Featured Post

Perfect Imperfection

Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Sunday, November 18, 2007


To our close friends and those of you we have never met, to the friends of friends across the world, please know Andrea and I are praying for you. That you will see God's purpose in your life, no matter what struggle you face and in that purpose you will find the strength to lay down your life. That you will know God is there ready to use you. You just have to be willing. Trust me God can teach anyone who tries. I have learned you don't have to be perfect to be used only willing. We love each of you and we're thankful our lives have been intertwined by this trial.

1 Kings 18: 20-39

So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing.

Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the LORD's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good."

Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire." So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, "Your name shall be Israel." With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood."

"Do it again," he said, and they did it again.
"Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."

Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD -he is God! The LORD -he is God!"

Do you ever think life is piling on? Like kids playing football, when you were tackled then everyone else jumped on top of you. Wasn't he down after the first guy tackled him, were the other 5 guys jumping on really necessary. Does life seem to be throwing at you an excessive amount of difficulties? Yeah me to. Sometimes I feel like the alter in this story, soaked only to be soaked again and again by life's events. But you know what we are never soaked to the point where God can't light the fire.

On my first ride in the T-37 we came up initial to land and the Instructor demonstrated the how we land in the Air Force. He approached the field and when we were right above the runway about 1500ft high he did a 180 degree turn pulling about 2-3 gs, or 2-3 times the force of normal gravity, he slowed down threw down the gear and preformed another 180 degree descending turn lining back up with the runway and greasing on a landing. I remember sinking in my seat under the pressure of the g's. My chin was stuck to my chest, my oxygen mask was sliding off my nose, my sweat began to run into my eyes and burn. I'm not sure I actually "saw" any of the demonstration, I think all I saw were my feet. The instructor, I'm sure proud of his flawless demonstration completed the turn and asked if I had any questions. After I regained what little composure I had, and pushed my helmet off my eyes so I could see and I said, "Was that really necessary?" In my mind that seemed like total overkill. At the time I really did not understand the reasons why the we had to do such a "violent" maneuver every time we landed. I don't remember ever having to do this to land a Cessna or had any airline done something like this, so to me it seemed totally unnecessary. Later I would not even think twice about it as it became an everyday occurrence. I thought of that day almost every time I came back to land in my career of flying F-15Es. It reminded me of my beginnings and how at one time that simply landing seemed so difficult. Now I don't even notice 2-3 gs. Soon I would have to pull 8-9gs, and make split second decisions at the same time.

I have always been amazed how the military trains pilots. They take someone off the street with very little flying experience if any at all and within months you are a flying a supersonic jet, doing loops, and aerobatics. About four months after that first flight I would be flying formation in a T-38, within 3-5 feet of another airplane, between 200-400mph and up to 4-5 gs. And I was solo! I never even thought twice about coming back to land. In fact about one year after that first flight I became an Instructor teaching new students the same maneuvers. It is amazing how something that seemed impossible soon became routine. I always remember how hard it was for me, and how my instructors took the time to teach me. That is one of the main reasons I always loved teaching, it was the passing of the baton. I felt I owed it to give of myself. After all I was living my dream because someone had taken the time to teach me.

Isn't that just like our life? It is just how we learn and grow and it applies to every part of our life, whether it is riding a bike or driving a car for the first time, they all seem impossible to us at first but soon become second nature because someone takes the time to pass on what they have learned. It even applies to our faith and our relationship with God. What we see as the limit of our abilities is really just a limit of our thinking. The ability for us to trust God in situations and difficulties increases the more we face in life. If all we see is ourselves and our abilities then we will only grow to the extent of our abilities. The problem is when we run into a new challenge which we do not posses the skills or abilities to handle we will quit. The obstacle will seem impossible or as I saw the "violent" 2-3g turn, unnecessary.

I saw many young pilots who felt they were in over their head and wanted to quit. I would tell them they had to do two things. First, trust me as their instructor. I took pride in my ability as an instructor. My father was an instructor and although we never talked about it I knew my dad took pride in his ability as a pilot. He was good and he could teach and I felt the same. I could teach anyone to fly if they would just keep trying. There was little I could do for someone who quit trying, they were lost and I knew they would soon be gone. I always felt it was my failure as an instructor if someone was trying and they failed. I just needed to find the right words to make the light come on. A good instructor does not demand the student adjust to his teaching technique, instead he learns to adjust his techniques to how the student learns.

