God, Us, and the Trial By Staircase; Defendant: Elevators

It is insanely late, and I am ridiculously sleep deprived. Apologies in advance for any incoherentness that may appear anywhere in this note.

I was in the shower a few minutes ago, reveling in the idea that I would be squeaky-clean and asleep in bed within the next few minutes. What glorious sleep awaited me! What fanciful dreams! A solid 7 hours–!
Yeah, right. Not if God has anything to do with it. The first thing I learned from jumping on the bandwagon was that God specializes directly in reminding you that your agenda isnothing compared to what he has planned for you. That’s the first lesson of the night. Many more are to come, kiddos, so buckle your seatbelts.

My fantasies of early sleep were suddenly interrupted by a memory of something that had happened earlier today. At the time that this event occurred, it didn’t seem like a big deal at all; I lingered on it maybe for five seconds and then moved on. But when it flashed through my memory, this time it stuck.

When Levi and I got out of our math class at around 11:40-something, we were just in time to catch Nick Mertens disappearing into the elevator doors as we passed by. Let me explain something: there are three sets of three flights of stairs between my math class and the door by which we exit to the car. Thus, there is an elevator which will conveniently carry anyone who does not wish to dare the trek of concrete stairsteps to any of the three floors of his choosing.

I despise elevators. I only use them if I am pushing or pulling a very heavy cartload of some kind that cannot possibly be lugged up the stairs—except in extreme situations, such as in a very, very tall, corporate-like building within which one would most likely get very, very lost within the labyrinthine structure in trying to find the correct stairs. Anyway, I digress. Back to normal-scenario elevators.

I think elevators are the pinnacle of everything about human achievement that I hate. It’s that thought process that goes something like: “Hey, let’s take this flawlessly functioning standard (i.e., STAIRS), deem it archaic, and waste our technological advancement in replacing it with something that will cost zillions of dollars for taxpayers but will make us lots and lots of money once it becomes the new standard (i.e., ELEVATORS). What an excellent idea, Watson!” Yeah. I hate it. That and car washes, but that’s another note for another time.

There’s a little part of me that feels somewhat smug and superior walking up (or down) stairs while some sloth soul wanders aimlessly into the chrome vertical chariot next to the stairs. I take pride in putting my faith in solid structure that has been tested and proved for thousands of years. I mean, really—what a concept! Trusting something solid and connected to the earth to get you up or down! Meanwhile, what happens if your elevator stops for no reason at all? Or, what if it doesn’t stop? You’re not in control once you step inside that elevator. You might think you’re in control because you get to press the pretty little plastic light-up button that makes a cute noise when you press it…but are you really? You’re just trusting wiring and programming. Wires rust. Programs glitch.

I may or may not have shouted out to Nick Mertens that he was a lazy bum who rides elevators when only the bravest of souls were worthy of taking the stairs.

Anyway.
This is where my God metaphor comes in (this is my favorite part).

Elevator = the proverbial “flow.” The “norm.” The structure of what everyone else is doing because everyone else tells them to, because it’s the “thing,” the easy way out, the fad of the moment.

Stairs = The path of difficulty, sweat, huffing and puffing, bronchial problems, treacherous step-counting, cardio, struggle, sacrifice, and righteousness.

As God was cultivating this note in my head while I was still in the shower, frantically trying to finish my to-do-while-in-shower list while the inspiration was fresh, I realized that just about every P.E. or Conditioning class I’ve ever heard of has brutally and mercilessly enforced the utilization of stairs so long as stairs are an accessible resource in the vicinity. It’s a cardio and endurance exercise as well as a leg muscle-builder. And it probably helps your coordination, otherwise you’d fall down a lot doing so many sets.
Why stairs, though?
Why not just have us run laps around the gym or the field, all day every day, every single practice for every single sport?
What’s so unique about stairs that makes gym teachers love them—or do they just like to torture us?

