Monday, August 30, 2010

Meltdown and Provision

To be on vacation and not be able to sleep was troubling. Aren’t vacations are supposed to be times of rest and recharge, I thought. We were settled in a beautiful cottage on a beautiful lake in northern Michigan. The weather was perfect. Our family was together. The setting was bent toward a week of fresh air, relaxation and recreation. Sleepless on vacation, in this environment, was not like me. I was struggling and it was something between God and me.

That summer had been a difficult summer for my wife. She had heard this too statement too many times, “Thanks for interviewing with us, but we’ll be pursuing candidates with more experience.” Five interviews, five rejections and some of these were from people who had given her tremendous hope and affirmation. For eight years, my wife had prepared to be a teacher. When all our kids entered school, my wife felt led to pursue this dream. It was a passion that grew deep in her soul. It was as if God had planted it there. Four years of college classes and four years of working as a substitute teacher led her to this fateful summer of interviews. She had been given wonderful reviews and hopeful feedback. One hiring principle in the school she subbed even helped her fine tune her resume. She was affirmed by her colleagues and filled with hope. But, one interview after another ended with, “We really like you but... there are so many experienced teachers in the hiring pool these days. Sorry.” She was left to believe that her dream was not going to happen. If the schools who knew and loved her can’t hire her, then who would. It appeared, she had become a victim of the Michigan economy.

She grieved deeply, but was able to emotionally moved forward. I, on the other hand, had some things to say to God. I was mad. I wasn’t upset at the schools or principles, I was angry with God. “God, why would do lead my wife down this road just to crush her? Why would you plant a dream in her just to have it shattered? What’s the point of this?” My lament over this situation haunted me during that summer vacation. I hurt for her. Why wasn’t God acting on her behalf? At the end of that week, she got a call for, yet one more interview. This came from a inner-city charter school of which she had never stepped foot in. On a whim, many months previously she had sent a resume to the school administration, never seriously believing she would hear from them. She was an unknown and there was no logical reason for them call. She agonized about whether to even drive three hours from our vacation cottage to interview with a school, thinking another rejection would follow. A week later, she was offered a job, a job that she’s loved now for the last two years.

I marvel at God’s patience and grace with me. God wanted to provide and when he did, he did with joy and creativity, even in the midst of my confused and frustrated lament. Perhaps, when the next opportunity like this arises, I’ll respond with greater trust.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Complaint, Trust and Joy in the Land Between

Strip me naked and leave me alone in a room and I will still have more than I deserve.

Interesting statement, isn’t it? Makes you wonder who would say something like that. Several years ago, a friend dropped this line on me. We had bumped into each other at a mall. Our wives were at a ladies retreat and each of us was trying to entertain our kids that evening at the mall. I knew that he just received the news that his wife had a slow progressing, debilitating disease that could, over time, drastically affect their lives. They were entering into a time of waiting to see what this disease would truly do to her and their way of life. As we chatted about the details of their new situation, I felt compelled to ask him how he, as dad and husband, was doing personally with this news. Putting myself in his shoes, I could only imagine the thoughts and emotions that invaded his mind and heart. Would he be filled with worry, disappointment, distress, confusion, complaint, denial, or anger? I’m sure that each of these tempted his private moments, but I knew him well enough to know that he would pursue another way to respond.

Strip me naked and leave me alone in a room and I will still have more than I deserve.

That’s all he said about it and his cryptic answer left me hanging. It caught me by surprise and I didn’t have the courage at the time to ask him what he truly meant. But it captivated my thoughts for days. What was he saying to me about his perspective on his new circumstance in life? After reflecting on my friend and his approach to life, I think he was saying these things:

If life takes everything away me, God is still good.
Anything that I have ever enjoyed, including my wonderful wife, I didn’t really deserve.
She’s an undeserved gift.
She’ll continue to be a wonderful gift to me despite her disease.
This is not a setback but an opportunity to experience God and life more fully.
I could choose to complain in this situation but I’m choosing joy instead.
I’d rather encourage you, today, than ask you to commiserate with me.

In the moment that my friends heard that a disease would affect their lives, they entered into the land between; a place of wondering about the future, a place of waiting to learn the outcome of the news, a place of adjusting to their changing reality. But, the land between is a place of choice where two conflicting options of response face off: complaint and joy.

This month, Jeff is teaching on the Land Between that God asked the Israelites to walk through on the way to the promise land. Let's create a discussion on your Land Between. Is complaint sneaking into your heart? Who hears your complaint? Could choosing trust or joy be a remedy for you in this season of life?

Friday, August 6, 2010

God's Tough Love

Stephen was a small town pastor who had a knack for choosing churches that were unhealthy places of ministry. On several occasions, the pain for pastoring these types of churches put a lot of strain on Stephen’s family. Dan is one of Stephen’s sons, and over time he became disillusioned with his dad’s career choice and began to resent the church. Dan rebelled and when he told me his story, Dan said, “I tried to make my parents’ lives miserable.” After several years of enduring his son’s rebellion, Stephen made a hard choice, he told his son to move out. He had had enough.

With no job and nowhere to go, Dan was in a tough place. Stephen suggested to Dan that he give a relative in Atlanta a call. What Dan didn’t know was that Stephen had a safety net in place for him. Stephen had pulled his cousin in Atlanta into the plan. Stephen purchased a plane ticket and his cousin had an open room and job lined up for Dan. Seeing this as his only option, Dan bitterly packed his things and moved to Atlanta. The next two years are described by both men as being quiet and distant. Dan was angry, filled with resentment for his dad’s decision. Stephen was heartbroken but hopeful his son would turn his life around. During those two years, they rarely spoke. But Dan was changing. He was growing, softening, and finding his way with God. Dan’s relationship with his “aunt” and the death of his grandfather during that time were pivotal in Dan’s turning back to God and his family. Eventually, father and son reconciled. Dan is now on staff at Ada Bible Church and Stephen serves as an elder here as well. Stephen now beams with fatherly pride for his son. Dan often expresses gratitude for having Stephen as his dad.
They say there are two sides to every story. Often, the facts vary between tellers of the same story. That wasn’t the case when I heard this story first from Dan, two years ago and Stephen two weeks ago. Both sides of the story were told with incredible consistency in facts, but the tone of the story was dramatically different. Dan told the story from the perspective of a humbled, remorseful, and grateful son. Stephen told it from a patient, heartbroken father with a strong resolve and sense for right and wrong.

There’s something about a good father and son story that gets me thinking about God and his relationship with me. God is called Father, for a good reason. He’s a good dad who wants the best for his kids. And when our sinful choices cause distance from him, we see his fatherly character traits come alive. We see his patience, allowing us to make choices and to turn back to him on our own. We see his justice when he says, “Enough! You cannot continue this anymore.” He disciplines us with a safety net in place. He doesn’t destroy us, but he corrects us. We see his hopeful plan for our return and reconciliation. He longs for us to come home.