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Lost

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Do you know those nights where you just cannot sleep? Your mind races over and over again, searching your life for a little trace of hope, a little ember of peace, a little spark of love? Do you know those nights where you, for the life of you, can’t remember what your life is meant for? What you’re doing? Why you’re even here?

You know those nights where you wake up lost?

You’re like a child running through the woods at night without any compass or map or hope. Tears steaming down your face, you panic that you will never be loved, or valued again. But you keep running, because that’s all you know to do. You keep running because sometimes you think that if you just sit down, you will be lost inevitably forever. Lost in this dark forest of self doubt and desperation forever.

Sometimes in the life, it’s easy to get lost.

I’m starting to get myself ready for this year’s hike in the Appalachians. I know I write about it a lot, but few things in my year impacts both my spirit, soul and body in such a brutal and powerful way. We’re making our way through the state of Maine and slowly coming towards our goal of Mt. Katahdin… yet something big stands in our way.

The 100 Mile Wilderness.

Yah. The name pretty much sums it up. No towns. No roads in or out. Just 100 miles of pure Maine glory. Whatever you need, you bring in with you. Whatever you forget to bring remains forgotten. It’s no little thing to prepare for.

Of course there comes anxiety with such an undertaking. “What If I wander off on the wrong trail? What if my attention grows lax and I stop following those widely placed white blazes? What if I get lost?” Getting lost in the Maine woods is no small problem. People die out there in the wilderness.

Survival in the wilderness has always been something that fascinates me. I’ve often hear stories of full grown men and women who get themselves hopelessly lost and just sit down and die. Other stories I hear is how small children will wander off only to walk out in an obscure town days later. How does it happen? What goes on to get them in such a life and death situation?

Such questions lead me to Laurence Gonzales’ book “Deep Survival” which explores the questions “Who lives? Who dies? And why?”

Turns out our brain is the most likely culprit. Deep within our grey matter can be found two sea-horse shaped regions called the hippocampus. I’ve long been fascinated with all that the hippocampus can accomplish. It is most responsible for keeping a file system of our short term memories. You see, experiences aren’t just taken and plopped down in a chosen area of the brain. Instead they are divided up into smaller portions and scattered around a little for reasons few can understand. But it’s the hippocampus’ job to keep the map to all of them. Trying to remember a short term memory you have? Submit your request to our hard-working hippocampus friend and shortly you have a re-assembled experience available for your perusal. He’s like the little Ikea expert in our cerebral warehouse. The fascinating thing about this is that a memory might be kept under the control of the hippocampus for up to 10 years before transferring to deeper parts of long term memory. So can you imagine what would happen if the hippocampus got injured? Sounds like a plot for a major movie! (and well it has been such as “50 First Dates” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)

Fact is there was such a famous patient that dealt with such. Henry Gustav Molaison (known famously as “Patient H.M.”) was known to have a spotless memory of everything that happened to him ten years previously, but if you met him anytime after that, he would have no lasting memory of you. In fact, you could have a very pleasant conversation with him, leave the room, come back and you would have to introduce yourself all over again.

However the hippocampus isn’t just responsible for mapping out our mental memories. It is also responsible for mapping out our physical ones. Natural ability of getting around? Thank your little grey friend. Expert at navigating your way through a maze? Yep, that’s him again. In the case of Patient H.M. it got so he wasn’t even able to make it through his house to find the kitchen after being given detailed direction. The few times he left the house to wander down the street would always end with a neighbor having to find him and return him home.

And this is where Laurence Gonzales tells us the reason we get lost… and the reason some people stay lost!

Imagine you leave the trail to climb over that ridge over there. Just a few feet away from the area you weren’t suppose to leave, right? And SO worth it! That sunset was just beautiful. But let’s say for argument sake you got spun around a little and now the direction you actually came from is a little to the left of where you think it was. It’s getting dark so you start heading back to the trail. However the trail is not QUITE where you left it. No matter. You will retrace your steps and try again. Here’s what’s going on in your brain.

You’re hippocampus just made itself a little map. Don’t worry, just follow this map and you will get back. Wait? What do you mean the map is wrong? Ok, ok, a little miscalculation. Tell you what… give me a second and I will remake the map for you. Ahhhhh.. that’s better. See that little hill over there? Yah, that’s the hill you went over. The trail is just on the other side of that.

Only…. It’s not. It’s not because as much as you remember that hill, turns out your brain is tricking you a little because that WRONG hill just fits SO WELL into the remembered map. Suddenly all of that surety and arrogance you had in yourself takes a little bit of a dive. No worry. Let’s just take a breath and get that internal map redrawn once again.

“Hey… you see that little hill right over THERE? Yep.. you guessed it. THAT’s the hill I meant.”

Now repeat this a few times. The problem is that a tiny little error in a compass point will lead eventually to a bigger and bigger distance between the safely of the trail and the wild of nature. And what are we taught to do when we are lost? Sit down and wait for someone to come find us. But forget that! I’m a MAN, for goodness sake. I’m not going to just sit here and wait who knows how long! After all, I’m pretty sure that’s the hill right THERE!

Over and over and over again our hard working and well meaning hippocampus will redraw a map that will never really help us because the logical foundation is simply …

…wrong.

To make matters worse, now that old stress and panic master, the amygdala is pitching in and demanding a supply of cortisol be pumped into the system, slowing down our frontal lobe’s higher reasoning. Now it’s making us all panicky and stubborn so we go over hill after hill after hill making a bad situation so much worse until sometimes… sometimes there’s a meltdown. You see when finally a full grown man or woman comes to the realization that the map in their head is hopeless wrong, all that adrenaline that has been pushing us onward comes crashing down. Sometimes it is replaced with despair and defeat. Sometimes it’s replaced with fear and hopelessness. Sometimes a healthy adult with remaining water and food supplies and for no valid reason will just sit down against a tree in the middle of nowhere and die.

