Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Planning for a Fuller Life

Spring has officially sprung in Northern Virginia. Although it was rainy this weekend, was fairly blustery yesterday, and was below freezing last night (a random anomaly and the coldest night in the last couple of months!)), overall things are warming up. Or at least they would be if they had ever really cooled off! Since Winter never really showed up, spring has come all that much sooner, which means that blossoms are already giving way to green leaves. This phenomenon has particular significance for the cherry trees ringing the tidal basin in DC.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the original planting of cherry trees in 1912. That being the case, the plan was for an extra long cherry blossom festival this year in order to really call attention to the beauty and significance of the trees. Unfortunately, though significant effort went into planning the celebration no one though to check with the trees to see if their blossoms would  want to attend. As it turns out, the cherry blossoms elected not to attend the festivities, but to rather come to the site of the party early as a special treat to locals and much to the chagrin of the thousands of people who had made plans to come and see them.  

Each of the last three Sundays Alison and I went down to the tidal basin after church (except for this past Sunday when she had to go to work, so I went down on my own), enjoyed the lovely weather, and took pictures of the trees. It was a dramatic way to see the changes that occurred with the passage of a single week. Amongst the pictures we took was one looking through a tree, across the basin at the Jefferson Memorial. I took that same picture from the same place all three Sundays and it looks quite different every time.Check out my album "Spring 2012" to see these pictures and others demonstrating the beauty of spring.

We went down to the tidal basin for three consecutive Sundays and took the same picture each time. It definitely illustrates how quickly things change! This is March 11, week one

As you will readily see in the first picture the buds are just starting to appear on the branches,  in the second the blossoms have shown up in abundance.

March 18, week two

In the third they are nearly gone completely. It is truly amazing how fast the entire atmosphere of the tidal basin changes.

March 25, week three

The blossoms mean many different things to different people, but their greatest significance in my mind is as symbols of the value of life and beauty. Since that was a topic of an message I wrote two years ago when I was working on the mall, I won't spend much time on it here, except to say that the significance has not lessened in the past two years. If anything, it is even more poignant now.

We are called to live our lives to the fullest, and designed to bloom in beauty and wonder. None of know how long we have. Some of us may have another 80 years, while others a matter of days or months. But it shouldn't matter. We are all called to fill the world with life, color, and vibrancy, even if it is only for a fleeting moment. In the space of two weeks those trees were transformed from sticks with some little buds on them, to absolutely vibrant explosions of life, to a few petals stubbornly hanging on before they too fall to the earth. If we hadn't gone down on that middle Sunday we would have missed it. All the thousands of people who had made plans to attend the festival did miss it. We can make our plans and think that we know what the future holds, but the truth is that we don't know. Sometimes the blossoms show up early and if we aren't available to react to the unexpected we will miss the beauty and wonder altogether.

Quite fittingly the sermon this past Sunday was taken from James Chapter 4 and was all about our approach to life.

James 4:13-17Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

The truth is that we don't know what is going to happen tomorrow and we would do well indeed to approach life with the mindset James speaks of, a mindset which recognizes that God is sovereign and we live only by and through his grace and love.

Like the blossoms, we must face the reality of death by living our lives to the fullest in the time that we have, shining forth in brilliance and reflecting joy and love to those who gaze upon us.

These next six weeks are going to be pretty challenging for me as I both finish my first semester of grad school, and also enter into the beginning of the Civil War anniversary season. The first major anniversary is the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, which is April 6-7. I will not be attending that event, but both the rangers I work with will be in Tennessee for a week and a half, which leaves me to take care of things in the office. The primary "thing" that will need taking care of is the design and development of a 35 page magazine that will be distributed to battlefields and other NPS and historic sites around the region in June. This magazine is something new, specifically designed to augment the sesquicentennial as a whole. We are doing the final review of the spring edition right now, but most of the burden for creating the summer edition (July/August/September) of the magazine will fall upon me.

So even as I am facing what appears to be a daunting task ahead I get to help to create something which will inform, educate, and help visitors to better understand and appreciate the sacrifice of so many young men on the field of battle in 1862. It is not only a responsibility, but an opportunity to participate in something bigger than myself. At least that's the plan. But as we know, plans are subject God's determination.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It is well with my soul

For the first time since I started working for the Park Service I am in a position where I usually have a normal work schedule of 8:30--5:00 Mon-Fri. One of the many benefits of working that sort of schedule is that I will have Sundays off and will actually be able to attend church with regularity, something I have not been able to do since I left Oroville.

One of the things that I enjoy the very most about being a part of the church services is the singing. We are attending a Baptist Church in Washington, DC which means that much of the music is made up of songs I do not know (having been raised in a Nazarene tradition). I have become much more familiar which many of these songs, but it is still always more exciting for me when a song like "how great thou art," "great is thou faithfulness" or "and can it be" shows up in the program. There are certain songs that most people know and therefore sing with more confidence. That confidence, in turn, creates a much more powerful sound. Many of the people in our congregation have significant musical talent and enough sing the other parts so that all four (SATB) can be distinctly heard. This is especially true when the piano drops out for the final verse of a song, leaving only the voices, as it often does.