Let’s imagine that you are running a lap around the track. One lap, no hurdles, no unexpected bumps or swerves. If you were dragging an enormous pencil in your path and the track was a 3-D blueprint, your path would just be one big, even, smooth oval. Nothing special there. Sure, maybe you got some cardio in. Maybe you warmed up your legs. Now do it again. “Okay,” you say, and do another lap.
Now, on the flip side, let’s tie that imaginary giant pencil behind you once more and send you off again—this time up oh, say, five levels of stairs. But they’re all in an oval-y shape too, like the track Just imagine it for a second. Now, when you’re done, what the giant pencil drew on that blueprint is going to be rough, shaky, up and down and all over the map. After ¼ of a mile of stairs, you’re probably exhausted. Maybe wheezing a little. Got some sweat on the collar of your shirt? Can’t feel your legs? Is your chest burning? Now do it again. Your first impulse is to complain, to refuse to do it—this is the brain’s instinct toward self-preservation; anything to keep you from hurting your body again. It takes a while for the brain to recognize pain as progress.

Which of the two exercises would be harder?

Which would you be more inclined to do? –Are you someone who just does things to get them over with, or are you someone who is always, always striving for self-improvement?

The track run represents a “normal” walk of life. It’s what you would be doing if you were trying to go about life on your own. Maybe you’re not really going with that majority flow, but you’re not reaching out to something greater, either. You’re content to plateau your progress once in a while if it means you don’t have to exert yourself too much.

The stair-track represents our walk with God. Most of you who I have tagged in this note know exactly what I am talking about. The road is uneven, and appears at times to be paved with hardship and struggle. Sometimes it’s pain after pain after pain, and you wonder if this is God abandoning you or God punishing you for all the stupid things you’ve done in your life. Or maybe, as my close friend said just last night, it’s a purification process: just as silver is subjected to unbelievable heat to bring all of its impurities to the surface, you could be undergoing pressure that makes you feel like you’re cracking, that all the things that make you sinful and evil at your core are bubbling, spitting, hissing up to the surface.
But it’s not easy. Sometimes, it’s a staircase going downward; you’re not gasping for breath at every turn, but you still have to watch your step, because it’s still easy to fall. You could under- or overestimate the number of steps you have left, and then stumble and trip onto your face at the very last step. You may not feel like your chest is going to explode, but it’s still not easy.
Most of the time, though, the stairs will be going up. You’ll be bent under the weight of whatever (or whoever) you’re carrying on this journey with you. Your oxygen level will be zero. You will trip. You will be forced to go back some steps. Sometimes, there’s a really fat, slow-moving person in front of you blocking your ascent up the stairs, and you will have to deal with your impatience.

And quite possibly the most devastating (or exhilarating, depending on the kind of person you are or how you look at it) thing about this journey is the end. You are drenched in sweat. You are panting, gasping and wheezing for each breath. Your muscles are weak and you know—you know–you could go no further if you were asked. The devastating/exhilarating part: as soon as you reach what you think is the peak, God tells you to turn around and do it again.

You just made your way through what could have been a crippling fight that ended your relationship. Hallelujah! Now keep rejoicing as you head into the battle involving your best friends.

You got kicked out of your house two weeks ago, and it’s been a rough move, but you’re finally stable again, and you’re finally getting enough sleep again—hurray! Now there are some vices of yours that need to be addressed; these addictions have got to stop.

As soon as we think we’re done with our mountain, God makes us conquer it again from the other side.

Why? Because our Mount Everests are anthills to God. He has so many bigger and better things planned for us with our lives; how could we live with ourselves if we just stopped where we were and decided it would be good enough?

That would be like Michael Phelps winning his first high school swim meet and saying, “I’m done. I’m content to rest in my success.” I don’t think so. Once you confess your love to Jesus and commit to letting God rule the direction of your life, you will never be done.

You know the song by Chris Tomlin. I know you do. “God of this City.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d61LamkXfwk, just in case.)
Chorus goes Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city. HELLO!

God is NEVER going to be done with you! He’s NEVER going to be done with me, and I rejoice in this! I am so filled with hope and joy and humility that he’s chosen me to be part of his plan. I mean, can I get an amen? Oh, thank you Jesus.

And if you think for a second that you could get to this point by taking the elevator of life, then you need to go back to the top of this note and read it again. Hallelujah Jesus!

That is why I hate elevators.
That is why I take the stairs.

