Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Our Import Gymnast with those Strong Muscles"

This is the one that the world isn't prepared to receive. I have no reservation in telling you that she will be a big deal one day. She is an odds-beater and she frequently surprises me.

She can beat me at Uno, Sorry, and for sure she dominates in the cuteness factor. She reads beyond her age and this past Monday afternoon... while her family stood chatting about daily scuttle, she was being promoted on the other side of the room, moving up to Pre-Team and receiving recognition from the coaches while she was advanced past her entire team. 

Parents of the year award... we weren't there with all the other parents who were shooting endless photos of their kids earning participation trophies! Meanwhile, Sterling was earning legitimate accolades and her family was asleep at the wheel!

Minutes before, after Sterling completed a move on the parallel bars, I heard her coach say, "Great job Sterling, you're just our import gymnast with those strong muscles!" 

We live in a Honda town. There are a lot of import things here. My personal favorite is the Fiji Japanese Steakhouse that makes the most incredible spicy tuna rolls. To be called in import in our hometown is a compliment. 

Sterling is an odds beater. She always has been. If you know our story, you know that she was found by a police officer in a bush on the corner of a park in Guangzho, China, born premature and survived in an incubator that had arrived that week. This child is one to watch. She is a miracle and I have no doubt that God will use her powerfully. 

In the meantime, we'll keep pouring into our local Shelby County YMCA. Let's see if we can bring home some trophies. I think I'm ready to be a gymnastics dad. 

Béla Károlyi, are you still taking pupils?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christmas Always Makes it Home

"Dad, we've been in so many different houses at Christmastime. I think it's nearly a different one every year." 

I sat the ornament down that I was tinkering with and paused. Aleksandra was right. In 2011 we had Christmas at our long time home in Middletown, Ohio, and then Christmas found us at my parent's house in 2012, in San Lucas, Sacatapequez, Guatemala in 2013, then San Cristobal, Guatemala from 2014 to 2015, Kellie's parent's house in 2016, and now Christmas catches us again in Sidney, Ohio.

Maybe it's true that you can't outrun Santa Claus? That guy sees you when you're sleeping... no matter where you land. I do know this, Christmas finds us wherever we are... and it brings us home. 

No matter where we've been, the telling of the story of Jesus' birth, the glow of light strings, and the crackle of a wood-fire has reminded us that we are always home when we came together and slow down to enjoy the Christmas spirit. Christmas in Guatemala meant the coldest month of the year.  At our elevation, the nights could fall to a chilly 42˚c. With no insulation and no heat source, this meant that the inside of the concrete house fell quickly to a very cool temperature. 

We spent three Christmases dressed in multiple layers and wrapped in blankets while we sat around a wood-fire hearth, giving thanks for the beautiful country where God had placed us. Christmas in the Guatemalan culture allowed us to slow down and really soak in the season.

People like to ask us, "So how are you really doing?" I don't know if they think we're secretly suffering? But the thing is... we're doing just as well as we've always done. The things you'd think are important variables such as the country you're living in, or the condition of your house... they aren't what matters most. 

How are we doing? Let me look around. Kellie and I have been married now for nearly 23 years. Caleb is graduating this year and has some really great prospects for university. Aleksandra has shown me how to really enjoy life as she has dug in deep in this new location, and Sterling is limitless energy and a never-ending smile. 

How are we doing? It's Christmastime, the absolutely most wonderful season of all. I'm slowing down now to contemplate again the narrative of His coming. 

We're good. We're really good. We've found a good place here. God is faithful. These folks here seem to put up with me well. 

Christmas always makes it home. This is just me taking a moment to say, I'm thankful. I'm sincerely thankful. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Impressions Like an Elephant

“If you do not have a memory like an elephant, leave impressions like one.” – Unknown

There's so much that I have no control over in this world. I suppose though, that if I were King of everything, the world would still have some problems! Even so, I'm learning that we each have the ability to choose our reactions. 

Have you ever heard rumors about yourself that aren't true? If you're like me, there's enough true stuff and silly mistakes you've made, that there really is no need to make up anything more. I've heard crazy rumors about why our family left Guatemala. 

The answer remains a simple one... we heard the Spirit of God in our hearts telling us to go. That was enough for us.

