Friday, May 31, 2013

A Letter to Kellie (the mind of a missionary a week before the field)

To my dear wife... and anyone who takes a moment to peer into our life. 

There is no fear in my heart in this moment. We are a mere days away from our big move to Guatemala and all I feel is peace. I have to laugh in my heart because everywhere I look people are tossing terror my way in the form of the unknown.

But I have learned who I am over these past years and I understand that what we have gained cannot be lost. You and I have learned how to deeply love one another. We have learned what it means to reach together toward an unbelievable, unreachable goal... and then to hold it in our hands.

Our daughters... and now this dream of throwing everything we are onto the great stake of showing that our faith is worth our everything. I think you are uniquely made for me. I know we have been uniquely shaped for this purpose, this moment, this mission, with these people, in this country, now.

I love you because you are brave. You know the risks as well as I do. These risks that are real and make our family tremble and react in their individual ways. 

People say to me... what if something happens? And I think... they don't know the half of it. The risk is so real. And yet... my eyes and yours have a glimpse of a greater truth. Our words must mean something!

This faith is more valuable than our lives. It is worth more than our children's lives. God awaits us all with open arms. This time here on this earth is just a slip of time. How we spend our days is just the brief prologue that sets the novel.

The truth is that I am willing to give my life. I am willing even to see the life of our entire family snuffed short if it is the required payment that we encounter God. Why do we as a people fear death when we say that God holds eternity?

Should any of us fall in the service of God, HE will pick up our brokenness and carry us into His kingdom. So... tell me, why should I fear? Did Jesus not conquer death? Does He not hold the keys? It is refreshing for me to cast myself into the power of the experience of my God as He walked this dirt in human form.

I am done with the fear of man. I am over fearing sickness and death. I am filled with a fervor to seize this inheritance that is promised us. I have taken the time to consider these things. I have glimpsed what my life would look like without you, without God... and I would rather spend a few days in His service than live a lifetime without.

I believe now that God has given me a boldness. He has prepared me for this moment, and He has placed us together for this mission. This world is no longer my home. 

My work is now rewarded by smiles, tears, and embraces in the dust of a hard-working village. The applause I seek is the sound of the feet of children as they run toward us on our arrival. We are servants of the King... should He bless us or should He slay us... it changes nothing that matters.

Our families put on a brave face and yet I recognize their pain and I understand it. But... I hope they do not miss the power of the truth we pursue. A few years ago... our marriage was nearly forfeit. I yielded my life to God and each day now is an affirmation that He walks with us. 

I recognize where we are and I am keenly aware that God has brought us here from the brink of destruction. Our lives are already His. Our children are ours because He blessed us. Our experiences are His gift. Even the pain that we walked together... it has purified our hearts.

It is with pure joy that I watch these next few days tick by. God has brought you and I together my wife for this moment.

I step into the future with one hand in yours, and the other in the hand of God.

Indeed, we have reached beyond ourselves and found our hands in the embrace of our God.

It is well with my soul. Finally.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

You Don't Have to be Born Here to Belong Here

Me: (with a grin and a wink) 

"You eat that sandwich Sterling and be a good American, Americans love sandwiches."

Aleksandra: (head tilted sideways with attitude)

"But we're not Americans!"

Me: (after a pause appreciate her attitude & to reflect)

"You are Americans, you don't have to be born here 
to belong here."

This exchange, while admittedly non-politically correct, made me chuckle and reflect on one of my favorite animated movie scenes...

Rango: [after some kids throw rocks at him] Hey! What was that for?
Priscilla: You're funny-looking.
Rango: Well? You're funny-looking too.
Priscilla: That's a funny-looking shirt.
Rango: That's a funny-looking dress.
Priscilla: You got funny-looking eyes.
Rango: You got a funny-looking face!
Priscilla: [small pause] You're a stranger. Strangers don't last long here.
[walks away]

Soon all of the Shepherds will be strangers! Funny looking for sure... especially me. But, more than every before we will be right where we belong, and we will be known by the God who created us.