I don’t make this up.

Now let’s take a little child lost in the woods. Sure there is panic and meltdown, but there also isn’t the arrogance that they just KNOW what they are suppose to do. Their brain isn’t trying to constantly remake a faulty map because there was NO MAP to begin with. They come quickly to accept the fact that they are lost and have no idea which way to go… so they pick a direction and start walking. Sometimes that direction proves to be correct. Without the breakdown of the physical brain making them lose a hope they never had to begin with, sometimes days later they will walk right out of the woods into a small town to the amazement of all.

One lived and the other died. Both were lost, but one got found.

Funny that.

What most fascinated me while reading this book was how the implications stretched far beyond a child lost in the woods. It has business applications also. I use to live in the beautiful city of Rochester, New York. I walked around every square foot of that amazing downtown and would often walk but what I called the “Dark Tower”. It was a large skyscraper that housed the famous Xerox corporation.

Now we all know Xerox was the king of the photocopier and they must have thought that high would take them on forever. Of course to stay competitive in a world that was exploding with technological breakthroughs they had to have a cutting edge Research and Development department; and that they had! Their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was known for such accomplishment as laser printing, ethernet, graphic interface, lcd monitors, and more. With all that they accomplished, Xerox should have been launched forward into the same arenas as Microsoft, Apple or IBM.

However instead of finding all the practical uses of such technology, Xerox decided to stay focused on their view of the future. If it worked in the past, it will take us into the future. While many other companies benefited from all that Palo Alto had given them, Xerox stayed focused on their main business. It had served them well in the past so why not the future?

In 2000, Xerox prepared itself for bankruptcy. Turns out that internal map they had drawn had a little miscalculation and every time they redrew it, it took them a little father and father away from being found again. Now the management team and CEOs were in constant squabbles and power-struggles. The corporation was close to being forced to abandon their Dark Tower and face oblivion. All because they got lost.

Eventually after limping along however, they didn’t just sit down and die. But it remains a long road back for them.

I find churches can do the same thing. Often they will have a taste of success and decide that what it was that brought them to that place should be repeated and repeated and repeated, and then to their great surprise… nope. Something has changed. Something isn’t right.

Sometimes we get so stubborn in the way we feel HAS to be the right way we just plow along and don’t take a moment to just breath…

…and admit we need a little help.

I think that’s the core for verses such as the second part of James 4:6 “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

We see it as the death blow to one of the most fundamental first century churches; the church of Ephesus. This was a church that Paul himself spent many years at building as well as other amazing men and women of God. The lessons Paul sent them in the book of Ephesians remains some of my favorite reads of the Bible. Paul’s own prayer for them was that they would “…have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18). That’s my favorite verse.

But now in Revelation Christ himself, walking among the lamp posts in John’s vision has a strict warning about the direction they are trying to follow, which is leading them further away from where they were called….

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4)

All the good they were doing wasn’t going to help them because they were off course. They were getting lost.

But hang on. God is the God of finding lost things. There is some readjustment possible. That internal map they are following may be wrong, but if they will stop, reject the map and accept a course correction, there may be hope yet!

“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)

So what happened to the church of Ephesus?

I wish I could tell you that it took the warning, reset the map and followed Christ into a resumption of being an effective witness in the world. But sometimes things don’t end like we want them too.

Sadly, eventually the church of Ephesus sat down against a tree and died.

But not so the church as a whole. Great thing about a resurrection God. Dead doesn’t always stay dead!

Ok, so we talked about the powerful hippocampus, Laurence Gonzales’s fascinating recommended read, “Deep Survival”, the rise and fall (but not quite the end) of the giant Xerox, the warning to the church of North America and the strange case of the famous church of Ephesus. But what about that poor soul at the beginning of this blog?

Remember him?

He woke up in the middle of the night feeling lost.

Yah, that’s me.

I know what God has called me too and I have experienced His great love, but I got to admit, sometimes I feel like I remember to do all the good works He has assigned me but feel I’m forgetting something really important. Something really key.

I wake up and get my day planner and redraw my map. Yes, this was the right way to go. Yes, this is the hill I need to go over. This is the right way. It has to be. I’m doing so much good here. A little panicky. Ok, it’s not perfect but surely this was right.

Why do I feel like I’m forgetting something? Why do I feel a little… I don’t know… misaligned? No, that’s not it. Misguided? Nope, I’ve got great teaching I follow. What is this feeling? I just feel a little…

… lost.

Sometimes more lost than others.

Sometimes I just want to sit down at the base of a tree and… I don’t know…

Give up.

Sometimes at night I wake up in a panic and know that something is wrong. I’m not going in the right direction. What do I do?

And then a voice will whisper in my ear.

Don’t you love that? As lost as we get, as misguided as we allow ourselves to be, as stubborn as we are to follow our own wrong maps, He doesn’t give up on us.

“Kevin, do you love me?”

“What?”

“Don’t forget your first love”

THAT’S IT! How can I have been so stupid. I forgot my first love. How on earth did that happen. Now what do I do, Lord?”

“I got an idea. Why don’t you get up, go to the kitchen, grab a cup of coffee… it might be a little bit of a long dark night of the soul, go into your study, grab a seat and let me remind you of the way I first loved you.”

Good idea, Lord. But it’s really really early. I’m not sure I can find my way into the kitchen.

“Here…. Let me draw you a map.”

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