Wednesday, January 23, 2008

reflections on a house remodel

11 jan 2008.

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12.15)

as i sit in the aftermath of 3 ½ wks of demolition and reconstruction, eating a bowl of ants with cereal on top, it seems like a good time to reflect.

the other day as i was sweeping piles of dirt and debris off the floor, it occurred to me that a rich man could pay for someone else to do this. in fact, a rich man wouldn’t likely find himself in this situation at all, of having to live in the midst of chaos and cold and confusion for weeks on end, while his house was being undone and redone. a truly rich man would likely have enough money to simply hire others to do all the dirty work, while he lived elsewhere.

how could we volunteer to destroy the most important portion of our house during christmas, and then be responsible for feeding an extra family of 5 for almost a month? truly a miracle of bad timing.

but then it occurred to me that this remodel is riddled with other miracles and much more meaning than would be attached to it if i had simply conscripted strangers for the job, precisely because people we love and who love us have permeated the process since its inception:

  • stephanie, kait, and carly ripping out carpets

  • lonnie, in whose mind this whole kitchen scheme was spawned and nurtured

  • larry h, mary p and individuals in the grace group who in spite of their own need contributed funds: voilá: le grace group front door!

  • donna t, ralph g; and sally.who provided – and still provide – inspiration and input

  • tim and alli, drew, luke, brooke, brent who with crowbar and sledge hammer launched d-day with a bang

  • cloyd m, lending his RV to us, total strangers, so that we could house 3 teenagers in our driveway
  • annie and walter providing over the fence lodging for lonnie and mary

  • lonnie’s tireless work…sometimes even 16-17 hrs a day, even now still pondering the reorganization of the bathrooms for yet another project!

  • gracie who was always willing to help, complaint-less even after being bitten by the dog

  • spencer, and especially taylor, initially bitter about being forced to give up his christmas at home in arkansas, yet returning with treasured memories and accomplishments – especially the mantle – and bearing an obvious deepening of his maturity
  • mary kathleen keeping things like the unglamorous trash in their proper places

  • aaron r, between jobs, yet driving over from pasadena, not once but twice, to put up sheet rock for nothing.

  • don d coming from beyond sacramento to contribute 2 weeks of his life to making holes in our house and filling them with windows.
  • billy coming many times and giving of his time and talents even though his only connection to us was thru don and joby

  • harold l, the electrician with an oil well in his front yard, wiring our house and garage for free

  • john b, who in spite of weakness caused by chronic liver disease gave us steps that now lead down into the den

  • sally and ted, joby, walt and sherry and the williams bringing gourmet dinners, along with all the contributions of grace groups who pounded us when we got to the states.
  • and evan, and mike and heather ...and others i've probably forgotten, forgive me.

  • and erik, ryan, lucas and melanie…especially melanie

i can only conclude that this is not my remodel; this is OUR remodel. each and every nail and screw, each and every cut of the saw, every board pulled up and put back, every stroke of paint and swipe of stain, every shim to level doors and windows, every expenditure of mental effort to design and redesign and re-redesign, every dustpan full of ex-house, every meal cooked either by us or by others… each is a gift, the willing voluntary contribution of members of the body of Christ who have injected themselves at every step along the way towards making this house a home. their fingerprints on every surface declare their love for us. none of this could i ever buy. miracle of miracles: i am much richer than the rich man.

to the graduating seniors 2007 - yuñon cherch yooth grupe, lima, peru – 10 june 07

to the congregation:
there are certain days throughout the year i particularly look forward to: any sunny day in Lima, my birthday, christmas, the first day of a vacation at the beach when i take my watch off and begin to forget what time it is….there are others. but this …THIS is not one of those days. not because it is not an honor to be asked to address these guys one final time…it’s the ‘final’ part that’s the problem…and this time is more final than ever before. i’ve seen people facing “final” times like this and have heard them promise themselves that they will not cry. i can make no such promise. what i have to say here is not for you, but you are invited to eavesdrop for the next few moments.

