Saturday, March 24, 2007

Under My Roof

I flew over my house one time. I was in an American Airlines 727 coming from Chicago and preparing to land in St. Louis. It was nighttime. As such it was much too dark to pick my house out of the thousands of lights down below. But I know I was over it because I found the Burger King about a mile away. And the street layout was clearly my neighborhood. I suppose if you were to look at my house from the air during a sunny day there would not be much to make it stand out from any other house in the neighborhood. I have brown shingles. I have a chimney and several other assorted vents protruding upward from the roof. There are gutters on every side. That is about all you can say about it. It's just a roof.

It is what is under my roof that makes this little plot of ground unique. My roof has kept my family dry for nearly fourteen years now. When we moved under it my children were nine, eleven and thirteen. I was thirty-eight. My wife was even younger than that. The nine year old is now about to turn twenty-two. He still lives here and I am so glad that he does. I know that he would rather live on his university campus or in his own apartment but he has accepted the fact that these things will come with time. This wonderful young man stays busy and yet loves to sleep. Sounds like a twenty-two year old, doesn't it? I love the sound of my garage door going up at night because it means that he is home. The house brightens when he walks in the door. Just seeing him makes me smile. The eleven year old is now twenty-four. He lives in Crystal Lake, Illinois and serves God in the middle school ministry of a very large church. On July 6th he will give me my very first daughter-in-law. She is one of the sweetest girls on the planet and I would do anything for her. My thirteen year old is now twenty-six. She lives with her husband and baby daughter in another suburb of our city. I watched her hold her baby girl tonight and I got chills, remembering how I used to hold her the same way and feeling awestruck that my baby girl now had one of her own. She is one of the best mom's I know.

Which brings me to my roof. Things were very busy under it this past week.

First my father-in-law showed up. He flew in and spent the week with us. I have one of the best father's-in-law every. He raised a tremendous daughter and then he simply GAVE her to me. No charge. And he treats me like his real son and not his son-in-law. I am proud to be in his family. Next came Scott. Scott is the twenty-four year old that I mentioned a few paragraphs back. He flew in on Thursday. He is a lot of things but about the best thing I can think of to say about him is that he is one of my best friends. I am not at all certain why a twenty-four year old with everything going for him and the world at his fingertips would bother being close friends with his fifty-one year old father but I am so glad that he does. He will never know how much I love him, enjoy him, and revel in the time we spend together. Actually, I think that I bug him more than I should. I call him everyday and text message him whenever the urge hits. He handles it with patience and love but I know he has more important things to do. Still, he loves me and allows me this grace ... to be an interactive dad. Anyway, the next to show up was my grandbaby, Elle and her dog Rigby. Elle's mom was going to Nashville overnight to listen to her husband’s band. Yes, Joe is in a band that actually tours. I suggest you go to itunes and run a power search for the "Fundamental Elements." You'll love their music and the four young husbands that make up this indie band could use the financial support. Remember what it is like to be young and have a family? Me too. And then my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (I hate to have to add the "in-law" part to their names. I consider them my brother and my sister) came by and stayed for a few hours and we got to talk about serious issues for a few minutes. Health issues that we ask God to be working on for my sister (in-law.) She leaves tomorrow for two weeks at Mayo Clinic. My wife will go and spend the better part of one of those weeks with her so that she will not have to be alone. You see, that is what family does. And nobody should have to be sick alone.

So we had a busy, crazy, loving, caring, wonderful time under our roof for the past week. We ate together. We sat and simply talked. We watched favorite TV programs. We went places together. We took turns playing with Baby Elle. What a great week it was! It will go down in my personal history books as one of my favorites ever!

And then early this morning my father-in-law's jet left for Richmond. Late this afternoon Scott's jet left for Chicago. Late tonight my daughter came and took Elle and Rigby the dog home. My awesome son who lives down the hall from me went out with some friends to enjoy a Saturday night. I know better than to wait up.

