Saturday, September 24, 2011

As it Should Be and As it Shouldn't

I thought I'd post a little update here of what's been happening with me. I'll center it around how I've been feeling about my life's latest events: things just seem to be going exactly as they should be, with maybe only a couple exceptions :)

As it Should Be:

1. My wife, Jess, is pregnant! I've angrily demanded to know from her over and over what caused this, only to finally discover I have the ability to reproduce with my female counterpart. Who knew!? Anyways, it really is existence just how it should be: The love of my life and I now get to take part in the life of a child made from the two of us. What a blessing...doesn't it just feel so much like love as it should be? To me, it does.

2. The other day, the guitar player in our church band came to me and just broke down in tears. He said he wanted to get control of his life and didn't know how to do it. In that moment of gritty reality and desperation, to me, was ministry just as it should be. I think God can really work in someone's life when they are just utterly tired of their own way. So we talked for a while and agreed to meet the next day. When we met, the drummer also stayed and talked, sharing the struggles he had been having with his own faith. It turns out what really spoke to him in our conversation was the idea that "we don't understand in order to believe", but "we believe in order to understand." This is a loose paraphrase from a theologian named Anselm: if you wait until all of your questions are answered in order to have faith in God, you'll never believe. Instead, you must have "faith seeking understanding." By believing, with questions and all, we learn to grow in faith and in bearing with God through all of life's ups and downs. In any case, it was definitely a great "as it should be" moment. I've been praying for these great guys for a while and am so glad that they are at a point of really trying to find out who this Jesus is. It's one of those moments that reminds me why I'm in the ministry business, and it just feels good to see happening.

As it Shouldn't Be:

1. I only have one "as it shouldn't be" story. Our church bought a used 25 passenger bus for only about $4400. After getting it worked on, and getting the advice of a diesel repair shop it seemed like it was going to be a steal. We were sorely mistaken.

At-Bat#1: So on it's maiden voyage in July, the transmission quit shifting when we were on mile 30 of a 250 mile trip. Thankfully, we were so close to home, we managed to get a replacement bus and go to camp. The Bus was 0-1.

At-Bat #2: After dropping $1400 to fix the transmission, the bus comes back to the church. I try to crank it and it doesn't have enough juice...we jump it off and the headlights are way too dim. I call in the problem and the bus gets taken away to be examined again. The Bus was now 0-2.

At-Bat #3: The bus comes back fixed and ready to go. I crank it up last Wednesday and everything seems fine. I start taking kids home across the dark streets of Southwest Escambia. We run for an hour and I have six kids left. The headlights start flickering, a slight electrical/burning smell develops. I pull over in another church parking lot around 9:15pm and take a look. Sparks are dropping below the engine. I turn off the bus and order the kids off, grab the fire extinguisher and spray through the grill and up under the bus. It doesn't help. Y'all, the bus literally caught on fire. Soon, smoke and flame started coming from under the hood. Jets of flame shot out as steering fluid and diesel went up. The kids were amazed as smoke billowed high and thick into the night sky. We stood way off as the fire department arrived and doused the engine. In the end, just the engine compartment burned and not the entire thing. The bus ended its career 0-3.

As far as transport vehicles go, it was one as it shouldn't be. But as the pastor said as he picked up the remaining kids and me in his car, "It is what it is." We did everything we could to make sure it was a good investment, but it in the end it just totally failed. As I drove home that night, I couldn't help but laugh, thinking of that old, cantankerous bus burning in a parking lot. The kids said it "blew up"-- it didn't, but then I guess that's kids as they should be: hyperbolic and vocal.

So, that's my life as of late. Alot of things are good, and some things (well, the bus) have just been a total "wash". But, that's how it is: you win some and you lose some. And that's life as it is, whether you believe it is as it should be or not. I've included a pic of that bus for your enjoyment. Thanks for reading.........Patrick

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Clustercuss: A Confluence of Bad Events

I'm up late right now avoiding typing on "Blood", which is week 3 of our 12-week discipleship program that we are doing with our youth. I'm very excited about this program, but that's for another post for another time. (it does sound pretty inrtiguing though, doesn't it?)

Anyways, I wanted to comment on the seeming phenomenon of bad news seeming to come in groups or clusters. I like to call these (ala Wes Anderson's version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox) clustercusses, or in the singular, a clustercuss. For those more squeamish, I hope its resemblance to another, much more profane "cluster" word isn't too unsettling...but I digress.

Two weeks ago, my wife was feeling bad, so I took her into work late. My job is flexible on some days so I was able to stay around until she was ready to go. On the way to work, I rear-ended someone in a minor fender-bender. But for me this was EARTH SHATTERING. I have driven for 14 years and have never had the slightest bump or contact with any other vehicle. I've prided myself on having my very presence being capable of erecting a forcefield around my vehicle to prevent any collision: how else could I explain my flawless driving record? Well, that hubris came quickly crashing down. It turns out, I too can pay a $166 fine for wreckless driving. Cuss.