to the kids:

now to you, who are vitamins to my soul,

this month you will hear graduation speeches encouraging you and giving you advice for success as you go out to take on the world. well, this cannot be a 20 minute commencement address for 2 reasons: for one, we don’t have the time, and besides, i've already had the unparallelled privilege of encouraging you and giving you advice almost every week for anywhere between 1 and 4 years depending on just how long you've been subjecting yourself to the youth group. and frankly i have every confidence that all the material for success – in its truest sense – stands here before me today.

so much i still wanted to say to you: about suffering, and accountability, about the world that will come rushing in on you with a ferocity so subtle that it would leave your head spinning if you could but detect it…

a dozen other things to hopefully help further ground you in the faith you take from here. i don’t really know what words have planted themselves in your souls as a result of our times together. i’d actually like to know, and was going to ask last nite, but with the beach thing and chocolate and t-shirts, i just didn’t have it in me to organize a group discussion as well….write me some day and let me know. regardless, it’s now the job of others to fill in the holes i’ve left, as well as the holes i may have created…and there are some…probably many more than i would have the strength to acknowledge. for any and all wounds, my deepest apologies.

so what will be my parting shot? ultimately, the best thing i can do now is to remind you of what i’ve already told you on numerous occasions: remember who you are…and i’m not talking about the fact that each of you is delightfully weird…and some of you are more…delightful…than others.

so who are you? besides being:

  • jobs
  • martha
  • billy
  • kara
  • ben
  • andrew
  • lucas
  • saudi
  • liz

whoever and whatever else you may think you are, remember this first:
that because you trust in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, you are forgiven… acquitted of all crimes against God. you are released … free to go.

But not merely forgiven; you are innocent. He has declared you righteous and holy, blameless in his sight…not on your merits, but on his, because he embraced the death that was rightfully yours and gave you the life that was rightfully his.

you are now sons and daughters of the most high God, the King of Kings. you are royalty with unspeakable privilege.

you are his workmanship, his poem: living masterpieces in the making…do not forget that
you are his delight, the intentional objects of his good pleasure and will.

this and much much more. so whatever you do … or are tempted to do, remember who you really are.

so hear me now, you who are salt of the earth and light of the world, you recipients of his lavish and incomprehensible grace.

what is my hope for you? well, the best of all good things of course, but not in the guise you may think…

i hope that in your life God makes you uncomfortable ….and thru that shows you that your only real comfort is in him

that he will stretch you, even to the point of breaking, ….so that you will learn that he is the only one that holds you together

that he will bring you to the end of your resources, ….so that you will see that in and of yourselves you can do nothing; and that he alone is your truest treasure

in this toxically egocentric age when the vast majority around you will be zealously devoted to the religion of self-worship and self-indulgence, i hope that he takes you increasingly out of yourselves, and then invades you and possesses each one of you in the fullest sense of the word, so that he himself may walk freely among your peers cleverly disguised as you.

i'll be happy to take partial credit for any of these difficulties that come your way, but do not forget that if they do, it's probably mostly your own fault…if indeed you ever prayed – however glibly – that God would help you to get to know him better. He will take that prayer seriously and the answer may be other than what you expect. my hope is that thru it all, you remember that his grace and love for you is so vast that it will take him an entire eternity to show it all to you.

i will indeed miss you. … i won’t particularly miss the mess you make in our home on saturday nites, but i will most certainly miss you.

this is it. so now, as you go, remain firmly and confidently in his mighty, gracious, wise, ever-loving, unrelenting and unbreakable grip. ladies and gentlemen, my friends, light of the world … salt of the earth…it's been a privilege.

a prayer for the graduating class of ICSL lima, peru 2007

O Lord, these guys face big changes, and new and very different lives. What can we possibly pray for them that you have not already thought of?

My words here are reflections of my own mix of emotions that so many endings and beginnings together bring to the surface.

As parents we want to pray for their safety, but you, Lord, have never been a safe God. And if indeed we placed them into your hands when they were infants, now as young adults we have even less control over where you will lead them.

We may want to pray for their comfort, but how can we do this, and also pray that you use them for your glory, knowing that those you have used the most have also suffered greatly?

