Friday, May 11, 2007

Praying for Taylor

God has organized life in such a way that I once again find myself in touch with a child that has leukemia. I have never actually had the pleasure of meeting Taylor. She is only nine years old and is in third grade. She lives in northern Illinois. It seems that Taylor's schoolteacher is a friend of a friend. The friend on my end (Marcie) e-mailed me Taylor's story. I then told her of my friendship with a teenage girl in my last youth group that fought ... and defeated ... leukemia. Well, that e-mail found its way to Taylor's mom. She, in turn, e-mailed me tonight. Her letter ripped my heart out. Would you like to know why? Read this...

"I read your email and I cried so hard because I feel so lost, and so scared, and so afraid. Yet I stay so strong in front of Taylor. This is a 9-year-old girl who loves God, and people, so much. The most unselfish little girl I have ever met in my entire life. The same little girl who sat at Children's Memorial yesterday and told me she's beginning to wonder about God!!!!!I never thought I would hear that from her ever. I told her it's ok to question God, and wonder why...She started losing all of her hair yesterday and fought the tears so nobody could see her cry. I have been through so much in my life, and nothing can compare or come close to this watching your kid suffer, and there is nothing you can do about it but feel helpless, feel doubtful, feel weak. I'm lost I will be honest, I have prayed my heart out, I have cried, I have felt every emotion you could feel, and now all I have to hold on to is still faith, prayers, and strength. Please continue to pray for Taylor as we start our second round of 10 day in patient chemo some time next week. We will be at Children's Memorial about four months out of the next six months."

See what I mean? I called Taylor's mom after reading her e-mail. She was cautious at first because she had no idea who she was talking to. As I explained that I was the guy she had e-mailed she relaxed a bit. We talked and prayed and spent some time just wondering about it all. I had to tell her the truth ... there are no guarantees. God promises to love us and to be present in and through our pain. He does not promise to heal us in this world. But I am praying that He does decide to in Taylor's case. Nine years old and already she has engaged in a battle fiercer than all of the battles I have fought combined. Nine years old and wondering if she will ever see ten. Nine years old and she lost enough hair this week to fill a bathroom trashcan. Nine years old and her trademark pigtails are lying with the used Kleenex and q-tips.

I do not understand. I promised Taylor's mom that I would call her again tomorrow. And I vowed to pray for Taylor often. I am going to be in her area soon and I am wondering if it would be right for me to meet her. I cannot fix this little girl. But I do know something about loving kids. And for some reason when they hurt ... it makes me want to connect with them and share that hurt.

Would you do me a favor? Would you pray for Taylor too? She is a real person. And tonight she is trying to sleep through the pain and confusion. She is trying to sort out the whole "God vs. Leukemia" thing.

And she is only nine years old.

(If you would like to leave a word of encouragement or prayer for Taylor or her mom I promise to send them on to her. Please do...)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fourteen things I have tried so hard to understand but have yet to figure out ...


(Once again we approach the unapproachable. I finally realized that for the first time in my life nobody can fire me. And so I decided to just put things out there. Here is what is on my mind. You can like it or you can hate it but at least I am thinking and my brain has not *yet* turned to mush. Tonight you get "a bakers dozen" plus three.)

1. Why is it that we cheer for one church over another when that is like cheering for a teams left fielder over their short stop?
2. Why is it that the most gifted people seem to lose interest in their gifts more quickly than less gifted people?
3. Why is it that the more you say "God, do what it takes to make me the man you want me to be" the more difficult He makes life?
4. Why is it that God is our "Abba Father" and yet sometimes He decides not to speak to us for a while?
5. Why is it that people get mad at you when you tell them that God does speak today and not only through the bible?
6. Why is it that my spirit craves God's voice and then when He speaks everything inside of me insists that it was a coincidence?
7. Why is it that churches say they want to grow and then throw away God's biblical methods in favor of denominational programs?
8. Why is it that spiritual gifts are treated in the church as an optional luxury when God gave them to point you to your life's job description?
9. Why is it that in practicality gifts mean less than being personally connected and yet in reality being personally connected is ultimately doomed to failure without gifts?
10. Why is it that leaders hesitate to turn over responsibility for areas they are not gifted in to people who are gifted in them?
11. Why is it that churches expect their pastor's to have all of the spiritual gifts and act like he is being lazy when he does not?
12.Why is it that the more spiritually ignorant a person is the louder he speaks and the louder he speaks the more people listen?
13. Why is it that even when I am deeply angry with people I cannot help loving them when I see them?
14. Why is it that I can forgive and forget your wrong doings but I keep rehashing my own and drag them up every opportunity I get?
15. Why is it that I am unemployed and yet I have to go to work in the morning?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ten Things I Have Learned About Churches In The Last Twelve Months (and two bonus observations)