There is a great deal of fear in the world right now along with a heightened concern for safety. I think it holds us back. I think we too willingly give up on our pursuits for fear. 

I believe it is in fact our inaction that allows the evil from which we hide to exist.

There are greater things in life than what can be taken from us. Our belief, our passion, our ability to love through action, our willingness to stand in the face of the unfamiliar because we know who we are. We are children of God.

We, you and I, are created for this unique moment in time. There is life to be lived. There are things worth the risk.

It is time for us to stand...where we are...FOR we believe.

We can savor the days, embrace our belief, and still understand that our time here is only the prologue...

...and we must understand that it is the prologue of any great story that begins a life in motion with forever consequences.

Rango: What are you doin' out here?
Spirit of the West: Searchin'. Same as you.
Rango: I don't even know what I'm lookin' for anymore.
I don't even know who I am.
Spirit of the West:  Doesn't matter what they call you.
It's the deeds makes the man.
Rango: Yeah, but my deeds just made things worse.
I'm a fraud! I'm a phony! My friends believed in me,
 but they need some kind of hero.
Spirit of the West: Then be a hero.
Rango: Oh, no! No! No! You don't understand.
I'm not even supposed to be here.
Spirit of the West:  Don't you see? It's not about you. It's about them.
Rango: But I can't go back!
Spirit of the West: Don't know that you got a choice, son.
[he draws a square on a piece of glass]
Spirit of the West: No man can walk out on his own story.
[he looks through the glass at Rango then drives away on his golf cart]

Friends, this world is not your home, 
so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. 
Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul…

1 Peter 2:11-12
The Message (MSG) 11-12 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"I think he had that surgery just so he could get the cane."

If you've ever watched HOUSE on the FOX network, then you are probably familiar with his sport jacket, t-shirt, torn jeans, and of course... his cane.

I have admired the way his character wears the cane without apology. And so, after having a surgical procedure on the bottom of my right foot... I figured, why not?

I hobbled my way out of the store and immediately met the eyes of my laughing and smiling wife. As I dragged my bum leg into the car, I heard her cough out between laughs, "well, of course you would."

As my life would have it, this Sunday involved an announcement at church regarding our mission in Guatemala.

I absolutely love these last few days as we near the horizon. I am consumed by the desire to get there and to begin taking steps into the summer. I somehow can feel the future in my hands. We began counting down the days last July... 300 days ago. 

My surgery finds me forced to sit still and unable to drive. The timing was perfect however for me to sell my car and so I concentrate on preparation via Skype, email, telephone, and Rosetta Stone. 

Our 2 vehicles await us, we are enrolled to begin with 4 weeks of language school in Antigua, we have an apartment rented there for that time, Caleb & Aleks are scheduled to go to Camp Guamiski (a camp for missionary kids), they are also enrolled in the Christian Academy where Kellie will volunteer, my role is becoming clearly defined, passports, plane tickets, and suitcases are secured and in position!

Standing where we are now and looking back across the landscape of these past few years is absolutely breathtaking. The path of our lives is simply the shaping of the hands of God. He gave us the vision... we began walking... and He has indeed moved mountains.

Since the spring of 2012 our family has travelled to China (adoption), Texas (training), Guatemala twice, lived in my parent's basement and at Kellie's parents upstairs. From here we will stay at Mimi's house for a few days, then move to Antigua for a month, move to the house next door to Mimi's House, and will stay there as we adjust to the culture of Guatemala.

This past year has been incredible. We know God has used these days to prepare us for the journey to come. I think we have learned to enjoy each step of the way. We have found joy and happiness in a lot of unexpected places.

Even in a busted foot and a fancy cane.

While I did not have foot surgery just so I "could get the cane," I certainly am not going to let the opportunity pass me by! Ha!

21 days to Guate! 

