Yesterday I spent much of the day corresponding with churches and families in the States that support our ministry in England. Most of these e-mails revolved around the ten week trip to America and the schedule we will be keeping. We’re endeavouring to visit 28 churches in seven different states with travel in 13 states and the District of Columbia from the last week in January through the first week in April 2014. We’re a little over half way through the macro logistics of the schedule.
What can we say about our supporting friends and church families that come from 16 different states? They are amazing and generous and so accommodating as we put legs on the schedule. We want to serve them and bless them and encourage them and tell stories as best we can, but not all of them will be able to host us at what is their best and optimum time to do so. We feel disappointed and a bit guilty, actually, that we can’t do more to express our gratitude in more substantial and meaningful ways.
There will be many we won’t even get to see. I’m gutted that it will be unlikely we get to see Sandi and Doug, longtime friends from our home church 25 years ago in Oregon that now reside on the East Coast but a fair distance to travel. We cannot seem to squeeze those extra miles into the travel diary. Sandi makes the best cinnamon rolls in the world and we won’t be able to taste them. More importantly, we won’t be able to sit and share conversation and coffee and friendship that stands the test of time. That makes us sad.
On the other hand, we’ll get to see Miss Peggy, a southern woman of hospitality, humility, and godliness that warms our hearts just thinking of her! She has hosted us in her home many times for weeks on end and still loves us, and we sure love Peggy and her sisters Betty and Nadine. Hugs are a comin’ Peggy and sisters!
Yes, there will be a certain fatigue and weariness from the grind of travel and heads rested on beds not our own. But you can be sure that there will be gratitude for these friends and supporters, every one, welling up from our hearts to our heavenly Father.
On Monday evenings most weeks I am down at the Sea Cadet unit in Shirley: TS Gamecock. The unit has about a dozen adult staff members and officers, around 40 cadets and junior cadets. Sea Cadets are national voluntary uniformed youth organization affiliated to the Royal Navy. Four years ago our friend Neil asked if I would become the unit chaplain. While the bureaucracy of formally being recognized as the padre on a national level hasn’t been a smooth road and still isn’t sorted, the unit still sees me in this role. Last year I spoke at the Trafalgar Day parade in Solihull a regional event that is akin to Remembrance Day services.
Anyway, one of the aspects of the unit that took me a while to figure out (apart from traditions and marching and such that are foreign to a civilian like me!) is the sense of family the unit has. While there is the ‘business’ of the evening parades and training which takes place, it is before and particularly after where staff and officers chat, converse, discuss training, and plan for the future. I didn’t understand this at first. Once I figured this out, and stayed afterwards in the wardroom to visit, getting to know everyone was much easier.
At the last moment, without any preparation, I was called on to teach two of the values of the Sea Cadets last night (I am writing this a day late): Respect and Loyalty. Not terribly exciting topics to the cadets, I must say, who are aged 14 – 17. Yet I was struck, myself, how without these two values, human relationships struggle and break and fragment. Even amongst groups with less than positive ambitions such as gangs these values are embraced.
So today, I am thankful for organizations like the Sea Cadets who provide a supportive and encouraging environment for youth to learn and make mistakes and fall upwards and still be cared for. Hats off for the local unit TS Gamecock and the staff and officers and the sacrifices they make for the youth who make up the unit.
On the spur of the moment, Herve and Iris asked us over for dinner today (Sunday). We’ve known their family since the first holiday club on what became the Dickens Heath Village green in 1999 when we put the marquee and their young children inquired about the reason for it. They are an amazing family for their giftedness, cultural diversity, and kind and generous personalities. We have often benefited from their wisdom and insights. A Saturday morning breakfast with Herve is always a welcome time of conversation! We led the blessing service for their daughter and new husband this past summer, and stayed with Oma (Iris’s mum, whose name is also Iris; ‘oma’ is grandmother in German) in Germany in August, and were spoiled!
So, today, we’re thankful for the spontaneity of Iris and Herve, their three children and spouses (2x of 3), and the influence and friendship they have given us over many years. Blessings on your family!
This morning I woke up rather early, as I often do. It was 4.20am when I slipped out of bed and went downstairs. “Where are my slippers?” I asked myself. I have this idiosyncrasy in which I greatly dislike walking around the house with my feet only in socks. No slippers to be found anywhere downstairs. After a trip to the gym for my morning workout, I returned home to shower and get ready for the day. Again I looked for my slippers. No result. “Tam, have you seen my slippers by any chance?” I asked. She replied, “They are on the coat pegs.”
“Ahh, that’s where that pesky Phil had hidden my slippers after thethirdplace last night.”
Today I’m thankful for Phil (and his wife Elaine), for the friendship and little practical jokes he plays. He’s a big kid just like me. Much quieter than I am, but there’s wisdom and love in that man which I admire.
Thanks Phil. You’re a great guy to hang with and pray with and have a laugh with.
I am unabashedly borrowing from Kendra Wheeler a spiritual practice for the month of November. Starting today I will post a photo and comment about something for which I am thankful.
I’ll start with my friend Bernard. Just this morning we had breakfast together and part of our conversation was about gratitude and humility. We spoke about something that was troubling him… a situation where there appeared to a lack of gratitude and an accompanying sense of entitlement and arrogance. We both welled up with tears when we recalled the video clip of the small boy a couple of days ago who hugged and embraced the Pope… and gratitude for the way he showed amazing patience and care for that child.
Bernard and Gloria led the vows renewal service five years ago when Tam and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Both of them are wonderful examples of lives of serving others from a base of gratitude and humility. We are grateful for them!
