25 November, 2013

Transition and Friendship


Have to begin with a proper greeting because we're back in the sovereign nation of Texas!  We arrived safe and sound one week ago with all our luggage and a little boy who traveled like a CHAMP.  All four grandparents were there to greet us which was extra special since it was the first time the boy could met his maternal grandfather.  Jet lag has been conquered, bags have been unpacked and we're gearing up for a day of thanks on Thursday (called Hálaadást in Hungarian even though they don't celebrate it).  

I wanted to share a thought that probably isn't new for many of you, but which hit home for me this morning.  I was reading John 15 and verse 16 jumped off the page into my heart.  "You did not choose Me, but I chose you..."  The context of this verse is a theme of being Jesus' friend, how 'servant' is no longer a sufficient label to describe the relationship.  Megan and I have had many conversations about how our friendships usually operate.  We both feel that for the majority of our lives, if we wanted to be friends with someone, we were the ones who had to maintain those relationships.  We were the ones who had to call and invite a friend over to play, to spend the night.  We were the ones who did "all the work" and both of us only have one or two friends who "ever" pursued us.  This is obviously not true, but feelings don't always reflect reality.

God chose me.  HE wanted ME to be HIS friend.  HE is the one who calls me to come over and jump on the trampoline and play Nintendo.  HE is the one who invites me to come spend the night and celebrate His birthday.  I am the friend who rarely initiates with Him.  The tables have turned on my little pity party.  Brian K. Rice said, "friendship with Christ is not a friendship of peers and equals.  This is a friendship where the Other friend is God/Lord/King/Savior and so much more.  Affection, warmth, transparency, vulnerability, love and trust are all part of this friendship, but make no mistake, it is the Lord God who has invited you to be His friend."

That struck me deeply.  How wonderful to be pursued as a friend by anyone, but much more so by my King?  Once again, I am equally overwhelmed by my unworthiness and by gratitude.  Thank you, Lord, for being the better friend.  

13 September, 2013

Summer Update

Last summer, we shared a couple of times how rough a time we had.  We’re happy to share that our experience this year was MUCH better.  Many of our UWM colleagues again went back to the States for furlough/home assignment/home ministry assignment/stateside/whatever you want to call it, but largely thanks to our community at Agóra we weren’t nearly as lonely.  Also, it makes a huge difference when you’re not pregnant, when you have air conditioning and the summer isn’t as hot! 

One positive event was the return of Dávid and his family from their year at Oxford University.  We were so happy to see them after so long a separation, and we three pastors greatly enjoyed the 6 weeks we had together.  Why only 6 weeks?  Well, at the beginning of August, Trey and his family returned to Texas for their furlough/home assignment/home ministry assignment/stateside/whatever you want to call it which will end just before New Year’s.  In the time the three of us had together, I was able to organize a retreat for us, our wives and a few of our kiddos. 

This was a wonderful time and I am so thankful that my two goals, rest for the wives and lots of quality time for the pastors, were accomplished!  I had us all take the DiSC Personality Assessment to help us understand ourselves better.  Megan and I found this to be hugely helpful when first we took it at CIT where we received our missionary training.  I wanted each of us to have a more clear foundation on which to work with and relate to one another.  From there, the three of us began to speak about different roles that exist within the church and under what labels we best fit.  The reasoning behind all this is that all three of us have been teaching/preaching on Sundays at Agóra, but I felt like we needed to explore ourselves more than that.  We’re very different men, and I know that we each have different things about which we are passionate and for which we are gifted.  I sought to cultivate that discussion and I believe that we’ve made a good start. 

Dávid and I have begun to meet weekly as Trey and I did and again, I am struck by how fortunate I am to work with these men.  Not only do we get along well personally, but we work well together.  With both of them now, I’ve experienced the thrill of coming up with something new about which the other had already been thinking.  This is not to communicate something like, “Oh I’m so un-original” but “Wow, perhaps this idea/plan is ordained because we’ve both been given this vision.”  This might be confusing, but for me it’s exciting!

For the last 9 months, Megan has been working from home providing administrative support for one of our UWM colleagues who works regionally here in Europe.  Primarily, she has been helping organize a conference that will take place later this month.  She had to learn how to use an online registration system and coordinate with several people who were acting as liaisons between her and the many people who wanted to attend this conference.  There have been frustrating times for her, but she really does enjoy bringing order to chaos (which is probably partly why she married me).

Grant. Is. Crawling.  For over a month he’s been doing something I call his “wounded warrior crawl” but just yesterday he really crawled for the first time (on hands and knees).  He’s already begun pulling himself up on us if we lay down on the ground or on other things low to the ground.  We’re going to IKEA tomorrow to finally buy what we need to child-proof the home as he’s now able to more fully investigate those interesting wall outlets.

