Wednesday, March 27, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (10) Crazy Love Hurts Real Good

Candid shot of the Sheps with Petoskey Stones in MI several summers ago.
Yes… I have hair here…yaddy yaddy yada.

Tonight I was thinking that there are some parts of this


in order to chase


that I simply cannot tell anyone:

The parts where I get scared,

The times when I doubt,

The moments I hurt,

The pain of walking away from our parents and grandparents,

The fear that comes with knowing we will be away as they age and even as they may pass from this earth.

But… who can I whisper those dark secrets to? 

We want to show our faith, how it has grown as we have been obedient to God. We want to show that our strength is found there, that we are weak and made to be all that we should be when we reach out our hands to Him.

And so I realized… I need to tell these things to anyone who looks our way, witnesses our steps, and even walks alongside of us. Because this is our story. We do not follow this path because it is easy.

We follow it because we are willing to stake everything we have, we are, and will become on our belief in the story of Jesus. This faith in our God requires that we follow his footsteps with reckless abandon. We drop our nets and follow.

We have lived in the basement of my parents for the past 14 months or so (I have lost count). And now that this time here is closing… I feel the pain of the separation. I worry about my parents and this quieted house after we leave. I know my mother will read these words and it will make her cry. This makes me sad and yet, I feel compelled to be transparent.

Being here has been amazing. Last January I wrote in a blog entry that was an open letter to God

I am blown away by the forward sight you have burned into my mind. Your provision, exactly what we need, right when we need it... both strengthens my resolve and tests my belief. 

There is no other possible action for us except to exist as the beings you have created. You know us and you have shown us who we are. For us, there simply is no other possibility. You have called us. You have chosen us. For us to refuse would be to condemn our souls and die. This is our life. Nothing compares.

Even so, still I must take steps that require blind movement. The vision you have given me of a home with green grass and high walls that secures the lives of children you hold in your hands as we find them forever families. I know how it will be. And between me and that day I am aware that mountains stand:
  • Our house must be sold... for less than we paid, and within 6 months. 
  • Two cars must be paid off... one within 6 months, another within 12.
  • Our adoption must be completed and paid. $14k to go!
  • Consumer debts must be paid off.
  • Annual support must be secured from friends, relatives, and churches.
  • A SUV or club cab all wheel drive vehicle must be obtained by donation.
We are dwarfed by these mountains...and yet by faith we know You can move them. We have seen you do more in the way you healed our souls. We have felt greater things in the way you hold our chaos and converge reality. We have heard your voice quiet the noise. And so, we claim these obstacles as gone.

And now as I write these words tonight… each obstacle has been removed! Although some were not resolved exactly as we thought they would, each and every mountain is gone

This evening Kellie, the kids, and I went to out to dinner with my mom and dad. It was difficult for me because tonight feels like a major milestone in our leaving. I am taken by surprise by the power of emotion that overwhelms me tonight.

We have been in STUB (Shepherd Transitional Underground Bunker) now for quite sometime and now we are moving things over to Kellie's parent's house to also spend some time with them.

We leave with some friends tomorrow for a few days of retreat over Easter and when we return we will be mostly moved into the Johnson's home. I did not expect it to be so difficult to make this little move. 

Crazy Love (nod to Francis Chan). 
Yes, crazy Love Hurts (nod to Incubus). 
It is also Hurts Real Good (nod to John Mellencamp). 

I will not walk away from the conviction of my faith. I cannot deny the pain… and still, I cannot help but acknowledge the inner peace knowing that we follow the path that God has made straight before us.

And so, I suppose we need a new acronym. STUB won't work  for the new digs. It is a 2nd floor lodging complete with two bedrooms, a common area, and a full bathroom. It is certainly not underground.

SLAG- Shepherd's Loft Awaiting Guatemala should do the trick. 

Just keeping it real folks. Keeping it real. We do not waiver in our faith… and yet, we still feel the struggle from time to time.

75 Days. Guatemala or bust!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (9) Afflicted but not Consumed

Lots of people are put off by Christianity. Do you know why? I think it is because we claim to know the way… we claim to have the path to eternal life, to peace, to joy, the very path to God.

And we are the worlds biggest complainers.

