This was performed Monday night, 11/21/16, at a public library in northeast Ohio--at the wonderful "Read Room" (decorated in red, pun intended).
At the museum there was an exhibit that showed the history of three generations in a family--basically spanning the entire 20th century--through their wardrobe. It was a collection of all their clothes with stories attached to each outfit. (It was an extremely wealthy, aristocratic family so the clothing was the highest in fashion at the time, so it was a history of fashion simultaneously). Each story connected to each outfit added up to tell the story of the family over 100 years.
This photo was haunting somehow. The person in the photo is staring straight through the mists of time and looking directly into your soul. Below the photo is a sample of one of the clothing "stories." The story is about the girl in the photo.
It's been hard to do frequent updates because there's just been so much driving all over the place, followed by exhausted "crashing" whenever the traveling stops. But God keeps opening cool doors.
For example, He keeps bringing people randomly across my path and opens doors for me to speak some encouraging words to them--many of whom have experienced loss recently.
God's been opening some doors for the tour itself too. More events keep getting booked on-the-spot that I hadn't expected.
God has been so gracious with this whole thing. The weather while any driving was happening has been perfect: mild and sunny. It was 70 degrees today like a summer day--very unusual for this part of the country. The first big snow storm is coming through this weekend, but it's hitting during a time when we're not traveling anywhere. Very thankful for that.
On Monday is an event at a library in northeast Ohio, and then a few days later is the coffee shop event in North Carolina (it will happen after Thanksgiving while everyone is doing Black Friday/Saturday shopping). You can see details of the whole tour schedule at my speaking calendar page.
God is doing cool things, and I'm very grateful for that! And there's been quite a few stunning late autumn scenes here in Midwest America:
This post begins with a passage from The Lord of the Rings, and it requires a brief introduction.
The event described below happens after Frodo and his eight companions have met the fairest elf in Middle-Earth, Galadriel, in the woods of Lorien. Such is her beauty and wonder that a deep sadness and a profound sense of loss overtakes the company as they finally leave her land and say goodbye to her:
Suddenly the River swept round a bend, and the banks rose upon either side, and the light of Lórien was hidden. To that fair land Frodo never came again.
The travellers now turned their faces to the journey; the sun was before them, and their eyes were dazzled, for all were filled with tears. Gimli wept openly.
‘I have looked the last upon that which was fairest,’ he said to Legolas his companion. ‘Henceforward I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift.’ He put his hand to his breast.
‘Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!’
‘Nay!’ said Legolas. ‘Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.
The powerful passage above brings to mind two passages in the Bible:
Psalm 84:1, 2 (NKJV):
“How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV):
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”
When Legolas addresses Gimli’s grief, he speaks one of the most profound lines in Tolkien’s trilogy: “For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”
There is something deeply unsatisfying about life in this world. Nothing seems to fill the subterranean ache in our hearts that grasps and longs for something beyond the horizon of life. Even in our bliss we feel restless. It feels as if another world is hiding behind the roar of our happiest days like a secret cave behind a waterfall.
Time doesn’t help. When we finally reach a moment of great happiness—we obtain some goal, we get a job we love, we go to college, we buy a house, we marry someone we love, we have children—the first thing we notice is how quickly Time is pushing us along. We want to stand still and bask in the glory of that wonderful moment, but Time, like an impatient police officer gruffly managing a crowd, hurries us along to the next moment. Any joy to be had in this world begins moving away from us as quickly as it arrives.
We’re left wanting more.
A deep restlessness stirs. We wish those moments of happiness had never ended. Deep down we wish everything good could go on forever.
Ecclesiastes hints at this when it mentions God hiding eternity in our hearts. We’re discontent with the finiteness of human joy. Deep down we sense that joy was never supposed to end. God’s original plan had aimed for something better than the fleeting, half-formed happiness of this world. A vague awareness of this blissful eternity haunts every soul, especially because each of us, in our own way, are destined “to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”
But Psalm 84 offers us a practical solution: refocus our many longings in life—like mirrors redirecting lasers—until our deepest longing points to Christ, the Author of Life. When we make God the object of our deepest desire, when our heart and flesh faints for the beauty of His presence on a daily basis, we begin to taste a supernatural kind of joy that never fades. This, of course, does not mean that our efforts to pursue God always yield a perfectly blissful experience. The journey of pursuing God, like hiking up a steep mountain, can be tiring and frustrating. (After all, our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak.)