And now? Now my wife is asleep. Bailey the Killer Beagle is asleep. And I just finished walking through a darkened house, stopping in every room and remembering the joy, the noise and the love of the last week. I thanked my Father ... the one in heaven ... the one that created us all ... for allowing me the honor of living out the past seven days. The walls still echo with the laughter and the wise cracks. The carpet needs vacuuming because of the eating and walking and playing that took place on it. Several sets of sheets could use a washing machines attention. No major damage was done to anything and yet everywhere I look are the blessed "scars" of the time we spent together. You know how your kitchen table, the one you eat your meals together on every night, begins to show wear after a few years. A mark where a knife was dropped. A dent in the wood where somebody slammed down a game piece while playing some noisy, rowdy family game. The usual signs of life lived around a shared table. You know what I mean, right? Well, my entire house shows those marks tonight. And I do not want them ever to be repaired. Several times during the past week I just stepped back from the scene and took in the moment. I reminded myself to memorize it all because it would not last forever. And now every mark, every dirty dish, every damp towel has a meaning. Add them up and they equal the priceless gift of family.

My roof is blessed. It is solid on top and blessed underneath. I cannot ask for more than that.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

And it was good ...

December 1982. It was cold and it was snowy. I clearly remember the day. I walked into the dispatcher’s office at DuPage Motor Coach, the great leaser of school buses in the western suburbs of Chicago. They handed me my paycheck and I walked out the door knowing that I did not have to crank up another bright yellow monster until after the Christmas break. What I did not know was that I would not bother going back to work at that part time job because by then I would be pretty certain that God was moving my little family and I out of the Chicagoland area. (I believe that south side Catholics such as lived in Mayor Daley's neighborhood considered it a mortal sin to leave the windy city for any reason other than to help friends in other places move to Chicago. But I was going to risk it.) And I was correct. On March 26, 1983 we finished packing up and drove the nearly 300 miles to Bethalto. And here we sit this very day. But that paycheck they handed me way back in 1982 was the last paycheck I would receive from a non-church related vocation for a long time.

The next time I worked one single hour for someone other than the church or one of its related organizations (i.e. Youth Specialties or the Illinois Baptist State Association) would be ... today. March 22, 2007. That is 25 years and change. A long time.

I remembered some things today. I remembered what early morning looks like because my phone rang at about 5AM asking me if I would be willing to substitute at Lewis & Clark Jr High. I must have been really sleepy because I said "yes." And you know what? I had a GREAT time. I spent the day with 6th and 7th graders. I guided them through language arts, science, math, reading and something else but it escapes me at the moment. It was so cool to see those bright eyes again. I had never met any of the kids in any of my classes but that isn't important. They were kids. And I'm passionate about them. God just put that in my heart and I don't suspect I'll ever get over it.

You know what was really hard? I had to be "The Teacher." And that means I could not tell them about Jesus. So sad. So truly and deeply sad. And at one point late in the afternoon somebody came on the intercom and told all of the students to please stand and recite the ... and I lost her voice in the noise created by dropping books, shuffling feet and moving chairs. I immediately put my hand over my heart and began reciting the pledge of allegiance. (What happened to the pledge of allegiance? That's what we used to say when I was in school! Hey, the mascot of Lewis & Clark Jr. High is "The Patriots." Shouldn't they be saying the pledge just by default?) Unfortunately the students were repeating some kind of pledge of loyalty to good old Lewis & Clark Jr High. Even more unfortunately an aid was standing next to me and heard what I said. She couldn't finish the recitation because she was doubled over in laughter while staring at me like I was a Martian... which I might as well have been. And then I started laughing at her because she's about five months pregnant and she just didn't have what it takes to double over for ANYTHING, much less laughter. But we got through it. And you know what? All day people called me, "Mr. Woods." Because that is my name. Yes, I love being a pastor and it's most certainly the direction I am heading in. But in 25 years I do not think anybody had called me "Mr. Woods." Hmmm. I would rather they call me simply Ron but evidently that shows a lack of respect so I have to stick with Mr. No problem. I can do that.

