nature

Adventures in Faith

Check Out What Praying in Nature Reveals

If you follow my little blog thing here, you know I crave to get away from "it all," retreat to nature, and pray and just listen for God. It's a sweet time alone with the Creator of the Universe, the God of the Bible. 

Aside of the peace and dreams and visions God reveals to me in those times away, my eyes are also opened to the vastness of creation. Here's a sampling of what has come into view--truly amazing!

Adventures in Faith

A Tribute to Susie Afflerbach

Susie and Gregg saddled up to the copper bar I tended while working my way through college, and I've never been the same. I'm not being overly dramatic given the fresh sting of Susie's departure from this Earth, she was really someone special.

The two of them, Gregg doting on his beautiful bride and smiling all the time, Susie with her soft-spoken yet friendly way, they let a young guy into their lives at that bar. It wasn't too long before we'd hit a gallery together, they'd show up at charity events I was a part of, they'd later come to my college graduation party, my wedding. 

Lots of times they'd tell me about a musician they were going to hear, and I'd meet them on a deck for a beer to listen and catch up. When I decided to create a cd of local musicians as a fundraiser, they invited me to their house to help sort through the submissions. Once in their cozy place, Susie introduced me around to people in the photos, her cats, more of who she and Gregg were. We sat and listened and laughed and it was a simple act to invite me in, but it's a defining characteristic of who Susie was, she invited you in, be you a college kid, a wounded deer, or a fierce wolf that would frighten most.

It was a pleasure to watch Susie emerge as an artist. I think I was among her first customers when she painted on rocks, I ordered a set of the family pets for my Mom. She captured the eyes so beautifully. Then, I asked her to paint my brothers French bulldog, her paintings became an instant treasure to the recipient.

Even after I moved to Philadelphia, when I came back to town, I'd give the Afflerbach's a call, on the off chance I could catch them around town. And when I did, we talked about life including my love life--or lack of one as it often was. Gregg and Susie were so encouraging to me, they told me about how they met in Philadelphia, and how I was going to be like them and meet someone in Philly, they were sure. When I did meet a beautiful blonde of my own in Philly, they were so happy for me. 

When I met Whitney, who I just knew would be my wife, Gregg and Susie could tell, they'd never seen me so excited. Soon after we'd met, Whitney's dear cat Tyler died suddenly, and she was really upset, he was one awesome cat. I didn't know her too well, just a few months at that point, but I called Susie and asked her to paint Tyler. What she sent me in the mail was remarkable, my wife looks at it and gets tears in her eyes to this day. She called me to see how it was received, she was so upset for the loss too, and she told me Gregg had framed it, he learned how to frame, they were a team.

And yet, it was more than her friendly spirit, love for music, encouragement, or ability to paint that makes me say that Susie changed my life. No, what endeared me to her was the sense that she was truly a kindred spirit, that somehow, in some way, we were close, we were one. It was this spirit in Susie that led her to call me RyRy, a name only my Mom called me, and it just felt right, as if she was close to me like a member of my family. It was that she left the most heartfelt messages on my Facebook page, or that she noticed Whitney had "liked" a recent painting of a set of little chics she made, and when our baby boy was born, she surprised us with it in the mail. It was how she never forgot my birthday because hers was two days before, and she'd talk about how we were similar in so many ways. There aren't many people in life you just connect with like that, and even fewer when you see them once a year you pick right back up, Susie was one of those people in my life. 

I believe that man and woman, we are created in God's image. I think with Susie the God in her was just easier to see than you experience with a lot of people. And when I look at the book of Galatians 5:22 and read what are called the "fruits of the spirit, "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control," well, Susie is one of the few people who I think you could really see all of those things in her life quickly. With a lot of people, even really faithful people, I don't always see a gentleness or a love for creation like you could see in Susie. 

In closing, my heart aches for you Gregg. Boy oh boy, brother, how to go on... There is no right answer, people will try to tell you, and comfort you, but we all ache, we cry, we ask God why. We weren't created for death and separation like this, and missing Susie will hurt. But, and this is a big huge but, deep down inside me, despite the empty pit in my stomach and the tears over this loss, I smile, I smile because I know that I will see Susie again, for all eternity in fact. There's comfort in that, we're here just a short-while and I am a happy guy having met Susie. I will remember her often, I will cherish her paintings in my home, I will think of her as I embrace nature, and I will do it with the same sentiments Susie expressed when faced with the loss of "My Girl":

It was a privilege to have had her as my friend for as long as I did. I thank God for that experience. And I also know I will see My Girl, and all my other wild friends who have passed on, again... when I cross over the Rainbow Bridge. I know they will be there to greet me and we'll be together again forever.

Adventures in Faith

God Is Not Always Efficient

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"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38

As I was driving into Washington D.C. for the New Canaan Society & Wilberforce Conferences, I called Michael, who I was set to room with for the night. Michael had planned for a nap, he said, and my arrival was set to be right in the middle of it, so would I mind delaying a bit. "No problem," I responded; and I thought to catch up on work in the business center. Minutes after the call with just a few miles to the hotel, I found myself driving along beautiful Rock Creek. I felt like I should pray at that moment, so I pulled off the road, hopped down the bank, and found my way to a large rock in the middle of the creek. There, I threw up my hands to God and admitted to Him that my heart was not "in" these conferences...I saw them as a work obligation, not as a chance to praise and glorify Him. As I sat there feeling spent, I told God that I talk enough and would He  please put something on my heart...teach me! Minutes passed by...so did joggers...I soaked up the sun and the sound of the rushing water. Then, right before me, a great message was delivered in the form of two currents that ran counter to the creek. Literally, two sections of water ran back against the flow--literally uphill--to create a small pool right at my feet.

As I saw this I received with it the lesson that God's design is so high, so Holy, so Perfect, that it must be trusted fully. God is in control and, most important, it can be terribly inefficient in a worldly sense. In the end, the creek runs exactly where God wants it to run. Holding up efficiency as a grand measure, as I often do, was not an across-the-board virtue, at least in God's design, that much was clear. This came all at once in a remarkable way, so much so that I took out my phone and videotaped the scene.

This was to be a private lesson just for me but then on the last night of the conference Michael introduced me to a friend of his who spoke about his difficulty in always wanting to be efficient. I found myself blurting out that I think God gave me a lesson for him, and at the risk of looking foolish, I showed him my little creek-side video. It resonated with him for sure, but there watching next to him, Michael remarked that it had a strong application for him too. The next day, as we talked more, Michael added that perhaps this story should be shared with our team at work at an upcoming retreat.

I have taken the core message from this day to heart, that I must focus my vision on God's design and not worldly design, and certainly not on what appears most efficient. I have since balanced research and strategy development with seeking God's will in prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, and seeking council from other believers. As a result, I have become more patient, understanding, and gentle in handling times when I face inefficiency.