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10 Year Anniversary

Ten years ago today was an extremely unique and life-redirecting day for me. There have been very few days since that nite in which I have not thought about this experience. Sometimes, on the anniversary, I like to share it in this medium to hopefully encourage, uplift, or assure others through what I was privileged to see, hear, and feel. And being a full decade now, how could I not?! Never do I share this lightly. Also, I just love that this took place on what is traditionally Inauguration Day, for it inaugurated in my life something more grand than any human leader could ever dream of accomplishing. I sincerely hope, in some respect, this is comforting and inspiring for you.

Coming off the very difficult year of 2010 in which my dear dad passed away, one of my Outreach kids was sentenced to 35 year six in prison, my close high school friend Jeff passed away from leukemia at barely 40 years old, and Ana and I were, let’s just say, not at the high point of our marriage, I entered 2011 depressed, and at my lowest point. And then this happened.

It was January 20th, 11:45 pm. I was waiting for my very close friend Miguel to arrive at my house from Michigan for a weekend visit. I decided to lie down and rest before he got there because we inevitably stay up late catching up and laughing at all things profoundly ridiculous. I didn’t want to sleep, just rest my eyes and mind for a few minutes. And in this moment I wanted God. I wanted Him more than I’ve ever wanted Him before in my life. I felt my need for Him more than ever in my extremely low state. I knew in my soul that He was the only possible real answer to my depression from the past year. I knew nothing else would work, that there is no plan B. There is God. And so I called out to Him, this nite, in a sincerer way than ever before. Not having much capacity, I kept it simple and started praying the ancient Jesus Prayer over and over to put all my focus and yearning on Him, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I cried out to Him in earnest for comfort, for help, pleading for Him alone.

And He answered.

Suddenly, I found myself in Grand Teton National Park, sitting on a rock at a lake which was at the base of a mountain. And sitting across from me on another rock, was Jesus Himself. He looked up at the mountains around us and said, “I remember when I made this, thinking we’d be having this conversation one day.” I was reverentially awestruck, unable to speak. Mouth open, it took every ounce of my available energy to slightly nod. Then He began to speak the simplest and most affirming words to me. “Rob, I love you so much.” He spoke my name. “I’ve known you for so long.” At this, the Scripture stating that “Before you were in the womb I knew you” came to mind, as if it were downloaded into me as He spoke. “I only want what’s best for you.” There was so much affirmation going on with so few words, it was unreal. Actually, it was very real. The most real. Like experiencing real for the very first time. Then He admonished me, with penetrating love: “You never would have put Me first had you kept going down that path.” Wanting to put to rest any doubt about His complete care I still may have, He simply said, “You know I’m in control.” He then smiled at me and held up His hand. A rock flew from the ground into His hand. He was playing with me. In an instant, I felt being totally known. I felt Him knowing my sense of humor, even, I kid you not, my love of Star Wars, and He embraced it. He embraced all of it. He embraced all of me. Everything that is me, He embraced and loved in a moment. I’ve never experienced being so known and so accepted. It was the most healing experience I’d never imagined. To be fully known and be fully accepted is the height and depth of love I believe. And that is what I felt from the Person responsible for my very existence.

Continuing His play, He threw the rock into the lake and it skipped many times side to side, defying laws of physics. He was having fun with me. Finally I was able to unlock my voice enough to actually speak, and all I could get out was, “How do you do that?!?” Seems like a ridiculous question looking back, but then came His answer which was the most penetrating takeaway of my life. He stopped, looked me in the eyes, held up His right index finger, and said, “Because, I and the Father are one,” then slowly, He pointed His finger at me, “as should you be.” It was the greatest sermon I’d ever heard. Again, a slow nod took all the strength I could muster while in the presence of the Master of the universe. i skipped some rocks. It was awesome. Suddenly, He and I were walking together to “go back” and I did ask, “What about dad and Jeff?” out of utter curiosity, wondering where they were and what they were doing, I guess. “Another time,” He said gently, yet firmly, letting me know that it would be too much for me right now. I got what I needed at this point and any more would overload my circuits. Next thing I know, I was back in bed next to sleeping Ana. I sat up, completely sobered by the experience, then Miguel arrived. I let him in and told him what just happened. “Whoooa, duuuuude!” he said in his classic Cuban tone. We both felt and shared the gravity of what had just occurred.

