River Lee

On occasion, I get an impression of someone and decide to get a little weird by asking them if they have had any interesting dreams, visions, or brushes with God or divine, however they describe it. I’ve been surprised how often the answer is yes.

River Lee, a coworker and good friend of mine, is one of those individuals. He has been a bit of a mentor to me. I’ve learned a great deal about carpentry and about life from him. He is a pretty remarkable and talented guy. He lives in Woolwich Maine with his family on their farm.

In any event, I was working with him and we were building this beautiful deck right on the water. The setting was quintessential Maine. I don’t remember what exactly we were talking about but at one point, I saw my opportunity to bring up the subject and see how he responded.

River proceeded to tell me about the motorcycle trip he took from North America down to the tip of Argentina and how on that trip, while riding through Columbia, he had a vision of an accident. He blacked out and when he came to, he realized he had laid his bike down, but was uninjured. Later on, I asked him to tell his story while I recorded so I could share with you his own words:

“So, I was in Columbia and I was trying to go through Columbia as fast as I could, because I didn’t feel really comfortable. I had heard stories of kidnappings and that sort of stuff. But, I was driving and I was in the mountains and there were S curves. I had just come through an S curve to the other side where it straightened out a little bit and I blacked out a little, kind of like a dream state. I wasn’t aware of where I was anymore. Everything seemed kind of far away. In that state, I saw an accident, a collision of some sort. It must have only been a few seconds, because I came too and I was sideways sliding down the road. My motorcycle was just ahead of me, and I was following it, completely unhurt. I had on all the protective gear. It was a slow speed affair. I picked the bike up and put it on the side of the road. I had to fix one of the panniers that had broken but other than that, it was kind of just one of those things that happened at the right time. It wasn’t on a highway going 60 – 70 miles per hour. There were no other cars around. So, you know, if the circumstances had been different it could have been bad for me. So, I get going and a mile or two down the road on another S curve, there was some sort of big vehicle. A truck or bus. I don’t know if it was by itself, I can’t remember, but it had flipped over. It was on its side right in the middle of the curve, and you know, I couldn’t help but wonder if…I don’ know how long or if the timing was in line with my accident, but I kind of got the feeling that maybe I was being protected so I wouldn’t get into that accident.”

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John Whalley

This past spring, I found myself in a small adult Sunday school class in Woolwich Maine. I hadn’t been to Sunday school since junior high, perhaps? Anyway, much to my surprise I actually enjoyed it.

One of the books we were reading had a chapter on the life of Joan of Arc. Joan had an extraordinary life full of dreams and visions that began around the age of 13. Around the age of 16, this peasant girl living in medieval France, with no military training, found a way to convince the embattled crown prince Charles of Valois to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orléans, where it achieved a momentous victory over the English and their French allies. It’s hard to find a word other than miracle to describe her life. One of the reasons she was able to convince powerful men was that her dreams and visions somehow allowed her to know things like the status of a battle before that information was available to anyone else.

In any event, the Sunday school teacher asked the class if anyone had experienced any type of dreams, visions, or intuitions themselves, even on a very small basis.

Of course I perked up, because this type of thing has always been of interest to me, namely, knowing something that comes to us and through us, but isn’t from us.

One of the folks that spoke up was John Whalley, a well known Maine painter, and he shared a story about how out of the blue, while he was painting one evening, he received an impression or a “pressing” to call his friend and tell him he believed his mother was going to pass away that night. John knew that this man’s mother had been sick for some time, but he could find no logical reason as to why, on that particular evening while he was painting, such a thought might intrude upon his focus with an intensity demanding action.

John related how he knew about the illness of his friend’s mother, but hadn’t spoken to his friend in some time and had no reason or information that would have lead him to make a call that evening. He said it was difficult not to want to dismiss this “pressing” because there was no other reason to call that night, especially at a late hour.

However, after speaking to his wife, he decided to pick up the phone and call his friend, acknowledging the strangeness of why he was calling, but nonetheless calling. The friend’s wife picked up the phone and her response was “How did you know?” You see his friend’s mother was in the hospital in critical condition and she did end up passing away that night.