And then I went home. And it's the oddest thing ... my phone did not ring. Nobody wanted a question answered, a door unlocked, a phone number, an address, an announcement scribbled down for Sunday, a special appearance at a meeting .... nothing. I went home and I was off. OFF! I forgot that is how many people live. No, not all of them. Many people have jobs that follow them home. I am certain that the teacher I replaced has a desk or a table totally lined with notes, lesson plans and schedules.

But I don't.

And God saw it. And I believe He said.... "And it was good."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Harpo Marx ... I Am He

My personal definition of "Insane" ...

"Ad-Jec-tive. One who decides to send out a personal resume for the purpose of securing a position as Sr. Pastor of a church. Adjectives are often added to a verb to show action such as, "The man was GROWING progressively more insane with the reciept of every letter inquiring about his resume."

I must be seriously mentally ill. If I am not ... I will be by this time next month.

Being a pastor generally means that you believe in a "Higher Being." This Higher Being is most often referred to as "God." I believe that He sent His Son, Jesus, to hang on a horrible cross of execution to offer a sacrifice for the sins of people like me. God is large and in charge. It is also my personal belief that God often gets the giggles. I think it happens everytime He watches me try to figure out precisely what He wants me to do. Three weeks ago I asked God for a favor. I asked Him to please tell me by the NEXT week one of three things.

A) Where do you want me relocate to on my next ministry assignment.

B) Do you want me to forget ministry for a while, maybe a year, and just take some time doing something else. ANYTHING ELSE. Things that don't make me want to beat my head against brick walls several times each week. Things that require little skill and even less thought.

C) Give me peace knowing that I am doing exactly what you want me to do right now ... rest. The last few years have been long ones and the rest has been very healing. I mean, VERY HEALING. And maybe I am supposed to just keep doing that for a while longer.

I woke up the following Monday and, lo and behold ( <--- two biblical terms for the price of one!) I quickly realized that God had granted me my request. C! I had no stress, no anxiety, no sweat. God placed His Hand on my shoulder and whispered, "Chill." Or the theological equivelent of that. "C" stands for "chill."

All of that week He and I sat quietly just about every day. We spent time NOT talking. Just, you know ... being. I wondered things but decided not to ask them. He made His presence real. Tangible. But in a quiet way. My phone was quiet. My email box was quiet. Very little was going on.

And then came last week. To say that things changed would be cheating the week of its full glory. Everyday brought a new phone call, email or letter from a church that is looking for a pastor and wants to talk. Another one was added today. They say that war can be defined as long stretches of great boredom punctuated by bursts of sheer terror. That's another good definition for a "church search." Please do not misinterpret this and think I am complaining. No way! I am excited as I watch God play out his objectives for my life. It's just that we went from ... zero to 120 ... in about a day! In my experience God often works that way. Cool. His way is better than mine.

Who was the silent and semi-crazy guy that was one of the Marx Brothers? I think .... Harpo. Yeah, Harpo Marx. He never spoke and he played the harp. That is me. I am the Harpo Marx of the Christian church. I am spending a lot of time looking skyward, silently, reflectively, objectively. But I am not asking a lot of questions. I am just watching in patient awe as God works. I sit strumming the "harp" of my curiosity hoping that the tune of my heart brings Him joy. I am not bugging Him ... not harassing Him. He has given me peace. He really has. And yet He has my head spinning. I am mentally juggling a lot of places right now. Some near. Some not. A huge part of me cheers for near because my incredibly precious kids and granddaughter live close by. Only God is more important to me than they are. A smaller part of me cheers for far because ... well, let's just leave it at "because." That way nobody gets any arrows to shoot at anybody else. But sometimes far looks really good. Really good.

Still, it does not matter because I know that I don't get to choose. I only get to watch, wait, wonder ... and cheer. I figure that either way I win. Because winning (to me) means being in God's perfect will. Nothing less will do.

Harpo. That's me. You can learn a lot when you are silent.