I didn’t realize it until some time later, but this experience sent me on a trajectory to pursuing God like never before, which involved a reading and meditation frenzy. About three weeks after, I finally picked up The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, and that book started a new phase of intense study for me. I so wanted to know God. To pursue Him. To serve Him. A couple weeks later I met Dave, who would become my spiritual partner, and the next year the ministries of The Ripple Effect and IRON MEN of Oaks were birthed. And along the way, Ana and I have grown closer together through Him.

Everything good of the last ten years has been born out of that nite of calling out to Jesus from the depths of my heart and experiencing His profound, soul-shifting, Life-giving answer to my call.

Jesus heals. This I know.

Thank you, YHWH. Thank you, Ruach. Thank you, Yeshua. Thank you so much.

CHRISTMAS LETTER 2020

Looking at a calendar a couple months ago I noticed that it was the year 2020, and that if my calculations are correct (and they pretty much always are), it is the 15th anniversary of our first Christmas letter we sent out. So we thought between that and all the insanity of this year, how fitting it would be to bring back our penned year review and update manuscript.

A crap ton of craziness has transpired this year, and it can be quite challenging to wade through the information overload and navigate these choppy waters. What can be especially maddening is running into those who want to talk about it nonstop, analyze it, study it, yell about it until my eyes are glazed over, my shirt’s drenched in drool, and I forget my own name for about six minutes. Sometimes worse than the 2020 tensions themselves is the constant notch-above-pointless reminding, rehashing, and debating that goes absolutely nowhere positive. So we Pallikans thought we would do you a solid and give a few helpful hints for maneuvering through this obstacle course of confusion we call 2020.

For sake of time and space, we’re gonna have to skip over what are probably the two biggest and hottest topics, and save them for another day. Those would be, obviously, Kanye’s conversion to Christ, and two astronauts being launched into space from American soil for the first time since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011 in the first ever commercially built and operated spacecraft. Sorry, we know you want to read our wisdom-filled musings on these historic happenings, but there’s just too much to say about them, and not enough ink in the printer.

On to less popular yet vitally important matters. So how to charge through some tricky situations, especially for us introverts (in my case recovering extrovert), when you’re about to get pulled in to a time-wasting, soul-sucking debate over some current issue.

Let’s say you’re out and about, maybe at the store, the laundromat, lunch, or even a dinner party, and someone asks you the terrifyingly divisive question,”How do you feel about the election?” Uhhgg. Don’t panic, all you have to do is go with the old classic of pretending you misheard the question, and answer immediately, “Oh I think erections feel really good, I’m a big fan, but that’s an extremely personal question don’t you think? I’m not very comfortable talking about this.” Even if they correct you and come back with, “No, I said ELECTION”, you just keep plowing forward with, “Yeah I’m really uncomfortable.” There should be enough ambiguity and, hopefully, discomfort on their part by now that they’ll probably let you off. Or you can storm off pretending to be upset.

What if someone tries to dive into the mask controversy? They work, they don’t work, they’re a violation of freedom, they show you care, blah blah blah. What I do in this precarious situation is respond with something along the lines of, “Well I’m glad these masks finally got mandated because my doctor has been after me for years to wear one, worried I’m gonna spread something awful ever since a little incident I had in a wildlife preserve five years ago. With everybody wearing one, I don’t feel so alone, you know?” This is usually enough to not only quiet people down, but help them forget what they even asked in the first place. If for some reason the person is annoyingly persistent, and the debate comes back around, just keep going on about how lonely you’ve been feeling for the past several years–people can’t handle that! Most want to blather on about things they can’t or won’t ever do anything about. Now they will be looking for a reason to get away from you.

Hope this is helpful!

In other news, Zayra is in her 10th and final year at The Oaks Academy. She’s been accepted to Cathedral HS class of 2025. I’m happy because it has the word CAT in it. Gaby is racing through her curriculum at her own pace in her first year at Purdue Polytechnic HS just three blocks down the street from our house. At this rate she might graduate before she turns sixteen. Next month will mark ten years for Ana working at Allison Transmission. She’s very much enjoyed working from home most of this year, being able to spend a lot more time with the girlies. And me, well, I set a personal record by going to the gym 53 days in a row, from Ukrainian Independence Day (August 24) through October 15. I was sore. On November 12 I wept joyously when our cat of six years, Dr. Bucko von Spankenfloppy, was returned to us after he’d been missing for seven months and nine days. We gave him a new birth/baptismal name of Denarius because he was our little coin who was lost but has been found (Luke 15:8-10).