That evening John was able to comfort his friend and tell him he had no reason to worry about where his mother was, because as he said, “If God can get through my thick skull, he has things handled for your mother”.

How did you know?

I think that question demands an answer. At the very least it demands an acknowledgement of the possibility of the divine and the divine within us. Because how did John know? How did Joan of Arc know?

I believe we’ve all had “pressings” and we are all more connected than we think. There are many words for it. Some say intuition, some say the Holy Spirit or God, and others say the unconscious or collective unconscious. I know what I think, but regardless, it’s something and this something offers a form of knowing that is beyond us. It almost always requires action without a logical cause, a leap of faith. I have seen it time and again that there is a rightness and truth from beyond that breaks through into our reality seeking to manifest itself, the result of which is beauty, grace, healing, love, and all the “ineffables” that push life forward and create meaning.

I think it’s important to tell these stories, because they are more ordinary than you would think. When you hear the knock, I hope find the courage to open the door.

 

The Baker

My very good college friend (let’s call him Mike), came up to Maine to visit this winter. Normally, visitors want to see and experience as much as possible, but this visit was different. Since it was in the winter, the tourists had long since gone home to their busy city lives and a sleepy blanket of snow covers pretty much everything, tucking in the locals who have built lives here over the years and generations. In may ways, you can’t truly experience Maine unless you’ve experienced a Maine winter. Seeing the sun glisten through the ice and freshly fallen snow as you hike out to the ocean’s deserted beach is magical.

In our own ways, Mike and I are both determined and driven. We’ve both accomplished and experienced a lot and seemed to have arrived simultaneously at a point of taking stock and reflection.

My move to Maine transpired very quickly and seemed random since I wasn’t doing anything related to my previous experience in accounting, websites, or marketing. But it wasn’t really random if you stop looking at life as a linear event and more as a current that moves below the surface. Several years ago, a counselor asked me a question that I couldn’t un-hear and I shared it with Mike, because it was the most direct way explanation.

Reluctantly, I was visiting this counselor, because who wants to go see a counselor? However, I was profoundly unhappy with the very achievements I thought I once wanted. I wasn’t quite conscious of the upcoming choice I had to make, but I had a very stark choice to make.

Often, during my chit chat with my counselor, while I was avoiding the very reason I was paying him for his time, I happened on the subject, of all things, of how much I loved Costco, because their pizza is delicious and their gelato is pretty solid for the price. The counselor asked me why, if I liked Costco so much, I didn’t just take a job there until I figured things out regarding what I was more passionate about. He then followed this up with a brilliant question that forced me to confront a blatant contradiction in my spirit.

Counselor: Let me ask you a question. If you went to Costco and ended up meeting the assistant bakery manager, a guy who had a wife and children that loved him, who was happy at his job, who had interests outside of work, and great friends, would you think he was a loser?

Me: No, of course I wouldn’t think he was a loser. Good for him.

Counselor: If you were that baker, would you think you were a loser?

Me: Crickets.

I couldn’t un-hear that question and it forever made me face the crumbling foundation on which I had built my identity.

There is no way I would be a baker. I went to college after all.

With a single question, that counselor earned his fee many times over. In high school, we took tests to see what type of careers we might want to pursue as an adult. Something deep in my heart desperately wanted to have a career of money and status. I thought, “Dear God, please let me be cut out for something decent.” I remember garbage man was one of my options, and I sat there thinking, “are you freaking kidding me with this? I am screwed.”  In my spirit, I recoiled at being a nobody. Where this odd mixture of fear and pride came from, I don’t know.

They say pride is like carbon monoxide in that you don’t know your suffocating. I am certain that our spirits aren’t meant to whither and die on the vine, choked off by pride. Instead, we must must allow our pride to be stripped from us. This is a bit tricky, because it feels like you’re going to die, but you aren’t. You aren’t your pride. You’re something much more precious. You’re a soul dealing with the challenge of growing into the person you were intended to be.

It’s not a violent act, but it is a painful and terrifying separation. It’s also not something we can do alone. For how can we separate from something we didn’t even know was suffocating us to begin with? How do we know we totally released something so that it doesn’t grow back? Sometimes it takes a bit of a miracle, but life is full of them if you’re looking. 