That afternoon, I wasn't getting anything done at the office, but soon I got a call. One of my students had an aunt in the hospital just hours away from dying and they had no vehicle to get the family to the hospital. So I loaded them up in the church van, and took them over to the hospital. I found out the next day that this woman, who was only 46, passed away that night. The next morning, I met with our church's young adult director for a planning meeting and he told me his grandfather had died in the same hospital on the same night. (Now, he was 89 and had lived a full life to the end...not so much a tragedy in his family's eyes as the end of an epic and admirable journey. He was indeed an admirable and decent man.)

Then, on Wednesday I find out about three more tragedies: A boy at Escambia High School overdosed on morphine, a boy from West Florida High School was accidentally shot in the head by his best friend, and the step-brother of one of our new students died from an overdose as well. All of these young people were known by people in our youth ministry.

So when I got up to speak on Wednesday night to the kids, I had to change plans. We had five deaths that affected people in our ministry in a single week. So we talked about how as Christians we deal with death, and then we just stopped and prayed for each other. People cried, people prayed, people had some release, I think. I hope.

Finally, on Friday I went to a memorial service for "Will" from Escambia and "Ryan" from West Florida run by the FCA. This FCA meeting is a bi-monthly pancake breakfast that meets in a church gym, and this particular one was devoted to remembering the deceased. One of my students ran the service and did an excellent job. But during the moment of silence, one of the cooks from the kitchen came out, and asked loudly and, to himself, humorously, "Anyone wanna pancake?!" Everyone laughed nervously. I shook my head and looked at my Baptist counterpart shaking his head too. I guess the guy didn't know what we were meeting for...he was just there to dish out pancakes.

So, this is a week that starts with my wreck-- something annoying but ultimately inconsequential. Its slammed by mid-week with 5 deaths--all of people loved, and missed dearly. And it ends with a guy shouting about pancakes, while all the kids sit there wondering why so much bad stuff happens at once.

I remember other clustercusses:

Fall 2001: I lose my two grandmothers in two months. A friend of mine gets mugged and beaten in Dallas. And in the middle of all that, September 11th 2001 happens. Clustercuss.

Fall 2004: My uncle's house burns down. A massive hurricane hits Pensacola. My friend James dies of cancer at the age of 17. And to top all of that, when we go to clear hurricane debris from James' family's house, we forget to bring half our tools, we get attacked by hornets, and it starts to rain on us. Clustercuss.

I don't know why sometimes bad things happen together, but I know that it rains on the righteous and unrighteous alike. And as I sit here watching the news about the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis in Japan, I have to send up a prayer for those people in the middle of their own cluster of bad events.

"Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward..." Job 5:7

Lord, hasten the day when our troubles cease. Until then, make me part of the solution to solve others' troubles.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reckless Farming

A couple of months ago I heard the District Superintendent (that is, for the Methodist Church) for the Pensacola area share his thoughts on the parable of the sower. For those not familiar, the parable tells of a farmer casting seed on different types of soil: the path, where it was quickly taken by birds; the rocks, where it couldn't take root; the thorns, where it was choked and overwhelmed; and the good soil, where it bore fruit exponentially. He said that Christians always tell this as the parable of the seed-- they ask which kind of soil am I? Will my seed bear fruit?-- But he wanted to redirect our attention to the sower.
His point was our God is a reckless farmer, and as ministers, we need to be too. When God goes and cast seed, he throws in on the path, on top of the shed, over in the chicken coup, some into the creek-- he throws it all over the place.
Compare that to a farmer who goes out to sow, but upon arriving finds huge rocks. So he spends all day clearing the rocks. Then he finds some thorns-- so he goes for hours more pulling out thorns. Pretty soon there's no daylight left, and he hasn't planted anything. As ministers, we want to wait for the conditions to be right, and we often make excuses that we will minister when certains criteria are met, but that is not how we are called to be. We are to be reckless farmers sowing into areas where we couldn't dream of a seed taking root.

Phase Shift: So I've been thinking about this this week. Just a couple days ago, a youth that has been into massive trouble (I can't describe to you all the legal, emotional, and physical ramifications that go with this trouble. Suffice it to say, jailtime is being served by someone else because of this trouble) decides she is leaving us. Not only that, she sees NOTHING wrong with what has been going on in her life. AND not only that, her mother is totally paddling up that certain river in Egypt--what's it called?...oh yeah: de-nial-- and tells her and us that nothing needs to change.
This is supremely heartbreaking. When you can see the answer, and you know the seed's been sown, it's hard to see the birds come take the sapling away. I've been working with this person for over 2 years. But I remember there is hope. There is a Jewish saying that goes something like this: You can't plant a seed in someone's heart. You can only place the seeds on top and wait for the heart to break for them to fall in.

Though my paraphrase is loose, that's the saying I'm thinking on today. This person's heart will one day have to break. All of our hearts have to break at some point. Otherwise, nothing will ever change. Until then, we have to keep being reckless farmers.