I’m excitedly preparing for my 2021 “Year of Silence” which, I could say more about, but that would kind of defeat the purpose.

If you’ve received this letter, there is a very high probability that we love you and pray blessings all over you.

Always endeavoring to stay knowingly ignorant and wisely uneducated,
Rob…on behalf of Ana, Gabriela, & Zayra

Where’s That Draft Coming From?

"Wind" by Gabriela Pallikan
“Wind” by Gabriela Pallikan

Do not give the devil a way to defeat you, a foothold, an opportunity, a loophole. ~Ephesians 4:27 [various translations combined]

One early crisp morning I was walking downstairs to perform my daily coffee making ritual, and as I made my way to the kitchen in the pre-dawn darkness, I was halted by what felt like a frozen, icy vortex hitting me in the face. “Why is it so cold down here??” I thought as I raced to the thermostat to see if the heat was off or, heaven forbid, the furnace was on the fritz. The heat was indeed on, and all seemed to be running well. My next immediate thought was that someone must have left the front door wide open last nite, judging by the steady breeze still hitting my chilled body. Front door shut tightly and locked. That’s not it. This is weird. There is definitely a steady stream of cold air blowing in the living room and no obvious reason for it. Finally, I decided to just stand still and feel and look around the room slowly. Calmly, I felt the air, scanned—And there it was! An open window! As I quickly closed it, I remembered that the previous day saw an unusually warm afternoon, so I had opened a window about 10 inches so that our doggy Atticus could enjoy the smells of the outdoors for a few minutes. And I obviously forgot to close it.

Pretty much immediately the Holy Ghost impressed upon me the spiritual metaphor: Do not leave any openings for evil influences to corrupt you; these are not always obvious and easy to detect. Now, sometimes we do leave the front door open. I think of wide open doors as the easy-to-see ajar portals allowing in a hurricane of dark forces. For instance, if you’re sleeping with your next door neighbor’s spouse, it doesn’t require a rocket surgeon to figure out that there’s probably gonna be some trouble up ahead for you. Or if you punch people right in the mouth whenever they don’t agree with you, or sell meth to children on playgrounds, you’re probably at least halfway aware that you’re doing something wrong and that there’s gonna be some hell to pay. But again, these are those big gaping wide open doors that are easy to notice and understand how the toxic draft is getting in.

What about open windows–those more subtle openings which can equally allow in so much poison and give the devil a foothold? I think open windows can represent habits of thought that are far from healthy, as well as far from detection. One of these habits of thought can be the toxicity of comparison, tempting you to see how your life measures up against the lifestyles of others, giving much energy to how you appear, or perhaps prodding you to look down your nose at those who are “clearly beneath you” socially, intellectually, physically, or even spiritually. Another open window may be harbored resentment or held-onto anger. This dangerous venom can course through your veins, distorting how you see everybody and everything, if allowed to steep long enough. Like the old saying about unforgiveness goes: It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. And then there’s gossip, that not often preached about but clearly ruinous evil in the Scriptures. If you want to give ample opportunity for spiritual cancer to spread–this is it!

I’m sure you can come up with plenty of other “open windows” through some healthy examination. Hopefully this is a helpful springboard toward taking a critical look at how you might unknowingly be giving evil influences a handle to grab onto and steer you in the wrong direction.

Also, kinda cool, the Holy Spirit, as has happened so many times before, affirmed this experience the very next day–through this sentence I read by Henry Scougal in his book The Life of God in the Soul of Man:

There are still some worldly desires lurking in my heart, and those vanities that I have shut out of the doors are always getting in by the windows.

Advent 2020

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Advent simply means “arrival.” It is the season to celebrate and reflect on God’s breaking into His creation in the form of a human life approximately 2,020 years ago.

This is the first season of the Christian Church year, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

It’s beautiful.

During Advent, we reflect upon, meditate upon, even work at what it means to be watchful. To be hopeful and watchful. To be ready for Christ’s coming, His advent, the most important and significant event in our human history.

It is also quite important for us to keep in mind being ready for Christ’s little advents everyday throughout each day. Christ’s coming like a thief in the night, or even His standing at the door knocking are His unexpected anytime moments of calling on us for service, worship, listening, or changing. The more attuned we become to the Shepherd’s voice, the more often we will open the door to God’s messengers, no matter what they may look like or sound like.