I think we are far too comfortable. I think we are far too safe. We are far to insulated. We seem to believe we are entitled to happiness, to be pain free, to not be afflicted.

This simply is not true.

Why do we believe this insidious lie? Who exactly got this privilege? Joseph was sold, Daniel thrown to lions, Job lost everything, the disciples were killed, Paul was tortured and killed, even the very son of God was beaten and killed.

And we think we deserve better?

What is this garbage? What we are promised is so much MORE than a safe and fair and pain free life!

I do not want fairness! I want to follow the plan of my life as written by God as part of His story. Too many of us quit because the way is hard. We think we get an out on commandments because we continue to struggle. We rob ourselves of the value of the fight when we surrender our integrity and believe for this puff of temporary comfort.

When we claim to be Christians and then we forfeit our eternal perspective… and risk our very eternal standing, for the troubles of our days, then we show the world that our belief is nothing but words.

I have seen this through the tears, struggle, and beauty in the eyes of people who sleep on dirt and yet dress in white to sing the praises of God for another day of life.

I am challenged to find my truth and passion in the content of my belief… NOT the context of my situation.

I have no time for doubt. I have no patience for fear. I am not about wallowing in the difficulty of my days. Whatever struggle you find yourself panting against… do you not realize that it is what God has placed before you? What will your choice be?

What is my daily choice? Do we curse God, or do we embrace His promises that are new to us with every sunrise?

How different my world can be when I reach for the promises of God through my obedience than when I grumble about my circumstance! It comes down to a daily, and even at times a moment by moment simple choice… is there joy in this struggle, do I recognize the virtue, or do I simply wallow in the filth of self-pity?

Have you heard the old song, Great Is Thy Faithfulness? It was written in 1923 by Thomas Chisholm at age 57. He was a new minister at age 27 when health problems changed his life. He became an insurance agent… I wonder if he was ever disappointed by the circumstances of his life?

And yet…30 years later he wrote the words that would be used by the Billy Graham crusade and sung by millions.

The words of his song came from one of the most tortured books of the Bible. Lamentations. It was written by a man who hid in a cave and was in despair over the loss of his city, his nation, the very center of his belief. 

But… in his hopelessness, we find some of the most powerful words ever written about the promises of God. 

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.

Jeremiah recognizes that his struggles are many… some from his enemies, some because of his own actions, and some even from the Hand of God. And still, he writes of the compassion and mercy of a God that is really all that he needs.

What more do we need? We do we grumble? Surely we know that God is all that we need. Would we not be better off naked in a cave with our eyes open than to be safe and comfortable and miss this greatest of truths?

Too many times we focus inward and we gnash our teeth while we grown increasingly bitter and forget to look up. We rob ourselves of the joy, the peace, and the fulfillment of a life lived according to the purpose and plan of an almighty God.

Have you ever heard someone quote, "God won't give me more than I can bear?" Do you know that it simply isn't true?

It is a misquote of I Corinthians 10:13 that reads, 

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; 
but God is faithful, 
who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, 
but with the temptation 
will also make the way of escape, 
that you may be able 
to bear it.

You see… we are not promised an easy life. 

He promises that when temptation is too great for us, He will provide a way that we MAY BEAR IT. There is no promise that he will take it away.

We can lean on His strength when we are weak. (2 Cor. 12:9)

This is how we grow in our faith. This is how we become the men and women that lift up the truth of our belief. Our very lives become testimony of the promises of God because our walk remains true even through hard days.  We shine out the fruits of the spirit… love, joy, peace… even when we live in the dirt.

Kellie and I are now about 80 days from our first moments in Guatemala. We do our best to prepare, and many walk beside us in support. However, I do not know that the days will bring. I simply know that wherever I find myself, whatever state my family is in… God is there. 

Nothing can separate us from His love. Nothing else is more important than us living out our belief. We have created a stir… eyes are watching us. Pray for us that we remain faithful. Our work there may not be as critical as the witness we can live for those who see us go.

And go we must. This is the calling of God on our hearts. We are not the first to walk away from the stuff of life, from family, from real needs we could help here. I think we also will not be the last. For us it isn't a choice or a priority… it simply is part in God's story.

And so…this phase of our life is winding down. The lights are dimming and I can see the rustle of the curtain as it anticipates its close. Our eyes have already begun to turn away from things here. Our feet are ready to run.

