The woods across the street from our house have trails weaving through them. Anyone close to me knows my dream is to own a cabin tucked away in the woods in the mountains. With such an ambition you would think I would spend more time in the micro-version across the street, yet I can count on my hands the number of times I've taken advantage of our trails.
In a lot of ways this is a simple picture of my faith journey. I have walked past opportunities while stuck in my head about lofty concepts. I have ignored blessings right in front of me while focusing on some future goal. I've discounted the present as stepping-stones to a far out reality. I've been paralyzed from seizing the current moment. The woods across the street, the adventure God is calling me into, has been and will be always right in front of me.
Sometimes it takes an inciting incident to wake us up: tragedy, loss, death, failure, depression, doubt. The fourth and final part of my story today is about the hardest conflict I've walked through. It's not a rehashing of all the details, though, because much of this story is not mine to tell, nor do I think you're interested in a 10,000 word essay.
On a cold night in February 2015 I sat around the dinner table with my Mom, Dad, wife, sister, and brother-in-law. We never had to try hard to find a reason to celebrate. Any event, achievement, or life change was always followed by a group text that would read, "Let's celebrate! Where do you want to go eat?" On this occasion we were eating at Cheesecake Factory a few days before Valentine's Day.
I remember getting home that night and thinking about how grateful I was for the life we had built together as a family. How was I this lucky? We all get along, enjoy spending time and traveling together, will have kids/grandkids that grow up at the same time, and the list went on.
I was counting my blessings and in some ways sitting in awe at the grace that had been a part of our life for this season. How had we made it this far with such little conflict, suffering, pain? I literally had that thought, and the following week everything changed.
To those who know our story, you know where we stand today. To those who don't, I'll just say the weight of sin has a way of taking what's beautiful and distorting it until you don't recognize it anymore.
I'll never forget reading this quote from Derek Webb about his affair, "What you think you want, what you think you can have, is not real, and you'll lose real things pursuing it. As an unfortunately and extremely reliable source, please believe me."
The hard lessons, like Derek described, the ones forged by the fire of pain and suffering, are costly. As I've processed the changes of the last two years I've learned a few things myself: you don't know what loving your enemies means until you've truly hated someone, nor can you comprehend forgiveness until someone has taken what's precious to you with no remorse.
Above all, though, I am reminded of the importance and the power of contentment. In the valley, in the presence of enemies...I lack nothing and my cup overflows. I can't count the number of times my Mom read or quoted Psalm 23 to me as a child:
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Contentment keeps us from falling. Contentment keeps us from being crushed by our foes. It keeps us grounded in the present, not some imaginary future. It reminds us of what's real, right now.
This moment, this very second, the person sitting across from you, is the most important part of your life, your highest calling, your greatest adventure. Please don't miss it because you're waiting for your cabin in the woods.