26
Apr 13

Refuge

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- Dax Bushway

Maggie had been sick for about a year. She wasn’t getting much better and she was about to go through some major treatments. Being the oldest sibling, I took on a great deal of responsibility when Maggie was in the hospital. My parents saw this and wanted to do something to let me know they loved me and knew about my sacrifice. I had been spending a few days at my best friend’s house and when my parents came to pick me up, they gave me a present, some new books. Reading was one of my favorite things and this present was the greatest comfort my parents could have provided. Harry Potter, Redwall, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, and A Wrinkle in Time all stood ready to provide refuge from the sorrow I lived in.

My literary journey didn’t start as a refuge, however. My parents tell me I was always an inquisitive child and couldn’t wait to learn. I remember practicing phonics with my mom, going through simple readers, and getting my certificate that said I had completed “Sing, Spell, Read, and Write.” When my mom and dad signed my certificate, I felt I had really achieved something. Now I had the tools to conquer the books I saw my parents reading. When I wasn’t doing school reading, I was reading history books, encyclopedias, and abridged classics. Through these new tools, I entered into the worlds of Oliver Twist, George Washington, and Black Beauty. This wasn’t reading just for the sake of reading; I began to enter into the great conversation of thoughts and ideas. Though I was only a child, my reading helped develop my sense of morality, mercy, and justice. But more than being presented with ethical situations, I began seeing God’s greater story in the books I read. Oliver Twist wasn’t simply a story about an orphan; it really showed how we are lost people God pursues and saves. Pinocchio became a prodigal son story instead of simply being about how children shouldn’t lie. The books I read strengthened my still young faith.

About a month after I turned nine, my younger sister Maggie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Suddenly my innocent life was filled with terror and uncertainty. My three little sisters and I were all homeschooled, so there was no real escape from Maggie’s sickness. Day after day I watched Maggie vomit from the chemo and my parents weep with sorrow. Watching TV, playing with friends, or staying at other family’s houses felt like drugs; they temporarily relieved my pain, but eventually it wore off and I had to return to reality. I began turning to the things I loved most: stories. When I wasn’t helping my mom take care of my sisters, I was reading, listening to Adventures in Odyssey, or listening to Radio Theatre. These stories were balms for my soul. One of my favorite stories to listen to was The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Hearing the tribulation of Narnia, the utter hopelessness of the Narnians plite, and the triumphant victory of Aslan over the Calormenes reminded me Jesus would return one day and do away with my suffering. These stories were a refuge for me, and in them God gave me hope.

The night my parents gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was wary of even picking it up. It was a time when most Christians thought Harry and everything to do with him was evil. I let the book sit on my shelf for months, scared of what might happen to me if my eyes were exposed to such material. After a while, I started reading the books and I couldn’t stop. Every minute I wasn’t doing schoolwork I read Harry Potter. At first, the reading was simply an escape; instead of thinking about whether Maggie would live or not, I could focus on Harry’s quest to defeat Voldemort. Soon, my faith started making its way into my reading. No longer was I simply reading to find a refuge; God was reaching through these stories and reminding me about Him and His character. No longer was the story simply about children casting spells at each other; God had a greater plan at work. As Harry gained victory against Voldemort, I was reminded that Jesus, in the last days, would have victory over sin and death. When Harry died and rose again to defeat dark magic once and for all, God showed how He accomplished this once and for all on the cross. I saw a lot of “dark magic” in my life, but God constantly reminded me that He owned the victory.

God wasn’t content to let me read books that simply echoed His story. Ultimately, all the reading I sought refuge in drove me back to God’s story. I realized there was only one source of true comfort and peace: the story of Jesus dying on the cross, atoning for my sins, and defeating the horrors of the Fall. The day I started high school, Maggie was flown to St. Louis Children’s hospital where the doctors hoped to stop her uncontrollable seizing. This marked the beginning of a dark time in my heart. I had to come to grips with what I truly believed about God. Were all those stories true, or had I simply been fooled into thinking God cared? As required by school, I read The Lord of the Rings my freshmen year. Perhaps the most poignant element of this immense story is Aragorn defeating the forces of Mount Doom and returning to his rightful throne in Gondor. Though I couldn’t bring myself to read God’s Word, God still reached out to me through this story. He reminded me that He sits on the throne and is sovereign over all the suffering in our lives. Eventually, my God healed my spirit so I could once again read His Word. The stories sustained me through that incredibly difficult time.

