A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to 2015

I do know this: 2014 existed to get me to 2015. And while I may not understand every step, I see so very clearly the hand of God. And it’s funny….how in the midst of it, we might not even be sure God is noticing. But He’s orchestrating every step.

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2014 has been an adventure, to say the least!  The beginning could never have predicted the end!

My eldest graduated from high school and moved away to college.  After nearly three years of un or under employment, God opened the right door for us.  We moved our entire family from Texas to Arizona.  I fell into a writing opportunity for a little movie called God’s Not Dead, which has led to some other amazing prospects. And probably about 126 other things I could recount if I journaled.  But I don’t.  So there you have it.

“What’s so funny about that?’, you ask?

brick wallSomewhere in the past 10 years, I lost my way.  Lost myself.  Forgot who and whose I am.  I think maybe life does that to you over time.  I began to equate my self, my soul, with what I do…not who I am.  Consequently, when I no longer ‘was’, I had no idea who I ‘am’.  And it was a rough journey to struggle out from under that fallen brick wall – for me and for those around me.

And to be thoroughly honest, I’m still a little flattened.  But as I shake the dust off, tend the wounds left behind, and assess…I become so much more aware of how God – in the way only God does – has orchestrated every step to bring me to this very moment.

I still don’t understand all of 2014.  I haven’t yet discerned why it’s so hard to watch my boys grow up.  I’m puzzled at why the transition to a new church and a new state has seemed harder than I thought it would be when God is so very obviously ‘in it’.  I still don’t get HOAs or the allure of a gated community, though I completely understand it’s a lot nicer than a pool you have to mow!

I do know this: 2014 existed to get me to 2015.  And while I may not understand every step, I see so very clearly the hand of God.  And it’s funny….how in the midst of it, we might not even be sure God is noticing.  But He’s orchestrating every step.

I love it when He does that.  And I am excited to abandon pool-mowing for the foreseeable future!

Sometimes Churchy Answers Aren’t Needed

12.9-CompassionSo recently….OK, last night…I was having a crisis of faith.  Actually, not really.  It was more of a pity party.  It’s been a season of hit-after-hit-after-hit….you know the kind I’m talking about.  The weeks where people tell you “God is in control” or ‘All things work together for good” or “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” or “God will bless your faithfulness”.   And I was just done with it – at least for a short season.  And I wanted to rant and rave and be mad and feel devastated and question God.

I’ve been a pastor for 25 years – and a Christian a lot longer than that.  So I know all the spiritual answers.  Most of them I agree with.  (Except that ‘God won’t give you anything you can’t handle ….not Biblical…and maybe that ‘blessings for faithfulness’ bit….those are posts for another day).  Aaaannnyway….fortunately I have a group of youth ministry friends who embrace it when we are authentically raw.  And none of them….not one….gave me a churchy answer.  They just laughed with me and cried with me and sat with me and prayed for me – albeit virtually – until I was better.  (Maybe because I threatened them if they gave me typical counsel….)

Here’s the thing (and it could be a youth ministry thing, too, I think.)  Sometimes we know the answer BEFORE our heart cries out in pain.  And we aren’t looking for someone to tell us what we already know.  We’re just looking for someone to sit alongside us in our pain, our grief, our crying out, our moment of despair.

I wonder how many teenagers I’ve trod upon with answers when they just needed compassion…..

When the Center of Somewhere Feels Like the Middle of Nowhere

garmin_25651GPS.  Global Positioning System.  You would think from that vantage point, the dumb thing might actually understand where I REALLY am!

Sometimes the navigation system goes awry -and though you may not truly be ‘in the middle of nowhere’, you certainly do not recognize the middle of wherever it is you are.

More than once, my friend Gert (complete with Australian accent and vernacular) has led me to a place that was wholly unfamiliar.  Oh, sure, there were gas stations aplenty and paved streets (sorta)….but for me, it still felt like the middle of nowhere.  Desolate.  Disorienting.  Frustrating.  Frightening.

Navigating a faith journey sometimes feels like I’m on a trip with Gert.  I pull out of the driveway with complete and utter confidence.  I blindly follow the robotic ‘recalculating’ without question.  And yet, I find myself in at the center of somewhere that feels like the middle of nowhere.  I can see landmarks – proofs that I am going as I need to go.  But man, does it feel desolate sometimes…like the middle of nowhere…and no amount of recalculating will ever take me to the intended destination.

And, admittedly, I find myself doing what all frustrated drivers do….blaming the GPS.  Cursing her.  Wanting to rip her off my dash and pummel her droning voice into a million little technologically charged pieces.  Shut.Her.Up.  But I know if I do that, a) I will never find my way to the right location, and b) I have squandered my investment.