I could go on, but I’ll wrap up for now and wish you a happy weekend.  BTHO BAMA!!!

25 June, 2013

Reading List

Seriously, we've only blogged TWICE in 2013?  Dang.  It's like we had a baby and our grip on life flew out the car window like that coupon for a free DQ dipped cone you weren't holding on to tight enough.  That wasn't based on a real life event that's stuck around for over 20 years or anything...

Reading has always been a passion of mine (Ben).  I'm an only child, if you didn't know, and I often had a lot of free time on my hands when I was younger.  When Mom had enough of me bugging her, the neighbor kids weren't available and I'd gotten bored playing with my cat, you'd usually find my nose buried in a detective story.  I loved The Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators and others.  In college, I discovered the ultimate detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and read the exhaustive collection about 7 times (no exaggeration).

To be specific, I've always loved reading FICTION.  Non-fiction = school and I wasn't a big fan.  For several years now I have recognized what a disadvantage this is and have worked to remedy the situation.  It's hard for me.  To increase the difficulty level, my ADHD makes it challenging to focus on material that doesn't interest me.  What I mean is oh wow it's getting really cloudy outside and I'm feeling hungry I have to want to learn something and not just be entertained by a gripping plot.

When you walk into an average American pastor's office, he usually has at least a few bookshelves completely filled with books on ministry, counseling, theology, commentaries, etc.  It's impressive.  I cry a little inside because I know I'll never be like that and to be honest, those offices make me feel like there's something wrong with me.  You would walk into my hypothetical office and see Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, Eragon, Redwall, and every Stephen Lawhead and Raymond E. Feist book they've ever written. HOWEVER, to my joy, I've discovered that I very much enjoy reading about cross-cultural ministry and church planting.

I also like biographies.  Edmund Morris's Theodore Rex (Teddy Roosevelt) was amazing and I'm working on Jon Meacham's American Lion (Andrew Jackson) right now.

I thought I'd share what I (Ben) have been reading in the recent past.  The list is heavily stacked towards fiction but hey, I'm trying!

- Houses That Change The World by Wolfgang Simson - I'm reading this right now and will need another highlighter before I'm through.  Lots of great insights on what the church used to look like, what it has become in many parts of the world and a call to simplify.  Controversial, but much of this book resonates deeply with me.

- Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter & Matt Smay - a book on how these guys do church in Denver, CO.  I read this and thought, it's Agóra but in a different city and about 15 years down the road!  I actually considered going there for a year to intern but God moved me in a different direction.

- Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander - wonderful Celtic folktales retold in the 1960's for kids.  I read these as a kid and they FINALLY released them for Kindle.

- The Darkwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist - if you like fantasy (magic, elves, dragons, swords...) you have GOT to read Feist.  Start with Magician and don't stop until you read his 30th and final novel that was just released.  I both love and hate my brother-in-law for introducing me to this author a few years ago.

- The Riftwar Legacy by Feist

- J.R. Tomlin's novels of Scotland - historical fiction on the times of William Wallace, quite sad and violent at times but still gripping

- The Demonwar Saga by Feist

- Legends of the Guardian King by Karen Hancock - Christian fiction, medievalish, a REALLY creative perspective on Christian life contrasted by other faiths (essentially Judiasm and Islam)

- The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy - I love this novel and the movie

- Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas - if you are a parents of a boy or boys, I HIGHLY recommend this.  It helped me to understand myself better, and I believe I will be a better father to my son because of this book.

- Bright Empires by Stephen Lawhead - Fantasy but not fantasy.  It's difficult to categorize, but imagine being able to travel between dimensions that take you to different places and times in "Earth's" history

- The Chaoswar Saga by Feist - the final trilogy about the fantasy world this author created decades ago

- Inferno by Dan Brown - MUCH better than The Lost Symbol, which was almost worse than Digital Fortress (my least favorite novel by Brown)

Thanks for reading about what I'm reading :D

16 May, 2013

Invention and Insanity

"Parenting is a tough job." I have heard that phrase frequently for as long as I can remember. It is completely true, but such a simple statement that it is impossible to comprehend it until you experience it. Parenting is not some task that you can put down when you are frustrated and return to when you feel like tackling it again. Parenting is not some job that you leave at the end of the day and come back to after a good night's sleep. There are no vacations. There are no sick days.

