Thursday, December 13, 2012

Safe in My Father's Arms on a Toolbox.

Me and my buddy Jimmy sat in the back of Big Red as he looked at me and said, "well, my daddy's truck is a 4-wheel drive too." I wrinkled up my face as I looked at him sideways and said, "no it's not, all 4 wheels have to pull for it to be a 4-wheel drive." He leaned into my face and said, "well, it has 4 wheels, and it can drive!" I had to laugh and smile as I broke my Whatchamacallit candy bar in half, allowing him to choose which piece to take, and we shared a perfect summer moment can be known only to two 10 year old buddies sitting in the bed of a big red pick-up truck.

Big Red was my dad's truck and I was very proud of it. I can remember sitting on the edge of the side with my legs inside the engine compartment as I watched him make repairs with Craftsman wrenches and oil soaked into the lines of his hands. I never felt so alive as when we load up in 4-wheel drive and crunch it through the woods loading it full of firewood from fallen trees. Dad was the chain-saw man and I was his swamper. 

I remember riding in the truck bed with our dog Rebel as we made our way to the Beechwood Market that sat on State Route 122 about 5 miles west of Middletown, Ohio. The warm summer air would blow through my hair as I faced the wind. Nothing could stop us... it was like being a superhero in flight with my loyal sidekick.

But by far the best thing about Big Red was riding up front next to my dad. He would sit me on the top of his big silver tool box with his arm resting across my chest. I have never felt so safe. We would bounce up and down those Preble County roads with country music playing on the crackly speakers and warm wind blasting through the hard to crank open windows. The knob was loose and the arm was bent, it didn't turn in a smooth circle. 

Even after all these years... these moments easily surface as some of the best memories from my childhood. Even now, I can remember the sounds of the creaky truck as we navigated those crooked roads.

I have a 12 year old son now and the time we share together will either be the memories of his future or simply days long forgotten. My father and I make memories even today, and his gaze into my own eyes when I misspeak or I rush through the day reminds me of the importance of the young life that looks up my way. I want to be as good a papa to Caleb as my dad was to me. It is my job to show him what it means to be a man.

I have always known that I was loved and safe when my father's arm rested across my chest. I have always been able to sit at his side while he works and learn what it means to face a problem head on and solve it. My dad has been married and faithful to my mom ever since the day he said, "I do." Their commitment to each other reminds me of the responsibility that Kellie and I carry as our 3 children watch our life together. 

What does it mean to be a man? To have vision in the face of adversity. To have the willingness to stand for what you believe in, even if it hurts. To find joy in everyday life. To live faithfully. To love my wife and to always have my arm securely across my children. 

These are the lessons that I learned, safe in my father's arms on a toolbox.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Year Ago (We Didn't Even Know Her Name)

Christmas lights, a Pack'n Play, and a cardboard castle. These are the things that I see from my bed every night. The black and gold clock on the wall was a wedding gift to my parents from my mammaw Maxine Shepherd. I am struck by the realization that it now measures our days and how her presence watches over our little family.

Sterling is in her crib as I type and I can hear the steady rise and fall of her breathing through tiny stuffy nostrils. Today was a tough day for her as she battled chills and a 102 degree fever. Even sickness could not dampen her smile and her spirit. The playpen in the center of the picture held her brother Caleb, her sister Aleksandra, and now her. Well, honestly it has never held her... she easily climbs out.

A year ago tonight... we didn't even know her name.

We were over 5 years into a process that seemed never-ending. We endured delay after disappointing delay. Tonight she struggles to sleep, tossing restlessly as my wakeful sleep listens to her breath. The night shatters with the sound of her crying out and she then is lifted into the comforting embrace of me her father, or Kellie her mother. We hold her close as her head rests on our shoulder and the cry calms back to soothing breath.

Sterling Mei Shepherd oh how you have changed our lives forever. You have reminded us what it means to love, to feel compassion, to find joy, to reconnect with the important parts of living. You remind me to cry out to my God and to be surrounded in His embrace.

It is no mistake that we find ourselves with you, my daughter Sterling at this point in our life. You are here to show us the way... we are to approach our God the way you reach to us. 

A year ago we didn't even know your name. And here we are tonight, convinced you have been with us forever... and you point us the way forward as you fit so neatly into the past that has brought us this far.

And so now you again rest in your bed as I type in the glow of Christmas lights eclipsing a cardboard castle. I close my eyes in the embrace of my God and in the glow of childhood wonder. Yes... this is where I belong.

185 days to our arrival in Guatemala. Thankful. Excited. Ready.

A year from now... I will see farther.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (39) No Greater Love

My incredible mother holding Kenya, the child who showed me that God  holds our names in His heart. God speaks to me by the way he brought these two together.

No poverty is greater than the poverty of a soul without God.
 No suffering so miserable as worthless self pity. 
No disease so debilitating as eyes that cannot see the truth of God's love. Why do we fear suffering or loss or death? 
Why do we think anything depends on us? 
Why can't we just come to God like a child sitting on the lap of Jesus 
and look deep into His eyes? 
How do we miss the beautiful simplicity of His love? 
This God who parted seas and tore down walls, 
who created us, breathing life into us,
 and came to earth and suffered all these things to show us the way. 
He is waiting for us: 
to follow Him now, 
to love Him with all we are, 
to share this love with those we encounter, 
and He waits to embrace us fully as we pass from this earth.

I stare the number 187 down as a gunfighter at noon in a frontier western town. The clock tolls the hour as I ready my gaze and aim yet again. My eyes are always on the date of June 13th, 2013. It is the day that we begin our life mission in Guatemala.

This past fall my mother, along with her brothers Stephen and Gary travelled to spend a week with the mission to which we have dedicated our lives, Catalyst Resources International. I held my breath as my mother and her siblings travelled to experience a taste of what has forever changed the way Kellie and I live our faith.

These pictures are a testament of the incredible way that God works. My mother, Krena has poured into me the truths and values of a pure heart. She taught me from an early age that integrity, belief, and standing for right even in the face of the strongest challenges are worthy of our lives. I remember a clipping that hung on the side of our refrigerator that spoke of Nazi Germany and how a reluctance of good people contributed to the tragedy of millions. 

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
-Martin Niemöller

This simple cut out quote has shaped my thinking my whole life. I have spent hours considering how different history might had been if good men and woman and stood against the evil of their day. I have faced my own demons and decided that I will stand where I am.

Maybe you have had one of those moments? Mine is crystal clear in my mind. I realized that the rest of my life was simple. I had a choice: I pursued a selfish life that would result in damaging those around me, or I fell completely on the God who had made a way. There was no middle ground. 

If I was to live my life by faith... then I was compelled to follow Him fully. 

Although my perseverance gets tested,
my patience wears thin,
my faith seems so inadequate,
and the roadblocks seem so massive...

My faith compels,
my vision convicts,
and my love gives me no other option...
This is a true encounter with the Truth of God.

It is time for us to stop being scared believers. We have the maker of the universe who invites us to come to Him as children. You have been invited to sit on the lap of the God who created you and look into His eyes.

We don't have time for a religion of fear. We don't have time for a liturgy of self-righteousness or chest thumping. We only have this moment:

to love God as we care for ourselves,
to love those beside us as deeply as we protect ourselves,
and to reach out and seek those who need Him.

Reach out to the hand of the God who created you. Know that He is bigger than your situation. Know that as you reach out to others to bring them to Him... you will find that you are made closer as well. 

I am a true believer. I have experienced Him in the lives that have changed me. I challenge you to find God in your own walk. There are things you can never learn... you can only experience.