Monday, June 10, 2013

A Dogeared Bookmark


Beijing, China
"Flip and point" has never been my method of Bible reading. Meaning, I don't open the Bible, and randomly let my index finger fall to the place I will read. However, the pages of my New Living Translation of the Scriptures were dogeared, so this morning was an exception. Sliding my thumb and index finger between the folded pages of the fading gold embossed edges I ended up in Deuteronomy 8.

Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you . . . Deuteronomy 8:2


The chance encounter with the verse above seemed timely. Timely, because yesterday I found myself retracing my journey. I think the catalyst being that I will be returning to Presque Isle, Maine on July 7 to speak at New Life Baptist Church--a church plant Sandy and I were immersed in most of the 1980's. Since then a lot of water has gone over the dam.

I took this picture of the Howland dam two summers ago

Doubling back on my thoughts took me along two trails where memories of China and my childhood in Howland, Maine merged. Last year, along with my son, Josh, a group of us spent a weekend walking the ancient and uneven brick paved streets in the center of old Beijing. Just taking a stroll in most of China can be hazardous (i.e. the uneven brick paved streets). Weaving through a sea of black-haired tourists and merchants selling their wares, we honed the necessary art of dodging electric scooters and full sized vehicles navigating pathways originally designed for the speed and width of an oxcart. It's a skill you had better learn, because drivers give no consideration to slowing down for us bipeds. No matter how congested the narrow streets.

Juxtaposed were childhood remembrances of living on the river in Howland. How many hours did my friends and I spend under the apron of the dam, leaping pools of water, bounding from one treacherously slick island of rock to another, spearing suckers, fishing, and misspending youth?

Outside, a hawk screeched and brought me back to the present. I ended the sentimental journey, chuckled, and said aloud, "Shorey, how in the world did you get from Howland, Maine to Beijing, China?"

Hours later, I am writing because I stayed with the question. It's a good question for any of us to ask: How in the world did we get where we are? It's a query that can delight or trouble us, but I believe is always good for us. Of course I am referring to a much larger context than just the physical location and audience of me, myself, and I. In the text, as far as personal responsibility goes, God wanted his people to know why they were--where they were. God was leading them, but they were not always following, and because they were not always following, they were not always where God was leading them. I know, I know; at first blush that can sound confusing. But it is how it works. God stuck with his people even when his people didn't stick with him, and that is the grander truth. It was meant to humble them--not confuse us. It was meant to magnify his love for them. Their character and circumstances were a mixture of their response to God.

I think it's a good practice for us, too, to frequently stop and ask ourselves: How in the world did we get where we are?

As it was for the foot-sore people of Israel, so it is for each of us. When we prayerfully recollect our journeys, we can see--with new eyes--epics that were designed to humble us, not discourage us. Pride is  replaced with humility, disobedience with obedience, weakness with strength, fear with courage, and faithlessness with faithfulness. Reflecting on where we are affords us the privilege to evaluate our choices and put them into context: recollections of exhilarating experiences on spiritual mountaintops and debilitating dark valleys, times when God has given and when he has taken away, profound moments of clarity and fog banks of confusion, spiritually fruitful vineyards and barren deserts, tests we passed and tests we failed, and switchback detours and straight line advances are measured by the benchmark of our response to God. Character development that elates us and character flaws we repent of are all there. It's all there when we ask: how in the world did we get here?

How in the world did I get where I am? A dogeared bookmark got me to stop, think, and answer that question. It's been a time of rejoicing and a time of repenting. It's all good!

Enjoying the Adventure,

Bill Shorey








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