I have come to believe that God is pretty much always speaking through everything and everyone around me. But am I always listening for the Spirit’s voice? Or am I shallowly tuned in to only the surface of what is before me?

We Christians do believe Christ will return as King, but the meaning has been cheapened over the years to the provocation of a response by some with the bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming, hide the bong.” That’s what it sadly turns into. But (hopefully) it’s much deeper than that. It is to always be at the ready for Christ’s calling upon you. He may very well tell you to put the bong away, I don’t know. But I do know, and have experienced, many times the beautiful call to His work of listening to someone, to sending a message of encouragement, to stop reading and just be with Him, to stop staring, or whatever.

There is such a beauty I now appreciate greatly of the Christian calendar. We are not of this world, we are of God’s kingdom. Therefore, isn’t it good and right to base our seasons upon the true Center of the universe Jesus Christ, and not on ourselves?

Election Reflection

Can Donald Trump separate us from the love of God?

Can Joe Biden separate us from the love of God?

My goodness, some of us Christians sure act like they can, don’t we?

I am convinced that no president shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God.

How does the president of the United States change your relationship with God?

How does the president affect your personal interactions with the risen Christ?

How does political leadership prevent you from doing good to your neighbor who is right in front of you?

How does congress make you pray less?

Does the senate block the Holy Spirit from being the great Comforter?

No matter who our leaders are, I keep praying everyday. I continue to interact with Jesus about everything throughout each day. I keep loving the person the Holy Spirit places in front of me. Leaders may be able to change some of our outer circumstances, but they will never be able to take our inner freedom to experience the love of God. No leader can affect our personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, or prevent us from loving our neighbor.

Speculation(shun)s

Let’s talk about the other “Tion” our adversary uses to throw us off course that we would do well to shun–Speculation. This is something my friend Julie brought up some weeks back that I’ve been pondering a bit. We can what-if ourselves into oblivion, into insanity, can’t we? We have the ability, and even affinity, to give priority and importance to that which has not happened, to that which we do not even know. Talk about a colossal waste of energy and time.

We tend to fill in gaps with our imagination, which is not always positive or helpful. “So and so didn’t say ‘hi’ to me. They’re likely not happy with me.” “Mr. Dude is probably going to be elected president, then this and this and this will happen, and the country will look like hell.” Or what I tend to do these days: “My left ring finger feels a little tingly…I might be dead by morning.” All of these speculations knock us out of the present moment, increase fears of various kinds, and worst of all, take our minds off God. At a bare minimum, we can start by turning all of these speculations into conversations with God. This is a very good move. This is what I call “the mill house of prayer”–taking judgments, worries, and what-ifs and grinding them into dialogue with God, into prayers, something that is actually life-giving instead of soul-sucking. Also, we can check our faith to see if we believe Jesus really is the good Shepherd, ultimately in control, and always desiring what is absolutely best for us in all situations, as well as always instructing us through all situations.

A couple weeks ago I was watching The Village, one of my favorite movies, with our eldest daughter Gabriela, and was struck by this great exchange between the characters Ivy and Lucius sitting on the porch:

Ivy: “How is it you are brave when all the rest of us shake in our boots?” Lucius: “I do not worry about what will happen, only what needs to be done.”

BOOM.

There it is.

For our purposes here we could say, “I do not worry about what might happen” or “about what others might be thinking…”

Worrying about what might happen or what others are thinking serves only to distract us from whatever we need to be doing right now….which may be as simple as conversing with God.

Obstructions

note the reflection of the lawn chair

Yesterday at the gym Ana (mi esposa) got done before me, and said she’d be waiting out front, no rush. I finished up, walked outside, looked left, looked right–no Ana to be seen. “Where the heck did she go off to?” I wondered. Car was locked and I had the key, so she wasn’t in there. Then suddenly I heard her voice very close to me: “Hey there, how was your workout?” Still not seeing her, the audio seemed to be coming from the potted shrub about eight inches away to my left. Was I having a burning bush experience?? Does Yahweh sound just like my wife?? I then took a half step forward and saw Ana, clearly, sitting in a lawn chair directly behind the shielding greenery. She was two feet away from me the whole time and I didn’t even realize it.