For others, they try to find hidden reasons. I've heard that we left because I must have "fathered a child in Guatemala," or recently I heard that we left and took money from our missions and church with us. Praise God that He has given me a sense of humor. 

I can do nothing but laugh when I hear the ridiculous claims that come from the pit of Hell. You can be sure that when you faithfully follow the path of God, the enemy will come after you. 

I can write with confidence that I am thankful for the family that I have. I deeply love them and they all rest under my roof. I can also confidently speak that we left Guatemala generously giving back to our mission, leaving extra money with the church we founded, and accepted substantial personal losses in exchange for our obedient service.

These claims against us are juvenile and baseless. Even so, I carry no ill will in my heart. May the Spirit of God provide to each of us what we need. 

Some that I've told have responded that they'd seek recourse. No, that is not the path for our family. We do not seek retribution like a striking snake, we long to make impressions like an elephant. Let the foolish speak their nonsense. We are going to be about who and what we're called to be. This life is for those who live in the light. 

It seems all of society is big right now on making accusations and claims. Let's you and I take a better road. I want to make impressions like an elephant.

Last Christmas Aleksandra wanted a giant teddy bear and her brother found her one that was about three and a half feet tall. She was thrilled! She has slept with her head resting on it all year long. 

Several weeks ago while shopping in our local Walmart, her eyes lit up when we saw a bin of teddy bears, dogs, and elephants that towered over five feet tall. The price tag was a mere thirty dollars, less than the one hundred dollar price tags we'd seen last year for those that size.

Today she earned thirty dollars working for a friend and so we loaded into the car and made our way to Walmart... where there was one elephant remaining. She chose it over the bear and dog because it matched her room. 

Today was a great day as she hugged that stuffed elephant through the aisles of Walmart and all the way to the self-check-out. We were stopped over and over by other shoppers who commented on her smiling face and our merry little band of elephant hunters.

Life is what we make it. Today could have been a day of fret and worry about what is being spoken of us some 2000 miles away in a land that we love... but, no. I don't live that life. I know the truth. We went when God called us and we returned when He called us back. We love the people there, the land, and we have no regrets. 

Let the naysayers do their thing. 

As for me and my house... we're making impressions like an elephant and God is good. We rest peacefully tonight.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Driving Batman

And there I was, cruising down County Highway 25A, heading south from Anna to Sidney in a Batman onesie without my wallet in 30 degree weather with no coat. I don't think this happens to normal people. I felt a little exposed, like dreaming you're naked in a crowd... but they don't notice.

It's the "what if" thought that gets you. What if they notice? Ohmygosh... what will I do?

I checked my speed... I don't want to be pulled over by one of Sidney's finest, trying to explain why I'm dressed like Batman on this chill November morning, driving around without any identification.

I imagine the conversation, "License and registration... ah, sir." Me in a low tone, responding, "You don't need any ID. I'm Batman." With his hand resting on the butt of his glock, "Sir, please step out of the vehicle."

And so I'm driving Batman, flying at a legal speed down Co. Highway 25A, grinning like a fool and misty-eyed as I realize how much I love being a Dad to nearly grown humans. There's nothing better. It's like I've never become who I am supposed to be until this moment. It is such a thrill to see them discover life and to get to know them. 

Last night I grabbed the three and we helped deliver Operation Christmas Child boxes to the local distribution point. With the ten year age spread of my kids I had it covered from thoughtful reflections of giving to a desperate pee-pee dance in search of a bathroom.

But now I'm driving Batman, returned to an illegal speed because my mind has drifted and I remember that it's cold outside. I was troubled this morning to find Aleksandra with no coat, sitting beside me on the way to school. I wanted to fuss at her and I suppose I did just that a bit... and then I shrugged off my coat while sitting at a red light and handed it over to her.

I really love that coat and I hope I get it back. It's red and it's a Columbia thermal and it's awesome. It also has my wallet in the right hand pocket.

I sent her a text to protect my wallet and she replied back that she will... and will I please protect her coffee because she forgot it in the Batmobile (I am driving Batman). So, I suppose we're quite the pair, her and I. 

I love her a whole lot more that that coat, or even that wallet. It's all replaceable, but being dad is the kind of crazy good that leaves you driving Batman down Co. Highway 25A.

