Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Witnessing Distress

This past week I witnessed two families in distress. The first family spent the first few days of what will likely be a lengthy hospital stay for their youngest child. Doctors and nurses are trying to figure out why she’s so sick. My daughter is about the same age and they are friends. Life was humming along for this family and it turned on a dime.

The second family is being torn apart through divorce. I never would have suspected it, but very little surprises me anymore. I learned this lesson a few years back. You can probably fill in the blank with me. “I never would have suspected this would happen to the _______ family.”
In seminary I read a book by Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised. He’s a professor at Whitworth University whose life was upended by a car accident that claimed the lives of his wife, daughter, and mother. A drunk driver swerved into his lane and forever altered his reality. The key line in the book? Instead of crying “why me” we ought to be saying “why not me.”
We are spoiled living in this country. Suffering takes on a different face. My sister spent three years in Africa in the Peace Corps witnessing untimely death as a norm. And this is Sittser’s point. In a sinful, broken world this stuff is gonna happen. It’s nearly a foregone conclusion. It is more often concealed in our little world.

If you’re a Christian and you’re under the delusion that God’s goal is to get us through life without more than a few knee scrapes, you’ve got some reading to do. Or flip the TV channel to a different preacher whose Gospel isn’t “the power of positive thinking.” I’ve been reading Ezekiel the last few weeks. That poor dude was obedient to God and though he was surrounded by a delinquent people, he suffered. God even took his wife to prove a point to Israel.

Easy for me to say these families will be okay because God is with them. But it’s true. There’s really nothing I can do except remind them of God’s faithfulness and grace. My prayer for them? Healing. Reconciliation. Peace. I pray God will sustain them with clear minds as they suffer and that whatever level of distress they experience will make them stronger and increase their faith.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Your First Love

It’s ironic that as a Children & Families Pastor I spend very little time with kids – other than my own of course. In some ways it’s like the principal whose time is dedicated to influencing others who work with kids. Generally it’s only on Sunday mornings that I hang out with children. But even then I’m my time is divided, being equally concerned with the teachers and parents.
I think of when I first began teaching, excited to influence young minds and to be part of their world. In only a few years I saw the trend of spending less time developing relationships and more time working on test scores. Obviously my objective was not to develop friendships, but to develop young minds and hearts. But there was a hint of treating kids like “widgets.” They became clients needing to improve test scores.
Yesterday was a rare day when I got to hang out with kids. Their reward for memorizing eight Bible verses this year? Ben & Jerry’s: pick what you want. They ate personally concocted desserts that only other kids would relish. One girl ordered mint ice cream in a chocolate-dipped cone with rainbow sprinkles. I just got to sit and listen to their giddiness. Once in a while I stoked the conversation a few times to peek into their lives (Beware parents – when you feed kids ice cream they’ll sing like canaries, offering plenty of unsolicited information.).

I’ve recently had a new opportunity to return to my first love – spending time with kids. A few months back I began teaching a weekly Bible lesson to a group of 15 students. These kids are mostly second generation Chinese students that uses our facility for an after school program. Imagine my surprise when I was invited to teach a weekly Bible lesson to this secular group. (More about this opportunity in the weeks to come.) So each Wednesday afternoon for 30 minutes I get to return to the simple: me, a whiteboard, a stale room with a few posters, and about a dozen wiggly little bodies that talk 100mph and have unique things to say.

How often in your life do you feel a thousand miles from where you thought you were headed? Maybe you became a nurse to heal the sick and now you’re defending your hospital in court. How about the architect who first loved playing with Legos and is now serving breakfast at the local diner? Or what about the musician who loves singing praises to God but spends most of her time rewriting music that fits the record label’s stale requirements?

Life can get dull and we are often in need of inspiration. Our passions, plans, and dreams get squashed by bottom lines, bills, and greed (sometimes our own). I’m fortunate that despite spending less time with kids and too much time on paperwork, much of my time defaults to conversations with adults. Despite filing papers and answering email I still feel that I spend much more time than the average Joe/Jane doing exactly what I want.

Are you stuck? Maybe you’re not nearly as bad-off as your neighbor, or your kids aren’t starving either. Our help is the Holy Spirit’s renewing work. His mercies are made new according to Lamentations 3. May you find a little life in your day or week. A reminder that you are wonderfully and uniquely made. Here’s to more kid interactions or whatever it is that you crave in your (paid or unpaid) work week.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Economy Strkes Again

Is there no end to the devastation of our nation’s economic woes? Granted most citizens aren’t worried about finding their next meal, but many are still hurting. At PLCC this has now taken the form of downsizing. The church has rescinded the call to my friend Reid. If you’re not familiar with church lingo, that means he has been asked to find another job.
There is frequent staff turnover in ministry. Sometimes it is the result of misbehavior. Other times, there is a fundamental disagreement in the theology of the two parties. And there are times when pastors move to a new church home for a change of scenery or in response to God’s call (command). But in this case, it’s basically the economy.
Reid didn’t want to leave. He did nothing wrong. His talents are numerous. His heart, gold. His friendship, irreplaceable. I have learned much from him in 18 months. Plus, I have yet to even begin bragging about his wife and kids. I had no input on this decision and I don’t envy the group that is making decisions for a church in this economy. Quite frankly I’m fortunate it wasn’t me.