A significant portion of the spiritual life/journey/battle is the removal of obstacles. Jesus is always right there next to you. Even closer than right next to you.

What is in the way?

What’s blocking your view?

It could be a mind filled with worries, what-ifs, and the cares of this world.

Maybe it’s the “Weapons of Mass Distraction“–Facebook, YouTube, & Netflix.

Some obsess over work, or give too much attention to politics.

Is it an inordinate pursuit of comfort?

You could be a “What’s next?” person instead of a “What’s now?” person, missing the present moment.

Perhaps you don’t need to do more, but rather need to remove whatever inhibitors are shielding your view of God with you right now.

Divine taproom

there was no place for them in the inn. ~Luke 2:7

Looking for a place for the Son of God to be birthed. Would you believe there were no rooms available? Joseph and Mary don’t yell at anyone, or force their way in. They simply move on to wherever there was room for them.

And this is still how it is for Jesus today. It’s been said that we can have as much of His Spirit as we want or will allow. It depends on how much space we make available. Jesus typically doesn’t barge in and start moving your stuff out of the way. He politely asks and waits. Do we make space for Him? A mind filled with worry or what’s next or what people think leaves no room for the Son of God to come in, let alone have a place to sit and actually stay a while. He doesn’t yell, or force His way in. He simply lodges where He’s welcomed, where there is a vacancy.

The room we allow for the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to tap into the spiritual power and energy of Jesus, thus the “Divine Taproom”. Without divine power, this world will crush you. Do you have any vacancies? Or are all your rooms booked up with human ideas and influences? It is imperative, and extremely challenging today, to make space for Jesus to fill us with His mind, with Himself. To do this, we must have times of evacuation. Some people call this a “brain dump”. The only way I have found to do this is to be still and silent, to let all thoughts settle and drift away, then simply listen to what the Lord may want to say to me or show me. This can be done with Scripture of course (lectio divina), a prayer word (centering prayer), while taking a walk, staring at a tree, or just sitting in a silent room. It’s difficult to overstate the peace, refreshment, guidance, and energy I gain from this oh so simple practice that anyone can do. To clear out a space for Jesus to come in and sit and talk–there’s nothing better, for there is no better house guest.

God is easy to please

My yoke is easy to wear; my load is easy to bear.” ~Jesus

God is easier to please than humans.

You ever think of that?

For some, that may be difficult to grasp depending on one’s view of God, but I have come to realize that people expect more from us than God does–in a certain sense. And included in “people” is me. Sometimes I expect more of myself than God does. I tend to think I should do more than I’m capable of, but God knows intimately my limits and is like, “Slow down there, little camper.”

By “in a certain sense” I mean that though God desires to have all of me, which sounds daunting, He simply wants my heart–my trust, my sharing of experiences, my love, and yes, my obedience–but not a bunch of accomplishments or, thankfully, perfection. And when I think of how good, loving, powerful, wise, and sacrificial God is, as Jesus showed us, it’s a pleasure to give myself.

One day it hit me that doing my part, even in a worldly sense, is still only one seven billinonth of the total. Doesn’t sound so overwhelming when put like that. Heck, even if I’m really killing it for a whole week, I’m still probably only doing five seven billionths of the load. Problems seem to arise from the toxicity of comparison, and thinking we should do other people’s portions. We’re only called to do our own unique part, and that with God’s energy and assistance. Now for you ten-talent folks you’ve got a bit more responsibility than us two-talent friendos, but you’ve also been blessed with the ability to carry it out, so you don’t actually have more to do, per se, simply more to draw from that’s been gifted to you for Kingdom purposes.

Dallas Willard often said that God is more concerned about the person we’re becoming than in our accomplishments. That the gift God gets from our life is who we become. I couldn’t agree more. Now God can accomplish any task on His own (but apparently likes to work with us, which is cool). But you can almost say that God cannot make us become a certain kind of person, because then we would just be like a programmed device. Becoming a God loving person, more and more Spirit-filled, taking on the mind of Christ requires our choice and effort. I think this is done mostly by sitting at Jesus feet like Mary did, while her sister Martha was concerned about many things. Notice Jesus did not harshly reprimand Martha, for she was doing good things. I always envisioned Jesus smiling while he playfully told Martha, “You’re troubled about so many things. Just get over here and be with me already.” I believe all that we need to do and accomplish will, and indeed must, peacefully flow out of this feet-sitting.