(Warning: Gross generalizations ahead. Read with extreme caution. Disagreement with any or all points only means that I am probably wrong. I can live with that.)

1. Steeples and "The Tower of Babel" have more in common than I ever dreamed.
2. Despite their disclaimers the vast majority of churches are the most competitive "industry" in town. Often the only non-jealous church in town is the largest church in town and that is only because they have no one to be jealous of.
3. Roughly 90% of the people in a typical church will love you to death if you will let them.
4. Roughly 10% of the people in a typical church will put you to death by means other than love.
5. The majority of the people in a typical church have absolutely no idea how a church runs or who does the running.
6. If you want to get loved on at church find a good small group. That is where it all starts.
7. The majority of the people in a typical church do not attend a good small group and thus are missing out on where the love happens.
8. Almost all churches with changeable signs advertise the next sermon title or a cute slogan when the only thing that will truly cause godly transformation in a heart is the Word of God. I do not know of one church that consistently puts scripture on their sign.
9. The most evangelistic ministry in a church is the youth ministry. The most under funded ministry in a church is the youth ministry. The most griped at / complained about ministry in a church is the youth ministry. Do you see a problem here or is it just me?
10. Jesus loves the church anyway and He does it without reservation or hesitation. Therefore I have to love her like that too. Even when she makes it difficult.
11. A church that doesn't burst into celebration every time a person is baptized simply does not understand what they just witnessed.
12. Show me a truly wise and godly man or woman in a church and I will show you a man or a woman who does not realize that they are particularly wise and godly.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Hug me and shut up

Today I learned a lesson and I want to tell you about it. It is a lesson I have learned many times before and yet I keep forgetting it. First the story. Then the lesson.

I have not been riding my motorcycle much this spring. There is a very good reason for that. It leaks gasoline. Yes, gas is expensive and I don't like to drip it along the highway as I do my "easy rider" thing. But that is not my greater concern. You see I have this thing about blowing up. The carburetor is dirty or something and so it leaks fuel from the over flow hose. The bike really does not care if it is turned on or turned off. It leaks unless you shut the valve, which kills fuel to the engine. I do not have a difficult time imagining this leaking petroleum dripping on the ultra-hot exhaust and sending me to an early meeting with Jesus.

I did not get called to teach today and so I decided to fix this little problem. I watched a friend do it last year and it did not look too terribly difficult. I took my digital camera outside and took pictures as I disassembled the bike step by step. I removed the back seat. I removed the front seat. I was so proud. Tools were e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e! I removed the gas tank and drained it in a very legal and responsible manner.

Now it was serious carb repair time. I took pictures of every hose and where it was connected. Every screw and where it came out. I took twenty-seven pictures. That way, if I got lost while reassembling the bike the pictures would show me where everything goes.

You have to admit, that was pretty brilliant.

When I got the carburetor off I cleaned it with the finest cleaner and a very stiff toothbrush. I cleaned and I cleaned and I cleaned! I smelled like a real mechanic! People who drove down my street looked at me and I know what they were thinking. They were thinking, "Look at that talented guy working on his motorcycle. Boy, I wish I was like him." When I was finished I had the cleanest carb on the block, nay, the town. Maybe all of Illinois!

And then I reassembled the bike. First the tedious job of putting the fuel stuff back together and reattaching it to the frame. The gas tank. The front seat and the rear seat were next.


I put fresh gasoline in the tank. I climbed on the bike. I turned the key, revved the throttle and listened in amazement as the engine roared to life. I did it!

