Wednesday, May 28, 2014

For Every Bear That Ever Was There

Me, Tricia, & Mammaw Ruth
Americana Amusement Park, LeSourdsville, Ohio
circa 1980

"If you go out in the woods today
you'd better go in disguise.
If you go out in the woods today
be in for a big surprise.
For every bear that ever was there
is going to be there today because
today's the day the teddy bears
have their picnic.

I didn't know how to comfort her. Terror seemed to be pushing on the boundaries of my consciousness. How is this world such an incredible paradox? I was twirling on my fingers the greatest contrast of my life... the assurance of God pursuing my soul, and the present sting of death.

There was a God who created a perfect garden, placing humanity inside so that he could walk with them in the cool of the day. And that reality was shattered when creation chose disobedience in pursuit of forbidden knowledge.

And this same God chases us still. His self sacrifice to be able to walk with us in spirit. I know this all to be true. 

And yet still I feel the sting of the consequence of that separation from God... that same separation that sent them running from that Garden in their nakedness.

I sat there beside my little Mammaw as tears streamed down her face. Today was another piece of this seemingly un-ending goodbye. She was married to my grandfather (Pop) for 69 years. How do you say goodbye after weathering storms and sunny days of nearly 7 decades?

Her wisdom far exceeds my own. Still, I find myself in that room holding her hand as she trembled with silent tears. The crowd pressing in to pay respects was unending. Her strength was not. The powerful emotions of the day were nearly too much. I was determined to be strong, and I had been. I came from afar to offer my faith. My God is in control.

And indeed He is.

We had withdrawn to give her a chance to rest. My cousin Tricia was there. She began to talk about how Mammaw used to teach us a song about bears on a picnic. I began to sing the song. "If you go out in the woods today..."  It was such a rich moment! At first I felt ridiculous and childish as I sang those first few notes... and then I realized the beauty of the moment. 

She had sang those words to us in times of uncertainty. She had sang those words to us as we navigated the unknown pieces of life. We sat in that quiet room, facing the silence alone as the words of that song brought back for the three of us a simple, powerful truth...

...we do not face the woods alone. We walk together. The God who created us to walk in the cool of the day with him, also gave us one another to walk along beside. 

With my arm around the back of that chrome and black wheelchair, I leaned my head against Mammaw's and I began to softly sing the words of: Amazing Grace, Blessed Assurance, The Old Rugged Cross, and finally, Joy Unspeakable! The hymns I grew up singing beside her and my mother in church.

I could see tears running down her face. One escaped on my own and left a trail on my cheek. I didn't wipe it away, it felt like a great treasure. I was not ashamed of singing about bears on picnics, I was not ashamed of letting a tear flow.

I was cherishing this moment of sharing this incredible thing we call life with my cousin and my Mammaw. Let me tell you this. Life is beautiful. Even the hard parts that press our sanity and get attacked by terror. I push the terror back and I stare it directly in the face as I embrace the beauty.

We are creations of God. We are garden-walkers. We are God talkers. We are hand-holders with one another as we navigate this road back to God. He pursues us. I hugged my little Mammaw over and over and over as I relentlessly looked up to the face of God. 

And on that day... for those of us who continue to seek the face of the one who pursues us...

"every bear that ever was there
is going to be there today because -
today's the day the teddy bear's 
have their picnic."

The day will come when we go out in the woods... and I know I will have that picnic. We will all sing together again. I thought I needed to comfort my Mammaw, but I realized that I just needed to love her, to sit beside her, to reflect on the promises of God...

...and His comfort found us all. 

I give thanks to God!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Faith and [FIT]works!

Kellie and I were members of Fitworks, West Chester for several years and we made a lot of very good friends there. One night on a Facebook chat, Serena and Shawn asked Kellie and I a simple question. "What can we do to help you guys?" 

We told them that we missed going to the gym. There are a few fitness clubs in the city, but the membership dues are considerably higher than in the U.S. and spending money on a gym membership just doesn't seem like good stewardship.

