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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Might As Well Jump!

(With a nod to Van Halen)

So there I was perched on the lip of the UHaul van we were loading. The Baynes were moving from their place in Simsbury to temporary quarters before relocating this summer to Northampton. I was there with the others on the team to help "tote that barge and lift that bale." Turned out to be a bad idea.

I had just brought some boxes or something onto the truck and was heading back out to get more. Brad was ahead of me and chose to jump off the truck rather than go down the ramp. Brad is in great shape and much younger than I. The drop was about 3.5 feet, I think. As I stood at the lip, my first thought was I should go down the ramp. I hesitated because we had all commented what a steep angle the ramp had on this truck--steeper than I had experienced. So I jumped . . . .

I remember as I hit that the landing was harder than I anticipated. And I felt my knees lock as I hit. Immediately, I heard a loud pop, felt a sharp pain in my right knee, and fell forward toward the asphalt. On the ground, I instantly grabbed my knee because of the pain and the thought occurred, "Here we go again!" 15 years earlier, I had shredded my ACL and MCL in my left knee playing contact volleyball without pads or helmet, and I remember the sickening
sound of tearing ligaments, the searing pain, and having my leg collapse under me without my consent.

Later, sometime between the jump and shuttling between the Emergency Room and doctor appointments the thought also occurred to me how remarkable one nanosecond decision can make on how life happens after. My decision to jump was a foolish impulse so my days now are filled with all sorts of very deliberate decisions because of it. The die was cast.

Such a small assent to an renegade thought puts in motion life-altering challenges, problems and even unwanted pain! A nanosecond thought has so much power and hides consequences beyond imagining at the time. In the end, impulsive thoughts acted on can turn out to be thieves stealing peace, liberty, even life. In my case, this little bugger stole: work, income, a healthy knee, time helping others, freedom of mobility and Tricia's time. I bet I wouldn't have jumped if I'd known the costly chain of experiences I would have to go through.

But . . . as the saying goes: no use crying over spilled milk, (or a busted knee, for that matter).

(Now for a related sidebar): As often happens in mishaps, especially when you take time to notice, there are opportunities for laughing at the inanity of people, including yourself--always a good thing. So as you might guess I have heard the, "What were you thinking?" questions more than once, mostly from strangers, bless their hearts. Often, it is followed with relish by the, "And at your age!" exclamation. Someone even said something about it just goes to show the best course of action is never to help--I think she was joking--especially when it involves moving. And I have been counseled wryly, "No jumping!"
Finally, it does not help with one's sense of being in good hands when the Emergency Room nurses, physician's assistant, and radiologist upon seeing the injury grimace and let out a "Whoa!" Whoa indeed . . .

Seriously though, I think the right perspective after the whining and swearing is to not lose sight of the fact I am a Jesus follower, however. It's my primary identity, good knees or not. I constantly need my mind to turn toward how he will use this moronic mishap to his Kingdom benefit? For instance, maybe the suffering Tricia and I are going through and might for 6-8 weeks will humble and make me more submissive to him, more malleable in his redemptive hands, more compassionate. I hope it does.

Or maybe I get a fresh helping of grace requiring me to be patient with needing to have all sorts of help, the kind men hate: physical strength and the alpha-dog credo of having to do always for one's self is cut to the quick with orthopedic injuries which hobble us substantially. "No thanks pardner, I got it," is how we do everything, especially in front of other men. It is expected, in a way that makes us all our own worst enemies and often. More importantly, being made physically weak temporarily reminds me of my vulnerability and exposes the illusion that I am not. So I get to see the truth again.
Maybe wisdom will follow.

Also, I have to realize there are experiences beyond our desire or control we will have to endure, period. I knew that as soon as I heard my tendon pop. We don't like to think about enduring pain or suffering. It just doesn't feel good. But, while I made the snap decision to jump I will now have to endure the healing and recovery process, no turning back. My life has been interrupted by this unwelcome turn of events. I know Jesus will be with me in it, but I will have to endure unpleasant things nevertheless. I also know that having to endure protracted seasons of trial and affliction have always served to make me more real, more human and empathetic. The "grinding down," of enduring creates slowly in me a heart of flesh. It is a gift, although it never feels like it.

And I realize that from a community perspective, my temporary disabling offers other people the chance to help us. I am going to be laid up for a few weeks and will require help I don't even anticipate yet. Tricia is amazing in her ability to rise to the occasion and do everything. She is fierce and lion-hearted in that regard. But, she is being sorely tested as well. She can only do so much, given our lives these days. People helping each other is how God intends community. It ennobles them and lightens the load for others creating freedom. Loving and serving best reflects the nature of God and manifests his grace in ways we can discover from him for a lifetime. We will need some of that from others.

