Wednesday, May 30, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (7) Two Hats and 100 Hours

In 100 hours Caleb and I will be on approach to Guatemala City, Guatemala. We will break through the clouds and get our first glimpse of the vast valley below that is cradled between volcanoes. We will stand in the stuffy plane while the flight crew prepares the doors for our exit and then we will make our way through customs and immigration. Our forms will be correct and our step will be sure. Most likely I will be waved to the side to be searched... it is my normal routine.

I can picture myself scanning the crowd for familiar faces as we exit the terminal into the ordered chaos of vendors, reunions, and men wearing white Guatemalan Cattleman hats. I will smile as my eyes meet familiar faces that have watched as my life transformed. At that moment, I will know that we are in the provision of God.

True... we always have been, but this is the place where I first really noticed... and so it is the place where I feel it quickened by the memory of that pivotal experience.

These past 3 weeks have moved quickly for our family. We have only recently moved from our home and parted with most of our belongings. It is really amazing how we notice their absence, but find ourselves wanting nothing. We somehow feel like we have more than we knew we could hold. How is it that in letting go, we find our foothold? Scriptures echo in my mind... bits of finding life as we let it go, and wanting nothing. I think of the lineage of David and Jesus.

As the wind blows the dust through the crowd, I will imagine the faces I see as a continuation of this incredible epic story. There is deep truth here. My prayer is that my eyes remain open to see it and that my feet step to find purchase. My son is at my side. This experience will shape him.

During the pace of these recent days I have struggled to speak words to him that will prepare him, and yet I find them all to be anemic. I began to worry that I was completely ineffective. It was then that I began to notice my son.

He was re-reading a series of Indiana Jones novels that had sat on a shelf for several years. He noticed them again as we packed up his room. His movie of choice over the last couple of days was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I thought this was just the random attention span of an 11 year old boy until I noticed his hat.

I have a Minnetonka Roll-up hat that I purchased a decade ago while traveling through the U.P. of MIchigan. It is dark brown leather and indestructible. I have worn in on many an excursion... it has gone with me on every trip to Guate. Caleb has seen it in our pictures, and he has watched me set it out in preparation for each journey. 5 years ago we found ourselves on vacation in Charleston, and he found a very similar hat for himself. It has been shoved in some unknown corner nearly since.

This hat has been close to him over the past week, nearly always at his side. Tonight I noticed that he had it next to his bag for Guatemala. I stopped as I considered the parallel to my own pile of essentials. He wasn't only enjoying a movie... he was excited for his own upcoming adventure. He was preparing for his trip the same way he had seen me... so many times.

I breathed a little deeper. I was relieved, and also a little sobered. My son may not always hear my words, but he is paying attention to what I do. He sees my preparation, he gets the significance of the adventure. And I will need to take care that my steps are true. It is tricky stepping into the unknown... but it is critical when you realize that another is following those steps.

This Sunday I listened to my pastor reference Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." My mind caught on the concept that the steps of my walk had been ordained by God even before I was aware.

Each week of our lives seems to gift us with another unexpected turn. We have had experiences that we greet with exuberant enthusiasm, and those that we greet with groans, impatience, and huffs. And yet... both types of experiences are indeed these steps that are necessary for us to complete.

My son isn't the only little guy that needs to look up to his father to find an example. I refocus my eyes and lift my heart as I realize that I too... must notice the actions of the One who has gone before me.

The worries of the day... and the chores of doing... must fade away to simply looking, trusting, and walking. 

I thank God for 100 hours and Indiana Jones.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (6) Me & Mini Me

In less than a week I get to be with my son as he experiences Guatemala for the first time. Caleb and I are flying down along with my uncle Stephen, Auntie Michele, & cousin Cameron. We are part of a 40 member mission team that is largely comprised of members of the Breiel Church in Middletown, Ohio.

The group travels with the mission of building 4 houses that will forever change the lives of 4 separate families. They will also feed a village, provide a week long Bible School for 100 children, and provide medical care. I am so thankful that my son will be there to witness the reciprocal giving and receiving. We always take home far more than we leave on the mountains.

We will be traveling with the usual donations: clothes, shoes, supplies... and we will also carry with us a suitcase full of Beanie Babies and a box full of ball caps. I hope to spend some serious time with the boys and girls in Cerro Alto. I want Caleb to see their power and grace that outshines circumstance.  I want him to sink his hands into the ready embrace of hard work that produces fulfilling results sufficient for the day. I look forward to seeing the earth of Guate rubbed into the fabric of his pants and the authenticity of her people imprinted in the core of his soul.