However, the reality is that we need to stay fit and healthy. Running isn't a safe option here, and even when I do try to run my right knee swells. So I typed in the chat box, "what we really need is a good elliptical machine. Do you think you could do a fundraiser for us to purchase one? I think they start at Pricemart in the city around $500-$700."

Shawn and Serena said, "yes!" We began chatting about ideas and how to advertise. I picked up a pen and sketched the logo.

Everyone laughed and we decided to run with it! And so we began drafting flyers and the ladies began coordinating the event back at our old gym. Fitworks agreed to let them host the event in the facility at no charge, with all proceeds going to our family. 

The night of the event, ladies flooded into the gym where they could participate in 2 hours of Spin & Zumba. Shawn called me the day of the event, reminding me that I promised them a video of our family. I was stuck on a mission site, but I grabbed the computer and shot a video.

With the chaos and hilarity of the moment... somehow that group of ladies came through in an amazing way! With Serena and Shawn leading the way, Fitworks donating their name and location, our friends spun and danced and donated! In a two-hour event, over $1,200.00 was raised to "Save the Missionaries!"

Kellie and I were able to purchase the top of the line elliptical machine available, the Pro-Form 600 LE, along with some free-weights and mats... with money left over!

Faith and FITworks! Our friends came through big reminding us that we are here representing so many people... we give thanks to be the feet on the ground, advocating for children, spreading the good news, and carrying the powerful hearts of our friends.

So look out Guatemala... it's time to "pump you up."

Special thanks to Shawn, Serena, all our tremendous friends,
& Todd Collins, Manager of West Chester Fitworks.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Introducing BIG Student Ministries | Guatemala!

I love these guys. This is what it looks like to seek the face of God with friends.

It is 11:08 on a Wednesday night. The alarm on my Samsung will begin playing Frodo's theme at 5:30 (because I am a dork). But I need to tell you about Big Student Ministries (BSM). 

Let me be honest. I thought I knew why God was calling our family to Guatemala. Apparently I was wrong. And I am grateful. Even if I came with the wrong vision, God got me here and I am forever thankful.

I am the campus pastor of Journey Church | Guatemala. We have a youth group that we like to call Big Student Ministries. BSM is the driver of our church.

Tonight I stood as a silent observer as our BSM Team Leader, Gloria Shearer, a missionary from the great commonwealth of Kentucky, led over 90 students in an incredible time of contact with God.

She talked about our identity in Jesus, and how so many times we allow others to influence how we act. How many times we allow circumstance to dictate our reactions. Gloria challenged us to look deeper, beyond the defense mechanisms and through the masks that we wear. Our identity is found in God. We are His children. We are redeemed. Our weakness is made strong in Him. We are given authority over the enemy and we are protected against his greatest weapon. We are children of God.

The students came forward and testified. They had paper masks on which they had written the identity that the world handed them. I participated... mine said "Doubter". 

They gathered in groups of 2 and 3 and confessed their "masks." Then they shared their "masks" in front of the entire group. And finally... they were given the chance to abandon those masks and claim the identity of the one who knew them while they were in their mother's wombs, who fearfully and wonderfully made them, who has a plan for their lives, the one who whispers into our souls that we are His.

They burned the masks. They claimed their identity. My own heart was inspired by their faith and action. These students are here at this place and at this time for a reason. 

This summer, BSM will be raising funds right here in Guatemala through service. We will take these kids out and we will work side by side with them to extend hands to some folks who need a bit of a lift. This group of young adults get it. They are willing to make a difference.

And they are the primary driver of our church. As their numbers continue to grow, they bring their families into our Sunday morning worship gathering. I am still not sure of what plans God has for us in Guatemala... but I do know this, He is here and we are in the right place.

Bring it 2014.

Big Student Ministries, the student gathering of Journey Church | Guatemala where we exist to "inspire people to live big" (John 10:10), as we connect people to Christ and the church.

Get ready BSM|Guate students, June 1, 2014 is our new kick-off! Here it comes! LIVE BIG.