Like Batman says, "It's not who we are underneath, but what we do that defines us." That's really good news... because I'm in a onesie.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Remembering Doña Olga

I heard of her passing on October the 25th and I was saddened to know that the world had lost such a great light. Walking beside her for a few days was like a pulling back of the veil by the hand of God. For just a moment, her faithful footsteps could be seen. 

She lived a life that demonstrated that to follow Jesus is worth more than anything. Even paying the ultimate cost of life is not a price too high. Doña Olga was a saint who walked in a life of dusty poverty, pointing any who might come beside her to the glory of God.

The day I met her she saved me from a violent encounter. I was with a group that had been assembled to paint a church in the "Red Zone" of Guatemala City. The heat had made me careless, I'd removed my jacket and exposed my arms. I was alone on the far side of the building, reach up with an extension pole to paint the second level when I was suddenly grabbed by two men who ripped up my sleeves, exposing my tattoos.

They spoke in rabid Spanish and were demanding to know: what the tattoos meant, where did I get them, why was I there, and was I in a gang. I was in there territory and in that place, to be inked was a sign of loyalty to a gang. I was trying to keep calm, friendly, and try to explain that I was just a dad and the tatts were about my family. I was losing. 

They were getting rougher with me, and they began to pull me away with them.

That's when Doña Olga suddenly stepped in and began shouting in their faces. They immediately let go of my arms and held their hands up in a "I'm innocent" type of gesture. She scurried them away and chastised my foolishness of baring my arms. Then she smiled at me, hugged me, and we completed the paint job together.

She was loving and she was fiercely respected. She was fearless. She helped her neighbors at her own cost and risk. She was everything you've ever read about of how a Christian should act. 

When a person walks this earth with such a powerful witness as this... death has lost all power. Her influence expands... unlimited by miles and unlimited by time. The lives she poured God into are having multi-generational ripples. 

Doña Olga, you are not gone. We're still here and our lives have been changed because we walked beside you.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

When Hope Drowns...

Our team has been hanging drywall and spreading joint compound for three days now. Tomorrow we'll move to our fourth family. I feel like I can write a little about our experiences now that we've encountered enough people that I can write about specific experiences without risking an individual privacy breach. 

Imagine if where you sit, water begins to rise up from the floor, or the ceiling collapses in beside you. You're helpless to stop it as it rises up to four feet deep in every room in your house. The floor is ruined, all electrical components trashed, you've lost all your furniture, your cabinets, and your drywall is saturated. Days later, after the water has subsided, you're left with mold that covers everything and is absorbed by your walls.

I walked in the bedroom of a recent high school graduate. In her room was evidence of a normal and successful teenage life. She had a medal for perfect attendance, pictures of her with friends, a clear affinity for bulldogs as stuffed animals that were stacked among books on a shelf, and a real talent for drawing that she combined with a curiosity of medicine and beautiful drawings of the heart that hung on her wall.

Life for her bore evidence of happiness and fulfillment... but now it was all shoved into the middle of the room in a desperate pile of survival. The walls were stripped to the studs to remove the mold. There was a deep sadness here of lost potential. Of happiness drowned with sudden loss.

While I stood in her room and our crew replaced walls throughout the ruined house, she sat in a crumpled elbow-to-knee-to-chin pile on the couch, watching The Price Is Right in the nearby family room. Each time our group tried to speak with her, we were met with downcast eyes and a face that somehow instantly and perfectly articulated a jaded life.

How could she not be? My heart reached out to her as each of us in the group whispered silent prayers. It is good to tell God about injustice. It is also good to pick up tools and do something about it. We did both. Thank God, we did both.

We continued to work, placing new insulation in her bedroom walls, cutting and placing drywall across the studs, and sealing it with joint compound. What was blackened and destroyed, now was bright, white, and clean. The room took on a different feeling, even though evidence of the pain sat on her nightstand... a prescription to suppress the darkness.

Our team was in her room, clearing out our tools and making final repairs. I heard a soft voice and turned towards the door. She stood there... with a smile on her face. She was suddenly so very beautiful. We saw her in that moment as God saw her. She was beautifully and wonderfully made. 

She was beautiful in the pictures around her room, determined as she earned a perfect attendance award, hard-working with her name on a smock and badge from a local retailer, deeply loved by her family... and even a group of strangers who cared enough to pray and to work. And her beauty is illuminated now, standing in that restored room.