Of all those on staff who could have lost their jobs, he is the most “marketable” for a new one. It’s a crude way to label a pastor as marketable, but the dude is multi-talented and could do just about anything for a church. He preaches very well. He relates to kids and adults equally. He’s down to earth. He’s direct. He’s passionate. He’s smart. He’s technologically savvy. He’s creative.

I am sickened for the upheaval he and his family will go through and pray for their peace and blessing. In our current economic state many are affected. Fortunately in God’s economy we have no reason to fear because when bad stuff happens, He’ll take care of us. The church at Philippi is promised by Paul that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Not only that, but who knows the implications this decision will have. Proverbs tells us to “trust in the Lord with ALL our heart and to not lean on our own understanding.” The group that made the decision prayed for discernment for months and I believe they have been leaning not on their own understanding. This heartbreaking life change may cause grief, but it may also yield benefits unforeseen.

As we feel the effects of our hopeless economy remember there is always hope within God’s economy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

37 Seconds

I spent the better half of two hours putting up the trampoline yesterday. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I wouldn’t say blood, sweat, and tears. But it was a noble effort nonetheless.  But as of five minutes ago, it's not so great.

When the trampoline was first gifted to us it was nearly a gift of God. Practically a babysitter in itself, the kids were entertained for hours. Translation - housework completed without interference.  After a six month hiatus, it was time to break it out. When I finished at dusk all three made a bee line for it. They jumped right on and…well jumped. Like riding a bike. Which they can’t all do yet.

Anyway I was excited today for them to use it while I wrote my blog – making the most of that trampoline babysitter. But because the youngest has been flexing his defiance muscles in biblical proportions, I decided to time how long it would take for the first argument to take place. I fired up the laptop and as the title reveals: 37 seconds. A scream of bloody murder would have been less startling. And scream number two came at one minute flat. Experiment over. Even with warnings in place, this offense was oh “so sad” as we say in Love & Logic. But more sad for me than anyone else.

So any thoughts of a long summer of yardwork or lounging with a refreshing Diet Coke just came to an ugly halt. My dreams were dashed in 37 seconds. Next year he turns four which I’m told is much easier. But for now it looks like there will be a lot of independent jumping. Well, at least the springs will last longer.

How many of our best laid plans are foiled? “For I know the plans I have for you…” God tells us. But they don’t necessarily mean easy.  It's a tough lesson to swallow.

Speaking of plans...my newest thought for the house - replace the east facing wall with one of those clear glass garage doors that you can raise when it's warm.  Pardon me while I go fetch my sledge hammer.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

I don’t have a problem. I swear. Really. (First stage – denial.) Why is Seattle known for great coffee? The weather of course. For each day that’s 45 degrees and drizzly I know I can’t go golfing or swimming, but I know at least I can have a good cup of coffee, or a latte, or a caramel macchiato, or a raspberry mocha.

Well, 9 times out of 10 it’s a 12oz. drip with room or a 16 oz. one-Splenda latte. I have an entire pocket in my wallet dedicated to these frequent flyer cards. As of this publishing date I hold in my wallet a gold Starbucks card, a Caffee Ladro credit card, and an Issaquah Coffee 10 drink card. I can go to two places today and get free coffee because I’ve been so frequently. Where to go? The decision is killing me.

At Starbucks, you get one free drink after 15 purchases. I was a bit embarrassed when I received two cards in the mail in April. And I don’t just go to Starbucks. My Issaquah Coffee card is ready to be redeemed right now for a smooth, velvety cup of liquid goodness (that’s Jana’s line).

If you go to my kitchen, you’ll see an entire coffee cabinet: tumblers, mugs, whole beans, Senseo pods, filters, and even a pack of ground decaf. Below this cabinet of course are the dueling coffee makers: one makes drip, the other makes espresso. We can’t agree on the taste – so we have one for each of us. Our marriage is real teamwork. We share children, bank accounts, and all decisions are made together…but we don’t tolerate each other’s coffee.

When my beloved wakes up, ambles with tiny steps, hair sticking up in 32 directions she blows me a kiss and walks straight for her machine – the one that makes the nasty, bitter, espresso. “I’ve been dreaming about it all night,” she tells me. It’s the true love of her life. The world isn’t right until our coffee makers are set in motion. Her machine elicits a low hum then a hushed release of steam, like an old train. My machine isn’t permitted to operate until all living creatures are awake. Because it grinds the beans first, a sound equivalent to a siren alerting the masses of an impending hurricane whines throughout our home. It is followed by the melodious “drip…drip…drip.” Ahhh the aroma – morning is here.

Fridays and Saturday mornings are the best. They’re accompanied by the newspaper, a blanket, and three little people in their jammies. For about 12 minutes we have silence, at least two warm snugglers per parent (we have animals too), and that taste of sweet nectar.

But I don’t have a problem…Excuse me a moment…“I said, ‘REFILL PLEASE!’ Don’t give me this ‘I’m only five’ business. You know daddy needs his coffee now…And none of that soy stuff your mom uses. Gimme the half and half…Good girl. Thank you, honey.”