June 21, 2008
I’ve not been contributing very much or very deeply to my blog in a very long time and earlier today I felt the urge to give it a try so we will see what comes out in this computer session as I drink my orange cream slush from sonic and sit at the dinning room table at the pastor’s house from the church who is hosting YouthWorks! in Kansas City. This weekend we are sleeping in real beds instead of our usual air mattresses and taking showers when we want and we even have access to washer and dryer and TV and real couches. What a wonderful weekend it has been. The carpet feels so good on our bare feet and the atmosphere of being in a real house instead of a shared space is wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, the church where we live is wonderful also, but there are some comforts at home that we still enjoy. Not personally paying rent, utilities, food, and all those other things is also wonderful but our arrangements have other costs. Like working 24/5 ½ (meaning 24 hours a day for 5 and ½ days strait without a break). And even on the weekends we have some constraints, it’s not like we can just resume normal life entirely. And all these things are okay. I like my job. It’s tough but it’s good. What does suffering produce? Perseverance. And what does perseverance produce? Hope that does not fail us. I’ve reached the realization of perseverance at this point but I’m still working towards hope.
Let me take a moment to explain a bit about what I’m doing. For those who are just looking for ways to waste their lives away on the Internet, check out youthworks.com. For others who just want a quick description, I work for YouthWorks!, inc. and they are a missions organization that exists to provide Christ-centered, transformational mission experiences for teenagers. I am the Site Director for their new Kansas City site. We are located in Westport, the Volker neighborhood at a wonderfully hospitable (as evidenced by the pastor letting us use their house) Lutheran church. Each Sunday evening 50-75 youth show up and we keep them until Friday morning doing service type projects, worshiping, eating, sleeping, and seeing various parts of the city. Some of the places we send them are Kansas City Rescue Mission, Northland Neighborhoods, Metro Lutheran Services, Catholic Charities, Operation Breakthrough, Mission Adelante, Clara Manor Nursing Home, Harvesters, Kansas City Community Gardens, and others. Ask if you have more questions about what we do. Now back to my story.
On May 24th I ran a marathon. I felt on top of the world. Moving to a new place (I love traveling and the idea of new starts) and starting a new job had me very excited but at the same time a bit mournful of loosing the community I had built up while attending grad school in Wheaton, IL. I had not expected to grow so close to so many people in such a short time. But the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. And this was one of those times. Running the marathon seemed to be proving to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to. Originally I had seen running distance as something I could only accomplish through the aid of God. I didn’t think I would ever have the strength to complete such a thing on my own and during all my training runs I heavily relied on prayer and meditation on the supplication of God but during the marathon no such meditation took place. I ran all 26.2 of those miles by my own determination. I couldn’t focus on God with all those people running around me. I had a couple wonderful conversations along the way that were the main source of my fuel. And afterwards I felt better that if I had just run 9 or 10 miles. I was still jumping around. I could have turned around and run another ½ marathon at least. It was a wonderful feeling of power and accomplishment. Except that I had done it all on my own and I realized that right away. And I wasn’t as ecstatic about my run because I couldn’t appreciate God’s companionship along the way. I couldn’t reflect on mile 8 when God showed me the bay and sent the breeze and whispered gently into my ear all the wonderful ways he created me and the beauty he created in this place. Instead all I remember is being bored and strong on my own.
At RAMP (the YouthWorks! training week in Minneapolis) I remember praying for death again and I know I have not written the promised blog about why I meditate on death and what that means to me but I’ll summarize that now. When I ran 15, 18, and 20 mile training runs I would meditate on death. Death of the sort that baptism represents as well as the death I survived during my bleak and painful high school years. I learned years ago that my life would have no significance if lived outside of the will of God. Though not knowing exactly what it would mean to live according to God’s will, I knew that I had to die to my whims, my desires, and my ambitions. Instead I had to learn what God desired of his followers. I had to learn what it would mean to allow God to transform me and begin the process of perfection. And as I figured bits of this out I learned that the life where I choose yes to God and no to my ambitions was so much more wonderful and exciting then I could have ever envisioned for myself. Years later I have learned to pray that I die so that Christ can live through my body, that I can more and more fully be a body that Christ uses in this world to spread love and peace and advance his kingdom. But it’s hard to live like that all the time. There are lots of times where I would rather just look out for myself and use my money the way I want to or my time the way that would be most comfortable for me. But I desire above anything else to be completely God’s instrument.
Back to RAMP, I was praying to be set back on this path of being God’s servant and all and was feeling myself slip more and more into selfish decisions and was very frustrated about where my mind was during the marathon. On Thursday morning I was reflecting on how I was leading my new staff team and wrote in my journal these words, “Lord, break me down. Teach me humility. I choose to die to myself and be a life for you today. Make my body your instrument of love and peace. Work your will through my life. Transform my staff and myself. Today I choose death. Show me how to live.” Before I move on to the next exciting part of the story I want to jump back to February or sometime around there. We were playing with sticky sticks or whatever they are called (colorful sticky wand-like things that you can affix to stuff) in my Holy Spirit and mission class and we were supposed to design them in a way that reflected the way we saw the Holy Spirit involved in our lives. I created a girl running and this wind like thing that was all around but never intersected with the running girl. Basically I described it as myself running both physically and metaphorically and not actually feeling God involved with any of it. In years past I have felt very close to God but since this fall while I Rio I have not had that close communion with God that I used to enjoy and even rely on.
Back to that day at RAMP. In a matter of hours after writing that prayer I found myself in a lot of pain. I went to the bathroom then couldn’t really stand up off the toilet. Somehow I pulled myself up along the wall and slowly pulled myself out of that awkward position into a more heavily trafficked room where I was spotted by a couple people digging a dinosaur out of a clay egg. So they sat in the hallway with me for a while digging the dino out and that kept me company while I tried to figure out what to do with my pathetic self. After a while I had an informal meeting with one of the regional directors about potential ministry sites. She witnessed this miserable situation and didn’t have a whole lot of advice to offer. So I called the parents and other trusted friends who knew of my previous back disaster day 4 in Rio de Janeiro. Basically the same thing happed there. Just couldn’t stand up any more. Hurt, a lot.
So I went to the hospital and God rendered me helpless for the next week or so. Couldn’t walk much, couldn’t lift nothin’, couldn’t really do my job. I felt pathetic, miserable, frustrated. Humbled. I began to see God intervening, answering my prayer. I am still acting very selfish in my leadership. I still don’t understand how I can be a servant leader in this position. I still am frustrated with my situation of helplessness. I can do more now but maybe I shouldn’t be doing as much as I am. I don’t really know what God is trying to teach me and so I’m figuring I’ll have more of these tough lessons to learn. This past Thursday I began hurting again after a couple of weeks of feeling nearly better. Today especially I’m having a hard time standing up again. So I don’t know what the rest of the summer will look like or what will happen after this summer if I make it that far all I know is what is right now. And this simple vision of the current moment may itself be a lesson of God’s.
Thanks for reading about my struggles and the lessons I’m struggling to learn. I think I’m going to go enjoy some pizzookie with my team. Pizzookie for you who don’t know is like a pizza cookie with cookie dough cooked about five minutes and a pint of ice cream on top. Today’s flavors are Snickerdoodle cookie dough with Blue Bell Moo-llineum crunch on top. Yum… I think that’s enough of my thoughts for now. Thanks for reading all two of you who make it to the end. Leave some love.