So I jumped and my life changed in ways I did not expect. I have been here before, but I am different from the last time. I made it through the first time. It was very hard, but grace walked with us, and love. Jesus used some of that suffering to change and prepare me for what he wanted me to carry next for his Kingdom . He will do it again up here in Northampton from all this . . . far more than I can ask or imagine, I bet.

Pray that Tricia and I miss none of what he wants to say, or do with us through this ordeal.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Holding It All Loosely

Psalm 127:1 says plainly: "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.

In these first weeks and months of launching imagine/northampton, I am learning to hold loosely the great dream and persistent desire that lives within me to make this launch happen.

I would hope that those of you reading my blog get a sense of how much passion I have for this work. It is no light matter to me. I am in "lock, stock and barrel" because I am convinced that the Church is the hope of the world. The people of Northampton who are far from Jesus are worth every ounce of effort I can spend to open them to him. Imagine/northampton is our way of doing so.

People who know me well know I am a man of passion, in general. My heart is fired by what I value. I hate lukewarm and passive. Willful indifference angers me. However, the downside is I can let my desire to see something happen get the best of me. The result is eventual frustration that, if not corralled, can sink me into a malaise, or worse, depression. I can't afford for that to happen.

So, I am learning to hold all of what needs to occur quite loosely. It plays out as a "long obedience in the same direction" these days. I keep my eyes on the horizon in the direction I am trying to head--one foot in front of the other; one day at a time. Some days feel like good progress is being made. Some days feel like "the faster I go, the behinder I get." A few feel like I settled into the groove and kept in step with the Spirit: a door was opened, someone showed up who moved it all forward a bit, things went as they felt they should and tangible progress was made. I like those days, and I know it was God who made them be.

Lately, I am finding this holding it all loosely business and letting God actually build this house occurs in three ways for me:

1. As you would expect, launching a church requires the gifts and efforts of all sorts of people besides the Leadership Team, no matter how skillful it might be. Often they "show up" unexpectedly through a series of connections outside of our awareness: someone talks to someone and gets in touch. We are experiencing that with very gifted and accomplished people. So I get really excited, but if I am not careful, my design of making an impact that moves people beyond where they are kicks in with a vengence, and I try to maneuver them into position before God has given the command in accord with his exquisite timing. Because my desire for them to come on board can overtake me, and if they don't, frustration and disappointment will settle in, I am learning to be supportive and enthusiastic, while surrendering to God's moving things along as suits him. It's a nice freedom to live in I'm finding.

2. The same holds true for all the critical pieces of the logistical puzzle that needs to be put in place. Currently, we need a suitable venue to hold our first worship on Easter weekend. Where will that be? We need to form a worship team. Who will be on it? We need technical equipment. Where will that come from? We need all sorts of money to make this happen. When will it arrive? That's just for one worship gathering. There are a gazillion other issues to settle in the weeks and months ahead. Nevertheless, I am learning to let God build when the need must be met. I am amazed to see how God makes this happen without us. He brings it into being. Holding important logistical matters loosely lowers the stress of having to make it happen and opens the door to God's unparalleled ability to do only what he can. While we need to work and work hard, we can let it go too.

3. Lastly, I have found that creating concepts, events and structures teach the same lesson of the need to hold it all loosely. Because we have started on the groundfloor level, much of our initial efforts focused on issues like: What is the name of the church? What will we name our roles in the church, like I am a Spiritual Formation Catalyst? What will we name of events, like 6 Evenings of Conversation? How can we creatively avoid using Christianese and church jargon while retaining meaning, and not just be clever or cute with our terms? Even in this naming process we have watched God lead us to fresh ways of terming things.

One lovely result of this freedom is God increasingly becomes the focus of our awe and wonder as he does what is only his: to build his house. I find pleasure in watching him do this. It refreshes and delights me. Time in the trenches becomes enlivened as we are lifted to see his creative hand shaping it all into being.

I realize for us, "discovering the God who is far more than we imagine," is manifest these days more and more in seeing him conceive, birth, and grow imagine in our midst. He uses us for sure, but no one on the team mistakes our parts for his. I'm glad for that.

I know I need to keep learning this freedom, but I am cooperating better now than I have I think. It's about time.