My conversation with Mike was a beautiful thing. It takes life long friendships to discuss such things honestly. We talked a long time about how he felt he wanted to dial things back work wise and invest more in his family. He talked about authoring a better story when it came to his wife and children.

I think it’s hard to write a great story when our minds seem to do such a great job at presenting us with pre-written chapters that have to be just so. However, the dogmas in our minds can be cast aside. A great story involves transformation of the heart, a hero’s journey, not a net worth figure or a Pinterest board of the house you want some day.

Our minds constantly present us stories that look good from the outside, but it’s the inside that matters, and that’s a sacred space only you grant access to.

I saw how my friend’s eyes lit up when he talked about changing his story from a dad that worked all the time to a dad who loved his children so much he would dial back to have time to take them on great adventures and teach them things. Now that’s a great story, one of true sacrifice and courage. I knew he knew what the answer was and I knew he had made the decision to write a great story for himself and his family.

Remember this, because it is true: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Don’t necessarily think of heaven as this future storehouse of wealth, like your treasure is going into a divine savings account accruing angelic interest for when you croak. It’s right here on earth. It’s all around if the eyes of your heart are ready to see it.

Desire

Recently, I was demo-ing a house for a remodel. The house was built in the late 1700’s and it had a beautiful old brick hearth that had been covered over with new bricks in order to make it look more modern. Our goal was to take off the newer brick to see if we could restore the fireplace to its original glory. On a hot and humid day, it was hours of hard work using sledge hammers, crow bars, and a heavy jack hammer.

I was working with the co-founder of our company, someone I’ve learned a great deal from, not just about carpentry, but about life and I was having trouble removing a section of brick. I said, “I don’t think I can get this out.” Standing there with the very jack hammer I was hoping he would use on the brick, he said “I bet if you really want to, you could get it out.” He was silent after that, and the silence created in me a desire to push forward rather than back down. With newfound resolution, I finagled the brick out fairly quickly.

Nothing about that brick changed but my desire changed.

Desire creates clarity and I suddenly saw how to remove it. In all things, we must look inside ourselves and honestly determine whether our desire is enough to remove the dozens of bricks that don’t want to budge.

Slaying Dragons

While it seems that most people read the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis, as a child, I may be a bit of a rarity in that I am reading the Chronicles for the first time as an adult. For a ‘children’s book’, the series has a tremendous amount to say to adults.

In the story, for those that don’t know, four siblings, the Pevensie children, crawl through a wardrobe closet and find themselves in the enchanted world of Narnia, where animals speak and children can become kings and queens. They eventually meet the great lion, Aslan, who reigns over Narnia and is the source of all adventure and wonder. In the Chronicles, Aslan is always both. He is both safe and dangerous. He is patient yet demanding. He is mercy and justice. Aslan appears when and how he chooses and he always appears when the Pevensie children need him most.

Aslan’s Breath and Slaying Dragons

Aslan’s breath is one of the images I love the most. When he breathes on the Pevensie children, they take heart.  Two of the children ride the wind of his breath to a distant land. Aslan even spoke Narnia itself into existence.

Four years ago, I encountered ‘Aslan’. More precisely, I felt his breath. I don’t speak of it much because I don’t have the words to do it justice. But the affects have forever changed the course of my life. When I realized I could never un-know what I knew from that experience, both wonder and dread came over me. My only certainty was the certainty that I was heading into the unknown.

The affects of Aslan’s breath are devastatingly creative and beautiful. It’s difficult to explain, but the closest I’ve ever seen, heard, or read is in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this book, two of the Pevensie children, Edmond and Lucy, return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who Lewis describes as a rotten twit of a kid, whose parents were “vegetarians, non-smokers, and teetotalers”.

You see, Eustace only read books for information, not because he loved them. He enjoyed things he could count because it allowed himself to easily compare himself to others. Rarely did he study a subject because of a passion for the material. Where most boys craved adventure, Eustace didn’t, yet he craved the glory that only adventure can provide. Eustace was able to twist all the good things his cousins did for him into bad. He could make a beautiful, sunny sailing day on a boat towards adventure a terrible drag. Eustace was ugly inside but he couldn’t see it.