I will be watching for the shift in his eyes when he realizes that there are greater cares that make our typical desires for safety and comfort seem like so much garbage. A life given in this place carries greater value than a life lived in simple attainment. Time spent in this existence is fleeting and temporary... and yet we strain to hold on so tightly. 

This is a trip to teach him to let go. Trust in God. Be willing to live with fear. Find your footing when you can't find you way. Discover the immeasurable comfort that cloaks you through all circumstance. We go expecting miracles.

We go to look into the eyes of God.

Monday, May 21, 2012

In the Midst of a Fallen City (Welcome to S.T.U.B.)

Shepherd Transitional Underground Bunker

The Shepherd family is now in full transition mode. We are no longer a family seeking to become missionaries. We are now On Mission. If you have encountered us in the past couple of weeks, you know this to be true. A few short weeks ago we were asking you to pray with us as we circled the walls of our home... our Jericho. God indeed gave us the city. The walls fell flat, and we stand in the midst of a fallen city.

What do you do after you have witnessed the hand of God? The power of the moment is alive in the air. Time slows down as you notice every small nuance. I see the world around me melt into a constant panorama. My live was once segmented... I was Chad at work, Chad at home, Chad at Church, and Chad when the day was quiet and I was alone. Now, there is only me as I am aware of the movement of God. Everything else has found a silence.

And so now we are here. My parents are phenomenal. It is amazing how they trust the guidance of God in our lives even through all the questions. God comes through every time, just as we need Him to, as long as we follow His path. STUB is the basement of their beautiful home: 1400 square feet of living space... think of a NYC loft (only underground).

Today was the day that we moved in the final items and unpacked the last box. In the past several months (mostly in the past 3 weeks) we have whittled 17 years worth of possessions down to: clothes, basic kitchen wares, toiletries, linens, necessary documents & reading material, and 3 rubbermaid totes each of personal items. This has been the most right-feeling and freeing thing that we have ever done. We have been able to shrug off so many things that held us tightly, and this has allowed us to begin aggressively knocking out debts.

Several of you have already begun contributing to our mission at Commission To Every Nation, and I know that God will honor your sacrifice. We are blessed to have your feet on the path beside us!

We continue to have conversations with our kids... they are so strong! We look forward to being with them as they experience Guatemala for the first time this summer. They are learning what it means to give up something cherished but temporary, to gain experiences and accomplishments that will extend through generations... and outshine the sun.

So... come with me now, and see a glimpse into the brick and mortor that is S.T.U.B.



We are here and we are celebrating this incredible story that God is authoring on our lives! We begin to count down the short months that separate us from our move to Guatemala. Many ask us, "How long will you stay?" and the answer is that we have no plans to return. We believe that this is to be our life work. No stopping, no retirement, no turning back.

Thank you to so many who purchased our items and for the tremendous support and prayers that you daily heave our way. We feel it. We are emboldened by it. Our lives are changed daily by your intercession.

7-9The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for.
And why? Because of Christ. 
Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.
I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness.  ~Philippians 3, The Message

Monday, May 7, 2012

400 Days Underground

Welcome to S.T.U.B.
Shepherd Transitional Underground Bunker
(AKA my parent's basement)

We are now under a week from walking away from our house. We have long understood that this is not our home, but home is where we are all together as family. 4 days of garage sale and a mound at the curb have reduced our belongings to a manageable amount for the coming 13 months. We are lean.

5 members of our family, each sorting belongs down to what can be held in 5 large totes. It has been an incredible journey through time. Especially for Kel and I. We have touched each piece of memorabilia from our past, reaching back to our elementary days. We are both very sentimental people. We had many boxes of programs, and jerseys, and pictures, and possessions that each held powerful memories. These are items that have no financial value to anyone else... but hold priceless worth to us.

And yet... it is time to let go of the past. And so, we have reduced these mounds of boxes to a couple of small chests that will be held in the basements of our parents. My first tee-ball jersey, my hat from Disney, my diploma's, special cards from those closest to me, a book from my pop, a knife from my grandfather, a couple of old friends (Kermit & Tigger), and videos from our wedding fill my box.