Indeed we will soon wake up to the glory of another morning. 

The words of Adam Agin carry the spirit found in that Great Hymn… and they play without stop in my mind:

Take the hand that’s given
Oh this dance is endin
Bow before the curtain
Bow until your certain
The lights are goin down
Music’s fading out
Run right out the back
Run right to the tracks
The sun is whisper low
It tells me where to go
Dust is in the sky
Dust is your disguise
The hum, it lingers long
I’m sure we’ll carry on
Careful for your step
Careful for what’s next
Let that whistle sing you softly

Wake up to the glory 
Of a brighter morning
Roll on, train don’t slow down now
I’m only gaining speed
I need you to lead the way out

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (8) Worthy of My Name?

This may take all night for me to hammer it out. I understand David when he wrote on that papyrus so long ago about how his heart overflowed. At the risk of sounding ridiculous… I must tell you that I feel a kindred spirit to his heart.

David was a Shepherd boy and he was forgotten. His brothers were bigger, stronger, and more important. He was the scrapling left to attend to the sheep. 

I think of my grandfather. Harry Thomas Shepherd. I miss him everyday. He was my father's father. He was a giant of a man to me. I remember sitting on his lap. I remember hearing him tell stories of Kentucky… how he grew up as a boy, barefoot and tough. I saw the character that he instilled into my father.

Can I tell you about my dad? Who do I admire most in this world? I have read and I have studied. Oskar Schindler, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Kierkegaard, Chan, these are influential men in my life… in my thinking. And still, no-one has influenced the character of my life greater than my father. 

He is Leo Thomas Shepherd.

This is the man that inspires my life. This is the man that holds me accountable. This is the man who has showed me--through the living of his life: how to love a wife, how to love a son, and how to live a life of integrity.

As a man of nearly 40 years I seek his approval. I yearn for his companionship. My relationship with him affirms my identity. I hope to pass his character on to my son. 

You see, we are Shepherds. We are low… and yet, God revealed himself to shepherds over 2000 years ago. My name is evidence of the love of an almighty God. 

When His very son was born among His creation, God split the sky and His angels proclaimed the power of the night to a few shepherds who were simply tending their flock in the moonlight. They were faithful to who they were… and the God of the universe revealed Himself to them.

Do you ever feel like your life is meaningless? Can you imagine if you were on a slope of grass at 2 a.m. chasing sheep… when the sky splits open and thousands of angels rock your world? Why me? How often to we ask that question? 

Why me?

Why not you? Do you know that the face of the God of the universe is layed over your own? Do you know that the silence between your breath is the breathing of the lungs of God?

How do we lose sight of this simple truth? We are here because a loving God created us so that we can walk with Him. This life is not our answer. We must walk these days with Him, choosing to love Him… even in the face of difficulty. And then, when our days are past--we will be reconciled to our creator. This God who holds us… as David in psalms inscribed on papyrus… in the shadow of His wings.

Today I received a Facebook message from a pastor who is dear to me. He told me that I am now a licensed minister of God's Church. This Shepherd has now become… a shepherd. I find myself in tears before the universe. Before my God… my Abba, father.

I have wandered so far… searched so long. And now I find myself in this place. Ironically, I find myself living up to my namesake. 


We go forth into the unknown. I spend my days telling people around me about our passion, our belief, our calling. I can not see into the future. I do not know if we will go hungry. I do not know if disaster awaits us. I do not know if we will be able to touch the lives of thousands… or if we will simply suffer in love with a few hands that we hold.

It really doesn't matter.

This life is just a staging area. This life is simply the opportunity to connect to the God of the universe. This life is temporary. Should we embark into poverty, starvation, and suffering… then so be it. 

Tell me how is that any better than a life of success? Our only goal is to follow the footsteps of our belief… our God. Why do we place so much importance on our condition in this temporary place IF WE BELIEVE that we are eternal?

This is your invitation to walk with us. My promise to you is simple transparency. I will blog of my struggles. I will blog of our celebrations. I will blog of my heartbreaks and even my faith-shattering doubts.

If you sign up for the Shepherds… you sign up for an unapologetic look of what life looks like…

…when you run abandoned towards your belief.