Question is… How many of you are on the stairs with me?

‘Cause by the end, if we all take the stairs, then we are going to be ripped distance runners and it’s going to be amazing.

Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

Hi-Float: A Rather Long Balloon Analogy

So the other day at work, as I curled the ribbon for a balloon for one of our small-person customers, I had a thought. And the thought stuck. So I’m sharing it. Here we go.

Balloons are the epitome of what the world of man has to offer.

Warm fuzzies. You know how happy you get when you’re a kid and you’re handed that bright, shiny, magically floating thing? Yeah. It’s awesome. Every kid loves balloons. There’s just something about them that’s fantastic. It makes you inexplicably happy. Sometimes, it makes you so happy that it can stop your tears in their tracks. If anyone is upset about something, hand them a balloon and it’s bound to coax at least the tiniest of smiles. So, there’s a high.

Gimme My Stuff. I don’t know if it’s because of the conditioning we’ve received just from being in our culture, or if it all started with associating happiness with receiving a stupid balloon in the first place, but we definitely associate happiness with material stuff. Even if we go no further than talking balloons as our pet metaphors, we have our proof right there—an adult will brighten if you give an adult a balloon. A kid will be ecstatic. Teenagers are gleefully reminiscent of their younger ballooning days (as they suck out the helium), et cetera.

But balloons are man-made, and as a brilliant, enlightened young man once told me,everything created by man means temptation. He was so right. And not only that, butnothing created by man is eternal. Take our balloons, for instance. The helium will seep out of that latex in four to five hours, tops. Then where will your happiness go? If your parents are lucky, you won’t throw a screaming fit now that it’s not floating. Maybe it’ll keep you amused for a little while longer while you play with the pathetic puckering ball of air and the limp ribbon tied onto it. But you won’t die with it. You won’t take it to school with you the next day. It won’t save your life, your friendships, or your marriages. It’s ephemeral. Sometimes, having the thing in the first place will do you more harm with good. It probably won’t help you reach your goals in life. It could temporarily slap a band-aid on the gaping wound of a relationship: like an engagement ring when it’s getting tough to work through your struggles as a couple, like sex when you’re desperate to feel one with one another or when you feel like you need a solid reason to justify staying together.

This leads me to the next point in my grand balloon metaphor: The fruits of temptation willalways bring you suffering.

Disappointment is only the result of unfair expectation. My aunt Lezlie told me that once, and it stuck with me.
Placing your faith and your happiness in something temporary only sets yourself up for a fall of some kind, because if your joy isn’t founded in something that will never, ever run out, then you’re going to try to keep looking for that joy elsewhere. And yeah, you’ll find what you think is joy. You’ll be positively elated for a while. It’s what they call the honeymoon stage in a relationship. It’s the thing that makes your jaw drop when you get cast as the lead, or get a 1 at Solo & Ensemble. It’s the tingle that coursed up and down your entire self when you were dancing to the throb of the Nightclub Friday night.

But the honeymoon stage only lasts so long before you start realizing the fatal imperfections in what you’ve so adoringly cast your gaze on. Maybe your “perfect” boyfriend who’s been telling you all this time that he quit smoking has been sucking joints this whole time. The morning after you went clubbing, you were sore and stiff and your head hurt like none other, and for some reason you can’t explain, you feel empty. Sure, you got a 1 at Solo & Ensemble, but your best friend is going to a National contest—how does that make you feel? If your only joy comes in writing music, what happens when the crushing realization hits that everything you’ve been working towards is nothing? That no matter what you do, there’s always someone else who’s better, faster, smarter, prettier, more talented, or just has it more together than you? There are some dangerously deep lows waiting for you when that time comes.

Here are three of the ways faith in man (or balloons) will fail you.

Balloons pop. No kid has escaped the devastation and depression of a balloon popping. You get your balloon, you’re super happy, you’re running around with it, and suddenly–unexpectedly–the thing pops with this hideous noise, scaring the crap out of you. You’re shaken. You maybe cry a little bit. But one thing is for sure–for the rest of your balloon-loving life, you are terrified of that balloon popping again. Sometimes, you’re so scared of it happening again that you don’t even want to accept another balloon when it’s offered.

