completely overwhelm what I believe. That doesn’t negate what I believe. As a matter of fact, that belief is what anchors me while I am buffeted by the storms and crises of life. It is  like the anchor of a ship. Imagine for a moment if the anchor of a ship was a steel bar instead of a chain. The anchor wouldn’t be moved, but the ship would be destroyed. On the other hand, an anchor is attached to the ship with a chain that is long enough to allow the ship to face into the wind and take the worst hits of the storm around it. The people on the ship might swear that they are going to be killed and lost. Yet, as one old hymn says, “my anchor holds.” (here’s a rendition of that hymn)

This phrase points back to what the writer of Hebrews wrote when he said, “We have this (the hope of God’s steadfast and unchangeable character and willingness to bind Himself to us through a covenant) as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:19)

As for me and us, I can pray that our anchor holds and will withstand whatever the stormDe_Windstoot-A_ship_in_need_in_a_raging_storm-Willem_van_de_Velde_II-1707-DCedit2 throws at us. Sitting where I am presently sitting, I doubt the resources I have to face such a storm, but I will face it nonetheless and hang on to the belief (not my feelings but allowing those feelings to exist and not be condemned for being there) that God is good, and He is good enough for whatever we face.

Pray for Greyson and my daughter as she brings this precious little one into this world fighting and (hopefully) screaming (that will be the sweetest sound of all).

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Wrestling With God When He Doesn’t Seem Good | RELEVANT Magazine

Wrestling With God When He Doesn’t Seem Good | RELEVANT Magazine.

Posted by Dr. Ray Mitsch… written by Karyn Noll

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