I haven’t yet, and I don’t think I ever will, grow out of my love for stories. Through all the suffering I have experienced, God has taught me He is unfolding one grand story of redemption, and I am but one character in this great tale. I can’t help but look at everything I read, be it textbooks, theology, political speeches, or novels through the lenses of redemption. For me, literature is more than simply entertainment; it is God communicating to me His truth. Perhaps God uses stories, as C.S. Lewis once said, to “steal past those watchful dragons” (Lewis). I’m always amazed after I finish a book and I realize all God was telling me through it. God is a good shepherd, and sometimes His staff looks more like books than it does a cane.

 

Works Cited

Lewis, C.S. “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said.” 1956.  Wedgewood Circle. Web. 6 February 2013

Rodriguez, Richard. “Scholarship Boy.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Ed. Stuart Grenne and April Lidinsky . 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012: 15-22. Print.

This article was published in Pikes Peak Community College’s Academic Journal

04
Jan 13

Learning to be Intentional

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I’ve spent the last several months reevaluating my intentionalness (is that even a word?) around several areas in my life: reading, listening, praying, meditating, and learning.

I’m what you could call a distracted skimmer. As I would do any activity, I would look / listen for key parts and then move on, always looking for the shiny nuggets that mattered for me to get something done. It makes for great productivity, but lousy growth. I could read book, but not fully engage in it. I could participate in a conversation, but not fully be there. I could read scripture, but not hear God speaking. You can see what this would do to someone’s prayer life, bible reading, and relationships.

While reading two books, things started crystallizing for me that there was a problem. Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and Albert Mohler’s Conviction to Lead started to resonate deeply with me. I won’t get into a review of each book, but the main things I walked away with from both books were the importance of meditation, how time continues to tick away, and how I should be intentionally engaging my mind with challenging things. Recognizing that God would have better things for me in my walk with Him, I’ve set out to slowly change things.

  1. I’ve started reading books on a non-tablet device, a Kindle Paperwhite. That part about being easily distracted is huge for me. While iPads and tablets are great doing it all together on one device; at least for me, they make for lousy ways to get alone with God and my thoughts.
  2. I’m forcing myself to read a lot slower. I’ve found I have to intentionally tell myself, sometimes multiple times on a single page, “slow down, reread that, don’t skip sentences”. This has been very difficult, but so worthwhile. I’m retaining more of what I read and feel like I’m much more engaged in the story.
  3. I’ve started honing in on a particular area of scripture I’m reading and really concentrating on it – sometimes 15 – 30 minutes at a time, asking Gospel-centered questions about the text. In short, I’m learning to meditate and it is glorious!
  4. Last week I deleted my Facebook and Instragram accounts. I started with just removing them the apps from my iPhone, and decided to fully commit last week. Again, distraction – not just visiting Facebook, but feeling the desire to share everything about what I’m doing, reading, not being where I’m at. I finally realized that I could not come up any good reason to stay on Facebook. In the end, it was a time-sink that offered nothing back. All the people I need to stay in contact with are either are at church, work, or a phone call away. I still have my Twitter account, but no longer have the app on any of my mobile devices. I find Twitter to be very beneficial, although it, too, can get out of control if not managed.
  5. I’ve started writing out my prayers in a journal that the kids got me for Father’s Day several years ago. I can’t describe how intensely personal this is. It has become some of the richest times I’ve spent with God.
  6. We took the TV out of our bedroom. Instead of clicking on CNN or ESPN, I’m pulling out my Kindle, talking with Kathi, or getting to sleep on time.

These basic changes are creating calm in my soul. They are slowing me down. They are helping me to also become a better listener, both with people and with God. I’m a work-in-progress, and I’m thankful God knows that.

 

06
Oct 10

On Reading, Distractions, iPads and Kindles

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I have a love / hate relationship with reading. I love books, but I rarely finish them. I don’t exactly know why, except that I do know I get distracted easily. I also like to “get to the point” and end up frustrated with authors who take forever to say “Jesus loves us and He died for our sins”. I don’t need to read a doctoral thesis to understand that. So, I tend to skim rather than read, and I end up missing most of the beauty the author was trying to sketch out for me.