It is nearly always moving when this occurs, but especially so when it is one of the aforementioned songs that most people know well and sing with greater confidence. There is one song, however, that never fails to move me in any context, and sung in this fashion, is virtually guaranteed to do so. That song is "it is well with my soul." If you don't know this song, or the story behind it, this webpage gives a pretty good account.  http://www.faithclipart.com/guide/Christian-Music/hymns-the-songs-and-the-stories/it-is-well-with-my-soul-the-song-and-the-story.html

When you understand the story behind the song it makes it much more meaningful, and gives even greater significance to the sound of hundreds of voices simultaneously declaring, "And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul."

There is great power in communion and in sharing a declaration of faith in such a manner. There is even greater power in understanding the meaning, emotion, and sorrow which lie behind the words. They come alive in richness when you know the story.

As I prepare to once again be employed in a role in which I will be bringing stories to life I am reminded of the power of evocative imagery, as it is typified in an acapella public singing of "it is well with my soul." Our lives mean a great deal more when viewed in the context of that larger picture.

Much of this last week was spent attempting to tie up loose ends before I start working full time again. Many of those loose ends concerned changing Alison's identity, officially making her a resident of Virginia, and establishing ourselves as a married couple. We had to have vehicles inspected and reinspected, both for the State of Virginia and in order to get insurance. We attempted to get her a Virginia drivers license in her new name, but the system was down throughout the entire state so we could not get it. Everything else is done though. We have insurance on both vehicles for both of us, we have a joint bank account in her new name, and we are both registered to vote in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Our story has changed. Our identity (hers especially) has changed. Our identity as individuals has been modified into an identity as a couple.  We have become more than the sum of our individual parts. We, as individuals, have become a part of something bigger.

We do not know what the days ahead will bring, but we know that we will face them together. We know that we are a part of something bigger.

And it is well with my soul.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Expanding Possibilities

We have come it it at last, only a few more days until I begin my new position with NPS at Manasssas National Battlefield. It continues to be exciting to look ahead to what these next few years will hold, but I have also been doing a lot of thinking about how much has changed and how many different opportunities I have had in the past few years.

~Six years ago I was entering into my final semester at Point Loma thinking that I would be starting at Regent College in Vancouver, BC the next Fall.

~Five years ago I working with the youth of the Oroville Church of the Nazarene in CA after moving to the area to work in the tree business with two dear friends from college. I had just returned to Oroville from a trip to Regent in Vancouver with my Dad, still thinking that is where I would end up in the next few years. As it turned out, later that year I was offered a full tuition scholarship to Regent right as I was involved in the opening of the Axiom Youth Center in Oroville, and I chose to stay in Oroville.

~Four years ago I had just ceased working with the youth in Oroville after helping to open the Axiom in the downtown area and was at home in Phoenix about to embark an a journey across the Grand Canyon.

~Three years ago I was working at a bookkeeper in a Locksmith shop while applying for positions all over the country in all sorts of different areas (including but not limited to being a white water rafting guide, a wildland firefighter for several different agencies, helping run large scale Christian camps in CA, being an RD or working in International Ministries at Point Loma, and being a Park Ranger). Little did I know that in another month I would, for the first time, be offered a position with the Park Service and would quit my job and move out to South Dakota for what was only guaranteed to be a three month position at Wind Cave National Park.

~Two years ago I was preparing for the National Cherry Blossom Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Five weeks later I would meet Alison.

~Last year I had been engaged for three weeks and was a week away from going to CA to look at potential wedding sites with Alison and her Mom. I was also a couple weeks away from starting out at Shenandoah National Park.

Every year for the past six years has seen me in a remarkably different position, with a distinct vision of what the future might hold. I certainly did not know that I would now be married, studying American history in graduate school in Virginia, and about to start working for the Park Service on interpreting the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

It is truly amazing to look back and see where God has brought me over these past six years. It has been a journey, but I would not be where I am today without each chapter in the story falling into place when it did.

When I left Point Loma I thought I was going to go learn about theology in Canada. Instead I am about to start my fourth position with the National Park Service and am learning about history in Virginia.

In the past three years I have been in every state in the Union except for six (Alaska, Washington, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine) and I was in Washington in February, 2007. Our hope is to visit the four upper New England states I am missing in the early fall sometime in the next few years since they are within driving distance. That will leave only Alaska before I can claim all 50 of the United States. Four years ago I had been in about 12 of the states.

Life changes quickly. Opportunities arise and we have to choose how we will respond to them. We rarely know as much about out future as we think we do, and we would do well to remember that it could change at any time. For me, life has changed dramatically, but I wouldn't go back and change a bit of it. Each experience has contributed invaluably to shaping me into the man I am and in leading me into the frontier of  discovery. It has been and will continue to be a life willed with dangerous wonder.