Come with us…

Pray with us…

Place a bit of your fortunes with us…

And see how this faith in God lives out… in the life of a simple Shepherd.

This is us. No bells, no whistles. We seek to walk our belief. 

Orphans & widows. Pure Religion.

Do you believe?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (7) Letters From A Missionary

My children with the children of Labor de Falle

These are excerpts from personal support letters to 25 targeted individuals, giving thanks for encouraging words and defining moments.
I loved talking to you after church this Sunday and remembering all the history between our families. I think it is incredible that the new generations of our familes are even now growing up together in church. The legacy continues!

It is such an honor to work with your oldest son and have him as my friend, pastor, mentor, and true confidant. Likewise, I am blessed to continue a strong relationship with your youngest, a true forever friend.


I won't tell you to "take it easy" or to "rest up." I have

always thought that type of advice was crap. I get

aggravated when people tell me that they will "pray

for our safety" while we are in Guatemala.

Life isn't meant to be lived safe. It isn't meant to be

taken easy. And we sure don't have time to waste

resting. I think I know you well enough to know that

you are going to chase your goals and dreams with

relentless pursuit. And that is the way it should be.

Kellie and I had a really bad patch a few years ago

that resulted in me moving out for two weeks. We

were both broken people, but most of the blame was

on me. We came back together in agreement to try to

give our kids a stable environment. We took a week

off to work in Guatemala, building a home for a

widowed mother and her 3 kids.

That week changed everything.

We want as many people as possible to share in this 

incredible thing that is neither safe, easy, or restful. 

Rather… we run with everything we've got to seize 

this life.

My goodness! Thank you for your contribution! It is so awesome to have your support. The last time I felt like this around you I was stealing a tree from a room full of floral managers.
Seriously, it means the world to have your support. You should grab a few of your Kroger peeps and come down for a week!

I just wanted to take this moment to thank you so 

much for your partnership. You were one of the very 

first to support us. It is so incredible to think of our 

first venture together in that crazy hillside that 

became the home of Luis. My life was forever changed 

that week… we are so overwhelmed with thanks over 

how these past few years have developed. How God 

has shaped, pushed, and formed us. The support of 

our friends gives us renewed faith, and helps us keep 

our eyes on Jesus.


Thank you again for the wonderful evening in your 

home. When we looked at the time and realized we 

had been there for four hours, we were shocked at 

how quickly it passed!

It was encouraging and like fresh water to our souls 

to hear your story and to see the beauty and 

testimony of your families' life. We felt like we were in 

the home of dear friends.

I feel compelled that our meeting wasn't by chance, 

and I will confess to you that I have great 

expectations of your continued role in our future. 

Please count us in for setting up a table and being 

introduced to your congregation. We are available any 

Sunday that you choose. Just let me know.

Regardless of that financial bit… most important to 

me is your continued prayer and guidance. Not only 

for our mission, but as a young pastor, husband, and 



I don't know if I ever told you, but I owe a great deal to you. I was about to quit Kroger… just walk away when you came into my life. I remember you standing there on that balcony in your crisp and impeccable suit. I thought you were from G.O. 

And now you are.

You gave me hope. I saw you walk away from a promising career to chase your dream. I thought you were nuts. And then I saw you fight through the hard times and never quit. You kept your chin up and fought. Your integrity inspired me then and it does now as well.

The two of you gave me a shot 15 years ago with MIB Mortgage. I want you to know that Kellie and I remember and appreciate those days. Even back then I was searching for my mission in life. Now we have found it.

In just 97 short days me and the family will jet off on a one-way flight to Guatemala. I am reaching out to all the people who have already touched our lives.

Essentially, we are opening a home that will take in 4-6 abandoned infant girls. We will provide them a loving, nurturing environment in our home along with medical treatment and care from a staff of 3 nannies. We will act as adoption agents and place the girls with their forever families.

We will also be working in the mountain villages, supporting feeding programs, structure building, clinics, farming projects, and aquaculture.

We seek your partnership on a monthly basis. The amount really doesn't matter… the simple fact of having your blessing and support would bolster our faith and help us through lean or difficult times.

You are my pastor, and you have become one of my truest friends. You are my mentor, my teacher, and a man who has taught me to live with more grace, forgiveness, and courage. I thank God for you and this congregation that has helped to shape me through my own Plan B.