You are a God who throughout history and our own lives does marvelous and spectacular things. But you are also the God of the mundane and supremely subtle. I pray that they may see your answers to their prayers especially when the answers don’t look like they thought they would.

I pray that their faith be truly theirs and not simply an heirloom inherited from their predecessors or peers. That when their faith is challenged by those who hate it they they would know why they believe what they believe and know it well and speak it forth with boldness.

I pray that they learn not to trust on their gifts and abilities, which surely are many and which surely will fail, but on your grace which will not. Teach them that it’s never been all about them, but about you, and you in them, and thru them, you in the world.

That when they are lured by the world, that you would be their magnificent obsession.

I do not pray that you give them wisdom or strength, but that you BE their wisdom and strength; they they find themselves lost in you and be ever more like you.

For you are a loving and faithful God. who loves with wreckless abandon, faithful and firm to the end, wise in all things.

They leave our sight, O Lord, but not yours. Indeed your servant David said:

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.

You hem me in--behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, n you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps 139 1-10)

O Lord, that these be not just words in their ears, but the sentiment of their souls and the comfort and assurance of their hearts.

So here they are, Lord. They are yours. Thanks for having lent them to us for this brief time. We commit them to your faithful, relentless, and wholly merciful grip.

the car wash boy

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the One who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mt 10.40-42)

3 jan 07 – Cerro Azul Beach, Peru – I've just been stung by a sting ray – we are having lunch in the restaurant, and as the burning creeps up my leg, up comes of group of about 4 men – all Peruvian, except for the taller, lighter – skinned one – his accent made me think he was from Spain. He’s a bit older…is he their mentor? Why do I think he’s a priest? There are no outward trappings; no robes, no crucifix – nothing quite so obvious.

We ordered lunch; they ordered lunch. A little boy about 8 or 9 comes into the restaurant porch where we are sitting. “¿Tienes carro que puedo lavar?” I had a car, of course – but the girl at Union Church washes it every Sunday ... we’ll be there in a few days – so “no”. He falls off my radar.

We resume our family conversation. The waiter brings our food. Several minutes later I notice the waiter bringing food to the Spanish man’s table … and a plate of food to the car wash boy, who is sitting next to the Spanish man. The Spanish man is chatting with him, asking him questions. The car wash boy is enjoying his lunch … a very nice lunch for a car wash boy.

It’s amazing how many things can flood your mind in an instant; it takes so much longer to write them down. All of the sudden i realize:

the car wash boy was hungry
he didn’t want to wash cars, but it might help him feed himself
i saw him as a minor intrusion on family time.
the Spanish man saw thru the question
the Spanish man must be a priest – his job is people – caring, looking for guys like this – he loved the car wash boy

The priest will not lose his reward – he received the car wash boy and offered him what he himself enjoyed … an 8 year old dining in the company of adult strangers. If the Spaniard IS a priest, he lives his faith better than I do. Woe is me! My life is too fast – too cluttered with things that blind me to those around me. How many opportunities like this have I been presented with in my 25 years in Peru?

The car wash boy will not remember me – I dropped off his radar as soon as he dropped off mine. The car wash boy will remember the nice man who bought him lunch – he will remember him forever. And God will remember them both. I will too…as a memorial to my insensitivity and blindness. I did not have enough love to invite Jesus to my table.

on failure

can words truly echo the groaning of my soul?
choked sobs, muffled cries, silent bleeding wounds.
only the sighs of God himself suffice.

empty, ruined, desperate, tired longings for
someone besides me to fill this skin of mine
to make this body move,
to make this mind think,
to make this heart love God with each and every beat,
to do for you what i cannot.

for this, your Spirit, promised, given and grieved…
oh my life, be for him,
oh my blood, course for him,
oh my eyes, see for him.
oh my heart, oh my heart…

may your grace be as great, and vast and lavish as you say!
may your love be furious in your pursuit of me.
may you be the sure, relentless hound of heaven
and track me down, your reluctantly willing prey.

you don’t desire my years of tears,
there would never be enough to atone.
oh, wrench away my cherished fears
and make me yours and yours alone.