Second, I would tell them to to stop and remember how much they wanted to fly and remember back to what first motivated them to want to be an Air Force pilot. For me it was my father who himself was an Air Force pilot and of all things a poster I had on my bedroom wall. It was a picture of a fighter pilot with his mask on and that dark visor down. I always thought he looked like a bumble bee. But I wanted to do that and I went to bed dreaming of being a pilot. Sometimes under the pressure of pilot training people would forget why they had signed up for this program. When you forget why you were even there, when you forget what motivated you then suddenly everything happening to you becomes another log on the fire resentment and it is not long until you are convinced that it is not worth it. When I had a student start to have problems I would take the time to ask them to tell me about why they wanted to be a pilot and when they first realized it was their dream. I wanted them to remember what drove them to be here. They had already overcome many obstacles just to get to this point. I would remind them of the excitement they had on their first flight in the T-38. And then during the sortie, when I saw them getting tired and frustrated to the point that they stopped processing my instruction. I would take the jet and tell them I wanted them to stop and relax. I would say look where you are, this is your office here at 20,000ft high above the clouds where miles of roads were inches we could travel in seconds. I would ask them, "One year ago how much would you have paid to get a ride in a T-38?" or "What if one year ago I told you, you would be here flying the T-38 what would have been your reaction?" Then I would say take the next 300lbs of fuel (about 3-5 minutes) and just have fun, I'm not going to grade you, just have fun. I would call it cloud chasing. When you dart in and out of the clouds flying down valleys and over mountains of white cumulus clouds that existed only for that moment. On a hot Texas day you could fly to the top of the clouds and watch the as they grew, like boiling water they grew ever higher. I wanted them to just have fun and remember their motivation for being there. As an Instructor you have to notice when your student looses their motivation and joy and life is reduced to work without any reason or purpose. No matter what the task, when you forget the why, when you forget your motivation it is only a matter of time until it is not worth it and you quit and give up. In these cases the one thing you think you don't have is extra gas to waste. But that is exactly what I did. Cloud chasing was not a syllabus event. But it was the only way to melt away the pressures and the stresses the student was feeling. I knew the student just needed to be reminded that this was a fun job. The student would soon find the strength to dig down and try, ready to listen to my instruction. In the T-38 the student sits in front and the Instructor sits in the back so there is not physical interaction the Instructor is just a voice in your headset coaching the student through the maneuver. At first I would be taking to them so much that I was almost remote controlling their actions. But then I would just say less and less until almost without the student noticing it he was soon doing it all on his own. The student trusting me was was able to do what moments before was impossible in their mind. I remember one ride when the student took the jet and we went straight up and started doing aileron rolls as fast as we could while shooting like a rocket from 5ooo ft to 20000ft. Well, the student had inadvertently hit the mic switch,

transmitting to everyone on our frequency, our "YEEEEEEEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAAAAAAW." When we ran out of airspeed and our heads could no longer take the spinning the controller come over the radio and asked "Cool 21 are you okay we thought we heard screaming?" I my calm authoritative instructor voice I said, "Were fine, just having a little fun."

I realized I needed to remember my own advice when cancer comes and tries to take away my joy of living. I need to trust my Instructor, God who can teach anyone to make it through this life. That is when I remind myself that my savior, Jesus lived as a man and knows exactly what I struggle with. Who better to teach me.

Hebrews 4:15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Sometimes when life piles on it is just a chance for God to show Himself. I think God enjoys doing what we think is impossible. He sits back and watching as we work our feeble attempts to solve a problem or manage a crisis. I picture him with a smile on His face, just waiting for us to say uncle. God is like the biggest baddest wrestling tag team partner. Admit it you have seen WWF when the one guy is in the ring getting pummeled and his partner is outside the ring but he can't come and help until the guy in the ring reaches out to touch his hand.

I feel at times I'm the one in the ring and life is having its way with me. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting the classic folding chair over the head beating. My friends are the audience screaming at me "reach out and touch God's hand." Soon I'm beaten, nearly unconscious laying flat on the mat while my adversary climbs onto the turnbuckle readying himself for the grand finale flying pile driver leap onto my chest. Exhausted I reach out and touch the hand of God who is stretching his arm towards mine and in comes my partner. My adversary only moments before taunting the crowd, now sees there is no a new opponent in the ring. My partner is well rested and angry at the unfair beating I have been taking.

God is just like that, ever ready to jump in the ring knowing there is no opponent that He can't beat. But he awaits our invitation. I wonder why we wait until we are at our last bit of strength. What makes us think we got it under control when it is obvious to those around us we are a rag doll in the hands of our opponent? I use to think I had failed when I waited until I was so exhausted that I had no option but to reach out to God.