Let’s say you’ve devoted yourself to someone for four months. Or a year. Or a year and a half. Or six years. Or thirteen years. You’ve been together for a while. You’re both committed long-term. You know without a doubt that you love this person. Then they dump you. BANG! Or you say something irreversible and stupid and there’s no fixing it—BANG! The relationship is over. Or maybe you’ve been married thirteen years, and all of a sudden, what you thought was love rushes out of the room with a whoosh that leaves your core empty and cold. BANG! Your husband has turned out to be mean, abusive, and distant. There’s no recovering him from that abyss. And you can’t leave him, because you have no savings and two young kids. BANG!

In a freak accident, you, the musician, just went deaf. BANG! You, the painter, just went blind. BANG! You, the athlete, are now paralyzed. BANG! BANG! BANG!

Having sex sure felt nice, but now you’re pregnant? Oops! BANG!

You’re crushed because you can’t find a trace of what used to make you so happy. Your salvation from all the crap in your life just turned into a manifestation of what it was rescuing you from. What’s worse, you have to live with the consequences. It’s a burden you carry around with you everywhere. It’s a weight, and it’s a scar. You’re drowning in the emptiness that used to be your joy, your hope—your everything.

You know what else sucks about balloons?

When that tiny, slippery ribbon slides through the spaces in your fingers and soars, out of reach and out of sight, into the sky. Now that’s depressing. You can’t blame it on anyone else. You can’t retrieve it. You can’t earn it back. Once it’s gone, ladies and gentlemen, it is gone. Sure, you can watch it till its tiny departing speck finally leaves your sight, but what good will that do?
I guess this effect is similar to the balloon popping, but without the added trauma. There’s more sadness than shock, and you get to watch it fly away into that mass balloon graveyard in the sky. You wonder if the balloon will ever make it to the man who lives on the moon, and then you get more upset because then the man on the moon gets to have your balloon, and you don’t. You cry. Or you suck it up, because that’s what your daddy told you to do.

In real life, it’s like the helplessness you feel when you have to stand there and watch something you love leave. Like when you know that your best friend of almost three years is drifting away from you at warp speed. You wonder where you went wrong. Could you have tied the string a little tighter around your wrist? Maybe you should have just tied it to your belt loop. Or maybe it was your own stupid fault for ever getting the thing in the first place. You should have known better! This is all your fault! The thoughts stream through your mind rapid-fire, and, once again, you feel empty.

Here’s the last tragedy of the free Mega Foods latex balloon.

When you take care of it and nurture it and cling to it for dear life…and then it deflates. Four-foot-fall you is jubilant to have this balloon. It is so special and precious, and you eagerly hold it in the car ride home, and then you run to your room and tie the ribbon around your bedpost. You realize about halfway through the day that the ribbon is sagging a little bit instead of pulled taught like it was earlier, but this doesn’t appear to be any cause for alarm. So you go to sleep. And the next morning, the balloon is shriveled up on the floor, a little nub filled with dead helium. Now you’re left with trash.

And trash is what you get when you cling to the things the world has to offer you.They may last for a while, stay nice and pretty and inflated. They might bring you joy for a few years, tops. But there’s gonna come a time when you realize that it’s not real. You’re entertaining yourself with things that aren’t helping you. They were really only serving as distractions the entire time.

I know I’m long-winded, and I’m almost done, but there was something else to this epiphany that I have to share.

Every place that has a balloon department also has this enormous bottle of something calledHi-Float. It’s this nifty little semi-liquid solution that you squirt inside a latex balloon before inflating it with helium. It coats the inside of the balloon to trap the helium inside. Where the balloon normally stays afloat for a few hours, now it floats for days.

Jesus = Hi-Float.

With all this balloon-bashing, I should mention that it’s not wrong to enjoy the things on this earth. God didn’t put us here to make us miserable. He didn’t put us here so we couldn’t take pleasure on what he also put here. We can enjoy the things that are man-made, but there has to be some Jesus-coating as your foundation. You have to have faith in something greater before you take what the world has to offer. “In the world, but not of it.”

There we go. I’m done. Thank you, Jesus. 🙂