The money gained from selling our belongings has been spent on plane tickets to get us to training classes and anticipated journeys to Guatemala for our family this summer. Debts are being paid off, and support is sought. Several families have already come on board with monthly support. This is crucial to getting us to Guatemala. We are so thankful to those who have already said yes to God's mission that we are on.

Today, Caleb and I worked on installing the shelves that once stood in the basement of our home. They will be our bedroom walls for the next 13 months. They will also be our dressers and closets. They will hold our stuff and provide some privacy as we bunker down in my parent's basement. We have a full bathroom, our washer and dryer, a full kitchen, 3 makeshift bedrooms, and a common area. It will be an incredible year with my parents. We are exited to begin the transition!

It is not always easy for me to tell people that I am following the will of God. I worry about what they will think. And, at times... the worries become manifest. Folks wonder who we think we are? They scoff at our plans and accuse us of doing this for purely personal gain. I try to explain to them that to a degree, they are correct.

We are compelled by our belief to do this. We feel that we have no other choice. This is our heart's desire. We believe that God wants us to go. We believe that we are to reach out to others with the ability we have been given. We believe that God has given us unique experiences to bring us to this place. We believe that God will use us to both help others, as well as further experience Him for ourselves. This is our path to God.

We simply are hoping to walk on this path, and to be a part of His story. And so far, the journey is amazing. God continues to part waters as we step forward. Over the past two weeks, provision has come from seemingly no-where. We are reminded daily that we are on the right path. 

Today I was able to spend a few hours with Caleb as together we assembled the shelves that would become the walls in S.T.U.B.  I told him how soon we would be raising walls for families that had never slept under a secure roof. We talked how he would meet Guatemalan boys his age, and that soon our days would change. We spoke of how we are going to put our faith in action, and to try our best to obey the law of God.

We have a few more days to say goodbye to this past stage of our lives. We plan to have another campfire in the pit, and maybe to catch a final bike ride to the park. We will have a few final dinners together in the dining room, and then we will load our essential belongings in the trailer and set up base for the next 13 months that will transition us to a flight that takes us to our calling.

Our focus for today:

6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.
7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:6-9

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind 
and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward 
the goal to win the prize for which God has called me 
heavenward in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14

Pray with us as we strive to meditate on the word of God, consider whether your partnership is part of our journey. We look to the sky. We are excited! 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Safer Than A Known Way

I had just wedged this book into the top of a very full box and was closing the top. We were packing up the last of our study tonight, and had come down to six boxes of books that we simply did not feel ready to see go... not just yet. The cover of the book caught my eye. I could not remember seeing it before, and so I lifted it back from the box. I noticed that it was atypically heavy, and the binding was rather coarse. It felt like real canvas or a rough cloth. I opened the cover.

I was astounded to see the copyright printed on brittle paper, 1899. I was still perplexed as to how this book came to be on my shelf... I finally decided that it must have been picked up from an estate sale. I had a past curiosity of collecting old books. And then, I noticed that the binding on the cover seemed a bit bulky, and I pried my fingernail between the page and the material and began to gently peel it away.

The page gave lose of its seemingly ancient grasp... and I felt my breath catch. 

I couldn't believe my eyes. I acted like a daft character in a young adult movie and I squinted my eyes. I rested the book carefully on the desk and I rubbed my eyes and cleared my head. Now, convinced that I was fully lucid and not dreaming, I again lifted the book to my face. The initial shock that I felt in my chest at seeing my Pappaw Mathis' flowing script in the form of his name and then mine... well, that shock turned to wonder and tears of blessing as I read the words that he had written. These were words that he had penned years ago... so long that I had forgotten them, or perhaps I had never even read them because the binding was stuck... and I happened on them at this moment... 

...This incredibly perfect moment. 

How could this be? The words of my grandfather, previously unnoticed, rested in my hands on this night as we prepare our hearts for the unknown and begin taking these steps of faith. How can it be... that this path that seems so crazy to so many, is a way that is being affirmed in such powerful ways? 

I ran and begged Kellie to come with me and see what I had found! I am sure that living with me can be quite an experience... I am a bit eccentric at times, and I do not see the world like most of you sane, normal people. And so... I hesitated before I began reading the words. I was only a sentence into his handwriting before my emotions executed a coup'de'tat of my voice, and then rapidly swung buccaneer style from my mind to hers as we both cried tears of acknowledgment as we listened to our God speaking directly to us. He spoke over the years since I had received the book from my Pop, and He spoke over the centuries of delivered promises to His people.