I have always had the utmost respect for children's caregivers. It does not matter if you are a parent, a grandparent, a daycare worker, a teacher, or anyone else caring for a child, you are amazing! However, my short time as a parent, has brought my awareness to a whole new level. This thing is TOUGH! It is a job that has 24/7 on-the-job training, while living with a crazy person. It does not matter who the crazy person is --your child, your spouse, or yourself -- you all take turns being crazy. It just happens. The worst part is when everybody's crazy falls on the same day. Then you break out the drug of your choice (candy, a movie, a glass of wine), buckle up, and try and make it until bedtime.

This brings me to Albert Eistein's definition of insanity. Which is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Dr. Einstein had three children of his own and I wonder if he saw the humor in this statement? Many books that I have read tell me to continue doing the same things over and over again with my son. If it does not work today, try it again another day and see if it does work! Parenting books encourage insanity (although that is true in more ways than one)!

"Necessity is the mother of invention." As I told my in-laws today, there is a reason she is called a "mother," because no one I know is more inventive than mothers. If you don't believe me, watch this video:

Yes, I did put the little bear to sleep with a staring contest last night. Did it work tonight? No. I had to dance him around the room. Will either of those work tomorrow night? Probably not and I'll have to come up with some other way of getting him to sleep.

The thing about being a parent is that doing the same thing over and over again ALMOST ALWAYS gets you DIFFERENT results. If it got the same results every time I did it... well, then I'd write a parenting book!

I am insane.
I am inventive.
I am tired.
I am a mother.

I love this job. I have no desire to quit and I know that God will get me through it. I am trying desperately to savor every moment and not wish these days past. I love my little guy's giggles. I love to watch him discover his hands. I love listening as he finds his voice and experiments with sounds. I love cuddling him when he falls asleep nursing. I love his first night-time feed when we sometimes fall asleep together and I wake up later and see him peacefully resting there. These are the times that I cling to when he is screaming/crying and I don't know what's wrong. Or when I cannot get him to sleep even though I know he is exhausted.

He challenges me in ways I never thought possible. Makes me realize how selfish I still am. When I think I have nothing left to give, he asks for more. Somehow, by God's good grace, more is there to give.

This is the toughest job in the world, but he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. And I don't think that's crazy at all.

12 April, 2013

Thoughts of a Nursing Ewe

Grant is refusing to nurse again. We went through this same struggle 4 weeks ago and I hoped I would never have to deal with it again. There is nothing quite like the feeling of nursing your baby until they contentedly fall asleep. Nursing has been one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. It has also been one of the most challenging. There are times that my baby latches on, takes a few sucks, makes a face like my milk tastes disgusting and begins to cry. I know he is hungry because it has been a long time since he last ate, but still he refuses to nurse. It feels like utter (udder, haha!) rejection. I feel as though I have some sort of malfunction and my baby does not like me anymore. Combine that with sleep deprivation and the fact that he seems to smile and coo more for Ben, it can be pretty heartbreaking. I guess this is the life of a mother. You pour yourself into your children selflessly, even when it hurts.

After another night of poor sleep and another morning of Grant not nursing, Ben shared a verse with me that he found as he was preparing his Sunday sermon. I like it best in the NASB.

"Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs,
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes."
Isaiah 40:11 (NASB)

I need to be gently led today. To feel the soft touch of God's strong hand guiding me. I need gentleness as I deal with the harsh sounds of the city and a screaming baby who doesn't want to nurse. I need to know that my little lamb is safe in His bosom. I need His life, as mine is exhausted.

I want answers, but I don't need them. What I need is to trust in You as You lead me through this.

So many worries and big decisions. What's wrong with my baby? What's wrong with me? Am I doing the right things? Am I doing enough? I'm dizzy and disoriented with questions! I can't even take a step for fear of going the wrong direction.

Sheep are pack animals. Their defense is to group together as a flock and follow each other. If poorly led, they will follow each other to their deaths. This is instilled at an early age, as mothers encourage their young to follow them as they follow the flock. This begs the question: If I am a sheep, who am I teaching my lamb to follow? Where am I leading him while he is young? To life? Or to death?

Someday, he will be old enough to follow on his own. Who will he follow? The sheep? Or the Shepherd? Do I follow the Shepherd myself? I confess, not always. Sometimes I follow the other sheep. Sometimes, I wander off on my own, tired and weary, and become easy prey for the Enemy.

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might, He increases power."
Isaiah 40:28-29 (NASB)

It's the same lesson I have to learn over and over again:
"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so."

The Bible spells it out in black and white that He loves me. But HE spells it out each day in love, provision, and blessings overflowing. There is no better leader for this nursing ewe than the Gentle Shepherd who sees the nations as a drop in a bucket, but has called each star by name and forgets not a single one.

For all you nursing ewes out there, He does not forget you. He will gently lead you. Just follow and bring your little lamb along.