When Bryleigh and I went to not the best part of town

yep Bryleigh and I ran to the store for a few things we were missing for dinner. As of late, two small children always at the heels means if Tonya or I are heading out for something, you are taking one child with you.

I love this.

While we do much of our grocery shopping at Trader Joes where we can make healthier choices, our closer and cheaper grocery store is 'not in the best part of town'. There is a part of me that prefers these parts of town.

On our way out of the store to the car, we were approached by a not uncommon beggar. Having worked several years with the homeless, addicted, and transient culture, I could recognize this man was not intoxicated in any fashion. He already had a box of food in a cart. He approached me wanting to get his story out as fast as he can (a story I don't need to hear, but I'm listening). He mentions he had just met a pastor at Walgreens who helped him out by getting him this food for his family, but he still really needs milk. Could we get him some milk?

"Yeah! I can get you some milk. Bryleigh, let's go back in and get some milk for our friend here."

Bryleigh says, "Why are we going back inside to get milk?" The man answers, "Because your dad is a good man!"

We go in to get the milk, and on our way in I ask Bryleigh, "Why do you think we are getting milk for that man?" "I don't know." "We want to be nice to everyone we meet, but we also do this because Jesus asked that we do nice things for people."

When we come back out to give the man the milk, I tell him, "I guess you hit the pastor jackpot tonight." "You're a pastor?" "I am." "Well I'm gonna go home tonight and thank my heavenly Father."

Now a few days later a few things stick out from that experience: - A man in need spoke to my daughter that her dad is a good man. - An opportunity to teach by example the care for others and the reason we do so - A missed opportunity to tell that man, "Thank you." - A missed opportunity to tell that man, "Lets pray and thank our heavenly Father right now."

I must be climbing

There is a flaw for me in the whole “mountain and valley” analogy we so often use for our spiritual journey. We commonly make the mountain top that spot we desire and aspire to, and the valley those times when it’s the most painful and difficult to take on. Then we make the climb the journey in between.

Now let’s think of the literal in hopes of understanding the symbolic a little more. In reality, I have never been in a valley I did not enjoy. Often valleys are complete with rolling grassy hills and a cool breeze. It is not all that unpleasant.

I do love mountain tops. When you are the mountain top there is a powerful sense of accomplishment. The mountain top is refreshing and holds a beauty which is often spectacular.

So there is only one other element left to be grueling, painful, and difficult. The climb up the mountain is the painful part. I love climbing and hiking, but it is usually a grueling task to climb the face of a mountain. Your heart beats to the thinning air and physical exhaustion. You come around every bend and corner wondering if THIS one will be the last. But a hiker, climber and backpacker will continue to trek because they know one thing; they are climbing to get to the top. It is painful but it is worth it knowing your endurance gets you to the top. Your endurance comes with pain, but it all gets you to the top where the beauty, refreshment, and accomplishment await.

Chapter 1 of James starting with verse two reads, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The truth is we all face trials and will continue to face more. Something I am learning to do in my prayer time lately is to actively praise God for my trials of all kinds. It has really stretched my faith to watch trials come my way and to not only take them to God (which is a common Christian reaction) but to praise God for those trials.

1 Peter 1:6-7 reads, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Christ is revealed.”

This kind of reaction stretches our faith to points many of us have never been before. I am talking about actually praising God…thanking him FOR our painful trials.

Why is this so difficult for us to do? Because we have the mountain and valley analogy all messed up. We have convinced ourselves that the pain is the valley, and like literal valleys we are comfortable there. So we just stay there. We have seen our trials in the wrong light.

We have to remember the valley is not the worst part of the journey. The climb is the worst part of the journey. If I can keep myself from experiencing pain and saying, “I must be stuck in the valley,” and instead turn those moments into praise by saying, “This hurts! I must be on my way up. I must be climbing.” If we can turn our responses to that, we can find it easier to praise and thank God for the pain and trials. Because we climbing!