One day, the group had a great deal of work ahead of them to set up camp. It occurred to Eustace to slip away while no one was looking and go up into the mountains where it was cool and airy and have a good long sleep. The only problem with his plan was that he got lost in the fog and found himself in a totally new valley with no one else in sight. He stumbled across a dragon’s lair. He didn’t know what it was at first, because “he had read none of the right books”.

Soon after, Eustace watched an old sad creature, a dragon, take its last breath and die just as it was about to reach a pool of water to drink. Eustace was frightened, but still needing a place to rest, he entered the dragon’s lair only to find riches beyond his wildest imagination, riches that would dramatically change his life in Narnia.

He fell asleep with the treasure and when he awoke, he was startled to discover he had dragon claws, dragon wings, and that he was in fact a dragon. He was instantly seized with regret and miraculously he began seeing himself for the first time. For the first time, Eustace missed his cousins, who weren’t fiends as he previously thought, but wonderful friends to him. With great regret, he wished to become a boy again. But how?

One night, as Eustace lay awake thinking, “what on earth would become of me?” he looked up and saw a great lion walking toward him. Eustace was terrified but the lion spoke, “follow me.” The lion led him a long way into the mountains where they came upon a well that was more like a big, round bathe. Eustace thought if he could just bathe in it, he could ease his pain, but the lion told him to undress first. It occurred to Eustace that perhaps dragons could shed skins like snakes so he began shedding the ugly skins. But each time, there was yet another layer of dragon skin beneath, all hard and wrinkled, just as before. As he was wondering just how many layers there were, because he just wanted to take his bath, the lion said, “You will have to let me undress you.”

According to Eustace, “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right to my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I had ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” He goes on to say, “Well he peeled the beastly stuff right off.”

Transformation of the Heart

The heart, which is ultimately a mystery, seeks wholeness, and it will do what it pleases to achieve wholeness whether it is healthy for us or not. For example, some strive for a feeling of wholeness through a relationship or marriage while others pursue money, power, or status. Yet, who can say that any of these satisfies for more than a moment?

The heart can never find wholeness on its own. We need an “other” to undress us and cut away, with supernatural precision, the half-truths we have an endless ability to deceive ourselves with. We can’t be whole if we are hiding, yet we hide from others almost as much as we hide from ourselves. But when Aslan undresses us, there is no hiding, there is only wholeness. Until then, like Eustace, we are stuck peeling off layer upon endless layer. 

In regards to Eustace, C.S. Lewis goes on to say that, “It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy. To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days where he could be tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

I have never identified as strongly with a character as I have with Eustace Scrubb and not because I was mean and cruel, because I wasn’t, but in a way that we should all identify with Eustace Scrubb.

It’s en vogue to say, usually with a degree of arrogance, that everything people do is done from self-interest. For example, people volunteer because it makes them feel good. They go to church because they are afraid to live in a confusing world and need simple answers. They give to charity, because they get a tax deduction or they derive an emotional benefit from it. They give to their community, because they derive safety from the community. In other words, there is always an angle, because people are always jockeying for position and power. However, this isn’t really intellectually honest, because it explains everything but also nothing at all.

I am here to tell you that the stuff of Aslan, the very stuff that binds the world together is pure and unconditional and not only can it be experienced but we are designed to experience it flowing through us. It is the stuff of joy, grace, beauty, love and all the other inexplicable experiences that even the greatest poets scarce do justice.

The reason we are jockeying for control is not that the world demands it. Rather, our hearts demand control, because until they have experienced a different reality, they just don’t know. Eustace didn’t know he was a dragon inside until he was confronted with himself.

The state of our hearts, why we do what we do, is more important than what we do.

It is possible to be pure of heart. Not everything is done out of self-motivation. In fact, we can’t fully experience life until we die to ourselves.

Of course the world is still the way the world is, but the great thing is that we can live in both realities. Sure, fear and scarcity drive people, but we also can have faith that love and kindness have more horsepower, will always win in the end and that we don’t have to play by the world’s rules. It’s the stuff of freedom and transformation.