Many of our friends, both in the UK and America, are aware we are hosting a group of 13 from a supporting church in America. This wonderful collection of people arrives on the 24th of May and remain until the 2nd of June. A lot of work has gone into planning their ten day visit and there is a lot more preparation to do; and then there is still the actual time and events themselves to experience!
One of the interesting aspects of planning and scheduling has been to consider cultural differences and comfort levels. While the dissonance experienced by simply being in a different culture can make one uncomfortable in and of itself, our guests are actually coming to experience discomfort of another kind. What I mean by that is this: while the team wants to contribute and make a difference in some tangible ways they also want to be stretched in expressing their life of following Jesus. This requires training, equipping, and then undertaking tasks which are new, unfamiliar, and previously unlearned.
Not only that, sensitivity and balance in the schedule must be exercised so that there is enough discomfort to bring stress, but not so much as to bring distress or damage. I recall some years ago having a physical trainer explain to me that lifting weights in the right manner with repetitions causes mini-tears in the muscles that the body then restores, growing new muscle mass in the process. Obviously, a regimen customized to each individual will have the most effectiveness. That’s hard to do with a group of thirteen!
The writer of Hebrews noted that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” It’s also not possible to grow personally or spiritually without faith that is disciplined and perseveres in difficult or challenging or even ‘uncomfortable’ circumstances. We’re praying that in the few days that our Stateside friends will be with us, they will experience enough discomfort and stress that they more fully and faithfully follow Jesus, but not so much that they remember the experience with us in a negative light.
Our daughter has a cat she has named Scout, after the character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, my wife’s all time favourite book and movie. One of the best gifts I ever got for Tammy was the DVD of the film to go along with the softcover copy of the book. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the movie’s release, though the book was published in 1960. The movie is a classic and a must-see movie (click for the wikipedia summary) about racism and growing up in a small town in the southern United States.
Scout (the character, not the cat) has an innocence that is disarming (almost literally; it disburses a lynch mob at the jail). The viewer and reader sees the world through this young girl’s eyes. It is a captivating story.
Scout (the cat, not the character) is just plain cute and captivating in her own way. If you don’t believe me, see the photos!
I read an article this morning that got me thinking about church, being apprenticed to Jesus, and leadership.
Auxano church publishes regularly their Sums which is a 5 to 7 page review document of a book they have read amongst their staff together. They reviewed Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide and included the title of the second section which reads “Our Story — Walking Towards the Messes.” While I cannot comment on the book or chapter specifically (I’ve not read it!), it strikes me that one of the values of the Kingdom of God and likewise should be embedded in the follower of Jesus is a prior decision to walk towards the messes people are in and get themselves in. One of the reasons we all applauded and marveled in some of the stories that came out of the bombing at the end of the Boston Marathon finish line were those first responders, trained and non-professional, who didn’t hesitate to walk into the mess and chaos the explosion left behind (see this inspiring video clip of a trio of those first responders who saved a university student: http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/51652344/#51652344).
Sadly, many of us in the church value tidiness and control far too much to embrace people whose lives are messy and chaotic. One of the values we aspire to in thethirdplace is reflected in Romans 15.7 (my loose translation): “Embrace one another just as Christ embraced you; this gives praise to God.” Why does this give praise to God? Because it boldly and proactively demonstrates his values of the Kingdom being lived out.
In reflecting on Stanley’s book, the compiler of this version of “Sums” (Mike Gammill) writes “As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.” While the language is a bit “churchy,” it still reflects a pair of biblical truths. First, the follower of Jesus who in turn leads others has to take seriously the “emptying” Jesus demonstrated: emptying of pride, selfish ambition, need for recognition, and “control. Second, and at the same time, one cannot dictate what is received and acted upon by another in whom we invest. How another responds to the grace and truth we pour into them is not only beyond our control, it is outside of our realm of responsibility. That’s the nature of discipleship; one’s own and the other person.
It sounds counter-intuitive to “embrace the chaos”; but isn’t it the only way to really live abundantly the life of following Jesus?
Easter Sunday was such a pleasant day for us! Folks from thethirdplace and Dickens Heath Village Church met up together for breakfast, a short Easter service, and then spent 90 minutes distributing 200 bunches of daffodils and chocolates in the village. Before and during breakfast, we wrapped the daffodils with yellow ribbons. Then after the service, we took a leaflet, the flowers, and the chocolates into random places in the village and knocked on doors and wished our neighbours “Happy Easter.” The responses ranged from smiles of gratitude and conversations on the doorstep, to anger and hostility (for waking up one person at 11.30am from a late night party and accompanying hangover) to “How much money do you want for the flowers?” “No, we just want to wish you a happy Easter.”
At the beginning of last week (Monday) I felt like I was coming down with something. On Tuesday I had definitely come down with it, whatever it was. On Wednesday, this ‘head cold’ was such that I couldn’t think straight. On Thursday I tried to work, but it was a fruitless exercise so I just watched a couple of movies. On Friday I still could not focus any of my brain cells on the same task in the same direction, so apart from a meal and Discovery Bible Study with thethirdplace on the evening, I was mush most of the day. I didn’t even play ice hockey, and slept in until 8.00 or 9.00am for three days. Tam called it “man-flu” and told me to stop whining, but I say how dare those germs invade and transgress my personal space!
Fortunately, I seem to be over the head cold and resuming my routines and rhythms, starting with a prayerwalk around the estate this morning, and a bit of writing afterwards. And I still have the absolute best of a wife who loves me, man-flu or not!