I Googled the words and the author and I learned the story of Minne Louise Haskins. She penned the words on the balcony of her home in 1908, and they were obscure until the Queen Mother sent them to her son in a Christmas Card... and then King George VI broadcast them to the world in his Christmas broadcast <-- (click to hear his speech) in 1939, as his country teetered on the edge of war.

I am in awe as I listen to this speech again and hear the powerful truth that is given to us by the worlds of this Sunday school teacher, spoken by the King of a Nation who led the world through the darkness of war. If you have watched The King's Speech with Colin Firth, then you may have some familiarity with this moment in history.

The movie captivated me when I first saw it. I was inspired by what a man of belief can accomplish when he refuses to allow fear to hold him back. These words copied by my Pop... compel me to dig ever deeper in pursuing the vision that God has given to us. "...Put thine hand into the hand of God." 

These words have found us here today. They are exactly what we need to hear. If you question whether or not God still speaks... I am here to tell you that indeed He does. His voice is quiet. It comes to those who are willing to listen. It comes to those who are actively seeking Him. It comes to us when we least expect it... and most importantly, He speaks when He choses. I assure you that His timing is when we need it most.

As we count down to the final days in our home... as we pack up a few boxes that we will keep, and we listen to our voices echo from the bare walls and empty rooms of a once filled 2200 square feet house... we watch fear and doubt scamper back into the shadows as we speak these words together, hand-in-hand:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown'

And he replied:. Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand

Of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way'
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And then I picked up another heavy book. It was a concordance that sat on my shelf for over a decade. I joked with Kellie that the inside cover of it may also hold a surprise... I opened the book and discovered that indeed it did!

 Inside the cover was the signature of my Great-Grandfather, Eldon C. Henry. Eldon was a missionary to Africa during his younger days, and an author until deep into his retirement years. I didn't even realize that I had a piece of his legacy on my bookshelf. I smiled as I realized that I have an incredible library of reading to cover this summer as we ready for our move to Guatemala. 

I have the wisdom of those who have gone before me, and the voice of my God to guide me. I can indeed grasp the hand in the 

darkness that is better than any light and safer than any know way! We have been talking about prayer lately in a group at church... and how we can pray not only for issues, but how we can passionately and sincerely pray THROUGH problems...

...and how God will indeed honor prayers that are sincere and for His glory. It is amazing to us to see how God lives and moves in our lives at this moment as we put feet to faith.

We were already in awe... and yet, the discoveries weren't finished yet! I picked up a third book, looked Kel in the eyes and as we smiled together, I opened the cover.

This book was entitled, "Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians" and was signed in the front cover by Grace Henry, the mother of my grandfather Eldon C. Henry. At this point I was overcome by the power of the significance of the moment. I felt like the calling that I had accepted on my life... and had now begun taking aggressive steps of faith in pursuing, had somehow been verified by God using my Pop, my Great Grandfather, and my Great-Great Grandmother. Oh, how I long for a deeper experience of God. Yes... I want to make an impact like D.L. Moody. Yes... I long to always hold tightly to the hand of God as I take bold steps into territory that I can not always see.

I am beginning to believe fully that this live is meant to be aggressively lived in a pursuit of God, and to allow Him to pursue me. I am sure that this life is simply a temporary moment that springs us into eternity. I have no doubt that we are to shout this message as loud as we can, and take hold of as many small hands along the way as we can grasp!

And so, we began placing the final strips of tape on the boxes, and I picked up the book that had started it all... the D.L. Moody book given to my by my dear Pop. I opened its pages once more, and I noticed a single number at the top of the next page, "369." With anticipation I turned to that page... feeling the dry paper break in my grip. I slowed so that I caused as little damage to the 113 year old book as possible and found the page. I was afraid that it may simply be blank... and it nearly was. My heart quickened from disappointment to delight and then to the realization that I had been challenged as I read the underlined word and its adjoining sentence.

"Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him." " will cast myself on the mercy of God." This verse is from the Book of Job, chapter 13, verse 15. It is a very serious moment. And yet... Job held tight to the promise of God. Even through the tough times. If you walk with us on this journey, I have no doubt that you will see us walk through some real Job moments.

We count on it. We believe that it is in these times that our faith matters. We believe that it is in these times that our witness has the greatest integrity. We simply ask that you always walk with us. Pray for us. Support us. Allow us to minister to you as you bless the calling and ministry of God.

We all walk this path together. I am here to tell you that I find God to be real.