But it is worth it.
By pointing our heart’s desire to God above all other pursuits, we grasp toward something that is itself eternal. Nothing in our earthly lives—money, relationships, romance, jobs, ministries—are eternal. When the beautiful tabernacle of God becomes our great desire—that dwelling place beneath His great pavilion where we go in our hearts to enjoy sweet fellowship, prayer, worship, and a continual feasting on the Word—a peace settles over our spirits in the place that was once incurable and restless.
Because we’ve finally set our hearts on a joy that is always available in rich potency and unfading quality. We’ve finally put our hope on riches that never fade or run out.
We’re finally beginning to taste and know the eternal love that has haunted us—a joy and source of life in Him we can never lose.
Abba, please change my cravings. Change my wants and needs and rearrange my heart until You genuinely are my greatest craving, want, and need—my deepest longing. If my hunger for You is weak and fickle, change me. Transform me. Reshape my heart. Stir a new hunger. Renew my vision of Your beauty so that I see what I am missing. Allow that sudden awareness of my lack of You to stir a deeper hunger until knowing You becomes the great pursuit of my life. In Jesus’ Name, amen.
Nashville is an amazing place, as I discovered for the first time this past weekend--Nov. 11-13, 2016. My family and I got to share unbelievably good coffee with a friend at The Perch, a local breakfast hot spot, then we explored the glory that is Nashville: the Parthenon, the Ryman, the hubbub of Broadway, the Grand Ole Opry, and Opryland. I met some great people at the book signing at Barnes and Noble (in Brentwood area of Nashville). On the way out of Nashville we saw several military helicopters fly overhead on their way to do a fly-over at the NFL stadium (for Veteran's Day) where the Titans were playing the Packers.
It's been a blur so far:
- California deserts by night on Sunday
- Flagstaff's pine forests and alluring Grand Canyon signs (alluring because I so badly wanted to deviate from the course and drive to the Grand Canyon) on Monday
- New Mexico's painted deserts on Tuesday
- The Texas Panhandle plains on Wednesday
...and a whole lot of Route 66 in between those locations--darting in and out of the Historic Route 66 during stops like we were in the movie "Cars."
But for me it's the early evening skies, like this one over Casa Blanca, New Mexico:
It's the American South West and Heartland in November. Cool and brisk during the day but still sunny--downright cold at night but not cold enough to snow.
Somewhere in between all of the above a presidential election happened.
America is such a beautiful country, and I love it deeply. It is one of the greatest privileges to be a citizen of this nation.
And I've already met some nice people on this book tour, and the official events haven't even started yet. For example, I shared my book with the hotel clerk who was manning the check-in counter, which led to a conversation about church and the book of Ecclesiastes.
America is full to the brim of people who are not only willing to talk about God but are spiritually hungry. Whenever I drive across its plains and deserts and mountains--and meet all sorts of people along the way--I thank God for this country. For all her faults, America has done many good things. I believe God will use America for more good before this crazy age ends and the real King returns.
America in November.
The sunrises and sunsets on this drive remind me of a painting I saw at the big art museum in Chicago, "The Song of the Lark" by Jules Breton, one of the most captivating paintings I've ever seen. I stood in front of that painting longer than anything else in the museum.
Bill Murray felt that way too, apparently.
I came across a news article about it: apparently Bill Murray was going through a difficult time in his life, in the early days in his career when he was in a theatrical troupe in Chicago in the 1970s, and he was extremely depressed. He was just about ready to end his life. He was walking down Michigan Ave toward Lake Michigan with the intent to end his life there so he could at least end his life "floating a little," when he impulsively stepped inside the Art Institute of Chicago. There he saw this painting--"The Song of the Lark" by Jules Breton, the same one that captivated me--and it so moved him that he stood there staring at it a long time, and it changed his mind about ending his life. Here it is, the painting that saved Bill Murray's life:
This is a prime example of--in my opinion--God (yes, I believe the Holy Spirit had a hand in using that painting to help Murray) using creative things like art to change a person's heart. (For example: God used books and music to get me through some dark seasons of my own. That's what Shadowlands and Songs of Light is partly about.)
God has many tools at his disposal to accomplish His wonders and works of love: nations, paintings, songs, art museums, and simple testimonies--even a modest road trip through the brisk and chilly plains of this country.
Joy and grief in November. Warm roads and cold winds in November. Bright orange deserts and midnight super moons in November.
America in November.