By then my excuse to use a cane will be gone, but still I will be working towards our calling, our passion, our dream...

opening our home to the lost and hurting of Guatemla.

So then, I won't be Dr. House, but I can be a pastor and missionary who lives in SHEPHERD HOUSE!

(and if I ever hurt my foot again... I have a kickin' cane just for the event)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

La Banda Mariachi de los Gringos

"How are your kids dealing with moving to Guatemala?" This seems to be the question that I get the most lately. It is typically followed by a sideways, squinty-eyed half-smile when I give my answer.

And everyone in THIS family will tell you that life with me is an adventure.

Enter the trumpet.

As we make the leap... I search for things that will connect us to the beauty of our past while also casting our gaze into tomorrow.

We have rented Caleb a trumpet for the past two years and I want him to have one to take with him to continue his studies. Last evening I came across one on an internet listing. It was a Yamaha YTR-2335 Standard Bb Trumpet.

These sell new for $1,100.00 and such an expense simply isn't in the budget. I have spent the past week scouring pawn shops, second-hand stores, and flea-markets in this scavenger hunt where I imagined myself an explorer searching for a relic.

And so it was that when I found this listing for $300.00, I fired off a response that resulted in a 7 hour exchange via text.

Finally, at a dark, rainy 10:15 pm my Indiana Jones Adventure found our GPS assisted selves driving slowly up to an old apartment complex in a suburb of Cincinnati. I am a licensed CCW permit holder and I was exercising my 2nd Amendment right.

I had $200 snapped in my left side shirt pocket and $100 in the right. Kellie and I stepped into the entryway of the complex and we were surrounded by 5 college age young men. 

I smiled as I saw a trumpet case resting on the floor and said, "so which one of you have I been talking to all day?" I had texted him our story and explained that I had been looking for a trumpet for my son. 

He reached down, unlatched the two silver clasps of the hard-cover case, swung the lid open and revealed the shiny brass trumpet. I kept my eyes moving on his buddies and our exit as crazy movie scenes and thoughts of recent headlines played in my mind.

He said that he thought we were doing a good thing and knocked the price down to $250. I had all twenties on me and so I told him I appreciated him helping us with the price, assured him that he had helped make a 12 year old very happy, easing his transition to a foreign country... and then told him that I would give him $260.

I counted out the contents of pocket one, and then found the balance of $60 in pocket two. Again I thanked him and told him that he was helping us in our mission together as a family.

I want his memory of our encounter to be a positive one. Who knows... some day he may again cross our paths, or someday he may be in a position to help others. 

We left with trumpet in hand, walking out into the rain with the end credit theme to Indiana Jones playing in my head.

So how are our kids handling this move to Guatemala? Our kids are phenomenal. Our kids were created by God and called to this purpose. Our kids come from 3 separate nations and are every bit our children. Our family was custom made for this purpose.

Our kids are ready. 

Sure, we have done everything we could think of to prepare them. We have been careful to give them a solid foundation of strengthening memories. We have made efforts to attach them to friends, spaces, and places that we move towards. We have told them of the epic story of God and those in the Bible that were faithful to His call. We have included them every step of the way and made them part of the process.

However... this is not why our kids are ready. Caleb, Aleksandra, and Sterling are ready because God has created them for this moment in life. This bit of short-term-living-ness is simply a moment that prepares us all for our extended timeline.

And so... we find ourselves now 30 days from Guatemala.  Kellie joked with me last night as we pulled away with a newly acquired trumped riding safely in the back of the car,

"so most kids form garage bands with guitars and drums, and our son will be forming a Mariachi Band with his trumpet!"

Yes indeed! La Banda Mariachi de los Gringos!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Secret Whispered to my Children

I sat upstairs contemplating the day gone by as I heard Kellie remind the kids that she had asked them to turn of the tv and make their way toward bed at 10:00. 

Her words were met with silence.

I listened and envisioned her stepping closer or even perhaps she stood between them and their show as she rephrased her request with added enthusiasm…

…and then I heard the word added that punctuated the request, turning it into a demand, "now."