So I continue to make the instructed turns – “in point three miles, turn left” – and trust that, from a much broader perspective than the one I have behind the wheel, Someone knows where I’m going.

Waiting Vs. Wasting

Waiting-Room-Braille-Engraved-Sign-SE-2730“Sometimes waiting turns to wasting.”

And with those words, Jesus rocked my world through Katie’s wisdom once again!

Our family has been in a holding pattern for a LOT longer than we ever anticipated when this journey was thrust upon us by God.  And it was very evident early on that it would be a significant wait…much like that time you went to the doctor’s office and got there on time for your early-morning appointment and still missed an entire day of work.

You remember the appointment, right?  A minor annoyance at first, you watched the clock and wondered exactly how long you’d be there.  As you settled in to an uncomfortable seat and hoped you wouldn’t catch what anyone else had, you began to plan out your adjusted calendar for the day.  As you realized even the most well-adjusted calendar wouldn’t be happening THAT day, you sent a few e-mails or texts from your smart phone and just resolved yourself to the wait.  And at some point, waiting became wasting as you picked up magazines you would never read on a normal day, took quizzes that assessed stuff you didn’t really care about, and counted something, anything, in an effort to occupy the ticking moments until your name was called.

And when finally your name was called, relief washed over you…partially because the wait had taken SO DADGUM LONG…and partially because your brain was turning to mush as you migrated from waiting to wasting.

Sometimes waiting on God is necessary, though annoying and uncommonly painful.  And sometimes, we allow ourselves to unwittingly drift from waiting to wasting.  Don’t waste the time God is waxing silent or slow, as some would define slow.  Be ‘active’ in the wait.  Seek the truths God wants to teach you.  Lean into the significance of stillness.  And when it’s time, let relief consume as your name is called…not because you’ve been wasting….but because the wait is over.

Best Thing I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 3

figure-watering-grass1.  Water what’s strong.

Don’t waste time trying to nurse what’s dead – invest in what’s strong and allow it to overtake the weak areas.  LOVE IT!

2.  Sometimes the messenger IS the message.

Definitely sometimes the messenger enhances a message that might have otherwise been missed.

3.  I killed people in the Bible for lying to me.

Yep – God don’t mess around…so help me always be honest with you, Jesus.

4.  I don’t get carpet.

It’s a floor covering made of fiber, Matt.

5.  We shouldn’t be driven there.  We shouldn’t someday make it there.  We should start there.  (on our knees before Jesus.)

Bring me back to that place in my life, Lord, where prayer was the first thing – not the last.

6.  I am with you – even in the aftermath.

Thank God – I might even say ‘especially’ in the aftermath.

7.  God does say he care for the flowers – and they live in dirt.

God’s provision doesn’t always look the way we think it should.

8.  It’s time to focus less on the why and more on the who.

Amen!

9.  I’m flippin’ Phil Bell.

It sounds so cool with a British accent.

10.  Dad, can you help me with my NHS forms?

I’d rather do ministry with that kid (and his brothers) than any other kid on this planet!

Best Thing I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 2

mustard1.  Mustard is not a shy condiment.

Indeed.  Neither is horseradish – it just doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

 

2.  I was on my way to Anchorage and had a hang-over….I mean lay over!!

Well which was it, Mike?  Because both could probably be plausible.  Don’t try to cover your tracks now – it’s too late!

 

3.  Don’t go viral for the wrong reasons.

Tell that to Sweet Brown.

 

4.  When most are running away, you guys run into the fire.

I have never thought of student ministry in these terms – but it is so accurate.  I pray that I can help other parents and leaders start running toward the fire!

 

5.  If we really believe God’s strength is our strength, we’d start before we were ready.

Whoa.  This still leaves me feeling winded.

 

6.  Katie is awesome.

Yes.  I know this.  And I am never more honored and humbled at God’s mercy on me than when I stand in a crowd and listen to her speak His wisdom into the lives of  students, families, and leaders.  She is altogether amazing – and I am rich beyond measure.

 

7.  You don’t get much more white Mennonite than that.

True.  I’m glad Lecrae didn’t have to see that, Joel.

 

8.  We should always play to the size of the heart, not the size of the audience.

He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.   Ecclesiastes 3.11

 

9.  Don’t believe the lie that your present circumstance is your permanent circumstance.

It’s such an effective tale, though.  It evaporates hope and dims sight to blessing.

 

10. God is not in the business of better – He’s in the business of new.

Thank God for that!  I don’t need to be better.  I need to be new.