Recognizing what I’ve been missing out on, I’ve been making an earnest effort to change those habits. Here are some things I’m doing to cultivate a love for reading:

  • I really like eBooks. I like having easy access to any of my books wherever I am or the ability to buy a book at-will. eBooks have helped lure me back to the written word.
  • I love the iPad and I’ve been a huge fan of the Kindle app for the iPad. However, I’ve found that the iPad is not conducive to “getting lost in a story”. There are too many temptations to flip over to my email app, browse the tech news, check my twitter feeds, etc. It doesn’t take too long after beginning a chapter that I find my mind beginning to wander.
  • I’ve recently switched to a dedicated eBook reader – the Amazon Kindle 3. I like the single-focus aspect of a dedicated eBook reader. No bleeps, no twitter, no browser – just regular old reading.
  • On Saturday’s or Sunday’s, I like to go outside and read. Due to the heat and the screen glare, the iPad is horrible for that. The Kindle, however, is perfect for that.
  • I’ve never been good about looking up references the author includes inline, and I’ve been poorer as a result. I’ve found that when I take the time to look up a verse that the author references, it really enhances what I’m reading / studying and the Lord often shows me something totally new as a result.
  • I don’t read well when there is too much going on around me. I do my best reading and studying early in the morning (like 4 am) or late at night. A cup of coffee and a comfy recliner at 4 am is where I long to be these days.
  • I’ve tried audio books, but I just don’t retain the information like I do when I’m reading. Occasionally I’ll listen to an audio book while riding a bike or running, but I’ve really come to appreciate the silence of those activities more. That said, I’ve found the gym to be the perfect place to catch up on reading. A book is a great way to keep your eyes from visible “distractions” that are wondering the gym floor or on the TV.
  • Most of the books I read are non-fiction: theology, writing, mercy ministry, stream-of-thought, etc. I wouldn’t mind reading fiction books by people who happen to be Christians, I just don’t want to read Christian fiction. I’ve heard it said that the worst place in Christendom is the Christian Book Store, and I believe that isn’t too far from the truth.
  • When reading a chapter, I’m being intentional about not skipping paragraphs. In fact, I’m forcing myself to go back and re-read paragraphs to make sure I understand what the author is trying to communicate. I’m also going back and re-reading entire chapters. By doing those things, I find myself getting into the author’s world more frequently.
  • Note-taking while reading is a skill I’m just now beginning to develop. Keeping some small moleskine notebooks around helps a lot.
15
Sep 10

Silencing the Noise

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One early morning this past week, I sat down to read some scripture and found myself bombarded with noise. It was self-induced and I desired it more than quietness.

The noise was comforting. It created a layer between what I was reading and my soul’s desire to listen.

What does comforting noise look like?

  • thoughts of what lay in store for today
  • worrying over customer projects
  • refilling that coffee mug
  • checking email while reading or while someone is speaking
  • looking up at the lights
  • reading a verse and immediately thinking of application or how it might make for a great article
  • anticipating the joy of checking something off
  • glancing at the clock
  • applying my own filter to what I’m reading
  • glancing at my calendar while wrapping up a chapter
  • coming immediately to God with needs
  • following a bunny trail of links
  • reading instead of praying
  • notification sounds of emails coming in
  • the blinking light on a BlackBerry
  • twittering or facebooking something you just read
  • seeking the companionship of an iPad rather than solitude
  • texting while at the red light
  • listening in one ear while someone is talking, while also browsing or typing

That kind of noise is comforting because it allows us to interact on our terms, without commitment, applying our own unconscious filter. It allows us to communicate without listening. It keeps us in the safe zone.  It fills our desire to be needed and productive.

We were not made for that, though.

Real communication is found in quietness, when we desire to silence the noise so we can truly hear what the other person is saying. It is a very difficult place to get to and our flesh will fight it. Once we begin to desire silence over noise, though, we’ll finally be on our way to being wherever we are.

23
Aug 10

To Foster the Growth of

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Merriam-Webster defines cultivate as:

1) to prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops; also : to loosen or break up the soil about (growing plants)
2) a : to foster the growth of; b: to improve by labor, care, or study : refine
courtesy of RedWelly: http://www.flickr.com/photos/redwelly/89928491/
I especially like 2a: to foster the growth of. It implies that there is something that needs growing, something that is worth growing, and it requires some help in order to grow. In light of that definition, here are some questions I want to wrestle with over the coming months and years:
  1. What does it mean to foster the growth of our desires? How does that look and who’s the beneficiary? What’s the motivation?
  2. How do we nurture the culture and temperature of our home; and why would we want to?
  3. Does our use of technology or gadgets negatively impact our interaction with people? How do we cultivate our use of technology?
  4. What is quietness and how do we cultivate it to impact how we listen to people with our eyes, ears and heart?
  5. Why is it uncomfortable to be alone while reading or praying, and how do we cultivate that time so that we learn to listen while reading and praying?

photo courtesy of RedWelly


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