The immediate silence of the turned off sitcom was interrupted by two sets of dragging feet and the huffle-puff of their breaths as they displayed their displeasure in a non-overt style of protest.

As they rounded the landing of the stairs they looked up to meet my eyes as I waited for them to make their exaggerated ascent.

After a brief discussion along the lines of "do you love your mother more than you love your show on tv" and "do you think your reaction to her direction showed her your love for her" I went on to ask a more specific question.

Do you know what is the greatest commandment?

At first they struggled a bit with the answer, saying that it was to love your neighbor, and to love your parents. It was Aleksandra who spoke the correct answer, "to love God."

Yes. It is that we love the lord our God with all our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength. 

Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment and he answered that this was the first and greatest and the second was like it. And so, I asked them then what is the second?

They said, "it is that you love your neighbor as yourself."

A friend of Caleb & Aleksandra witnessed his father die suddenly and unexpectedly yesterday. I mentioned this young boy to my kids and I asked them, "how can we show him that we love him?"

They answered, "pray for him." But I said, "how would he know that you're praying for him? How does this show him that you love him?" They answered that they would tell him that they were praying for him.

"But what if he is not a Christ follower? Is there a way to demonstrate your love?" They said that they could hug him. I said that might work, but he may not accept a hug. 

Sometimes when our world is shattered… we aren't yet ready for positive words or a caring touch. I explained to them that words and promises of prayer can seem empty and cruel when we find ourselves broken. Pain can consume us.

The family that suffered the loss lives next to my parents. I told the kids that they should watch what my father does to see what it means to love someone.  

I paused as my mind jumped to think of that young boy who is missing his father tonight. I know my own father sees his pain. I have no doubt that it is no chance that my dad lives next door to him. 

Our family leaves for our calling in Guatemala in 38 days. While my parents are incredibly supportive… I know that my dad will miss me deeply. It is painful to know that I will cause my parents to grieve. And yet…it may be that my father can provide some comfort to a young boy who must feel that the world just ended.

My father isn't a man that prays loudly in public, or the type that carries his Bible around in a leather cover. But he is the sort of man that stops to help a man at the side of the road… his daily actions imitate the nature of Christ as he showed his love to his disciples by washing their feet.

I told Caleb and Aleksandra about how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and showed them his great love for them by the actions he lived. I told them how I bet my father will show compassion not in words spoken, but in a lawn mowed, or a driveway shoveled, a battery jumped, or a tree that needs cut.

Our religion doesn't always need to be shouted with prayer and scripture. Sometimes we simply need to do two things:

Love our God with all that we are and all that we have.

And show evidence of His love in us by how we treat those around us…what we do for people when they hurt. 

Yesterday I saw another example of this with my mother as she trimmed the nails and cared for my grandmother's feet. As the power of that moment began to saturate my mind as I prayed over my Mammaw, I was overwhelmed with emotion.

The actions we live give meaning to the words we speak.

And so now I told Caleb and Aleksandra… how you treat your mother is an indication of how well you understand these two greatest commandments.

If you love God with all that is within you, then that love will overflow onto those around you. Your response to a person isn't only about that moment… it is an indication of how well we understand these two greatest secrets to a meaningful life.

Do we accept the love of God and allow it to consume all that we are?

Do we share this love with those around us through what we do for them?

We all see the hurt in the world. But I am afraid that far too few of us tell this story of love by meeting their needs.

I promised my kids that I will work on: reacting to them in ways that show my love for them, and by living a life worthy of the love of my God.

These secrets whispered in the shadows above the staircase… first spoken softly by a man who was God in sandals… may our lives forever carry their echoes.

On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. ~Matthew 22:40

And now the house is silent and all are asleep in their beds as I contemplate these days of my life as measured by these punctuated commands of God. 

He stands at the top of the staircase, waiting for me to meet His eyes.

He waits for us all.

He waits for you.