I climbed off the bike. She purred like a kitten with a fresh saucer of milk. I backed up to admire my job from a distance. That is when I noticed the gasoline flowing ... not dripping like it was before I "fixed" it ... flowing out of the overflow tubing and onto my driveway.

I killed the ignition. I put my tools away. I hosed off my driveway. I pushed my bike as far to the back of my property as I could get it and left it to sit there and just think about what it had done for a while.

It is still there. It can rust there for all I care.

Well, that is the story. Here is the lesson.

I have no business getting into small (or large) engine repair. I know NOTHING about engines. In high school I took "shop" and had to tear down and rebuild a lawn mower engine. We had a shortage of engines and so we did it with a partner. Your grade was based on how well the engine ran when you were done. I was sick the last day of class ... the day my partner finished our project. Seems he had some left over bolts and so he did what any good mechanic would do. He put them in the cylinder. Yes, the cylinder. The next day school was over and grades were sent out. We got a "B." I've often wondered what happened when the teacher started that lawn mower engine. I hope he's ok. He was not a good-looking guy and a bolt buried between his eyebrows would not do much to improve him. I have worse horror stories about my efforts at REAL engine repair ... like on our big blue van. This weird thing that I had never heard of (a "harmonic" something-or-other) fell off of it at my mother-in-law's house. Boom. It just fell off. Not good. She lives in Milwaukee and we don't. I needed to get home. This thing that I can't remember the name of holds the big belt in place that makes the things on the engine work which, in turn, makes the wheels go round and round. And it just fell out on her driveway as we were leaving for our four hundred mile drive home. I did what any good dad/husband/mechanic would do. I went to the hardware store with one of the bolts and asked for six more. Then I climbed under the van, held that piece in place and bolted it back on. Then we drove home with absolutely no problems whatsoever. The next day a friend who really does understand things like engines checked it out for me. I remember him screaming when he slid under the van. It seems that the old bolts had simply broken off inside their little holes. So when I screwed the new bolts in they only went about three threads deep and then were stopped by the old broken and buried pieces. I drove four hundred miles with my family like that. My friend told me that this was impossible and that only angels held those new bolts in and got us home safely.

Hey, if I have to choose between my mechanical abilities and the help of the Heavenly Host ... I'm going with the angels every time.

To repeat, engine repair is not my thing. I am not only bad at it ... I am dangerous. Wickedly dangerous. You know what I do? I do people. The local quick mart/gas station calls me their chaplain. Hmmm. I'll bet I'm the only one of those in the world. I like to talk to people. Anybody will do. My family hates me for that. So do the people behind me in the fast food drive through. Their burgers are chillen while I'm making friends with the dude or dudette taking my cash.

Again, I'm good with this. You know why? Because life is about relationships. Did you get that? It's important so write it down. "Life is about RELATIONSHIPS." Life is not about engine repair (though I thank God for those who can do this incredible feat and my hat is off to them!) But I suspect that God is never going to ask me how many engines I repaired. No, He will probably ask me how I treated people. Not only that but when one of my engines die I just get a new one. Sure I spit and cuss first. But eventually I give in and replace it. It's a thing. Life is not about things. It's about people. Relationships.

So here's what I want to leave you with tonight. How are your relationships? No, not with the guy at the fast food counter or the bank teller. That's important but I'm talking about your relationships with the people in your life that matter to you. Your family. Your friends. The one's you call when you need stabilizing. The one's you hang out with when you get to choose. Are you loving on them? Are you letting them know just how valuable they are to you? Or are you damaging those relationships with your less than perfect patience or your irritability at the end of a long day at work? Life has cost me a lot of friends over the past few years. You know what? I still love 'em. I can't help it. I do not see them anymore but I love them. I lost some friends over decisions that mattered. Important things. But not things that should destroy friendships. Not things that should damage ... much less end ... relationships. Because they are what life is about.

And life is short. And precious. And not to be taken for granted or trifled with. I can go the rest of my life without riding a motorcycle again. But without you ... I can't make it. So you be patient with me when I'm annoying and I'll be patient with you when you are annoying (oh yes you are) and we'll be fine.

Now hug me and shut up.