But isn't that what Peter did in the boat? Isn't that what the woman with the issue of blood did? Look at many of the examples in the New Testament. The ones who came to Jesus for help, He was their last hope and I think Jesus used those moments to show His love and His power. I think He is still doing that in my life.

As I read 2 Kings 18 I thought of how Elijah had the people pour the water on the alter, just to make it that much more impossible, that much more God's power and not man's. Sometimes I feel God is soaking Andrea and I, "Again, pour on another bucket of water." As if to say if you thought it was impossible before just wait. And just like Elijah God draw the crowds of the curious, the faithful and the hopeful around so that they could see first hand that God is God.

In that I see purpose in all this suffering. That is the word, purpose, I have been seeking for a long time. I often wondered why I write these blogs and my email updates. Was it some self serving desire? My time writing has helped me work through many thoughts and struggles in my mind. My time early in the morning has been very therapeutic for me. I find I'm able to express thoughts that normally I would hold deep within me. Some, actually most of those thoughts, would eat at me, like a enemy grabbing at my feet trying to drag me under the water, while I kick and scream trying to escape. But these blogs are my way of exposing what I fear in the light of God's promises.

I receive many emails or responses to my writing. Most tell me thanks for sharing this struggle. Many tell me how it has helped them deal with something in their life. This past week I really began to think about those responses. Truthfully, I have struggled with them ever since I began sharing with all of you. I felt guilty for being praised or even my excitement I feel when I open the email and see your letters. As if I was benefiting from Andrea's suffering. But at the same time I found such encouragement each time I received an email from one of you. It lifted me, and I really did not understand my conflicting guilt and joy. I was afraid my joy was pride. Pride in myself, in what I had written, and I do not want to feel prideful at all. So I would suppress any feelings of joy or accomplishments. Does this make since to anyone?

Then I was reading 1 Kings 18, I identified with so many parts of this story.

The meaning interwoven with in these verses is the question "Why." And then I read verse 39, that said the people learned God is God. That is the reason for the drought forcing Elijah into the desert to be fed by the ravens and drink water from the brook. That was the reason for the brook drying up and Elijah having to met the widow who would supply him with food. That was a reason for her son to die who would come back to life when Elijah cried out to God. Was Elijah struggling with these events as I would? Was he struggling to piece together the meaning of what was happening as I would? As I am right now as I see Andrea still struggling daily with cancer, even after such a long time?

Look at verse 1 of Chapter 18 and I think you will see Elijah's attitude: "After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: "Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land." Did you see those words, "After a long time"? I did. Why did Elijah add these seemingly meaningless words, after a long time. Didn't the next phrase say in the third year, so we know how long it was. I think Elijah was expressing what you and I feel in our life all the time, that God's timing is not keeping up with our pace. How many times have I felt like starting off my story with the words, after a long time. Too many to count if I was honest with you.

But Elijah did as he was told and the result is verse 39:
"When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD -he is God! The LORD -he is God!" There was the purpose for all these events, and there is the purpose for many of the the events of our life. I saw the purpose in Andrea's suffering. In that purpose I saw why I'm so encouraged by your letters and comments. It was not because I'm prideful in what I have done but because God is allowing me the to see the why in all this.

The purpose, the reason, that is what I feel when I read your emails. God is using this to change lives. Maybe it is to help someone who can identify with our suffering. Maybe someone who is just starting chemo, or just heard the doctor tell them they have cancer. Maybe it is a marriage that is struggling. Maybe someone dealing with the loss of a loved one. Maybe just someone dealing with trying to reconcile the idea that God loves them when life's events seem to scream the opposite. I have no idea but God does. And if our sharing our fears, our joys, our victories or our struggles helps someone then there is purpose in all this. And that purpose gives me strength to endure, for there is a reason. In that moment that I read your letters and emails I know God is in control and He is using what seems wrong for good. In that moment I'm given the chance to connect some of the dots. And I'm once again reminded that I can trust my instructor. That I don't have to feel guilty for the joy I have hearing from you. I just think it is God saying, take these next few moments and chase the clouds Jim, enjoy and remember why you first came to me. Remember the excitement you felt when we first talked. Remember why you gave your life to Christ. When you share how God is using this trial I'm refreshed and ready to learn more from God. Your emails are my moment to scream
YEEEEEEEEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAW when life throws another bucket of water on me.

No comments:

Post a Comment