For me, like Eustace, the cure has begun. There is no going back. What an adventure to be both new and old at the same time, knowing that my soul is being perfected through my own will as well as Aslan’s.

A Journey to Maine

Have you ever had a recurring intuitions, dreams, thoughts, or impressions and wondered what to do with them? Perhaps you don’t pursue them, because they seem illogical or impractical?

Several years ago, I decided to make a practice of saying yes to these intuitions. I began to place intuition on an equal footing with logic in my life. Logic had always been my risk free friend, but eventually I learned that intuition was a form of knowledge, often superior to logic. Whereas logic takes right and left turns, intuition leaps. This has brought me to some interesting places.

In the past, I’ve struggled with big decisions. I still do, though much less. Big decisions are always made in a fog without all the facts. There are never enough data points for big decisions.

I was recently faced with a big decision after several culminating events forced my hand. Long story short, in November 2016, I received a job opportunity that would require me to move from Atlanta to Woolwich, Maine, located about 45 minutes north of Portland. I took it and in December I was working for a homebuilder and renovation company, doing carpentry and construction.

Life’s Waves

Several curious people have asked me why I made such a big move so quickly. I suppose it all boils down to the fact that I embarked on an inward journey that has had significant ramifications. It is difficult to put into words. However, it reminds me of an experience I had after graduating college. In 2002, before I started working, I went to Hawaii for a month with one of my best buddies. I took a surfing class. I was nervous. What if I couldn’t do it?

Looking back on this, it occurred to me that although one must have an understanding of the general mechanics of standing up on the board, which you’re taught on the beach, more importantly and ironically, you have to fight the urge to be mechanical. You have to feel the wave and act.

What’s worse than falling off a surfboard over and over? Answer: sitting on the beach wondering if you could have surfed. I was a lousy surfer, but at least I surfed once. It may seem obvious but to surf you have to be in the water. You can’t be on the beach where it is safe and risk free. In the water, it’s awkward and tiring to try over and over again. Eventually, however, I surfed a wave and I will never forget that feeling, because I caught something bigger than myself, which is the key to living a life of wonder.

Assuming there is a God, and I believe there is, He most certainly has created waves for us to surf in life. We aren’t meant to be purely mechanical and linear, always knowing what’s next. Of course being mechanical is a strong temptation, but then we stagnate, robbed of joy and wonder. And we aren’t the only ones that stagnate. The people around us also begin to stagnate.

However, the other side of the coin is that sometimes we do get knocked off our board and it’s painful. At the end of August 2016, I was asked to leave a business that I co-founded with little to show for it. I wasn’t totally surprised. I was watching us try to half surf, as I like to call it. You simply can’t timidly and calculatingly get half way up on the surfboard and still experience surfing as it is meant to be experienced. You have to commit. In the end, we simply disagreed about too much and I found myself tumbling in the surf wondering what was up and what was down. The hard reality of saying yes to life is that sometimes you get knocked off your surfboard.

Open Doors

Timber framing workshop

In October of 2016, I took a timber framing class in Maine. While there, I visited my cousin whose husband’s family owns a home building and renovation company. He suggested I come up to Maine and work for them for a couple of months. His logic was simple: swinging a hammer would help me get my mind off of my disappointment.

First week on the job

Whereas before I was watching all the doors close in my face, I began seeing all the right doors open. A swell was forming in the distance as I realized I had a decision to make. Have some faith to catch the wave or let it pass by. In less than a month, I had a great job, an amazing place to live, family close by, and an easy move in the books. I literally just had to walk through the doors and although it was hard, I watched things unfold organically. It is and has been a beautiful adventure.

Once a King

Yes, of course you’ll get back to Narnia again someday. Once a King in Narnia, always a king in Narnia. But don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it. And don’t talk too much about it even among yourselves. And don’t mention it to anyone else unless you’ve found that they’ve had adventures of the same sort themselves. What’s that? How will you know? Oh you’ll know all right. Odd things they say—even their looks—will let the secret out.