God is in the business of restoration. His mission is to bring us back to Him... to make us right again. Even when the waters rise, there is a great hope when we know that the One who created us is the very same who is coming to save us.

Please don't sit alone in the ruin, there are those that God will send to bring light into your life. Please don't get too hardened by the pain in life, but be bold enough to bring relief. Please remember to pray, knowing that God is big enough to handle it... but don't rob yourself by stopping there. Do something. 

Get out there and embrace your humanness with your hands as you breathe in and breathe out the Spirit of the One who knows you. Thank you Get'er Done Gang... I'm so thankful to be here with you this week.

When hope drowns... your next breathe comes with rejoicing. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

"I don't say, 'Oh God!' I say 'Yes God!'"

"Which one of you is the pastor?" Without looking up I said, "It's me, I am." After a period of examining me, she went on and said, "I need an answer to this. I need to know if I'll right, or if I'm wrong. It's really important to me and I need to know. Since you're a pastor, I'm going to get my answer." 

Sure, "I said," ok.

"Well, ashes to ashes and dust to dust. When I pray, I write my prayers down and cram them into a box. When that box is full, I dig a big hole, dump the all into the hole, and then I bury them. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. They came from God and so I return them to Him. Is that right? Am I right? Is that right, or is that wrong? I need to know."

I turned my head, looked her in the eye and said, "I don't know." Her response was incredulous, "You don't know? You say you don't know? I don't believe it. You're a pastor and you don't know." She put her head in her hands and wailed as I took a deep breath and continued to sit beside her.

As I sat there quietly, she continued to talk with exasperation, questioning the other members of our relief team her in Houston, Texas, arguing with each of their attempts to answer. She cried out about her recent battle with cancer, a home that was destroyed by the hurricane, two parents that had died, the father of her best friend who died two days ago, her estranged son, and a family member who brought nothing but pain and chaos to her life.

"You say you're a pastor, but you just sit there ignoring every word I say." I muttered, "No I'm not, I'm listening to every word as I contemplate your life." She laughed and said, "Right, you're ignoring me completely." I looked up and caught her gaze I repeated her struggles. She said, "Well, you are listening."

"Yes Ma'am, I am."

She said, "Oh, I hate when someone calls me 'Ma'am,' that just means, 'I wish you'd go away.'" I told her, "No, I say 'Yes Ma'am' because my Momma taught me to say 'Yes Ma'am,' and 'Yes Sir,' and you probably should not say mean things about my Momma.'"

For the first time, her face brightened and while laughing, she said, "Ok, you got me there." 

Johnathan began playing his guitar while Dan, Roger, Terry, and Malachi sat around the fire-pit with me and Susan.  She looked up and said, "Sing some Johnny Cash. He had this song he sang about God walking with me and talking with me."

I was stunned. My great-grandma and great-grandpa used to sing that song at their upright grand piano on Baltimore Street in Middletown, Ohio... over 1100 miles and 30 years ago. I was transported in a moment to an undefined space that defied time and distance. 

We sat around that fire-light and joined our voices with the words of In the Garden, written by C. Austin Miles in 1913, taught to me as a boy in 1984, and now shared with the unlikeliest of people, gathered by a hurricane in 2017. 

Powerful words, spanning over a century were binding us in a shared experience and healing hearts.

Earlier, while I was listening to her talk she remarked, "A lot of people have bad things that happen in their lives and they say, 'Oh God!' I don't say, 'Oh God!' I say, 'Yes God!'" 

There it was... the thing I needed to hear. All the news of the day, the evil that stalks our societies and our enemy that steals and kills and destroys... well, my focus shouldn't be on all that. 

My focus needs to be on God. He is good. He is great. Let this be my declaration, the evil one can destroy the body, but not the soul. To live is Christ, to die is GAIN.

1. I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses,
and the voice I hear falling on my ear
the Son of God discloses.

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known.

2. He speaks, and the sound of his voice,
is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
and the melody that he gave to me
within my heart is ringing. (Refrain)

3. I’d stay in the garden with him
though the night around me be falling,
but he bids me go; thru the voice of woe
his voice to me is calling. (Refrain)