We go back a long way.

I wish I would have been a better friend to you after I left for AU. I like to say that I don't have regrets in life, but I truly do regret not always standing by your side. I respect you and the way you live your life, chasing your dreams and standing strong.

As you know I am doing the same now, although it took me longer to find my path. Long story short, I really need your support now. I need your friendship, and I need your partnership financially.

How do I express the influence you have already had in my life? I think often of our conversations. I think of your time spent in isolation when the monks were away. I think of your Plan B sermon. That takes guts. Getting to know you has been incredible. You are now my pastor and my friend.  Thank you for inviting our ragtag group to form a new fellowship with your congregation.

The sum truly is greater than the parts.

God has authored a Plan B in my life that I could have never imagined. I find myself literally face down and crying tears of thanks every day. I am broken by God and I never want to be mended.

This mission is powerful. We are pulling as many into it as possible

Just wanted to take a quick moment tonight to tell you how thankful I am to have you as one of our partners. It is incredible when I think back of meeting you at AU, and all the shared experiences we have had since then. I am honored to call you friend. I am so thankful for your influence on my life. God has grabbed and shattered me (first on a mountain in Guate). I pray that I never fully heal from his reshaping of my life.

I want you to know that your support has been affirming to my faith and like cool water to my soul. Having your belief behind us has provided strength during the tough times. I know your life is crazy right now, and I appreciate every conversation we have had… every chance you have taken on our behalf.


I am typing a lot of letters and making endless contacts these days, but typing this one brings a big smile to my face.

We were part of Team B.A.! I tell the lore of our team every time I go with a new one. I tell them of the team that they can not beat. :)

Kellie and I are staring 98 days in the face until we arrive in Guatemala. What an incredible journey we have had since that first week spent with cinder block, biting ants, and falling brick walls.

We need partnerships to begin immediately to provide us with a little reserve when we leave to help us through lean months. If your family can contribute  a monthly amount of whatever makes your heart sing, it would make a huge impact on what we can do.

We pray that you will partner with us and see the great things in store. And… COME TO GUATE and we can continue to grow the lore of Team B.A.

We now have this calling on our lives from God to now work with others to connect lost children to families who want to live out this pure religion of accepting children into their homes to complete their families. Our life has been immeasurably enriched by having these two little daughters of ours show us the power of love and faith in action. Likewise, our hearts have been seized by the power of faith of the people in Guatemala.

We are making a permanent move and this will be our life work.  We believe that we were once lost and become sons and daughters of God by his adopting us and calling us his own. This miracle of adoption compelled us to live out faith in accordance to James 1, believing that Pure and Undefiled religion is meeting the needs of orphans and widows in their distress.

I remember your comment 20 years ago when you learned that Kellie and I were dating. You simply said, "oh, that is powerful."

At the time I felt embarrassed and unworthy of that statement from you. 

And then I remember the hurt in your eyes while we stood in the auditorium of Lakota East High School before service at Journey and you learned that Kellie and I were having trouble with our marriage…

At that moment I remembered back to the promise that was in your voice years ago and it made me want to fight my way back… I wanted to fight again for my marriage… to love my wife… to provide hope for my children.

Something began new in me around that time. Kellie led me to Guatemala, and God brutally seized my heart. I have never recovered. I never want to recover. This is our mission.

How do I even begin to tell you the impact the two of you have on my life? Larry, I am still blown away by your sharing this past Sunday. 

My life changed that week we stepped onto that plot of land that became the home of Luis. I was a shattered soul with no real expectation of life ever getting any better. I was fully lost. I was just living day to day for the sake of my kids and wife.

God grabbed me harshly that week and shook me to my soul. I have never recovered. I never want to recover. 
I need your help moving forward. For us to follow God's will… we are required to ask our friends and family to support us. This is not an easy thing to ask. I was raised to support myself and my family.

But, God is using us to provide chances for many to give to his calling. His calling that we are to love our neighbors… that we are to care for orphans and widows… and yes, even that we are all the least of these.

We all have our poverties. God has shown me mine in a way I will never forget. My heart is forever indebted.

This below is the attachment to all the above letters. Straight up folks… this is our reality.

We do not go to Guate alone… we take you with us.

God is our provision.
You can be a part of His story.